THE position of the two nations in America has been outlined in the foregoing pages, and before passing on to the account of the great war, which was now at hand, it may be summarised in a sentence. French Canadians, as we have seen, were pushing down the rivers even as far as the Gulf of Mexico ; England round about Hudson’s Bay held her own ; the west and north-west was a no-man’s-land where only Indians and fur-traders roamed.
It must be remembered that France was a continental nation with ambitious designs in Europe. She gave only spasmodic attention to her colonial possessions in America, and at no time do the French diplomatists seem to have grasped the possibilities of a western empire. England, on the other hand, though her diplomacy blundered again and again in American affairs, was on the whole more alive to the possibilities, and if she neglected Canada her eye was constantly upon the southern half of North America. Thus it was that when war came, the thirteen English colonies numbered close upon one and a quarter million inhabitants exclusive of negroes, whilst the total number of French in Canada and Louisiana amounted to no more than 80,000. The condition of the English settlers, too, was on the whole more prosperous than that of the French. Canadian commerce, never a plant of very sturdy growth, had not held up its head since the last war. The combined forces of Canadian regulars and militia, were generally numerically inferior to those of the British and Colonial forces, assisted by a powerful fleet.
In two points only had France the advantage. The natural barriers between the English Colonies and French Canada and the admirably chosen defences erected around Quebec and Montreal, were an enormous asset ; and in the nature of things, the French were acting upon interior lines of communication, so greatly appreciated by the strategist. To these were to be added the personal assetimmeasurably importantthat for the first part of the war, at all events, the French were led by a military genius in the person of Montcalm in Quebec, whilst the English were handled by incompetents.
In 1756, then, there came to Quebec a man to whom France had entrusted the destinies of the EmpireLouis Joseph, Montcalm-Gozon de St. Veranwho became known to the world as Marquis de Montcalm. The English leader was Earl Loudoun of whom a wit of the period observed : He is like St. George on the Signs : always on horseback, but never rides on.” This incapable arranged a campaign against Lake Champlain and against Louisburg which ended in disaster.
Montcalm acted promptly. The Forts at Oswego, facing the French Fort Frontenac in Lake Ontario, were attacked and destroyed ; and a year later Fort William Henry was taken. One of those scenes almost inseparable from a war where aborigines are employed marked the taking of Fort William Henry, for in spite of Montcalm’s efforts numbers of men, women and children were butchered in cold blood by the Indian auxiliaries.
In the same year (1757), a British expedition assembled in Halifax Bay, commanded by as fine a pair of bunglers as ever led brave men to destruction. Admiral Holburne, with fifteen ships of the line and three frigates, and Earl Loudoun, with 12,000 men, wasted valuable time, whilst Louisburg, their object of attack, was able to provide itself with men, food and ammunition. After a lapse of some months the English commanders decided not to risk an attack. Admiral Holburne, it is true, sailed near to Louisburg in an endeavour to draw out the French fleet from beneath the guns of the fort. He succeeded only in losing several of his own vessels on rocks and shallows, and then set sail for England to report his failure. Earl Loudoun returned to New York too late to remedy the harm he had done by with-drawing so large a force of men from the frontiers of the northern provinces, and too late to avert the fall of Fort William Henry. So the year 1757 closed with the balance of advantage distinctly on the side of Montcalm.
The necessities of the situation were found by William Pitt, afterwards Earl of Chatham. The three principal instruments he chose to repair the harm which had been wrought in the past were General Amherst, Admiral Boscawen and Brigadier General Wolfe. General Abercromby he was forced by political pressure to retain in command of a triple scheme of operations by which General Forbes was to attack Fort Duquesne ; General Abercromby was to make for Crown Point and Ticonderoga ; whilst General Amherst, with an army of 12,000 men, supported by Admiral Boscawen, with the fleet of fifty ships, was to lay siege to Louisburg, the key of the St. Lawrence.
On June 2nd, 1758, the British fleet anchored near Louisburg which, in addition to its garrison of 3,000 regular troops, was also defended by a fleet of fourteen men-of-war carrying over 500 guns and manned by nearly 3,000 men. With such energy were the operations conducted that on July 26th, 1726, the St. George’s Cross was hoisted in the citadel. The taking of Louisburg was followed by the occupation of the Island of St. John (now Prince Edward Island), and the destruction of the French settlements round the bays of Gaspé, Miramichi, and Chaleurs, together with those in the valley of the St. John River. The eleven stands of colours won at Louisburg were sent to England and placed in St. Paul’s Cathedral amid great rejoicings.
Whilst this victory was being achieved the hapless Abercromby had invited disaster on the shores of Lake Champlain. With a force of over 14,000 men he had attacked recklessly a strongly entrenched position out-side the unfinished fort of Carillon defended by Montcalm and 3,000 men. But unprovided with artillery, the attack was foredoomed to failure, and Abercromby retired with heavy loss in the course of the fight. Lord Howe, the best soldier in the British Army,” as Wolfe described him, fell. Soon afterwards General Abercromby was superseded by General Amherst.
Fort Duquesne, the key of the Ohio valley, was abandoned by the French before the advance of Brigadier Forbes more important and even more disastrous to the French was the capture of Fort Frontenac which laid open the way to Montreal from Lake Ontario.
When the spring of 1759 came to lift the curtain on the next act of the great drama the French were in a parlous state. The drain of the continuous wars had taken from the country most of the agricultural population, it was brought to the verge of ruin and, most significant of all, the men were losing heart.
The main positions of defence remaining to them were Fort Niagara and the surrounding forts garrisoned by about 3,000 men ; a fort on the tle-aux-Noix and some minor positions on Lake Champlain defended by 2,000 men ; and Quebec, the citadel, with Montcalm and 14,000 men entrenched for six miles along the northern bank of the St. Lawrence. The fortifications of Quebec had been improved, but supplies for the troops were deficient, and the Governor Vaudreuil was jealous of Montcalm.
The English plan was that Amherst should advance against Montreal by way of Lake Champlain ; Brigadier Prideaux and Sir William Johnson were to advance against Niagara, and that General Wolfe supported by the fleet should attack Quebec, the last, of course, being the main objective.
The English fleet arrived at Quebec on June 26th, and for eleven long weeks the siege was pressed without any notable advantage on either side. Meanwhile Fort Niagara had fallen, and the forts on Lake Champlain had been abandoned by the French. Amherst, however, suffering from excess of caution, was wasting priceless time on Lake Champlain, and so driven, Wolfe decided to go on with a bold plan which he had formed.
He managed to assemble without rousing suspicion a force of 4,000 men above the citadel of Quebec. On the night of September 12th he landed the force in small boats at a cove called Anse au Foulon (now Wolfe’s Cove). From here, a narrow and a zig-zag path led up steep cliffs to the Plains of Abraham. So inaccessible were the cliffs regarded by the French that security bred carelessness, and the English were able to climb the almost perpendicular banks practically unopposed. The sentinels who challenged were lulled by replies in the French tongue, and at six o’clock in the morning the astonished French discovered four thousand British soldiers on the heights arrayed in line of battle against them. Four hours later Montcalm with a slightly superior force was advancing to meet them. The story of the fateful battle is well known : the British fire reserved till the enemy were within forty yards : the flight of the French ; the mortal injury and death of Montcalm, and the death of General Wolfe in the moment of victory. In Quebec of to-day there stands a monument to the joint memory of these heroes.
General Murray, afterwards the first Governor-General of Canada, was given command of the fortress, and spent the winter of 1759-60 there. Firewood was scarce, many of the buildings were in ruins, and the inhabitants suffered considerably from cold and disease. French hopes of recapturing Quebec were dashed to the ground by the arrival of a British fleet in the spring of 1760, and General de Levis, the Commander of the French, retreated on Montreal.
Then the general British advance began. The forts on Lake Champlain were taken, and all the British forces converged upon Montreal, and there was no alternative for Vaudreuil, the commander, but to capitulate.
So at last, with the surrender of Montreal, Canada passed under British control, and for a time her people had peace to work out her own salvation.