Please accept my congratulations upon your splendid victory, my dear general. I am the more delighted with it because it affords an instance of cleverly-executed movements in the field, incredible diligence on the march, and noteworthy intrepidity-- Colonel Louis Antoine de Bougainville, writing to the Chevalier de Levis
On this day, two hundred and fifty years ago, the French troops in Canada gained their last great victory at the Battle of Sainte-Foy. This battle, through a French victory, has been used to tarnish the reputation of the Chevalier de Levis, new commander-in-chief after the death of Montcalm. But was Levis foolhardy? Was this battle unsound and unwise?
Levis made a risky decision to attack Quebec before the British army came out of winter quarters. His famished troops slogged their way through the snow and ice from Montreal to Quebec.
On the British side, Brigadier General James Murray commanded the starving and shivering British garrison of Quebec.
When Levis and his army appeared on the horizon, Murray decided to attack. He dragged heavy artillery through the slush onto the Plains of Abraham, while his soldiers followed. The British were outnumbered, but Murray decided to catch and crush Levis with a swift attack. He formed up in line of battle, and his cannons opened fire. The French were taking heavy casualties from the bombardment, which began to equalize the numbers of combatants. On one flank of the armies was a blockhouse, on the other, a windmill.
Bitter fighting raged in the windmill. It was taken and retaken by British light infantry, French grenadiers, His Britannic Majesty George II’s 35th Regiment, and His Most Christian Majesty Louis XV’s Bearn Regiment, all in turn. On the other flank, Rangers manned the blockhouse, but the French wiped them out.
The French held both strong positions on the flanks, and Levis launched attacks on the British flanks. By now the Royal Artillery was out of commission, due to a lack of ammunition transport through the slush. General Murray realized the disaster, and sent his reserves into the flanks, but it was too late. The French regiments charged into the British with bayonets, and the English officers could not rally their men. In the words of Levis’ aide-de-camp, the Chevalier de Johnstone, “The enemy fled so precipitately, and in such confusion that the officers could not rally a single man.”
The British and General Murray escaped through the gates into Quebec, and both armies anxiously waited for a ship of their own nation. If one French or British frigate could arrive in the River St. Lawrence, the possession of Quebec would be sealed. At last, a British frigate arrived in the river, followed a few days later by two more. The French retreated to Montreal, where the last vestiges of Louis XV’s colony in North America were lost on September 8th with the surrender of Montreal.
This battle is seen as unwise because Levis did not retake Quebec (for more information, see the post on Battle of Quebec). But it is clear that had one French ship arrived, the Battle of Sainte-Foy might have been more decisive even than Wolfe’s victory on the Plains of Abraham. And had the French frigate arrived, the independence of America might have been delayed, or even prevented all together. For without a British victory in the Seven Years’ War, there would have been no pretext to tax the American colonies. And without the taxation without representation of the British Parliament, there would have been no reason to revolt against the tyranny of England. But God in His Providence was using a battle in the snow in a little-known hamlet called Sainte-Foy, and the speedy voyage of the Royal Navy to the relief of the British garrison, ultimately, to bring America her freedom that she might shine forth the light of His Word. May we shine forth God’s light in this now-darkened country in which we live.