America. A history
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Pitt proposed, as the work of the first campaign, to take Louisburg – the only harbour which France possessed on the Atlantic; to take Fort du Quesne, in the valley of the Ohio; and Ticonderoga, in the north. He was able to accomplish more than he hoped. Louisburg was taken; Cape Breton and the island of St. John became English ground. Communication between France and her endangered colony was henceforth impossible. The French ships were captured or destroyed, and the flag of France disappeared from the Canadian coast. Fort du Quesne fell into English hands, and assumed the English name of Pittsburg, under which it has become famous as a centre of peaceful industry. France had no longer a footing in the Mississippi valley. 1758 A.D. At Ticonderoga, incapable generalship caused shameful miscarriage: the English attack failed, and a lamentable slaughter was sustained. But the progress which had been made afforded ground to expect that one campaign more would terminate the dominion of France on the American continent.
The spirit of the British nation rose with the return of that success to which they had long been strangers. Pitt laid his plans with the view of immediate conquest. Parliament expressed strongly its approbation of his policy and his management, and voted liberal sums to confirm the zeal of the colonists. The people gave enthusiastic support to the war. Their supreme concern for the time was to humble France by seizing all her American possessions. The men of New England and New York lent their eager help to a cause which was peculiarly their own. The internal condition of Canada prepared an easy way for a resolute invader. The harvest had been scanty; no supply could now be hoped for from abroad, for the English ships maintained strict blockade; food was scarce; a corrupt and unpopular Government seized, under pretence of public necessity, grain which was needed to keep in life the families of the unhappy colonists. There were no more than fifteen thousand men fit to bear arms in the colony, and these were for the most part undisciplined and reluctant to fight. The Governor vainly endeavoured to stimulate their valour by fiery proclamations. The gloom and apathy of approaching overthrow already filled their hearts.
1759 A.D. It was the design of Pitt to attack simultaneously all the remaining strongholds of France. An army of eleven thousand men, moving northward from New York by the valley of the Hudson, took with ease the forts of Ticonderoga and Crown Point; and the fair region which lies around Lake Champlain and Lake George passed for ever away from the dominion of France. A smaller force attacked Fort Niagara, the sole representative now of French authority on Lake Ontario. This stronghold fell, and France had no longer a footing on the shores of the Great Lakes.
In the east the progress of the British arms was less rapid. Montcalm held Quebec, strongly fortified, but insufficiently provided with food. He had a force of twelve thousand men under his command – heartless and ill-armed, and swarms of allied Indians lurked in the woods, waiting their opportunity.Before Quebec there lay a powerful British fleet, and a British army of eight thousand men. Pitt knew that here lay the chief difficulty of the campaign; that here its crowning success must be gained. He found among his older officers no man to whom he could intrust the momentous task. Casting aside the routine which has brought ruin upon so many fair enterprises, he promoted to the chief command a young soldier of feeble health, gentle, sensitive, modest, in whom his unerring perception discovered the qualities he required. That young soldier was James Wolfe, who had already in subordinate command evinced courage and high military genius. To him Pitt intrusted the forces whose arms were now to fix the destiny of a continent.
The long winter of Lower Canada delayed the opening of the campaign, and June had nearly closed before the British ships dropped their anchors off the Isle of Orleans, and Wolfe was able to look at the fortress which he had come to subdue. His survey was not encouraging. The French flag waved defiantly over tremendous and inaccessible heights, crowned with formidable works, which stretched far into the woods and barred every way of approach. Wolfe forced a landing, and established batteries within reach of the city. For some weeks he bombarded both the upper and the lower town, and laid both in ruins. But the defensive power of Quebec was unimpaired. The misery of the inhabitants was extreme. “We are without hope and without food,” wrote one: “God has forsaken us.” Regardless of their sufferings, the French general maintained his resolute defence.
The brief summer was passing, and Wolfe perceived that no real progress had been made. He knew the hopes which his countrymen entertained; and he felt deeply that the exceptional confidence which had been reposed in him called for a return of exceptional service. July 31, 1759 A.D. He resolved to carry his men across the river and force the French intrenchments. But disaster fell, at every point, on the too hazardous attempt. His transports grounded; the French shot pierced and sunk some of his boats; a heavy rain-storm damped the ammunition of the troops; some of his best regiments, fired by the wild enthusiasm of battle, dashed themselves against impregnable defences and were destroyed. The assault was a complete failure, and the baffled assailants withdrew, weakened by heavy loss.
The agony of mind which resulted from this disaster bore with crushing weight upon Wolfe’s enfeebled frame, and for weeks he lay fevered and helpless. During his convalescence he invited his officers to meet for consultation in regard to the most hopeful method of attack. One of the officers suggested, and the others recommended, a scheme full of danger, but with possibilities of decisive success. It was proposed that the army should be placed upon the high ground to the westward of the upper town and receive there the battle which the French would be forced to offer. The assailants were largely outnumbered by the garrison; escape was impossible, and defeat involved ruin. But Wolfe did not fear that the French could inflict defeat on the army which he led. The enterprise had an irresistible attraction to his daring mind. He trusted his soldiers, and he determined to stake the fortune of the campaign upon their power to hold the position to which he would conduct them.
The Heights of Abraham stretch westward for three miles from the defences of the upper town, and form a portion of a lofty table-land which extends to a distance from the city of nine miles. They are from two to three hundred feet above the level of the river. Their river-side is well-nigh perpendicular and wholly inaccessible, save where a narrow footpath leads to the summit. It was by this path – on which two men could not walk abreast – that Wolfe intended to approach the enemy. The French had a few men guarding the upper end of the path; but the guard was a weak one, for they apprehended no attack here. Scarcely ever before had an army advanced to battle by a track so difficult.
Sept. 12, 1759 A.D. The troops were all received on board the ships, which sailed for a few miles up stream. During the night the men re-embarked in a flotilla of boats and dropped down with the receding tide. They were instructed to be silent. No sound of oar was heard, or of voice, excepting that of Wolfe, who in a low tone repeated to his officers the touching, and in his own case prophetic, verses of Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard.” Quickly the landing-place was reached, and the men stepped silently on shore. One by one they climbed the narrow woodland path. As they neared the summit the guard, in panic, fired their muskets down the cliff and fled. The ships had now dropped down the river, and the boats plied incessantly between them and the landing-place. All night long the landing proceeded. The first rays of the morning sun shone upon an army of nearly five thousand veteran British soldiers solidly arrayed upon the Heights of Abraham, eager for battle and confident of victory. Wolfe marched them forward till his front was within a mile of the city, and there he waited the attack of the French.
Montcalm had been wholly deceived as to the purposes of the British, and was unprepared for their unwelcome appearance on the Heights. He had always shunned battle; for the larger portion of his troops were Canadian militia, on whom little reliance could be placed. He held them therefore within his intrenchments, and trusted that the approaching winter would drive away the assailants and save Canada. Even now he might have sheltered himself behind his defences, and delayed the impending catastrophe. But his store of provisions and of ammunition approached exhaustion; and as the English ships rode unopposed in the river, he had no ray of hope from without. Montcalm elected that the great controversy should be decided by battle and at once.
He marched out to the attack with seven thousand five hundred men, of whom less than one-half were regular soldiers, besides a swarm of Indians, almost worthless for fighting such as this. The French advanced firing, and inflicted considerable loss upon their enemy. The British stood immovable, unless when they silently closed the ghastly openings which the bullets of the French created. At length the hostile lines fronted each other at a distance of forty yards, and Wolfe gave the command to fire. From the levelled muskets of the British lines there burst a well-aimed and deadly volley. That fatal discharge gained the battle, gained the city of Quebec – gained dominion of a continent. The Canadian militia broke and fled. Montcalm’s heroic presence held for a moment the soldiers to their duty; but the British, flushed with victory, swept forward on the broken and fainting enemy: Montcalm fell pierced by a mortal wound; the French army in hopeless rout sought shelter within the ramparts of Quebec.
Both generals fell. Wolfe was thrice struck by bullets, and died upon the field, with his latest breath giving God thanks for this crowning success. Montcalm died on the following day, pleased that his eyes were not to witness the surrender of Quebec. The battle lasted only for a few minutes; and having in view the vast issues which depended on it, the loss was inconsiderable. Only fifty-five British were killed and six hundred wounded; the loss of the French was twofold that of their enemies.
A few days after the battle, Quebec was surrendered into the hands of the conquerors. But the French did not at once recognize absolute defeat. 1760 A.D. In the spring of the following year a French army of ten thousand men gained a victory over the British garrison of Quebec on the Heights of Abraham, and laid siege to the city. But this appearance of reviving vigour was delusive. The speedy approach of a few British ships broke up the siege and compelled a hasty retreat. Before the season closed, a British army, which the French had no power to resist, arrived before Montreal and received the immediate surrender of the defenceless city. Great Britain received, besides this, the surrender of all the possessions of France in Canada from the St. Lawrence to the unknown regions of the north and the west. The militia and the Indians were allowed to return unmolested to their homes. The soldiers were carried back to France in British ships. All civil officers were invited to gather up their papers and other paraphernalia of government and take shipping homewards. For French rule in Canada had ceased, and the Anglo-Saxon reigned supreme from Florida to the utmost northern limit of the continent.