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Authors: Jennifer Crump

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Canada Under Attack (7 page)

BOOK: Canada Under Attack

Wolfe had initially decided to make his landing at Beauport, between Quebec and Montmorency Falls. But when the ships arrived just outside Beauport they found a heavily fortified encampment of batteries and large guns that stretched for almost 10 kilometres along the coast. Behind the fortifications lay the French troops, a good number of the 14,000 to 16,000
that Montcalm had at his disposal. Wolfe was not disturbed by the comparative strength of the French Army; he considered them nothing more than “five feeble French battalions mixed with undisciplined peasants.”
But he did recognize that an assault by water against such a heavily defended location as Beauport would be suicidal. He met with his three most senior officers — Robert Monckton, James Murray, and George Townsend — to consider his options. There were not many. Wolfe had centred most of his plans on enticing Montcalm out to attack him. He expected that battle to be a furious one but he also expected to win it. Unfortunately for the British, the French refused to come out from behind the safety of their battlements. After a brief, ineffectual resistance from the handful of French troops stationed on the island, Wolfe landed most of his army on the Île d'Orléans and set up camp there.

A few days later he dispatched rangers to explore the terrain and entreat the locals to stay neutral in the conflict to come. Those who resisted were taken prisoner, but he treated the women and children with respect and promptly returned them to the French. In fact, he invited one group of captured gentlewomen to dine in his tent, exchanging pleasantries with them and inquiring when Monsieur le Marquis might be convinced to come out and fight him. One of wittier of the ladies responded with a quote from Plutarch, “If thou art a great general, Marius, come down and fight.” She paused and then continued her quote, “If thou art a great general, Silo, make me come down and fight.” There is no record of Wolfe's response but it was clear that he wanted nothing more than for Montcalm to come down and fight. Such pleasantries quickly came to an end when de Rigaud claimed that Wolfe only returned the prisoners because he had no food to feed them. All prisoner releases were immediately halted. Wolfe continued to believe that the Canadians would prefer to remain neutral, but to ensure that he had proclamations nailed to the doors of churches in villages all over the region. The proclamations included the usual posturing regarding the inevitable outcome of the conflict. But they also warned that, “should you suffer yourselves to be deluded by an imaginary prospect of our want of success; should you refuse these terms, and persist in opposition,” he would be ruthless in crushing them. “If by a vain obstinacy and misguided valour, they presume to appear in arms, they must expect the most fatal consequences their habitations destroyed, their sacred temples exposed to an exasperated soldiery, their harvest utterly ruined, and the only passage for relief stopped up by a most formidable fleet.”

On the night of June 28th, as all but the sentries whom Wolfe had appointed lay sleeping in the British encampment at Île d'Orléans, a small group of French ships made their way toward the British fleet at anchor outside the island. As the French ships drew near they suddenly burst into flames. They were fire ships, their sole purpose was to sail into the enemy's craft and destroy them. The French had spent considerable time and money on this strategy. Bigot had himself sold the fire ships to the French government, at a considerable profit of course.

The Defeat of the French Fireships attacking the British Fleet at Anchor before Quebec, 28 June 1759.

The fireworks were magnificent, but not very successful. One of the French captains had lost his nerve and fired his ship too early, followed by five of the other captains. Only one had held out — Captain Dubois de la Milletière. De la Milletière kept his ship on course, hoping to reach the British fleet, but the other ships soon lit his ablaze and the captain and his valiant crew were killed in the conflagration. The general alarm was sounded on the island and one of the British ships nearest the fire ships cut its cables and drifted farther down river, out of reach of the flames. No real damage was done. Smaller British craft towed the flaming ships out to the middle of the river where they burned harmlessly to the waterline.

While the rangers were scouting the Quebec countryside and the invaders waited impatiently, and increasingly nervously, on Île d'Orléans, General Robert Monckton led a few additional troops to the undefended Pointe Lévy, where they set up a battery across from Quebec. The soldiers in the Lower City of Quebec lobbed jeers and insults across the water at the British. Their engineers had, after all, assured them that no shells could reach the town from the headland across the river. The first shell launched by the British landed in the water and the jeers grew louder. The next shell landed in Upper Town and the jeers abruptly stopped. The British kept up a relentless bombardment for the next two months, laying waste to much of the city. Curé Richér recorded in his journal that over 40,000 cannonballs and 10,000 firebombs fell on his city during those two devastating months.
Sister Marie de la Visitation was working in the city's convent hospital when the barrage began. The British were armed she wrote, “with all the artillery that the infernal regions could supply for the destruction of mankind.”
As the bombardment continued, Sister Marie recorded the devastation and terror inflicted by the British. “The only rest we partook of,” she wrote, “was during prayers, and still it was not without interruption form the noise of shells and shot, dreading every moment they would be directed towards us… During one night, upwards of fifty of the best houses in the Lower Town were destroyed.”

But artillery and explosions were not the only plagues that faced Quebec City's inhabitants. Famine was a constant threat, as was sickness brought to the colony by the French reinforcements and exacerbated by shortages of food and medicine. Sister Marie de la Visitation's own small convent was forced to feed some 600 refugees. Scores of other residents fled the city for the relative safety of the countryside, but the danger followed them.

By the end of July, Wolfe had grown tired of the endless wait. Montcalm still wisely refused to come out to fight him. The siege was dragging on and soon winter would set in and Wolfe would be forced to either abandon the attack or allow his ships to become trapped in the ice and force his army to take their chances surviving as best they could the formidable Canadian winter.

Drawing of Quebec City.

Wolfe had discovered that although they may not have loved the French, the Canadians were willing to help them defend their territory. Rangers turned up dead, one with a stake driven through his heart. English foraging parties were attacked and killed, and occasionally sentries were found pinned to their posts with tomahawks. Wolfe penned another proclamation and when it too was ignored, he dispatched raiding parties to burn crops and villages, and take prisoners in an effort to terrorize the populace into submission. By then, Wolfe, plagued by stomach upsets and symptoms of scurvy, was too ill to leave his bed. Many of his men believed him to be dying.

The “King” of Newfoundland

David Kirke was a merchant and adventurer, an interesting hybrid born in Dieppe,
France, but with strong economic ties to England. Early in the 17th century, at the
height of the Thirty Years War, David Kirke's father and several other London mer-
chants established a trading company to sponsor trade and settlement along the St.
Lawrence River. Expelling their French rivals from North America became one of the
company's, and therefore the Kirke family's, raison d'être.

In 1628, David Kirke sailed from London in the company of his four brothers and
almost immediately captured Tadoussac, a small French trading post near Quebec.

With an almost regal bravado, Kirke sent a party of Basque fishermen to Champlain
to demand that he surrender Quebec to England and the Kirke's. Expecting the im-
minent arrive of supply ships, Champlain declined and Kirke decided not to attack
the fortified city. While leading his ships back across the Atlantic, Kirke encountered
the French supply fleet and easily captured them, putting the Quebec colony, still de-
pendent on support from France, in a very precarious position. In France, David and
his brothers, considered to be traitors in their country of birth, were burned in effigy.

But the English were very impressed with the success of the Kirkes and offered them
sole rights to trade and settle in Canada. In 1629, David Kirke returned to Quebec to
find the colony near starvation and Champlain much more willing to offer terms. He
accepted Champlain's surrender of the colony in July 1629. David was knighted for his
services to the crown and in 1637, after Quebec was returned to the French in the treaty
that ended the Thirty Years War, he was given co-proprietorship of Newfoundland and
settled in Ferryland. There he lived like royalty and controlled most of the economic activ-
ity on the island. He ousted those in control, collected taxes, established taverns to serve
the fishermen, and strictly controlled fishing rights around the island. When the Puritans
took control of England he hired his own 400 strong navy of “fishermen” to guard against
a possible attack. Like any self-appointed king, Kirke had his detractors and was eventu
ally brought up on state charges that he had withheld tax monies from the crown while a
private suit was launched against his for his purported “seizure” of the Province of Ava-
lon. No charge was ever substantiated but Kirke died in prison before he was exonerated.

Montcalm steadfastly kept to his plan. The fire ships had failed but the weather was growing steadily colder. If the coming winter did not drive the English away, it would most certainly kill them. While he waited, he reinforced the road to Montreal and kept his inexperienced troops inside the fortifications. The bombardment of the city troubled him but he did not dare risk his untested men in an attempt to take Pointe Lévy. When a group of merchants came to him to beg to be allowed to attempt to retake the Pointe he refused. Eventually he relented and a small militia led by the merchants launched a counterattack on Pointe Lévy. In the dead of night on July 11, 1,200 militia, fortified by 200 Jesuit divinity students and a handful of regulars and Natives, rowed across the river to a beach several kilometres west of the British battery. In the dark woods, the militia became separated into confused, armed mobs and at least three times fired upon each other. Despite hearing that the British remained unaware of their position and listening to pleas from their commander to stay the course, nervousness turned to panic and they fled back to their boats and across the St. Lawrence.

The incident further reinforced Montcalm's determination to wait out the enemy, but his soldiers were less convinced. Worried about their families, they began to desert. De Rigaud made another attempt to scatter the English flotilla with fire ships. This time he sent 70 ships and the commander waited until they were nearly in the midst of the British fleet before setting them ablaze. But again, the British seamen rowed out and towed the ships into the river. An angry Wolfe sent a message to the French warning that, “If you presume to send down any more fire-rafts, they shall be made fast to the two transports in which the Canadian prisoners are confined in order that they may perish by your own base invention.”

The summer dragged on and still Wolfe was unable to come up with a comprehensive plan to take Quebec. On July 31, in a desperate bid to end the siege, Wolfe ordered his troops to make a disastrous attack near Montmorency. Just as the French began to run out of ammunition the weather broke. The raging storm that followed gave the advantage to the French. The British were forced to make their advance up a hill that was much steeper than Wolfe had anticipated and was covered in deep mud, all while the French were firing down upon them. The English quickly retreated and the attack was soon abandoned. Nearly 1,000 British troops were killed during that battle and another skirmish that took place when an advance party was sent out to locate a ford near Montmorency. Due to rampant illness, poor sanitation, and the summer heat another 2,000 troops were sick or dying. Wolfe was finding himself increasingly at odds with his officers. Everyone was anxious. Leaving would be a failure on the grandest scale, one that would threaten the careers of everyone involved. Still, Wolfe could not come up with a plan that would neither be suicidal nor ineffectual. In a letter to his mother he lamented his predicament,

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