The Life of Louis-Joseph de Montcalm

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The Battle of Quebec

Louis-Joseph de Montcalm was the commander of the French garrison at Quebec City during the French and Indian War. 

Montcalm was born into an old and distinguished family that belonged to the French nobility, in 1712 near Nimes, France.

During the War of the Austrian Succession, Montcalm served as the aide-de-camp to the Marquis de La Fare. In 1746, Montcalm’s regiment was destroyed during the decisive Austrian victory at Piacenza.

Montcalm and the French and Indian War

By 1755, Britain and France were once again at war, both in Europe and North America, where the fighting would become known as the French and Indian War. Montcalm was promoted to the rank of Major General, and sent to Quebec City to take charge of the war effort. Montcalm’s orders were very specific. The Governor General of New France, Pierre Francios de Vaudreuil, had final authority over the army. Montcalm was to serve as Vaudreuil’s senior field commander and was responsible for maintaining discipline and morale in the army.

In his initial reports to the Minister of War, Montcalm expressed doubts about Vaudreuil, who he claimed had little use for anyone but colonials. In the 18th Century, it was expected for a senior officer in Montcalm’s position to openly criticize his commander. As a result, Vaudreuil spent much of his time combating the intrigue within his own command.

In the meantime, Vaudreuil anticipated a renewed British offensive somewhere along Lake Ontario. In July, Montcalm assembled a force of 3,000 men at Kingston, from which he launched an attack on Fort Carillon. The Battle of Fort Carillon proved to be a decisive victory for the French. In spite of this, Montcalm’s dispatches to France indicate nothing but contempt for the Canadians and the First Nations.Vaudreuil also wrote to the King’s ministers, saying that Montcalm did not understand the realities of campaigning in North America.

The Battle for Quebec

Meanwhile, Louisbourg had fallen to British under General Wolfe, who was mustering an army at Halifax. Reinforcements were needed, and in his regular reports ton the Minister of Marine, Vaudreuil claimed that the situation was bleak. Montcalm went further, saying that the situation was completely hopeless. However, both men ignored the fact that the French convoys had eluded the British blockade every year of the war.

Early in May, 1759 a convoy arrived from France, carrying troops and supplies. Close behind them was a British task force carrying Wolfe and 9,000 troops. The year before, Montcalm had surveyed the St. Lawrence River and made recommendations as to the best locations for artillery batteries to harass a British invasion fleet.

Both Montcalm and Vaudreuil believed that the British would not be able to navigate the river without Canadian pilots. In spite of this, Wolfe’s forces found their way up river. Despite this, Montcalm had a number of advantages over Wolfe. Montcalm was in command of a full division, 15,000 men, who were defending a heavily fortified position. Montcalm also had the advantage of time. He did not need to defeat Wolfe, only stall until winter, at which point Wolfe would be forced to return to England.

Shortly after the British task force dropped anchor in the St. Lawrence River, 3,000 men were put ashore at Pointe-Levy, where they quickly dug in and set up an artillery battery aimed at Quebec City. On July 11, Montcalm sent a militia force on a night raid to attack the British position. However, the raid was a failure and the British guns opened up on the city the next day. The British would shell Quebec City for the next three months, leaving much of the city in ruins.

On July 31, Wolfe attacked down river from Quebec City. The British attack was beaten back with heavy loses. The result convinced Vaudreuil that Wolfe would next attempt to turn Montcalm’s western flank and attack above Quebec.

As the nights became cooler, Wolfe’s admirals became anxious and picked September 20, 1759 as the day the fleet would sail for England. This prompted Wolfe into one last-ditch effort to take Quebec City.

The Death of Montcalm

In the early hours of September 13, Wolfe’s forces landed at the base of the cliffs surrounding Wolfe’s Cove. Within a few hours, Wolfe managed to get 4,500 men up the cliffs and onto the Plains of Abraham. Montcalm gave orders for the city’s garrison to form up outside the city walls.

In the space of 15 minutes, the battle was over. The French regulars broke and ran for the city almost immediately. The only thing that saved the French was the expert marksmanship of the Canadian militia. Montcalm received a mortal wound to the abdomen just as he was about to re-enter the city. He died of his injury the next day.

Montcalm was initially buried in a shell crater beneath the floor of the Uruslines’ chapel in Quebec City. In 2001, Montcalm’s remains were reburied in the cemetery of the Quebec General Hospital, with the remains of casualties from both sides of the war.

Sources

Eccles, WJ. Louis-Joseph de Montcalm. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Mar. 23/10

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