Sunday, September 13, 2009

Celebrating God's Providential Hand at The Battle of Quebec on Its 250th Anniversary!

+ Map of the Battle of Quebec

Today is the 250th Anniversary of the Battle of Quebec! The Battle of Quebec was a relatively short, one-hour battle which sealed the fate of New France (now Canada). God’s Providential hand was clearly evident in this battle, especially in the perilous ascent of the British army up the cliffs to the Plains of Abraham. Historian William Potter chose this battle as one of his topics in “Providential Battles: Twenty Battles that Changed the World” (available at

The French cause in the New World was rapidly growing dim. Forts Duquesne, Ticonderoga (known to the French as Fort Carillon), Louisburg and other French possessions had fallen into British hands. Only Quebec and Montreal were left under command of the French. The British determined to take Quebec, and appointed Major General James Wolfe as commander of the expedition.

The British army encircled Quebec, but the French inhabitants could sustain a long siege- especially because French vessels were bringing them provisions. Wolfe attempted a landing on July 31, but the French, under the Marquis de Montcalm, beat them off. The British sustained around 500 casualties, while the French only lost about 60. Montcalm’s troops were jubilant at this victory. Some even thought that this would be the end of the British attempt to take Quebec. Montcalm, however, was more cautious. He kept his horse saddled and ready for battle, because he thought that the British would attack again. Events proved him right.

St Anse de Foulon, an opening at the cliffs, was the British landing target. It was defended by about 100 Canadian militiamen under the French veteran, Captain de Vergor. Some of Montcalm’s officers implored him to guard this critical point with more soldiers, but he merely replied that 100 soldiers would hold off an attack until morning.

On September 12, his sentries heard boats. Vergor, however, had been told that a supply convoy was expected that night. No one has yet explained why it was cancelled and why Captain Vergor was not warned. Another French officer usually patrolled the cliffs on horseback, but one of his horses was stolen and his two others were lame, so he decided (apparently) that he could take a break for one night. One regiment of French troops was also guarding the Plains of Abraham, but Governor Vaudreil had pulled them back to Quebec. Thus, when the British landed, they had no enemies on the plains except the 100 militia. Is it not odd that both the French officer and the French regiment were not able to patrol the Plains on the very night the British landed?

A suspicious French sentry challenged the boats, but an unknown officer of the 78th Highlanders answered him in French, thus dismissing any suspicion. The British had, as a matter of fact, landed at the wrong place. Instead of the opening, the English landed at the base of the cliffs. Twenty-four men fought their way up the cliffs and onto the road, keeping a sharp lookout for any Frenchmen. There were none on the road, so the rest of the British army quickly surprised and captured Vergor and his militiamen. One of them escaped and ran for Quebec, to warn the Marquis de Montcalm. Montcalm’s aide-de-camp thought that the man had gone mad, dismissed him, and promptly went back to sleep. The British had staged a diversion at Beauport, which occupied Montcalm’s attention.

It was only on the morning of the 13th that General Montcalm learned the truth: the British had successfully landed and were now on the Plains of Abraham. He determined to attack the British, for, “If we give him [the enemy] time to establish himself, we shall never be able to attack him with the troops we have.” The French army sent to meet the British numbered about 5,000 men while the British had about 4,500 soldiers. Montcalm formed his lines up in proper European battle formation. (Consult the map as to how the armies were arranged.)

Montcalm had 5 regular regiments, and two battalions of militia. He put the militia on his flanks and his regular regiments in the center. Near the center of the battlefield was a slight hill. The French troops drifted around it, thus weakening the center. The center, however, would take the brunt of the British volleys.

The French Canadian militia and British troops were fighting hard on the left flank, but the main bodies of each army were waiting for the enemy to make their move. At last, General Montcalm ordered a volley at too far a distance to be effective. After the volley, the French regulars charged the British, who let them approach quite close. At 35 yards or so away, the British unleashed an almost point-blank volley into the French lines. Another British volley served to destroy the French lines, who fled back to Quebec. But for the Canadian militia skirmishing and covering the retreat, the battle might have ended worse for the French regulars.

General Wolfe, who was with the front lines of the British, was shot three times, the last one being mortal. As he lay on the ground, a soldier called, “See them run!” “Who?” asked General Wolfe. “The French,” was the reply. “Now, God be praised, I will die in peace,” said General Wolfe, and died shortly thereafter. After General Wolfe died, his brigadier general, George Townshend, took command of the British, and had to beat off a powerful French attack under Colonel Bougainville. Had the French under Bougainville arrived sooner, the British would have been squeezed between the Colonel’s column (who attacked the British rear) and Montcalm’s army. Even had Bougainville attacked harder when he arrived, the French might have carried the day. However, all of this is conjecture since the British soundly beat Colonel Bougainville’s column, who retreated.

General Montcalm was also wounded, but he lingered until the morning of the 14th. He remarked that he was glad that he would not see the surrender of Quebec. Governor Vaudreuil also did not see the surrender of Quebec, but for different reasons. He and much of the army fled Quebec after this battle. The Governor relocated to Montreal, but he could not escape when the British took that city, only a year or so later. This battle sealed the fate of Quebec, and the French, under the Governor’s deputy, who was left in the city, surrendered only a few days later.

The Chevalier de Levis attacked the British a year later in the Battle of Sainte-Foy. This was the last major battle of the French and Indian War, but it is often overlooked. In a fierce battle, de Levis drove the British out of everywhere except the city itself. The Chevalier did not have the resources to undertake a siege, and a British fleet was coming, so he departed his position surrounding the city.

God’s Providential Hand is clearly evident in this critical battle. Why should that French officer’s horses have been out of commission on the day the British landed? Why should Captain Vergor not have been notified at the change in plans regarding the convoy? Why should the French regiment have been moved off the Plains of Abraham that night? Why should Bourgainville not have arrived sooner? Why should all of these events favored the British if God’s hand was not in it? God was clearly aiding the British Army to take Quebec, and ultimately Canada.
~The Historiographer

Major General James Wolfe

General the Marquis de Montcalm

Brigadier General George Townshend, Wolfe's deputy commander

General Montcalm rallying his troops

General Wolfe's army ascends the Plains of Abraham

(Please go to Jordan's blog for an expanded version of this article!)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009