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Canada: Peeps at History by  Beatrice Home


 

 

THE LOSS OF NEW FRANCE

ENGLAND threw off the pretence of peace by declaring war in the spring of 1756, after a year of conflict in America. She had for her ally, Frederick the Great of Prussia, the strong ruler of a small kingdom, while against her was ranged the Triple Alliance of France, Austria, and Russia. The Seven Years' War, which was thus begun, had more far-reaching results than any other struggle of the eighteenth century.

In America the English were a little more than double the number of the French in Canada. Being worried by few taxes, the colonists were rapidly growing in wealth; but along with their wealth and their large population, they suffered from the great disability of jealousy of one another, and a consequent disinclination to combine against the enemy. After Braddock's defeat the frontier remained open to the persistent attacks of the Indians, yet the colonists refused to join their forces for defence against their common enemy.

[69] Conditions were entirely different in Canada. There the population only numbered 60,000, nearly all of them extremely poor and heavily burdened with taxes. The French officials were corrupt, using the millions sent out from France for the benefit of the colony, merely to enrich themselves. Bigot, the Intendant, grew fabulously wealthy as leader of a gang of plunderers as bad as himself. The people were robbed, and the soldiers were stinted of food, clothing and ammunition, when the colony was most in need of them. But the Canadians were trained to war, and, being under the immediate control of the Governor, were liable to be called up at any moment to reinforce the garrison.


[Illustration]

THE MARQUIS DE MONTCALM.

Immediately after the declaration of war, the Marquis de Montcalm was sent out to Canada as commander-in-chief. He was a man of middle age, a fine soldier, courageous, chivalrous, and loyal. His three lieutenants, De LÚvis, De Bougainville, and De Bourlamaque, who accompanied him, were all able men.

With such brilliant military leaders the war opened well for France. The fort at Oswego was taken and utterly destroyed, and Ticonderoga, where Lake [70] George enters Lake Champlain, was strongly fortified against the expected advance of the English. All this time the English leaders were busily doing nothing. The Earl of Loudoun and General Abercromby, both incompetent soldiers, had come out from England to lead the army. Loudoun had intended to take Louisbourg, but owing to the interminable time of his preparations he allowed the French fleet to get there before him.

Montcalm, finding that a large number of troops had been called away to assist in the abortive attempt on Louisbourg, made a determined attempt on Fort William Henry, recently erected by the English at the foot of Lake George. The fort was held by Colonel Monroe, who only surrendered after a hard struggle. He had sent for help to General Webb at Fort Edward, fourteen miles away, but had been refused, the cowardly Webb being afraid to venture out. By the terms of the surrender, the English troops were to be escorted to Fort Edward by the French soldiers, and thus protected from the Indians, who formed a large part of Montcalm's army. But, though Montcalm had pledged his word, he was not able to restrain his savage allies. They set upon the unarmed English, robbing them of all they possessed, and scalping those who resisted. Six hundred were carried off in spite of the efforts of Montcalm and his officers. Four hundred were recovered the next day, but the savages decamped with the rest into the forest.

[71] Just when things were looking very black for England, William Pitt became the head of the Government, and immediately the war took on a different aspect. With that confidence in himself, which was so characteristic of him, he remarked: "I am sure that I can save this country and that nobody else can." His burning desire was to win glory for England, to make her mistress of the seas, and to open to her the markets of the world.

But to achieve this object it was necessary to crush France in both India and America, and to acquire her colonies. The incompetent Loudoun was at once recalled, and officers chosen by Pitt for their capacity, and not for their influence, were sent out. General Amherst, with Colonel James Wolfe as one of his brigadiers, was placed in command of the expedition against Louisbourg. Amherst was a brave, able, but extremely cautious commander. Wolfe, on the other hand, was distinguished by an almost reckless daring. In spite of his feeble frame and his persistent ill-health, he had entered the army at the age of fifteen, and had gained rapid promotion. He had a marvellous gift of command, winning the adoring confidence of his men and the devotion of his officers. In June, 1758, the English fleet appeared off Louisbourg. A landing was effected, the boats making their way through the surf, in spite of a fierce resistance on the part of the enemy. Trenches were dug, creeping day by day [72] nearer to the strongly fortified walls of the town. The Island Battery was captured, and with it the entrance to the harbour in which lay the French fleet. After having held out till the end of July, the "Dunkirk of America," as Louisbourg had been proudly called, was unconditionally surrendered. Its commander, the brave Chevalier de Drucour, had however held out long enough to prevent the English doing more fighting in Canada that year. No sooner had the French soldiers and inhabitants been conveyed out of the town, than Louisbourg was demolished. Never again was it to be handed back to France to become a menace to the English colonies. Green earthworks, upon which sheep peacefully graze, now mark the place where massive fortifications once rose.

That same year the French had won a great victory at Ticonderoga. Montcalm defended the fort with a force of 3,000 men, realizing that ruin was almost inevitable in the face of the vastly preponderating numbers of the English. Owing to influence Pitt had not been able to remove General Abercromby, who was in command of the army at Fort George. But he hoped that Brigadier Lord Howe, described by Wolfe as "the best soldier in the British army," would make up for the deficiencies of his chief. Ticonderoga Fort was built upon a rocky height, protected by a high breastwork of sharpened tree-trunks, making it almost impregnable to a frontal attack.

[73] Abercromby, with his fine army of 15,000 men, embarked upon Lake George at the beginning of July, on his way to take Ticonderoga. Misfortune began early, for Lord Howe was shot in a skirmish before the attack began, and, with his death, "the soul of General Abercromby's army seemed to expire." No longer able to rely upon the advice of his second-in-command, Abercromby used no tactics, never thinking of outflanking or cutting off supplies, but merely ordering his soldiers against the glacis of tree-trunks. All day long his stubborn men tried in vain to storm that terrible breastwork, regiment after regiment hurling themselves against it, only to be mown down by the deadly fire of the defenders whom they could not see. Montcalm was full of admiration for their dogged persistence. At last, when evening was falling, Abercromby withdrew his men, leaving 2,000 dead upon the field. It is not surprising that Montcalm, who had only lost 300 men, wrote: "This glorious day does infinite honour to the valour of our battalions."

By the end of the campaign of 1758, England, in spite of the defeat at Ticonderoga, had gained a substantial success. Louisbourg had been destroyed; Fort Pitt had arisen in the place of Fort Duquesne, abandoned by the French; and Fort Frontenac had been captured. Though the French had triumphed at Ticonderoga, they were unable to take advantage of their victory, having to remain on the defensive [74] owing to lack of troops. No help could be expected from Europe, where France needed all her money and her soldiers to protect herself.

The following year saw Wolfe, who had returned to England after the taking of Louisbourg, once more in Canada. According to Pitt's plan he was to take Quebec while General Amherst, who had succeeded to Abercromby's command, was to drive the French from Lake Champlain, take Montreal and co-operate with Wolfe against Quebec. Amherst advanced towards Ticonderoga and Crown Point, both of which were abandoned by Bourlamaque, who retired to a strong position at the northern end or Lake Champlain. Here he kept Amherst at bay all the summer by means of four armed sloops. The cautious Amherst set to work to build vessels capable of meeting the enemy, but, meanwhile, the summer slipped away, and he was not bringing any help to Wolfe at Quebec.


[Illustration]

THE SURRENDER OF LOUISBOURG.

Wolfe arrived at Quebec at the end of June. The fleet had passed safely through the dangerous passage of the St. Lawrence, just below the Ile d'Orleans. Some French pilots had been captured, and ordered, under severe threats, to guide the ships through the shoals. One old English sea-captain, scorning to take advice about his business from a Frenchman, refused to let the pilot speak, but navigated his ship himself by watching the ripple and colour of the water. He led, and the [75] other vessels followed in lordly succession, filling the hearts of the French with a sense of coming doom.

Montcalm had decided to act entirely on the defensive. Though he had 16,000 troops under him, he dared not trust the Canadian militia against disciplined English soldiers in an open field. He ranged his army from Quebec along the northern shore of the river to the Falls of Montmorenci, eight miles distant. Quebec was protected by a great boom of timber placed across the entrance to the St. Charles River, a bridge of boats being formed higher up. Bougainville was posted at Cap Rouge, though no attack was expected there.

Landing on the Ile d'Orleans, the English army encamped on its western promontory, facing Quebec. The day after the troops had landed several French fireships were sent among the fleet, but, owing to the courage of the English sailors, who grappled the blazing vessels, towing them to land, no damage was done. But this enterprise had cost the French great sums of money, and the lives of one of their captains and some sailors who had been unable to leave their ships in time.


[Illustration]

GENERAL JAMES WOLFE.

Wolfe then seized Point LÚvis, opposite Quebec; and, planting guns, bombarded the town till it was in ruins. But though houses and cathedral were [76] burned, the fortress was not taken, and the army surrounding the town was intact. Finding that nothing would induce Montcalm to leave his strong position, Wolfe, who had raised batteries close to the Falls of Montmorenci, determined to make a frontal attack. While the fleet was engaging the French guns, the grenadiers forded the river, and without waiting for support attacked the French lines. A storm of musketry met them, and heavy rain having made the slopes too slippery to climb, the English were forced to retire with heavy loss.

With the coming of autumn, affairs began to be critical with both armies. Montcalm, invincible on the heights, was feeling the scarcity of provisions. English ships patrolled the river, and very little food could be conveyed by land. On the other hand, Wolfe lay stricken with fever, and was very despondent after the repulse of the grenadiers. He felt that time was slipping by with nothing accomplished, and that he alone, though exhausted and worn with illness, must make the effort, for he had heard that Amherst was checked in his progress to Montreal. After consultation with his brigadiers it was decided to make one last attack.

Two days before the desperate attempt was made, the army was marched from Point Levis, some miles up the river, to where a part of the fleet was lying. The night of September 12 proving calm and starlit, the troops were embarked, and, dropping [77] down with the tide, crept slowly towards Quebec. From the opposite shore Wolfe had detected a precipitous path half hidden by shrubs and bushes. Up this path a few men were to climb, overpower the guard at the top, and hold the place till the main force could follow them. As Wolfe was seated in one of the boats slipping silently down the river, he recited to his officers—doubtless to lessen the tense excitement—Grays Elegy in a Country Churchyard. When he had ended, he said: "Gentlemen, I would rather have been the author of that poem than take Quebec to-morrow."

Arriving at the Anse du Foulon (ever since known as Wolfe's Cove), the twenty-four volunteers, led by Colonel Howe, climbed the steep path, and soon overcame the guard. The rest of the army followed rapidly, Wolfe managing to drag himself up. By daybreak, about 5,000 British troops were formed in battle array on the Plains of Abraham—a stretch of level ground at the western end of the high plateau upon which Quebec stood. It was at complete surprise to Montcalm, who had expected attack to come from below the city. Hurriedly he led his army across the St. Charles to where the red-coated English stood upon the heights.

The French advanced bravely. Waiting till the enemy was close upon them, the English lines opened a terrific fire of musketry. The French wavered, when another deadly volley proved decisive. [78] The army broke into confusion, their columns confused with the dead and dying. Wolfe gave the command to charge, and with wild cheers the English soldiers and the Highlanders dashed forward. Montcalm tried in vain to stop the flight of the French, as they fled towards the safety of the ramparts. Two volleys of musketry had decided one of the great battles of the world.

As Wolfe was leading the charge he had been shot in the wrist; shortly after another bullet struck him in the breast. He fell, and was carried to the rear. One of the officers, who was by Wolfe's side, called out, "See, they run!" "Who run?" asked Wolfe, as he opened his eyes. "The enemy, sir, they give way everywhere." Rousing his failing energies, Wolfe gave orders concerning the cutting off of the retreat, and then murmuring, "God be praised, I will die in peace!" he fell back dead.

His gallant foe, Montcalm, died the next morning, rejoicing that he would not see the fall of Quebec. He had received a mortal wound just as he was entering the city with his fugitive army. An English shell bursting under the floor of the Ursuline Convent had made a hollow, which was dug into a grave for the last great soldier of New France.

The French army retreated to Montreal, leaving Quebec an easy prey to the English, who, on taking [79] Possession of the city, promised consideration to the citizens. When the spring returned the rock-crowned city was once more besieged, this time with the English within its walls. De LÚvis brought up the army from Montreal, and tempted General Murray, then in command of the British troops, to give him battle at Ste. Foye, a few miles from the city. Much outnumbered, the English were obliged to retreat, while De LÚvis, instead of at once attacking Quebec, proceeded to invest it in a leisurely manner. With the arrival of an English fleet in May, he had to withdraw hastily.

Though the French held out for some months longer in Montreal, the end was now certain. Three armies began to converge upon the island town: one from Lake Ontario, another from Lake Champlain, and the third from Quebec. Within Montreal, the last stronghold of France in Canada, was nothing but a deep spirit of despondency. The Canadian militia had all deserted, returning to their homes, under promise of English protection. Only the regulars were left, about two thousand, to face a victorious force more than eight times their number. In September, Montreal capitulated, and Canada was handed over to England.


[Illustration]

WOLFE LANDING AT THE FOOT OF THE HEIGHTS OF ABRAHAM.

General Murray became the first English Governor. All Canadians, according to the proclamation issued, were to be protected, as British subjects, in person, property, and religion. The war lingered in Europe [80] until 1763, when the Treaty of Paris was signed. England was left in possession of nearly all North America—that is to say, she had Canada, and all the eastern coast, with the River Mississippi as a western boundary. France lost everything, except two small islands near Newfoundland, to be used as fishing stations. New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi, and Louisiana, the country west of the great river, were handed over by France to Spain.

Thus New France was lost. All the results of the untiring devotion of missionaries, and the deeds of intrepid explorers, became the heritage of the hardy race who had enjoyed civil and religious liberty, while their neighbours on the St. Lawrence had been fostered under a benevolent despotism.


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