250 Years Ago 13 Sept: Wolfe and Montcalm at Quebec

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Sep 14, 2009 No Comments ›› John Eidsmoe

250 Years Ago 13 Sept: Wolfe and Montcalm at Quebec

“In days of yore, from Britain’s shore,
Wolfe, the dauntless hero, came
And planted firm Britannia’s flag
On Canada’s fair domain.
Here may it wave, our boast and pride
And, joined in love together,
The thistle, shamrock, rose entwine
The Maple Leaf forever!”

These words of “The Maple Leaf Forever (http://www NULL.canadafirst NULL.net/maple_leaf_forever/),” second only to “O Canada!” as a patriotic Canadian anthem, recount a great event in Canadian history, when Canada (represented by the maple leaf) came under the dominion of the British Union consisting of Scotland (the thistle), Ireland (the shamrock), and England (the rose).

Yesterday, September 13, I had the privilege of addressing the Society of St. George in Montgomery at their “Service of Commemoration and Thanksgiving on the British, and Canadian soldiers presented the flags of their countries, to the accompaniment of “The Star Spangled Banner,” “God Save the Queen,” and “O Canada.”

How many Americans, how many Canadians, today remember “Wolfe, the dauntless hero”? James Wolfe, the 32-year-old English major general, lead the British forces to victory 250 years ago, September 13, 1759. The son of an English officer, Wolfe entered the army at age 13 (some say 15), was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant at age 14 (some say 16), and by age 21 had been through 7 military campaigns. One of these was the Battle of Colloden in 1746, in which the English defeated the Scots’ Jacobite rebellion under Bonnie Prince Charlie. After the battle, the Duke of Cumberland ordered young Wolfe to execute a colonel of the Fraser Highland Regiment for looking insolently at the English. Wolfe, only a teenager, refused: “My commission is at your Royal Highness’s disposal, but I will never consent to become an executioner.” This earned him the loyalty and gratitude of the Scots, and the Fraser Highland Regiment fought bravely under Wolfe at the Battle of Quebec.

That battle was the turning point of the French & Indian War, called the Seven Years’ War by Canadians and by many French Canadians the War of the Conquest. The war was an extension of a larger war in Europe between England and her allies (mostly the Prussians) and France and her allies (mostly the Spanish). Indians fought on both sides; more Indian nations supported the French, but the powerful Iroquois Confederacy supported the English. French territory included the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes territory, Louisiana, and outposts along the Mississippi. Both parties contested for the Ohio River valley territory in between.

1756 and 1757 saw many French victories, but in 1758 the tide began to turn toward the English. To draw British attention away from North America, France launched a failed invasion of England. The English prime minister William Pitt responded by ordering Wolfe to capture Quebec.

That was no easy task. Quebec had the best walls of any city in North America. Furthermore, Quebec was situated on the northern bank of the St. Lawrence River atop 180′ cliffs which made the city virtually impregnable.

Or so they thought. After some diversionary tactics, on the night of September 12th Wolfe crossed the St. Lawrence and set his men ashore beneath those cliffs. A French sentry called upon them to identify themselves, and a Scotsman from the Fraser Highland Regiment answered in such perfect French that they were allowed to land. Throughout the night, Wolfe’s men climbed to the plateau above, called the Plains of Abraham.

Dawn greeted the French soldiers and their General Montcalm with about 4,828 British soldiers on the Plains of Abraham, in formation and ready for battle; about a third of these were from the American colonies. Montcalm urgently assembled a force of about the same size, and they came forth from the walls to do battle. But the English volleys devastated the French army, and many broke ranks and retreated. The battle itself lasted 15-30 minutes, and it was clear that the British had won.

Wolfe was mortally wounded in the battle but lived long enough to be told of the British victory. The dying general told Colonel River to cut off their retreat from the bridge, and said, “Now, God be praised, I die contented,” and, turning on his side, he calmly breathed his last breath.

Montcalm was also wounded that day. Told that he was dying, he said, “So much the better; I am glad I shall not live to see the surrender of Quebec.” He then gave some final orders to his officers, sent a message to the British asking that his troops be treated well, and prepared to meet God. Regardless of which side one favors, one appreciates the character and valor of both generals.

The Battle of Quebec decided much more than the fate of a city; it determined the destiny of a continent. After Quebec, Britain clearly was the dominant power in North America. Canada was British, as were the American colonies.

Of even greater significance, both Canada and the American colonies were shaped and governed by the Anglo-American common law, with its underlying concepts of decentralized government, God-given individual rights, and justice through due process, rather than by the more centralizing features of French law with its Roman antecedents. In this sense, the Battle of Quebec may truly be considered a milestone in the struggle for liberty under law.

“O God, Who at Quebec”
“O God, Who at Quebec didst give our fathers victory,
We praise Thee for Thy guiding hand upon our history.
“Thy servant Wolfe Thou didst appoint to lead the valiant fight,
And courage to their climbing steps didst grant throughout the night.
“And from those steps to victory, Thou gavest them the claim
To plant upon this continent the Anglo-Saxon name.
“Yet more Thou broughtest from this land two seedlings from one soil
And spreadest forth her fields of fruit through labor of man’s toil.
“Arise within us courage, Lord, like theirs who fought of yore
Until we battle all our foes, and man knows war no more.”
Hymn Tune: Dundee

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