OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Reign of George II. (Concluded) page 13

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 <13> 14 15 16

The enemy's fleets being thus destroyed or shut up, Pitt determined on his great enterprise, the conquest of Canada. The idea was worthy of his genius. His feeble predecessors had suffered the French from this neighbouring colony to aspire to the conquest of our North American territory. They had built strong forts on the lakes and down the valley of the Ohio, to connect them with the Mississippi, and then to drive us out of the whole country. Had not Pitt come into office they would, in all likelihood, have succeeded. We have seen how all the efforts of the English to take these forts under the imbecile administration of Newcastle and his aristocratic colleagues had dismally failed. The story of Braddock will remain to all time a testimony to the wretched management under a purely aristocratic cabinet. But Pitt - in contempt called by these feeble magnates " the great commoner " - had already commenced the driving in of the French outposts, and he now planned the complete expulsion of that nation from their advanced posts and from Canada itself. His scheme had three parts, which were all to concentrate themselves into one great effort - the taking of Quebec, the capital. It was a daring enterprise, for Canada was ably governed and defended by marshal de Montcalm, a man of great military experience and talent, and highly esteemed for his noble character by the colonists and the Indians, vast tribes of whom he had won over to his interest by his courtesy and conciliatory manner, whilst the English had as much disgusted them by their haughty surliness. But Pitt had picked his men for the occasion, and especially for the grand coup-de-main, the taking of Quebec. He formed his whole plan himself, and though it was not perfect, and was greatly criticised by military men, it succeeded, though not in effecting the combination which he contemplated, yet in all its parts.

The left of his operations was intrusted to general Prideaux with a body of colonial militia, and Sir William Johnson with another of friendly Indians, over whom he had a wonderful ascendancy. This united force was to march against the fort of Niagara, reduce it, and then, crossing lake Ontario, advance on Montreal. The centre of his operations was intrusted to general Amherst, who superseded Abercrombie. With twelve thousand men he was again to attempt Ticonderoga, open the navigation of Lake Champlain, and then, joining Prideaux and Johnson at Montreal, descend the St. Lawrence to. support Wolfe, who was to be conveyed by sea to the St. Lawrence, and to prepare for the storming of Quebec, it being hoped that, by the time of his arrival, the two other divisions of the army would have come up.

In pursuance of this plan of the campaign, Prideaux and Johnson arrived before the fort of Niagara in the middle of July, which they found very strong, and garrisoned by six hundred men. Prideaux was soon killed by the bursting of a shell, but Johnson continued the siege with great ability, having to invest the fort on one hand, whilst he was menaced on the other by a mixed body of French and Indians, one thousand seven hundred in number, who came to relieve the fort. The attack upon him commenced with a terrible war- whoop of the Indians, which, mingling with the roar of the great cataract near, made the most horrible din imaginable. But this did not disconcert the English and their savage allies, who received them with such steady courage, that in less than an hour they were put to the rout in sight of their own garrison, and pursued for five miles with dreadful slaughter. The garrison thereupon capitulated, remaining prisoners of war. There, however, Sir William Johnson's career stopped. From various causes, not foreseen, he was not able to advance beyond the Ontario to unite with Amherst. That general had fully succeeded in taking Ticonderoga and Crown Point, but he found the French so strongly posted on the Isle aux Noir, at the upper end of Lake Champlain, that he was compelled to stop and build boats to enable his army to reach and dislodge them; and it was not till October that he was ready to proceed, when he was driven back repeatedly by tempests, and compelled to go into winter quarters.

Wolfe, meantime, had reached the St. Lawrence in June, on board a fleet commanded by admiral Saunders. The navigation of that river was considered very dangerous, but in ascending they captured two small storeships, and found on board some excellent charts of the river, which enabled the admiral to ascend safely. On the 27th of June the army was landed on the Isle of Orleans, in the middle of the St. Lawrence, in front of Quebec.

The Canadas, now become so populous, and carrying on so valuable a commerce with the mother-country, at that period contained only about sixty thousand souls, Quebec about seven thousand. But the city occupied a most formidable site. It stands on a steep and rocky promontory running into the left bank of the St. Lawrence, about a hundred leagues from its mouth, and where the river, from a breadth of from twelve to twenty miles, rapidly narrows to about one mile. The city is partly built on the rocky heights, part on the slopes below. Up the river from the city rose still higher and almost inaccessible steeps, called the Heights of Abraham, and, on the other hand, the side of the city down the stream was bounded by the river St. Charles, which there runs into the St. Lawrence. The stretch of ground betwixt the St. Charles and the stream of Montmorenci, some miles lower, called Beauport, was connected by a bridge with Quebec. On this ground Montcalm had encamped his army, as the most accessible side of the city, consisting altogether of ten thousand French, Canadians, and Indians.

Such were the place and opponent which Wolfe was to compete with and to conquer, if possible. Wolfe was then in his thirty-third year, but he had already had a considerable military experience. He entered the army at fourteen years of age, was in the battle of Dettingen when only sixteen, in that of Fontenoy at nineteen, and in that of Lauffeld at twenty-one. He was afterwards at the conquest of Cape Breton, and had everywhere distinguished himself by his martial energy and enthusiasm. He was a lieutenant-colonel at twenty-two, and was fixed upon by Pitt as the man for a dashing and difficult enterprise. All his soul was in his profession, and his only fault was that of being likely to forget the security of his person in his ardour for victory. No news of Amherst or of Johnson had reached him; yet Wolfe, though he had only eight thousand men, and many of these now become unfit for service from disease on the voyage, determined to attack the enemy. He made his camp on the point of the isle of Orleans nearest to the city, and on the 29th of June dispatched brigadier Monckton to take possession of Point Levis, on the right bank of the river, also facing the city. The view of the town, with its bishop's palace, its cathedral, and the castle of St. Louis crowning the summit of the hill, was defiant with its strong fortifications; but the defences of Nature were still more imposing. The reflection which Wolfe made as he gazed upon it was, that it was "the strongest country in the world, perhaps, to rest the defence of the town and colony upon."

Wolfe endeavoured to conciliate the natives and the colonists around by issuing a proclamation that their persons and property should be safe so long as they took no share in the war; but this had no effect, for the colonists, old and young, concealed in the woods, destroyed every straggler that they could. He therefore ordered every farmhouse and hut, and even the standing corn all round his camp, to be set fire to, that they might not conceal these inveterate enemies. But a storm setting in which drove the ships from their anchors, and the transports one upon another, advantage was taken of it by Montcalm to send down in the night fire- ships, which came blazing down the river, and taking their course direct for our shipping, threatened its utter destruction. But the sailors, fearlessly entering their boats, boarded these fire-ships, secured them with chains, and towed them to the side of the island, where they burned to the water's edge without doing any mischief. These having failed, a number of rafts piled with burning timber were sent down after them, and were treated the same.

Wolfe raised batteries at Levis Point and on the island, and bombarded the town, but he could not draw the wary Montcalm from his strong position. In his front lay the river and some unapproachable sandbanks, behind and around him rocks and dense woods inaccessible. Once only he made a rush across the river, and endeavoured, with a detachment of one thousand six hundred men, to gain the batteries on Point Levis; but his troops soon saw the attempt to be hopeless, and retired. No measures were neglected by Wolfe, on his part, to draw Montcalm from his position. He marched along the banks of the Montmorenci opposite to him, and made feints as if he would cross it somewhere above him, but to no purpose - Montcalm knew his advantage. "Wolfe wrote home, that if Montcalm had but shut himself up in Quebec, he could have taken the town very easily, but he could not readily force him from his admirable position. Growing at length impatient, he determined to attack him where he was, and he dispatched admiral Holmes up the river with a number of transports, as though he contemplated something in that quarter. He then landed, on the 31st of July, a body of troops near the mouth of the Montmorenci, which there falls three hundred feet into the St. Lawrence. He had discovered a ford at some distance up the river, and dispatched brigadier Townshend to cross there and attack Montcalm in flank, whilst he himself, by means of the ships and their boats, gained the beach and attacked in front. The "Centurion" man-of-war was placed to engage a battery which swept the place of landing, and then the troops were conveyed in boats, which drew little water, towards the shore. Some of these, however, got entangled amongst some rocks, and created a delay in getting them off. By this time the French were hurrying down towards the landing-place with their artillery, and began to fire murderously from the banks above upon them. Wolfe, seeing that Townshend would cross the ford before they were ready to co-operate, sent an officer to recall him. At this time, the grenadiers having reached the beach, rushed forward upon the entrenchments before the rest of the troops could be got out of the boats to support them. They were met by such a destructive fire that they were compelled to fall back with much slaughter. By this time night was setting in, attended by a storm, the roaring of which, mingling with the roar of the mighty St. Lawrence as the tide fell, seemed to warn them to recover their camp. The word was given to re-cross the river, and they made good their retreat without the French attempting to pursue them, though the Indians lurked in the rear to scalp such of the dead and such of the wounded as could not be brought off.

This check, attended with considerable loss, greatly dispirited the troops, and threw the general into a condition of deep anxiety. The evening before his embarking for this expedition, Wolfe had dined with Pitt and lord Temple, when, giving way to one of his fits of enthusiasm, he drew his sword, struck the table with it, and, walking violently about the room, had boasted what he would do when he once got to Canada. Pitt was struck with terror, and the moment that Wolfe was gone he had exclaimed, "Good God! that I should have trusted the fate of the country and of the administration to such hands!" Probably Wolfe might ponder on his boast now that he lay baffled in his camp, his forces having shrunk, from illness and death, to little more than three thousand six hundred effective men. Agonisingly did he listen for tidings of the approach of Amherst and Johnson. He learned that Niagara and Ticonderoga had fallen, but no news of the army's advance reached him. His intense anxiety at length threw him into a violent fever, and, as soon as he recovered in some degree from it, he called on the admiral and the chief engineer to assist him in inspecting, as nearly as they could, the defences of the city, to see whether an assault was by any means practicable. The depressing conclusion was, that it would be hopeless. He then held a council with his two next in command, the brigadiers Monckton and Townshend, and they resolved, as a desperate attempt, to move up the river, and thus endeavour to draw Montcalm from his unassailable position. Accordingly, leaving detachments to defend the isle of Orleans and Point Levis, the rest of the army ascended the St. Lawrence for some miles, and pitched their camp on the right bank. To attract still more attention, admiral Holmes was ordered to put his vessels in active motion for some days, as if seeking a landing-place higher up the river. This stratagem, however, produced no other result than that of Montcalm sending a detachment of one thousand five hundred men to watch their proceedings. He himself maintained his old ground.

Completely disheartened by this result, Wolfe for a moment felt despair of his object, and in that despairing mood, on the 9th of September, he wrote to Pitt. He said that, "to the uncommon strength of the country, the enemy had added, for the defence of the river, a great number of floating batteries and boats; that the vigilance of the Indians had prevented their effecting anything by surprise; that he had had a choice of difficulties, and felt at a loss how to proceed; and he concluded with the remark, that his constitution was entirely ruined, without the consolation of having done any considerable service to the state, or without any prospect of it."

This was very different language from what Pitt had hoped to hear from Wolfe, and he must have recurred with horror to the last scene in the dining-room. When the news got abroad, the public was excited by anger and consternation, and there was a general expectation that the next news would be that the army had been destroyed, or had capitulated.

But the despondency of Wolfe was but for a moment. Suddenly a new idea - an inspiration, it seemed - burst upon him: he would scale the Heights of Abraham - the point where no mortal ascent was dreamed of, and which therefore was less defended, except by nature, than the rest of the vicinity of the city. The ships were immediately ordered to make a feint, under admiral Saunders, opposite Montcalm's camp at Beauport, and those under Holmes, at a point higher up the river. Attention being thus drawn from himself, on the night of the 13th of September, when it was pitch dark and the tide flowing, he put across the river to a small inlet about two miles above Quebec, which ever since bears the name of Wolfe's Cove. As they crossed in silence, Wolfe repeated in low tones to the officers in the boat with him some stanzas of Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard," including words which had a prophetic sentiment in them - "The paths of glory lead but to the grave;" and he declared that he would rather have written that poem than take Quebec.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 <13> 14 15 16

Pictures for Reign of George II. (Concluded) page 13

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About