In 1749, there was a renewed threat of war in North America. The Acadians were considered by the British as at best unreliable subjects. The prevailing opinion in London was that the Acadian problem had to be resolved once and for all. Yet, there were three logistical problems confronting the English:
In 1749, the English gave the Acadians a final opportunity to swear an oath that would've guaranteed their loyalty to England. I think the Acadians must have felt like Luke Skywalker when the Emperor was trying to turn him to the Dark Side of the force in Return of the Jedi. The new oath included the old "reject the Pope" clause that had previously been rejected. The English never fully expected the Acadians would take the oath anyhow. For expulsion order had already been given and preparations were underway.
The English governor finally gave the order to expel the French in September of 1755. An officer (and wannabe Sith Lord) named John "Darth" Winslow was given the task of leading the expulsion. The French were immediately declared "non-citizens" and their land/livestock were confiscated. As you can imagine, there was some confusion and anger among the French. However, the British were prepared. They rounded up and deported 2,000 Acadians in the first month alone with little or no fuss. To escape expulsion some Acadians fled into the forests where they were hunted down by British troops. Many French managed to avoid capture and made it to Quebec. Nevertheless, by the end of the first year alone nearly 7,000 French had been successfully resettled.
A doctor by the name of John Thomas, serving under Winslow, kept a detailed journal of the events in Acadia: “September 2nd. Pleasant day. Major Frye sent Lieutenant John Indocott’s detachment to the shore, with orders to burn the village at a place called Peteojack. September 18. Very strong gusts of wind, with rain and snow. Major Prible returned from an expedition with his men, who had burned 200 houses and barns. November 19th. Cold. We rounded up 230 head of cattle, 40 sows, 20 sheep and 20 horses and we came back. We have started moving the inhabitants out. The women were very distressed, carrying their newborns in their arms; others brought along in carts their infirm parents and their personal effects. In short, it was a scene in which confusion was mixed with despair and desolation.”14
The majority of Acadians were deported to New England, where they were not welcome: “The French neutrals arouse the general discontentment of the population, because they are papist zealots, lazy and of a quarrelsome mind,” declared the governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, who probably never met a French person in his life. He continued, “We have very few Catholics here, which makes the population very anxious for its religious principles and makes it fear that the French shall corrupt our Negroes."
The ships transporting the Acadians were overcrowded as the French were squished into holds to the point of suffocation. These transports were little more than prison ships. Some of the Acadians ended up in England and France, some in the Caribbean (Antilles), a scattered few in the English Colonies, and a number of them settled in Louisiana.
In 1758, the English captured Louisbourg and a final series of deportations began. The most infamous of all the persecuting British officers was Robert Monckton. Those French who resisted deportation (and weren't executed outright) were sent on an all expenses paid vacation to England where they labored for years in concentration camps. After their stay in England was over, the French were sent to France where they felt and were treated like foreigners.
When the expulsion finally ended in 1762, over 10,000 people had been removed; and of those 3,000 had died due to shipwrecks and disease. In 1764, the deportations officially came to an end and the ban on Acadians was lifted. The ban was lifted only because New France had been conquered and was no longer a threat. Approximately 3,000 people returned to Nova Scotia to start over again. However, many of the French returned only to find their farms occupied by English settlers. Consequently, the majority of these people migrated north-west to found settlements in present day New Brunswick.
The conflict was the result of a decades long territorial dispute over the Ohio Valley region. Ohio was important for a couple of reasons: firstly, it was a productive area for the fur trade; and secondly, the Thirteen Colonies (especially Virginia) wanted to expand westward and the French were in the way. The Americans were particularly unhappy that the French constructed Fort Duquesne in the area of contention. So the Virginians sent an officer named George Washington to deliver a message ordering the French to leave. The French literally laughed in Washington's face.
Washington needed little coaxing to return and attack the French the next year. He and a force of about 150 men led an ambush in which ten Canadiens were killed. This was the first action in what would eventually become a world war. After the attack, Washington and his men were in full retreat as the main force from Fort Duquesne pursued them through the wilderness. The French caught up with the Americans and after a brief battle at Fort Necessity, Washington surrendered. All of the violence, I.e. Ambush, the short battle, etc. had taken place during peace time. War had not been officially declared by either France or England.
With the treatment of Washington and their subsequent defeat at Fort Necessity, the Americans felt their honor had been insulted. They therefore plotted (again during peace time) a major assault on French outposts throughout North America. The following locations were targets: Fort Niagara, Fort Champlain, Acadia, and Fort Duquesne. Command of the English American force was given to the blustering and red faced General Braddock. Braddock led his American strike force into the Ohio Valley.
The American expedition was a fiasco. In the wilderness, Braddock had his men march side by side (as though they were marching in a parade). This type of formation was useful in wide open spaces because mobility was not a problem; but they weren't on a parade ground. They were marching in a densely wooded area full of hills, rocks, and crevasses.
The Canadiens, who were experienced in frontier war, set up an ambush. A small band of Canadiens and First Nations allies waited patiently for Braddock's force to march into a spot where hills rose sharply on either side of the Americans. The following battle, to quote historian Will Ferguson, was "less an ambush than it was a turkey shoot."15 The Americans had no chance. The French force was essentially invisible by virtue of the surrounding trees. The British lost 977 men and the French 23.
(I thought of this battle during my son's fifth birthday party. He and his friends didn't have a clue on how to play laser tag. They all stood in a circle facing one another. Meanwhile the older kids (who knew how to play) kept on shooting the little kids, running away, returning, shooting little kids, etc. My son earned the rank of Space Cadet for scoring three kills. He must have shot himself three times. I should talk: I didn't do any better than him and I was 33 years old at the time.)
As you can see, just like my son's first laser tag experience the start of the war went poorly for the British. They ended up canceling the remaining three planned campaigns.
The Thirteen Colonies boasted approximately 1.2 million people while New France could barely muster 60,000. So how were so few French able to prevent Quebec from being conquered? And why were the Canadiens able to limit the westward expansion of the Americans? There are several possible reasons:
Early French Victories
He was the first governor of New France to have actually been born in the colony. Not surprisingly he supported guerilla warfare tactics over conventional warfare. Canadiens had developed their approach to fighting, I.e. Ambushes, hiding behind rocks while firing their weapon, attacking and running away, etc. from the Algonquin and Wyandot. This style of warfare did not suit European officers who believed hiding behind a tree in war to be "dishonorable." I laughed when I came across the following:
Vaudreuil wanted to employ Canadien tactics of waging war against the English while Montcalm preferred more honorable methods, i.e. Standing shoulder to shoulder in an open field within shooting distance of the enemy.
When war broke out in 1756 both men demonstrated their value to the French war effort. New France enjoyed victory after victory in the early stages; and this had as much to do with Vaudreuil's bold raids deep into American territory as it had to do with Montcalm's skill in leading the regular French troops. Below is a list of the early accomplishments of these two men:
After their setback at Carillon the British knew nothing but victory: the change in England's fortunes was due to the success of their naval blockade of New France. Montcalm was not receiving the supplies or reinforcements he required to make a successful defense. Thus, Montcalm had to be selective, e.g. He could not defend both Montreal/Quebec City and forts Carillon and Duquesne. The French commander and chief therefore withdrew his forces to defend the all-important settlements on the St. Lawrence.
A combined Anglo-American force arrived at Fort Louisbourg in the middle of June, 1758. Before the expected attack, French Governor Augustin Drucor and British General Jeffrey Amherst exchanged gifts and pleasantries. Following the exchange, Amherst returned to his siege lines to plan Louisbourg's destruction—a massive cannon bombardment. Drucour described the British cannonade in the following way: "All the women and a great number of little children came out, running to and fro [like Ewoks evading ATAT-Walkers], not knowing where to go in the midst of bombs and balls falling on every side; it seems the British intention is not just to breach the walls but rather to kill everyone and burn the town." With the hospital destroyed, food supplies dwindling and morale low, Marie-Anne Drucour personally fired three cannons a day herself to inspire the mutinous garrison of Louisbourg to continue fighting.16
Britain's naval blockade isolated Louisbourg and prevented help from arriving. Despite the hopelessness of the situation, Drucor refused to surrender: if he could delay the English long enough an attack on Quebec City could not be attempted until the following year. The British were in a hurry but time and winter were on the side of the French.
The British saw the island of Anse de la Cormorandiere as a chink in Louisbourg's armor. The small island was located just off from the northern wall of Louisbourg; it was not fortified because it was considered indefensible. The British proved them wrong. Not only did they hold the island, they placed heavy guns upon it which were used to help breach the walls of Louisbourg. A British soldier described the landing: "One boat in which were twenty grenadiers and an officer was [struck] and everyone drowned. The difficulty of landing at this place was such that they thought the devil himself would not have attempted it." Brigadier-General James Wolfe's successful landing earned him a reputation for being reckless.17 Despite Wolfe's heroics, winter was upon them and the invasion of Quebec was post-poned until next summer.
In 1759, Britain had more manpower and resources to draw upon than France in North America; however, the French never intended on defeating Britain through force of arms. Instead, the French strategy hinged upon the following: if the French could draw out the conflict long enough the British would lose their taste for war because of the associated costs. The tactic turned out to be a good one as Britain's prime minister, William Pitt, had virtually bankrupted Britain in order to vigorously prosecute the war in North America.
On the 25 of June, 1759, Wolfe stopped just out of range of Quebec's guns to plan his attack. Quebec was built upon the north bank of the St. Lawrence River, its high cliffs made a direct assault on the city risky and unappealing. For his part Montcalm refused to meet Wolfe's army in an open battle despite invitations to do so. His defensive position was too great an advantage to throw away.
But Wolfe was not complacent. To soften the French position, he gave the order to establish artillery pieces on cliffs opposite Quebec. The French did not try to defend the position because they believed the breadth of the St. Lawrence too great a distance for cannon fire to reach the city. On June 12, the English fired upon the French defenders from the newly established battery. The shot fell well short of its intended target. Perhaps the French were right afterall?
The Canadiens (in true Monty Python fashion) taunted the English by calling them "animal food trough wipers," etc. and other such insults in their outrageous French accents. However, every other shot fire by the English battery landed within the city's walls. People wisely sought cover though there was none to be found. Virtually every building and habitation in Quebec City was damaged in some form or fashion during the steady bombardment. Wolfe believed the barrage would force Montcalm to leave the safety of the citadel in an attempt to silence the English guns. Yet, Montcalm refused to budge.
The fortress of Quebec was imposing: the perimeter of the city was walled and protected by high cliffs on virtually every side. Perhaps the citadel's only weak point was a beach called Beauport on the shore below. Wolfe considered making an amphibious assault against the beach. The beach, though, was defended by earthworks, trenches, and about 3,200 French troops. Wolfe therefore abandoned the idea of using Beauport. He would have to find another way to capture the city.
It is interesting to note that Beauport (pictured at right) would normally not have been so well-defended. Somehow Montcalm managed to get hold of a letter written by General Amherst describing in great detail the British invasion plans. Beauport figured prominently in the English strategy. So Montcalm did what he could to deny his enemy this flat position below his city's walls. Thus, the French general ordered the construction of defenses well before the expected arrival of British forces. If the English did try to storm the beach, then at the very least it would be a costly undertaking.
Montcalm knew the English invaders depended heavily upon their fleet for success. Therefore, the French general came up with a plan to hit the British where it hurt most: he commanded men to load boats and rafts with gunpowder, to chain them together, and then to send these "floating bombs" (as he called them) towards the enemy's ships anchored downstream in the St. Lawrence.
Had the operation succeeded history might have taken a very different course. But the attack failed as one of the French pilots lost their nerve and lit their fire boat too early. The other men took this as the signal to light their own explosive-laden vessels. Consequently, the boats exploded too early filling the night sky with pretty colors but accomplishing little else. Montcalm attempted the fire boat tactic a second time on a subsequent night. This time the English were ready and beat back the attack. Angered by the tactic, Wolfe wrote to Montcalm: “If you send any more fire-rafts, they shall be made [directed] to the two transports in which the Canadien prisoners are confined in order that they may perish by your own...invention.”
Wolfe had the same problem in 1759 that Phips had in 1690: Quebec had to be captured before the St. Lawrence froze over. Though the Canadiens were out-numbered, the French had an advantage: they could dictate when and where battles took place. In the meantime, Montcalm's troops (and those pesky Canadien farm boys) slowly bled the English invaders with hit-and-run attacks.
The British had to do something to avoid the fate of Phips. Wolfe returned to the idea of an attack at Beauport. Against the odds he'd taken the island of Anse de la Cormorandiere during the Siege of Louisbourg. Why couldn't he repeat this success below the walls of Quebec? Therefore, Wolfe organized and sent a force of 4,000 British troops to Beauport; it was less an amphibious assault and more a turkey shoot. The French picked the British off before they even reached the shore. Four hundred English were killed in the assault. The French lost 70 men.
“When the French are in a scrape,” Wolfe later wrote, “they are ready to cry out in behalf of the human species; when fortune favors them, [there are] none more bloody, more inhuman [than the French]. Montcalm has changed the very nature of war, and forced us, in some measure, to a deterring and dreadful vengeance.”
Wolfe believed Montcalm's defense of New France had been dishonorable. Yet, isn't the point of having walls to keep the "bad guys" out? Why should Montcalm come out and fight? And Wolfe was no saint. He was prepared to burn all of New France before setting sail for England if the siege of Quebec failed. He communicated this very idea to General Amherst in a previous letter: “If, by accident in the River, by the Enemy’s resistance, by sickness, or slaughter in the Army, or, from any other cause, we find that Quebec is not likely to fall into our hands, I propose to set the Town on fire with shells, to destroy the harvest, houses, cattle...to leave famine and desolation behind me [thereby preventing those dreadful 1990s French talk shows from hopefully ever appearing]."
After the defeat at Beauport, Wolfe gave the order to set the Canadien countryside ablaze, i.e. The English regular army burned 23 villages while a detachment of American Rangers massacred and scalped the habitants. Lieutenant Malcolm Fraser of the 78th Highlanders described one scene: “There were several of the enemy killed and wounded, and a few prisoners taken, all of whom the barbarous Captain Montgomery, who commanded us, ordered to be butchered in a most inhuman and cruel manner; particularly two I sent prisoner by a sergeant after giving them quarter.”
By August 19th, 1759, autumn was fast approaching. Wolfe appeared to be all out of ideas. So he asked his officers to put together a plan for the capture of Quebec. The officers came up with the following plan: the English would land a large force upriver largely unopposed because the majority of the French army was tied up at either Beauport or inside the city itself. Once assembled this large force would then march directly on to the city from there. Wolfe didn't like the idea; it lacked recklessness. Thus, he replaced this idea (which made sense to most reasonable people) and came up with a plan of his own.
Prelude to the Battle on the Plains
On September 13th, 1759, Wolfe's army spent six hours climbing the goat path. At the top, British scouts over-powered a few sleeping French sentries assigned to guard the path for just such an occasion. (This reminded immediately of the sleeping orangutan posted at the doorway to guard the sacred Shikaka of the Wachati Tribe in Ace Ventura 2.)
By 5:00 am Wolfe's army was forming ranks at the bottom of a hill (shown at right) called the Buttes-a-Neveu. The English commander reluctantly took the low ground because he didn't want to give up his position too soon. He needed time to get the required men and artillery in place.
While Wolfe's army was busy organizing itself on the Plains, the bulk of Montcalm's forces were defending Beauport. They had been up all night prepared to repel an attack that never came. Once word reached the French that Wolfe had unexpectedly landed down-river, Montcalm marched his sleepy army double-time to meet the English (an hour away). The French army was reinforced by Iroquoius and Algonquin warriors and members of the local militia.
The French reached the top of Buttes-a-Neveu and formed into a line. The light rain that had been falling all morning stopped as if in expectation of the approaching battle.
At about 7:30 am the Native allies of the French began firing on the British from the woods nearby. The British attack itself did not begin until 8:00 am. Wolfe had two six-pound canons at his disposal and he used them to fire upon the French position atop the Butte. “We had two pieces of short brass six pounders playing on the enemy,” John Knox wrote, “which threw them into some confusion, and obliged them to alter their disposition, and Montcalm formed them into three large columns; [at] about 9 am the two armies moved a little nearer each other."
At around 9:45 am the mounted Montcalm rode the length of his line shouting, “Are you tired?” His troops responded with a resounding, “No!” At 10:00 am the French shouted “Vie le Roy!” and the battle formally began.
“The enemy [French] began to advance in three columns,” Knox wrote, “with loud shouts—two of [their lines moved] to the left of our army, and the third to our right, firing [diagonally] at the two extremities of our line.”
The French line made up of Canadien and French troops had never trained together. They were moving in a disordered fashion. Maures de Malartic, a French officer, observed the problem: “We had not got twenty paces when the left was too far in the rear and the center too far in front...The Canadiens who formed the second rank and the soldiers of the third fired without orders and, according to custom, then threw themselves on the ground to reload. This false movement broke all the battalions.” They had fired too soon, and their volleys were ineffectual and disruptive.
The disorganized French line stopped forty meters away from the British and fired again. British soldiers slumped over dead as iron gun balls tore through their bodies. Just as Wolfe was about to give the order to fire back a sniper shot him through the wrist. The British held their ground until Wolfe was bandaged up. The British general then raised his cane and shouted, "Fire!"
The British attack devastated the French line. First the Canadien militia and then the French regular troops began to retreat. Wolfe sent a Scottish regiment called the Highlanders to attack the retreating French with their broadswords. The British backed up their Scottish homies with their plaid and bag-piped wrath (oh yeah, and a bayonet charge, too).
Wolfe had received several gunshot wounds during the battle, i.e. Wrist, groin, and a fatal wound to the chest. For me the fatal shot would've been the one in the groin...but that's just me. Regardless, Wolfe died in the knowledge that the enemy was in full retreat and the day was his. As the English general lay dying, Montcalm too had been fatally shot while trying to escape to the city through the St. Louis Gate.
During all of this the Highlanders were chasing the remnants of the French and their allies into the woods. An Acadian soldier named Joseph Trahan recounted the event in his journal: “I can remember the Scotch Highlanders flying wildly after us with streaming plaids, bonnets and large swords—like so many infuriated demons—over the brow of the hill. In their course, was a wood, in which we had some Indians and sharpshooters, who bowled over the Savages d’Ecosse in fine style. Their partly naked bodies fell on their face, and their kilts in disorder left a large portion of their thighs, at which our fugitives on passing by, would make lunges with their swords [and light sabers], cutting large slices out of the fleshiest portion of their persons."
Malcolm Fraser of the Highlanders recounted his own experience: “It was at this time, and while in the bushes that our Regiment suffered most...Captain Thomas Ross was mortally wounded in the body by a cannonball from the hulks, in the mouth of the River, of which he died in great torment...I received a contusion in the right shoulder, or rather breast...which pained me a good deal...We suffered in men and officers more than any three regiments in the field."
Canadien snipers covered the French retreat from the safety of the woods. Shortly after 11:00 am, Vaudreuil arrived with reinforcements from Montreal. But he was too late. The battle had already been decided.
Wolfe and Montcalm
On September 18th, 1759, the British flag was raised above Quebec City. The British fleet returned to England leaving only a small force to hold the fort. Taking over command of the English expeditionary force was General James Murray. Both the French and English worked together to avoid starvation during the approaching winter.
The Battle of Saint-Foy
The British had another reason for concern. Even though Quebec was in their control, there was still a large French army stationed in Montreal (30 kilometers to the south). Montcalm's successor, General Francois-Gaston de Levis, commanded an army of seven thousand French regulars. To avoid a repeat of the fiasco on the Plains of Abraham Levis taught the militia to fight in harmony with his own troops.
On the morning of April 28th, 1760, Levis marched 6,500 regular French troops, 300 Canadiens, and 83 black soldiers to the Plains of Abraham. He stood in the exact same spot Wolfe had stood seven months before. General James Murray and his troops stood perched on top Butte-a-Neveu (where Montcalm had marshaled his forces). A repeat of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham was about to take place: the Battle of Saint-Foy.
General Murray attacked the French before they had fully formed their lines. He had seen how disorganized the French had been during the last battle. He hoped to catch them off-guard and create chaos this time, as well. But Murray made the same mistake that Montcalm had: he had abandoned the high ground which would've given his guns an advantage in range over the French. The battle ended with a French victory; however, Quebec City remained in the hands of the English.
After the Battle of Saint-Foy the French and English waited to see whose navy would arrive first. If Levis received the reinforcements he requested Quebec City mighty possibly be re-taken. If, on the other hand, the British fleet arrived first New France would remain under the control of the English.
Eleven days after the Battle of Saint-Foy, the mast of a ship appeared on the horizon. The ship turned out to be British and it was only one of 22 carrying reinforcements. France could not afford to send the requested support. The war was going badly for them in Europe; therefore, Levis received five measly ships carrying four hundred soldiers.
Outnumbered and disappointed, General Levis retreated back to Montreal. On May 9th, General Amherst encircled the last remaining French stronghold. Governor Vaudreuil surrendered the city to the British on one condition: that the French would retain the right to exercise their Catholic faith. The British agreed. This was pretty nice of them since in England Catholics had no religious freedom whatsoever.