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Siege of Quebec, 25 June-18 September 1759

Siege of Quebec, 25 June-18 September 1759

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Siege of Quebec, 25 June-18 September 1759

Siege that ended any French hopes of victory in the French and Indian Wars, dooming their north American colonies. The British plan for the capture of Quebec involved three separate armies, each traveling by a different route, intended to converge at Quebec in overwhelming numbers. However, of the three, only the force under James Wolfe, which was sent by boat up the St. Lawrence River, actually arrived at the city. As a consequence of this, the French garrison of Quebec outnumbered the besieging troops, although the British regulars were vastly superior soldiers than their French opponents, as events were to show. Worse, the French were aware of the British plan, having captured a copy of the letters setting it out, and so when Wolfe arrived at Quebec, he found the French prepared, with Louis de Montcalm in charge of the defence. Quebec was a natural fortress, on the north bank of the St. Lawrence, and protected by cliffs and ravines. The siege settled into a stalemate, and although Wolfe made slow progress in some directions, he came no closer to forcing Montcalm into battle, his main aim. Eventually, he won the day with what has been seen either as an act of great daring or as a ridiculous risk that paid off only through the mistakes of his enemy. During the night of the 12-13 September, Wolfe managed to get over 4,000 troops across the river to the west of the city, and up the Heights of Abraham, towering cliffs that lined the river, using a tiny trail from a cove that he had scouted from the far side of the river. A combination of luck, and overconfidence amongst the French allowed Wolfe to get 4,828 and an increasing number of guns up the cliff and in a position to threaten the city. Even then, he could still have lost. Montcalm had detached 3,000 of his best men further up-river, and could easily have waited for their arrival before launching his attack. Instead, convinced that only a small force awaited him he led his garrison out onto the attack. The resulting Battle of the Heights of Abraham (13 September) was short and decisive. Both Wolfe and Montcalm took fatal wounds in the battle, Wolfe surviving long enough to know he had won, Montcalm dying before the city fell, and the French garrison was routed. The city surrendered on 18 September 1759, ending any realistic French chances of maintaining their presence in Canada.

Books on the Seven Years's War |Subject Index: Seven Years' War

Edward Coats and his Journal of the Siege of Quebec

An eyewitness to the Siege of Quebec in 1759, Edward Coats accompanied the British on their journey up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec and eventually Montreal. Though his official position or title is not known, the fact that he was able to read and write and do so at a time of war, shows that he was not a common soldier, more likely a naval officer under the Command of Vice Admiral Saunders. Coats was not necessarily even involved in the conflict in any way, as a read through his journal gives an impression that much of what he wrote had been relayed to him by other men or commanders.

The title page to Coats' Journal. Note the neat but elaborate writing and the proper signature, indicators of Coats' education, status and position. (Coats, Edward. Journal of the Siege of Quebec: 16 February 1759-18 September 1759)

This journal is an excellent and interesting resource for those intrigued by this dynamic time in Canadian history. In his writing, Coats discusses the daily notable happenings on the ship, the troop and ship movements, British strategy, and various interactions the British troops had with the French and Indigenous peoples. The journal is much more descriptive than it is personal we do not really get to see Coat’s personal musings or feelings at this time. Instead we must read between the lines, using the language and way in which he wrote about particular groups to understand his attitude. Given the high stakes at this time and the general French-English disdain for one another, it is unsurprising that this rhetoric would appear in his journal. It is also unsurprising that Coats would have a particular attitude towards Indigenous peoples, purely based on the time period and the fact that he was British.

Rather than go through the whole journal chronologically by entry date, I found it useful to “classify” my focus when looking through the journal. Being interested in the French – Indigenous – British dynamic at this point in Canadian history, I separated out these three groups and searched through the journal to find bits of information, recollection or description on each. At the beginning of Coats’ journal is also another unique piece of information: a full and detailed description of the town of Quebec. Not only was this very useful for the British plotting an attack, it is extremely useful today when we attempt to piece histories back together.

This unique piece of writing at the beginning of his journal starts as a sort of preface and allows the historian, and others who love history, excellent insight into what the town looked like and to visualize these surroundings in today’s modern world.

Coats remarked on the divisions in the city: the upper and lower town. The upper being inhabited by the clergy and the top military officers while the lower town is inhabited by the merchants and tradespeople. He made detailed notes of the town’s defenses: the locations and size of the cannons and various entry points and landing points to the city. He also took into consideration the various factors that would complicate each strategy. From his description, the taking of the city seemed insurmountable, but Coats remained optimistic:

Excerpt from Edward Coats' journal, "Remarks etc. on Quebec": "And if we are fortunate Enough to Drive them from this Post, we have afterwards to force an Army greatly Superior to ours in Numbers, but I am Confident in nothing Else."

At the end of his description of the town and surrounding area he commented on the civilian housing and the array of the public buildings within the town. His description is clearly more of a strategic record for the British, who were attempting to figure out at this early point how to overtake the town. He notes that “unhappily for them” many of the public buildings and residential areas are in striking distance of British batteries and as such would make good targets when overtaking the city.

Edward Coats describes the "Pallaces" of the Governor, the Jesuit College and other public buildings, noting that these buildings are “unhappily for them” right near the British batteries, in striking distance.

Coats’ journal starts with short entries on the progress the fleet has made past Louisbourg and down the St. Lawrence until they arrive at the French stronghold, Quebec City. Coats was aboard the Neptune. Listed at the back of the journal is his account of the various ship names and commanders, along with how many guns they had and the type of ship it was. The Neptune appears to have been the largest in this war fleet with 90 guns commanded by Broderick Hartwel. There are 34 additional ships, with the smallest of them having 20 guns. Along with these warships there are four sloops, three fire ships, an armoury ship and a cutter.

On Indigenous Peoples:

The first mention of Indigenous people is found on June 30, 1759, when Coats wrote about a “falling in” with the “Indians:”

“A body of Canadians and Indians incommoded our Troops at Pt. Levis, the Ground being Woody, but on their commanders being killed they dispers’d, with small Loss on our Side.”

Just this small excerpt gives us insight into the tense skirmishes that would be taking place due to the siege and in the lead up to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. The passage also gives us an example of the variety of troops the French used as defense and the allegiances playing out. Their force was mainly made up of inexperienced Indigenous allies and French Canadians. While the Indigenous allies and French Canadians had been trained in French military practices and fire arms, they were not career-hardened troops who, because this was their living, were extremely disciplined. Only a small portion of defenses at Quebec City were made up of French regular troops. It is interesting to note, as earlier on in the journal Coats commented on the fact that the French were far superior in number. While the British had lesser numbers, all of their troops were trained regulars. This factor became decisive when the Battle of the Plains of Abraham was fought.

He also made reference to the practice of scalping, particularly by the Indigenous peoples, writing “[and] that inhumane Practice of Scalping either by Indians or others may be put a stop.” And in another passage he detailed the correspondence the British sent to the French in the city, firmly requesting that the barbaric practice of scalping on both sides be ended. The French did not heed this request, as Coats recalled in his journal.

On the French and their Defenses:

Much of Coats’ journal is concerned with describing troop movement and the progress that has been made by the British. But we also get a good description of the state of the French defenses at Quebec. On June 30, 1759, he wrote: “By Prisoners we learn that the Greatest part of the Canadian forces is drawn to Quebec for [?] Defense of it [?] are Encamped between the City and the Falls of Montmorency, about 18,000 strong, that their Regulars don’t exceed 3,000, the rest being Canadians and Indians train’d to Arms.”

Map of the British and French positions and defenses during the siege and leading up to the battle. (Source: The siege of Quebec : and the battle of the Plains of Abraham by Arthur G. Doughty and G.W. Parmelee, 1901, via Wikimedia, public domain)

Later, on July 4, he wrote about a correspondence received from the French. It was almost comical the way he wrote about the French response to the original British communication and it is easy to tell from his writing that the British were quite offended by it:

“They made no scruple of acquiring our Officer that they were well acquainted with our Force, and were greatly surprised we should attempt the Conquest of this Country with such a Handful of men – a great Instance of the Gasconading Disposition of the French.”

Clearly the British were displeased with the confidence that the French displayed in their correspondence. For those that were initially confused by the wording like I was, “gasconading” comes from the French word “gasconade” which means to extravagantly boast or have an air of bravado arrogance.

The Plains of Abraham today on the outskirts of Old Quebec City. (Source: Michel Rathwell via Wikimedia, public domain)

Coats’ journal stops abruptly after the French surrender and British take over Quebec City in September of 1759. He included the Articles of Capitulation as one of the last entries. The journal provides extensive information regarding this short period of months during the siege and lead up to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. There is much more that can be gleaned, studied, analyzed and written about from this document. It would also be intriguing to find more out about the figure behind this journal, Edward Coats. His journal provided much information regarding British troops and positions, the French and their Indigenous allies as well as on the city itself. Coats’ journal will continue to be a valuable resource in the study of Quebec and early Canadian History.

Oriana Visser is a student assistant in the Microforms Unit at the Harriet Irving Library. She is a third year Honours History Student who has a particular interest in pre-confederation (1867) Canadian history.

SUBJECTS: Quebec City, Seven Years War, French, British, Siege of Quebec, military, indigenous peoples, primary source, journal

Battle of the Plains of Abraham

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham (13 September 1759), also known as the Battle of Quebec, was a pivotal moment in the Seven Years’ War and in the history of Canada. A British invasion force led by General James Wolfe defeated French troops under the Marquis de Montcalm, leading to the surrender of Quebec to the British. Both commanding officers died from wounds sustained during the battle. The French never recaptured Quebec and effectively lost control of New France in 1760. At the end of the war in 1763 France surrendered many of its colonial possessions — including Canada — to the British.

Battle of the Plains of Abraham

Great Britain American colonists France, Canadian Militia, First Nations (including Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), Abenaki, Potawatomi, Odawa and Wendat)

Published by Laurie and Whittle, 1759 this engraving shows the three stages of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham: the British disembarking, scaling the cliff and the battle. (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-1078)

Seven Years’ War

The battle was a key moment in the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), which was fought in Europe, India and North America (American history books refer to the conflict in North America as the French and Indian War). On one side was the alliance of France, Austria, Sweden, Saxony, Russia and Spain on the other, the alliance of Britain, Prussia and Hanover. While France was preoccupied by the hostilities in Europe, Britain targeted French colonies overseas and attacked the French navy and merchant fleet, in the hope of destroying France as a commercial rival.

Although the French repulsed several British attacks in North America — including the successful defence of Fort Carillon by Montcalm — the British had made significant gains by 1759. On 26 July 1758, they captured the fortress of Louisbourg on Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), which led to the seizure of other French positions in Atlantic Canada, and left New France exposed to British ships, which could now sail up the St. Lawrence River. One of the brigadiers of the Louisbourg expedition was James Wolfe, who was praised in Britain and its American colonies for his role in taking the fortress.

Expedition to Quebec

James Wolfe was appointed commanding officer of the British assault against the fortress city of Quebec in 1759. He was supported by a naval force under Vice-Admiral Charles Saunders. Wolfe’s army comprised more than 8,000 British regular soldiers and nearly 900 Americans (Rangers and Colonial Pioneers) as well as 2,100 Royal Marines. Quebec’s defenders numbered more than 18,000 men. The majority of these (about 11,000) were Canadian militiamen, who had little military training and no experience in pitched battles. The French force included approximately 5,600 professionals: 2,400 regular troops, 1,100 Troupes de la Marine and 2,100 members of the French navy. Nearly 1,800 Indigenous warriors (including Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), Abenaki, Potawatomi, Odawa and Wendat) were also involved in the defence of Quebec.

On 27 June 1759, Wolfe and his men landed on the Île d’Orléans by the middle of July, the British also occupied positions on the southern bank of the St. Lawrence River at Point Lévis (directly across from Quebec), and on the northern shore about 13 km from the city, close to the Montmorency Falls and a French army encampment at Beauport. However, the French forces at Beauport were protected by the Montmorency River, and any attempts against the city of Quebec would have to face the fort’s battery of guns as well as the strong currents of the St. Lawrence. The French would be difficult to dislodge. The British attacked the French position at Beauport on 31 July but were met by fierce resistance and had to retreat.

(Antoine Benoist, according to Richard Short/MNBAQ/1953.110)

At this point, Wolfe sent Brigadier James Murray to target French stores and shipping about 65 km upriver from Quebec. While this reduced the supplies available to the French defenders, it did not lure Montcalm into open battle. In desperation, Wolfe resorted to the systematic destruction of the buildings and countryside around Quebec, but Montcalm still refused to attack. However, in late August several British ships managed to navigate the difficult currents of the St. Lawrence River and sail past the Quebec batteries, establishing a strong British naval presence upriver of the city. The British command therefore decided to try landing an invasion force upriver from Quebec, cutting the city off from Montreal and forcing Montcalm and the French army to fight.

The British Attack

James Wolfe decided to land at L’Anse-au-Foulon, about 3 km upstream from Quebec City, at the base of a cliff 53 m high. While historians have debated the logic and merits of this decision, the British were fortunate, as the area was only lightly defended. Operating in darkness and silence, the naval boats fought the strong currents of the St. Lawrence and landed the advance force at just after 4 a.m. on 13 September 1759. A British force of light infantrymen led by Colonel William Howe (who would later command British forces during the American Revolution) scrambled up the cliff and subdued the French picket (advance guard). By the time the sun rose, Wolfe and the first division were on the plateau, and by 8 a.m. the entire force of 4,500 men had assembled. The British force stretched across the Plains of Abraham (named for 17th-century fisherman Abraham Martin) in a shallow horseshoe formation about 1 km long and two ranks deep.

Wolfe leading his army during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. (courtesy Charles William Jefferys/Library and Archives Canada/C-073722)

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham

When Montcalm heard about the British landing and ascent, he decided to attack quickly before the British had the chance to establish themselves. Historians have criticized his response, suggesting that he should have waited for reinforcements to arrive from French detachments in the area. The French force consisted of about 4,500 men from the army at Beauport, many of whom were militia or Indigenous warriors (see Indigenous-French Relations). Wolfe’s army was very close in size, but was composed almost entirely of regular soldiers, highly disciplined and trained for the field battle to come.

Indigenous marksmen were positioned with Canadian militiamen in the bushes along the British flanks. According to one British soldier’s account, “The enemy lined the bushes in their front, with 1500 Indians and Canadians, and I dare say had placed most of their best marksmen there, who kept up a very galling, though irregular, fire upon our whole line.” Historian Peter Macleod has noted that some of the first shots fired during the battle were fired by Indigenous marksmen.

Montcalm leading his troops on the Plains of Abraham. (courtesy Charles William Jefferys/Library and Archives Canada/e010999530)

Montcalm’s men advanced and began firing once they were about 120 m from the British line. However, Wolfe’s soldiers stood firm until the French were about 40 m away, when they started the rolling volleys which quickly halted and then reversed their enemy’s advance.

General Wolfe died soon after the firing commenced, shot three times in the first few minutes of the engagement. After hearing that the French force was retreating, Wolfe reportedly stated, “Now, God be praised, I will die in peace.” Several other high-ranking British officers were killed as well, and the British charge lost some of its direction.

This image depicts distraught Grenadiers standing and kneeling by the side of a fallen General Wolfe at the Plains of Abraham, Quebec. The on-going combat can be seen in the background. (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/R9266-1345)

Brigadier-General George Townshend assumed command and organized two battalions to counter a French relief force under Colonel Bougainville that was approaching from behind Bougainville decided to pull back, and the British consolidated their position on the heights. While this allowed Montcalm’s army to escape, Montcalm himself was wounded during the retreat and died the next morning in Quebec. After he was told that he would die from his wounds, Montcalm is alleged to have said, “So much the better, I won't see the British in Quebec.”

Men run to the side of a fallen General Montcalm, clearly distraught. The battle continues in the background. (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/R9266-3091)

Townshend’s decision to entrench the British position instead of aggressively pursuing the French army had significant consequences the French marched that night and bypassed their enemy on the way to Pointe-aux-Trembles, leaving only a small force in the town. The British laid siege to Quebec, and on 18 September, the French commander signed the Articles of Capitulation and turned the city over to the British. However, the war for New France would continue.


The British position at Quebec was not secure. Soon after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the British navy was forced to leave the St. Lawrence River before ice closed the mouth of the river. The British at Quebec were therefore isolated over the winter, and many suffered from scurvy. In April 1760, the Chevalier de Lévis (Montcalm’s successor) marched about 7,000 troops to Quebec, outnumbering the defending British by about 3,000 men. On 28 April, Lévis’s force defeated the British at the Battle of Sainte-Foy, just west of the city. In a reversal of events from the previous year, the British retreated to Quebec, and the French laid siege. However, in mid-May the British navy returned, and Lévis retreated to Montreal. On 20 November 1759, the French fleet was destroyed at the battle at Quiberon Bay, just off the French coast there would be no reinforcements for New France. On 8 September 1760, Montreal surrendered to the British (see Capitulation of Montreal). With the 1763 Treaty of Paris, New France was officially ceded to Britain (see Province of Quebec 1763–81).

Legacy and Significance

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham marked a turning point in the history of New France and what would eventually become Canada. By defeating and securing the French stronghold at Quebec, the British established a strong presence in New France, foreshadowing the eventual defeat of the French and the beginning of British hegemony in North America (see Conquest). However, the removal of France as a North American power increased the confidence of British colonies such as New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, which subsequently agitated for greater independence from Great Britain. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham therefore led not only to the British control of Canada, but also indirectly to the American Revolution, the creation of the United States and the migration of Loyalists northwards (see also British North America). The British victory at Quebec in 1759 (and in the Seven Years’ War more generally) had a long legacy, affecting the borders, culture and identity of Canada.

The site of the famous battle between Wolfe and Montcalm is now a park near the Quebec Citadel (photo by Michel Gagnon/CUQ Communications).

American Revolution Podcast

Gen. Jeffery Amherst took command of North American operations following his victory at Louisbourg, at the end of 1758. Around the same time, William Pitt granted Col. James Wolfe, now brevetted to the rank of Major General, an independent command to capture Quebec. Wolfe returned to Louisbourg in February 1759 to prepare for a spring attack on the last great French stronghold in Canada.

All three of Wolfe’s subordinates for the operation: Robert Monckton, Lord George Townshend, and James Murray were older than Wolfe and, more importantly, came from socially superior families. They all resented Wolfe’s command and did not work well with him. Still, they were soldiers and would obey orders. With 8500 regulars to take the city, Wolfe set out to conquer Quebec.

British Forces Arrive at Quebec

Frustrated with the slow pace of things, Wolfe tried a bold frontal assault, landing his infantry six miles down river and marching on the city. This proved impossible, as entrenched French and Canadian forces killed or wounded nearly 500 soldiers while talking very little damage themselves.

Wolfe turned to a scorched earth policy. He burned and destroyed all the farms and outbuildings for miles around Quebec, allowing his men to rape and kill civilians at will. He hoped to anger the French to the point where they would leave their protective walls and come out for an open fight. Montcalm, however, refused to take the bait. His men were well supplied, behind seemingly impregnable defenses.

Montcalm had concentrated virtually all of Canada’s remaining military forces in Quebec, meaning his Regulars and militia totaled nearly 15,000. This however, included many questionable militia as Montcalm was scraping the bottom of the barrel for men. Montcalm did, have a few regiments of top notch French regulars and some experienced militia, against the smaller 8500 British attacking force. Even so, Wolfe believed his well trained regulars could prevail in a traditional face to face land battle if he could provoke one:

Siege of Quebec (from: Wikipedia)
To make matters worse, Wolfe’s troops began to drop from disease after spending several hot summer months on a swampy island. More than one-third of them had become incapacitated by sickness. Wolfe himself became so sick that he was bedridden for several days in August. His greatest fear seemed to be that he would die ignominiously from disease before he had a chance to fight a major battle as a commander.

In desperation, Wolfe convened a council of war with his three generals to get their views on another all out infantry assault on the French lines. Wolfe remained on bad terms with his commanders, who mostly seemed to be waiting for him to fail or die. He did not really want their opinion, but the military etiquette required such councils prior to any major operation, particularly one that might go terribly wrong and for which the commander did not want to be singled out for blame. His three Generals unanimously rejected his plan. He could have overruled them, but was so sick that he felt doing so might be seen as acting out of delirium.

Wolfe knew that if he did not do anything by the end of September, he would have to retreat in failure. The naval fleet would have to leave before the winter ice locked their ships. The army could not remain without naval support. By all appearances, Wolfe saw his two likely outcomes as dying from disease or overseeing a retreat back to Louisbourg, having accomplished nothing. Either way, he knew his subordinates would blame him for the failure. One of them, Townshend, was also a member of Parliament and a friend of William Pitt. Wolfe’s reputation as a capable officer would be ruined. Just as all seemed lost, Wolfe received some helpful advice.

Capt. Robert Stobo is an unsung hero of this adventure so far. Stobo had served with Col. Washington way back at the battle of Fort Necessity in 1754, or as I like to call it, Episode 5. He was one of the hostages that the French took in order to guarantee the return of French prisoners per Washington’s agreement. While held at Fort Duquesne, Stobo had drawn a sketch of the fort’s defenses that he gave to a friendly Indian to aid a British attack. This was the sketch that the tribal chief provided to Gen. Braddock as he began his ill-fated attempted assault on Fort Duquesne in 1755. When the French captured Braddock’s baggage after his death in battle, they found Stobo’s sketches. They tried and convicted Stobo as a spy. He only lived because the order to cut off his head and stick it on a pike outside the city had to go back to France for ratification. Officials back in France never gave approval. Stobo, who had been moved back to Quebec already, figured his best bet was to attempt an escape. On his third attempt in May 1759, Stobo finally escaped the French and promptly offered his services to Gen. Wolfe.

Stobo told Wolfe about a relatively unguarded footpath that led from the river up to the Plains of Abraham, just a few miles west of Quebec. If Wolfe could get sufficient men and cannon onto the Plains, he would either force Montcalm into the infantry battle he wanted, or could bring up siege cannon to take out the city walls. Wolfe told no one about this secret path, not even his top generals. He even sent Stobo away, asking him to carry some important documents to Gen. Amherst.

The Plains of Abraham by Hervey Smyth (1797)
(from Wikimedia Commons)
On Sept. 5, Wolfe commanded his troops to move up river. His officers assumed he had taken their advice to look for an entry point many miles upriver to cut off the enemy supplies. His force of 3600 moved past Quebec to the point his subordinates had recommended. A few days later, he sent another 1000 men, leaving his base with mostly the sick, who were not combat ready. Wolfe continued to keep all his officers in the dark and without further orders until 8:30pm on Sept. 12. At that time he ordered his army were to board ships at 9:00 PM and sail back down river about two miles to the secret footpath that Stobo had identified.

By all appearances, Wolfe did not seem terribly optimistic that his plan was going to work. He handed over his will and instructions for dissemination of his papers and other personal effects in the event of his death. He planned to go ashore in one of the first landing craft, and to be at the head of the invasion force. Still terribly sick, it looked like he simply wanted to go out in a blaze of glory.

The boats ferried the first troops downriver around 2:00 AM. French sentries heard the boats. French speaking British officers called out that they were bringing supplies down to the city and they were permitted to pass without further challenge. Wolfe climbed the footpath with the advance force and reached the plains of Abraham without incident. With him was the highly capable Lt. Col. William Howe, youngest brother of Col. George Howe who was killed at the first raid near Fort Carillon in 1758, if you don’t remember, see Episode 10. The advance force took out a small French sentry camp, but not before they sent a runner to warn Montcalm of the attack.

By 4:00 AM, only Wolfe and the 200 man advance force were on the Plains of Abraham. The first full wave was still disembarking at the river. French artillery fired on the second wave as it moved downstream.

Gen. Robert Monkton
(from Wikimedia)
Wolfe probably expected to face a more effective French defense. If he were killed with the advance guard, his second in command, Gen. Monckton would likely call off the attack and pull back. Monckton had already expressed disapproval of the plan. At least Wolfe would die nobly trying to engage the enemy, rather than suffer a death from disease without glory. But the failure of the French to mount much of any defense left Wolfe surprisingly alive. Not sure what to do next, he ordered his commanders, still disembarking below, to halt the landing. Fortunately, they ignored his order and the main force continued to make its way to the Plains.

By dawn seven battalions stood on the Plains of Abraham in line of battle. Five more battalions were still making their way up the footpath from the river. So far, they had only met with a few French skirmishers, presumably sent out to see what was going on. They even managed to bring up two 6 pound brass cannon (the 𔄞 pounds” refers to the weight of the cannonballs they threw, not the weight of the much heavier cannons themselves).

The Plains of Abraham

I always thought “the Plains of Abraham” was some lofty name with a Biblical reference. It turns out, the name comes from a guy named Abraham Martin who had settled in the area in the 1630’s and had begun farming there. It was a wide flat plain covering several hundred acres, perfect for a traditional line battle favored by professional European officers like Wolfe and Montcalm.

French Gen. Montcalm had spent all night setting up defenses northwest of the city at Beauport. British sailors had put out markers in the river near Beauport, presumably as guides for landing craft to avoid hidden sand bars. It was a ruse to distract Montcalm. It worked. Montcalm assumed the British transports traveling upriver were a ruse to distract him from a landing at Beauport, not the other way around. Instead, the British army stood several thousand strong on the Plains of Abraham facing the southeastern walls of the city, one of its weakest points.

By 7:00 AM, Montcalm came back to the Plains of Abraham, apparently stunned by the British infantry lines facing him. He saw the cannons and saw the British beginning their entrenchments for a siege. He sent for reinforcements, but knew they would take hours to arrive. At present, he could only field about 4500 soldiers to face the similarly sized British force.

In fact, though, the British were not entrenching. They did not have any more than the two small cannons they already had on the field. Wolfe expected to be dead by now and to have his Generals retreating. He had not planned properly for a full scale siege. His army’s entrenching tools were stilling sitting in the ships at the river below. His men were only lying down on the field to make themselves smaller targets to the snipers and cannon firing at them. If French reinforcements did arrive, the British would be surrounded on three sides, with the only avenue of retreat being the small footpath that had taken all night to climb. Despite their incredible luck so far, they were still facing the very real possibility of a slaughter.

Montcalm, however did not wait. He did not know that more British were not coming nor that they could not mount a proper siege. Montcalm therefore sent his infantry forward to meet the British on the field of battle. When the French lines advanced to within about 150 yards, they fired. This was still too far to hit much of anyone. A few British fell, but the lines of professionals quickly closed the gaps. One of those hit was Wolfe himself. He received a shot through his wrist, but casually wrapped it in a handkerchief and continued with his duties.

The Death of Gen. Wolfe by Benjamin West (1770)
(from National Gallery of Canada)
As the French reloaded, the British line stood impassively, still not firing back. There were too many militia in the French lines. As the regulars reloaded, the militia began to take cover or fall to the ground to avoid fire. As a result, the French line began to fall apart. Individual units advanced, but did not maintain a solid line of battle. When the French got within 60 yards of the British line, the British regulars fired a destructive volley followed by a bayonet charge into the enemy. The already broken French line now fled back to the city walls. The only return fire came from the fields off to the side where enemy snipers could pick off only a few of the advancing British. One of the few hit was once again Gen. Wolfe. This time, he sustained two fatal shots to his torso. His second in command, Monckton also sustained a serious wound around the same time. Gen. Murray had led his men on a wild charge that had taken him away from the main force. Wolfe’s aid Isaac Barré, a name you might want to remember, also took a shot to his face. He would live, but was out of commission for now.

George Townshend
(from Wikimedia)
Finally, Gen. Townshend came forward to take command. He quickly reestablished the British lines and returned order. By noon, both sides had suffered around 700 casualties each. Less than 10% of those were deaths, but given the medical care of the day, many of the wounded would not survive long. On the French side, Montcalm was among the wounded, out of commission, and would die the following morning. The next two highest ranking French officers had also been killed. Eventually the civilian Governor of Canada Vaudreuil conferred with the highest ranking officers available and decided to evacuate the city. The main army would leave and try to link up with relief forces for a counter attack. Meanwhile 2200 local militia were left in charge of defending Quebec against the British Army. No one had much hope in them, as they left them with papers on how to ask for surrender terms. As the French regulars departed the City, they left behind these militia, along with large amounts of supplies and ammunition.

The cautious Townshend still did not dare send his infantry against the walls of the city, where artillery could cut them down. Rather, he waited for British artillery to arrive so that he could begin a proper siege. The British siege began the next day, as British cannon finally arrived for use. The British did not even bother to fire their artillery as their entrenchment lines moved closer to the city over several days. The cannon only had to sit in the entrenchments to deter a French charge as the British dug ever closer entrenchments. Defensive fire from the French was largely ineffective. By September 17, the British were in position to open fire point blank on the walls of the City. As they prepared to open fire, the commander of Quebec’s remaining forces offered terms of surrender.

James Murray
(from National Galleries Scotland)
Townsend surprised the defenders by agreeing to all of their terms. Defenders were granted the honors of war. The British would protect the civilians and their property. They were free to continue to practice their Roman Catholic religion. French militiamen were free to remain in the city as long as they gave up their arms and swore an oath of loyalty to King George. Any possible French attempt to string out the negotiations until a relief force could arrive had failed because the British simply agreed to everything.

There was good reason for this. Townshend’s position was tenuous. If a relief column did arrive, his forces would be in a dangerous position. Further, his small force required the cooperation of the civilians. He simply did not have enough soldiers to fight off a relief force and control a hostile population.

In fact, a relief force was only about one day away when the British occupied Quebec. When the French arrived, they did not have the equipment to lay siege now that the British were behind the walls of Quebec. The French constructed a fort nearby and waited for an opportunity to retake Quebec.

By mid-October, the British fleet needed to leave. No one really wanted to stay in Quebec for the winter, but all able bodied soldiers were needed for its defense. Mockton still recovering from wounds, opted to leave for New York. Townshend decided to return to London. The most junior General Murray remained in command. His men would have to endure a difficult winter on short rations. However, Quebec had fallen and the British stood victorious.

Next Week: Canada becomes British, and Britain gets a new King.

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The Fantastic Adventures Of Captain Stobo, by Robert Alberts American Heritage Vol. 14, Iss. 5, Aug. 1963: https://www.americanheritage.com/content/fantastic-adventures-captain-stobo

Isaac Barré: Advocate for the Americans in the House of Commons, by Bob Ruppert, Journal of Am. Rev., Aug. 11, 2015: https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/08/isaac-barre-advocate-for-americans-in-the-house-of-commons

The Battle That Won An Empire, Sir Basil Hart, American Heritage Vol. 11, Iss. 1, Dec. 1959: https://www.americanheritage.com/content/battle-won-empire

Free eBooks:
(links to archive.org unless otherwise noted)

Montreal, 1535-1914, Vol. 1, by William H. Atherton (1914).

An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America for the Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760, Vol 1, Vol. 2, & Vol. 3, by John Knox (1914).

Journal of the siege of Quebec, 1760, by James Murray (1871) (a short contemporary account by one of Wolfe’s field generals).

Memoir Upon the Late War in North America, Between the French and English, 1755-60, Vol. 1, & Vol. 2, by Pierre Pouchot (1866).

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Brumwell, Stephen Paths of Glory: The Life and Death of General James Wolfe, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2007.

Manning, Stephen Quebec: The Story of Three Sieges, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2009.

The aftermath

The capture of Quebec proved to be the turning point of the Seven Years’ War. In 1763 the French ceded all their territories in North America. The continent was now controlled by the British, though the Spanish also gained some land to the west.

The British were now confirmed as the dominant global power, with their Empire slowly growing to become the largest in history. Whilst the war had led to British supremacy, it also led to their most humiliating defeat.

Britain was now in huge debt, and so to raise money they decided to tax the colonists in America. Enraged by the taxes, and no longer needing British protection from the French, the colonies rose up under the leadership of George Washington, the very man whose actions had precipitated the Seven Years’ War.

North America in 1763 after the Seven Years’ War. Image Credit AlexiusHoratius / Commons.

We could argue that the siege of Quebec was one of the most significant in history. It pioneered a scientific, approach to warfare reliant upon the navy, and British industry, that would characterise British warfare for the next century.

With the French defeat in the Seven Years’ War, the path was open for Britain to become the largest empire the world has ever seen.

North America was now British, and though the United States would emerge 20 years later, its language, customs, and constitution were formed on a British foundation. The debt incurred by the French would lead into the French Revolution, sparking the Revolutionary Wars and the decline of the old absolute monarchies.


The land troops were made up of professional soldiers dispatched by France to fight against America. They were well-disciplined and well-trained. In 1759, in Québec, these forces included the second battalions of five infantry regiments from various French regions 23 . Each of these regiments had its own history and a characteristic uniform.

Origin: Paris Region
During the Seven Years' War, this regiment was involved in several face-offs including that of Fort Saint-Frédéric at Lake George in September 1755, in which General Dieskau was wounded. The Régiment de la Reine also took part in the capture of Fort Bull and Fort William Henry and, more gloriously, contributed to the French victory over the forces of General Abercromby at Carillon in 1758. It would seem that, contrary to popular belief, the Régiment de la Reine was not involved in the siege of Québec it was sent instead to Carillon in May 1759 to guard against a potential British attack, then pulled out and sent to Île-aux-Noix in July of that same year. However, this regiment fought in the Battle of Sainte-Foy in 1760 24 .

The uniform of the Régiment de la Reine is characterized by a greyish-white justaucorps with red turnback cuffs decorated with three buttons, and with eight buttons on the pockets. The soldiers wore a red 25 jacket, while their breeches, the same colour as the justaucorps, were worn with white or grey socks and black metal buckle shoes. White gaiters covered the socks and breeches they were buttoned vertically on the outside and could be fastened below the knee with a black leather thong. The tricorn was made of black felt and trimmed with a silver braid 26 .

The flag was green and black and was divided by a white cross featuring a series of gold "fleurs de lys," three of which were surrounded by 4 gold crowns.

Origin: Bordeaux Region
Upon coming to America on June 23, 1755, this regiment was sent to Fort Frontenac, then to Fort Niagara. In February 1756, some of the men took part in the capture of Fort Bull by cutting off communication between Lake George and Oswego 27 . The Régiment de Guyenne participated in several battles: Fort Oswego in August 1756 and the capture of Fort William Henry in 1757. It also fought at Carillon in 1758, and the men spent the winter stationed in this location. In March 1759, some were sent out to Fort Niagara, 30 more at Île-aux-Noix, and the rest to Québec to help defend the city. The regiment participated in the battle of Montmorency, of the Plains of Abraham on September 13 (Régiment de Guyenne soldiers were placed at the centre of the attack line), and in the Battle of Sainte-Foy 28 .

The Régiment de Guyenne uniform was similar to that of the Régiment de la Reine: a greyish-white justaucorps with red turnback cuffs, decorated with three buttons a red jacket, breeches of the same colour as the justaucorps, and black metal buckle shoes. Unlike the Régiment de la Reine, the black tricorn was trimmed with gold braid 29 .

Origin: Berry Region
In the beginning, the 2 nd and 3 rd Battalions of the Régiment de Berry were to be mobilized to India. However, the regiment's destination was changed when Montcalm and Vaudreuil requested reinforcements: it landed in New France at the end of July 1757. The two battalions were stationed in Québec. In 1758, the regiment was sent to Carillon and contributed to its history. At the end of August, the regiment, which at first comprised 908 soldiers, had been reduced to 723 as a result of the battles that proved fatal for many. The remaining troops were not sent back to Québec for the Battle of the Plains of Abraham because their services were still needed at Carillon. However, they joined in the Battle of Sainte-Foy 30 .

The uniform worn by soldiers of the Régiment de Berry was also greyish-white, with red turnback cuffs, but it had five buttons instead of three, like the de la Reine and Guyenne Regiments. The justaucorps also had double vertical pockets fastened with six buttons. The jacket was red, the breeches and stockings greyish-white, the shoes black with metal buckles and the gaiters white. As for the tricorn, it was made of black felt and trimmed with gold braid 31 .

Origin: Picardie Region
Having arrived in New France in 1755, the Régiment de Béarn was sent to Fort Frontenac in early July and, a year later, contributed to the Fort Oswego victory with the other regiments, the Militia and the Amerindians. After the British capitulated on August 14, a company was sent to Fort Bull and another to Fort William Henry. The next year, the entire unity headed for Fort Carillon and returned to Fort William Henry to join in the battle. In 1758, the Régiment de Béarn took part in the defence of Fort Carillon and, in 1759, was at the siege of Québec, except for the 35 soldiers mobilized at Fort Niagara. The regiment was also involved in the Battle of Sainte-Foy the following year 32 .

The uniform worn by soldiers of the Régiment de Béarn who served in New France featured a greyish-white justaucorps with blue turnback cuffs, decorated with three buttons and vertical six-button pockets. The jacket was blue while the breeches, the same colour as the justaucorps, were worn with white or grey stockings and black metal buckle shoes. White gaiters covered the stockings and the breeches, and were buttoned up vertically with a row of buttons placed on the outside they were fastened below the knee with a black thong. The tricorn was made of black felt and trimmed with a silver braid 33

Origin: Lorraine Region
The 2 nd Battalion, Régiment La Sarre landed in Québec on June 3, 1756. It was involved in the capture of Fort Oswego in August of the same year, and escorted to Montreal the British soldiers taken prisoner in battle. In August 1757, several soldiers of this regiment participated in the Fort William Henry face-off. The regiment then backed up Montcalm's army at the battle of Carillon in 1758. Finally, the Régiment de La Sarre participated in the battles of Montmorency, the Plains of Abraham and Sainte-Foy 34 .

The Régiment de La Sarre uniform consisted of a greyish-white justaucorps with blue turnback cuffs (three buttons). The jacket was red while the breeches, the same colour as the justaucorps, were worn with white or grey stockings and black metal buckle shoes. It had white gaiters that reached below the knee and were fastened with a black leather thong. The tricorn was made of black felt and trimmed with gold braid 35 .

The Régiment Royal-Roussillon :

Origin: Perpignan, Roussillon and Catalogne Regions
The Régiment Royal-Roussillon, which came to New France in 1756, was at first stationed in Montreal, except for a detachment that was sent to Carillon. In 1757, the entire regiment was mobilized and headed for Fort William Henry. In 1758, the regiment also shared in the Carillon victory. It then marched towards Québec to defend the city, and participated in the battles of Montmorency, the Plains of Abraham and Sainte-Foy 36 .

The Régiment Royal-Roussillon uniform consisted of a greyish-white justaucorps with blue turnback cuffs (six buttons). The jacket was blue, the breeches greyish white, the stockings white and the shoes black with metal buckles. The tricorn was trimmed with gold braid 37 .

The Régiment de Languedoc :

Origin: Languedoc Region
This regiment landed in Québec on June 19, 1755. The men headed immediately for Fort Saint-Frédéric and, under the command of General Dieskau, drove back the British at Lake George. Following this battle, the troops headed for Carillon where a fort had recently been erected. The regiment then moved southward, where it took part in the battle of Fort William Henry. On July 8, 1758, the 2 nd Régiment de Languedoc Battalion fought at the battle of Carillon. In May 1759, it headed for Québec where it helped defend the city by participating in the battles of Montmorency, the Plains of Abraham and Sainte-Foy 38 .

The Régiment de Languedoc uniform consisted of a greyish-white justaucorps with blue turnback cuffs (three buttons). The jacket was blue, the breeches greyish-white, the stockings white and the shoes black with a metal buckle. The tricorn was trimmed with gold braid 39 .

The Battle of Quebec

By late August 1759, Maj. Gen. James Wolfe had reached a dead end: For two months the gaunt, red-haired 32-year-old commander and his army of some 8,500 soldiers had laid siege to the French city of Quebec without success. The British army had tried artillery bombardment, frontal attacks on French fortifications and raids on the surrounding countryside, all in an effort to lure the defenders into an open-field battle in which Wolfe could exploit his superior infantry. Seeking to break the deadlock, Wolfe formulated a bold plan: In mid-September, a portion of his army would board royal navy ships, sail upriver, stage a secret landing and then force the French to do battle on the Plains of Abraham, less than a mile west of Quebec.

A soldier since boyhood, Wolfe was no military dilettante: In an age when most officers rose through patronage, Wolfe rose through patronage and talent. He approached command in a professional manner, continually looking to improve tactics and training while looking after the welfare of his troops.

By the middle of the 18th century, the British had achieved proficiency at what contemporary commentator Thomas More Molyneux called “conjunct expeditions.” The term referred to the cooperation between the army and navy that allowed the British to project effective military power around the globe. The same amphibious capability that would finally bring success at Quebec in 1759 would also serve them well at Havana and Manila during the Seven Years’ War and in the battles for control of New York City in 1776.

Geography determined the British approach. The two most significant French settlements, Quebec and Montreal, both lay along the St. Lawrence River. In peacetime, the river was the key commercial artery from the Canadian interior to the Atlantic and France. But in wartime, the St. Lawrence offered the British a highway to Quebec.

Several hundred miles inland, the fortified city was the strongest remaining French bastion in Canada. While it was not impossible to approach the city by land in the 18th century—as the American army of Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold would prove in 1775—the river offered the best option for an army on the move to remain wellsupplied and maintain secure lines of communication and retreat. The British had closed the mouth of the river the previous year by capturing the Fortress of Louisbourg. Capturing Quebec would move the British closer toward their ultimate goal: conquest of the French empire in North America.

Opening the campaign on June 26, 1759, the British fleet dropped anchor in the St. Lawrence, and the British army set up base on Isle d’Orleans, in the middle of the river about four miles from the city. Three days later the army crossed to the south bank and established another camp, from which they could shell the city. Wolfe’s 32-pounders and 13-inch mortars opened up on Quebec on July 12 and continued the bombardment for 68 days, burning much of the city. It marked Wolfe’s first attempt to compel the French either to yield or to come out from behind their defenses.

Those defenses were formidable. Opposing the besieging British forces were some 15,000 French soldiers, a mixed force of regulars and provincials. Lt. Gen. Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm-Gozon de Saint-Véran, a 44-year-old veteran of campaigns in Europe and America, commanded the garrison. Montcalm had successfully countered the British during the early years of the French and Indian War, leading the force that captured Fort William Henry on New York’s Lake George in 1757— an action memorialized in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans.

At Quebec, Montcalm faced the challenge of defending not just the city, but miles of riverfront. Simply withdrawing behind the battlements and ceding the surrounding area would have allowed the British to bring siege guns to bear directly on the city walls. Montcalm needed to control the north bank of the river to keep Wolfe’s army at bay, or at least to slow the pace of the siege and delay the British until the onset of winter.

Though the French claimed numerical superiority, many of its troops were militia, and even the regulars were not up to par with their British counterparts, who were as well trained as any army in the world at the time. British control of the St. Lawrence delta made the delivery of reinforcements and supplies from France difficult, though not impossible. Additionally, while the British could concentrate their forces at points they wished to attack, the French had to defend all their towns.

On July 9 the British landed on the north bank of the St. Lawrence and established a camp east of Quebec, across the Montmorency River. That summer they made repeated attempts to draw the French into open-field battle. Wolfe’s army struck the French defenses on July 31, hoping to turn their eastern flank in a complicated maneuver that called for a series of amphibious landings near the mouth of the Montmorency. But a poorly selected landing site and stiff French resistance thwarted the offensive, with the loss of over 400 British lives.

In August, Wolfe again attempted to provoke the French into battle by sending raiding parties to ravage the countryside around Quebec. After issuing two fruitless proclamations calling on civilians to withdraw support from the French forces, Wolfe turned to harsher measures: British forces moved through the countryside destroying farms and villages, burning hundreds of buildings and driving off livestock. They also engaged in continual skirmishing with Native American auxiliaries allied with the French.

By September it must have been clear to Wolfe that time was running out. His forces had repeatedly failed to bring Montcalm to battle, and wounds and disease plagued the besieging forces—including Wolfe himself, who experienced fevers and fatigue. Moreover, the royal navy could not linger very late in the year so far north. The onset of winter in Canada brought pack ice to the notoriously treacherous St. Lawrence, making navigation even more difficult.

Finally, Wolfe decided to lift the siege and send his army upriver to a sheltered cove at Anse-aux-Foulons, where they could ascend a steep bluff west of the city. Here Wolfe hoped to outflank the French defenses and—if the French would cooperate—bring them to battle on favorable terms. It was a perilous plan, though. If the battle were lost, the Redcoats could be captured or even slaughtered on the retreat to their boats.

Just past midnight on September 13, Wolfe and more than 4,000 soldiers, under orders to maintain silence, rowed upriver into battle. Legend has it that night Wolfe recited to British officers his favorite poem, Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” Wolfe’s most recent biographer, Stephen Brumwell, discounts this anecdote as unlikely, since Wolfe knew better than anyone the need to keep quiet while on the river, lest he alert French defenders. Still, the image of doomed commander Wolfe reciting the lines

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave

remains irresistibly dramatic.

Despite their precautions, the British advance did not go unnoticed. As the boats moved upriver in the darkness, a French sentry challenged them. The attack hung in the balance. If the sentry realized what happening and alerted the city defenders, the French could at least prevent the landing and perhaps pick off the British in their boats. But a quick-thinking multilingual British officer answered the challenge in French, convincing the sentry that the boats held cargo bound from settlements in the interior.

Around 4 in the morning, the Redcoats landed at Anse-aux-Foulons and set to scaling the 175-foot bluffs—no mean feat, as loose shale made such a scramble difficult even in daylight during peacetime. Colonel William Howe, who would later command British troops against General George Washington in the Revolutionary War, personally led the advance force up the cliff. They quickly secured the beachhead.

Once atop the bluffs, Wolfe deployed his troops on the Plains of Abraham in a line running parallel to the river, both to cover the landing and to defend against a feared French counterattack. Named for former landowner Abraham Martin, the plains offered a relatively level battlefield, no more than a mile wide.

In his opening action, Wolfe sent a detachment of light infantry to silence a French artillery battery that had opened fire on the British troops. The British line spanned a half-mile front composed of, from right to left, the 35th Foot, the Louisbourg Grenadiers and five other regiments, with the 48th Regiment held in reserve. Wolfe anchored the right of his line on the St. Lawrence, despite harassing fire from French and Native American sharpshooters. Three more infantry units arrived later and formed up on the left, perpendicular to the main line, to guard that flank against attack by French irregular forces. Wolfe deployed his troops two ranks deep, a departure from the usual three-rank-deep line, in order to cover the large area with his relatively small force. The official British strength on the field, according to Brig. Gen. George Townshend, who would succeed Wolfe in command, was 4,441 men under arms.

Eighteenth century battles required a great deal of stoic endurance from soldiers. Tactics of the time mandated that they stand in formation to maintain cohesion under enemy fire, and while contemporary weapons offered little in the way of precision fire, they produced gruesome wounds. The sight and sound of massed muskets firing at once could easily convince soldiers with poor training or low morale that they had urgent business elsewhere. Relentless drills and confidence in their officers helped mitigate fear among rank-and-file soldiers, but a land battle in the Age of Reason remained a terrifying spectacle of blood, smoke and death.

The French were slow to react to the British landing. Around 9:30 a.m., Montcalm began forming his force of some 4,500 regulars and militiamen into three columns, each six ranks deep. Columns offered notable advantages, enabling an attacking force to maneuver with ease and close rapidly with one’s foe. Unfortunately for Montcalm’s soldiers, columns also faced two significant disadvantages when engaging troops deployed in lines: First, given their comparatively narrow frontage, columns could not match lines in firepower. Second, the broader lines could fire on both the front and flanks of a column.

The Redcoats held their fire until the French had advanced to within 40 yards, each British soldier executing a quarter turn as they brought their 46- inch Brown Bess muskets to their shoulders. Then the British line vanished behind a cloud of smoke, and a wall of lead slammed into the French columns. Wolfe had ordered his soldiers to load their muskets with an extra ball, and his regiments likely fired by company. Montcalm’s columns wilted in the face of such massed firepower. After less than 10 minutes of musketry, the British regulars ceased fire, fixed bayonets and charged the French line, which broke and retreated. Some French Canadians stood their ground to cover the retreat and exacted a price from their attackers, notably the Scottish Highlanders, who favored broadswords over bayonets. Reinforcements only arrived later in the day, by which time most French forces had fled back inside the fortified city.

The brief exchange on the Plains of Abraham claimed a heavy toll. British losses numbered 58 killed and 600 wounded. French estimates placed their casualties at around 600, while the British tallied French losses closer to 1,500 casualties. The officer corps on both sides suffered heavily. Montcalm fell during the retreat, mortally shot in the stomach he was carried from the field to die of his wounds the following day. The British second-in-command, Brig. Gen. Robert Monckton, fell wounded at the height of the conflict.

The battle also claimed the life of the British commander, in dramatic fashion. One musket ball struck Wolfe in the wrist, while another sliced across his stomach. Then two more struck him in the right chest. The last of these wounds lay beyond the reach of 18th century medicine. (Large-caliber—.75- inch in today’s terms—soft lead musket balls of that era created hideous wounds, akin to those delivered by a modern-day shotgun.) Assisted from the field by Lieutenant Henry Browne and volunteer James Henderson of the Louisbourg Grenadiers, Wolfe soon succumbed to blood loss. He lived long enough to learn that his troops had carried the day, and to order a regiment to cut off the French retreat.

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham proved a stunning tactical success for the audacious British invaders. The records of Lowescroft, a royal navy ship supporting the attack, show that it dropped anchor at 7 in the morning, the battle erupted at 10 and Wolfe’s body was carried onto the ship at 11. In less than an hour, Wolfe’s Redcoats had shattered the French forces.

For all its tactical decisiveness, however, the clash did not instantly decide the fate of either Quebec or the French Empire. Most surviving French troops slipped away quietly to fight another day, while a small number of troops remained behind to hold Quebec. But the city would only hold out until capitulating on September 18, 1759. Another year passed before the final French battalions surrendered at Montreal, on September 9, 1760, marking the end of France’s North American empire.

For further reading, Mitchell MacNaylor recommends: Paths of Glory: The Life and Death of General Wolfe, by Stephen Brumwell Montcalm and Wolfe, by Francis Parkman Quebec, 1759: The Siege and the Battle, by C. P. Stacey and Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1760, by Fred Anderson

Originally published in the September 2007 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.

The Battle of Quebec

It was early fall of 1775. General George Washington had taken command of the rag-tag, bobtail state’s militia camped around Boston, and was endeavoring to turn the “rabble” into an army.

He and the Continental Congress made the decision on June 27 to wrest Quebec and the St. Lawrence River from the British. They erroneously assumed that the tens of thousands of French-Canadians would gladly join the thirteen colonies in rebellion.

Out of this momentous decision came one of the most amazing military expeditions of all time: Colonel Benedict Arnold‘s birch bark-canoe invasion of Canada, the first amphibious military assault in our nation’s history.

Arnold was to lead 1,100 soldiers from Massachusetts to Maine, then up the Kennebec and Dead Rivers into Canada by way of the Chaudiere River to Quebec City. Another army under Generals Phillip Schuyler and Richard Montgomery was to invade from New York, take Montreal, then meet Arnold at Quebec.

This all came about, but ended in defeat for the Americans inasmuch as the British were well-positioned at Quebec, and Arnold’s small army had been reduced by half by desertions. The French-Canadians did not rally to the American flag. Montgomery, replacing an ill Schuyler, was killed early in the attack Arnold was wounded and the campaign dissolved into disaster and retreat for the dejected remnants of the invading army.

On September 13, in Massachusetts, Arnold set out for Canada in command of 1,000 volunteers including Captain Daniel Morgan. Arnold planned to march up through Maine into Canada. The route turned out to be very difficult for the poorly supplied force with many portages to navigate, snowstorms and illness.

On October 16, Schuyler returned to Fort Ticonderoga due to ill health, leaving Brig. Gen. Richard Montgomery in command.

On October 25, Colonel Ethan Allen was captured during a failed attack on the British fort at St. Johns. Arnold lost 350 men who turned back, but the remaining 600 continued on. After a long siege on November 2, St. Johns fell to Montgomery.

On November 8, Arnold arrived at Point Levis on the St. Lawrence River, opposite of Quebec City.

On November 13, Montgomery occupied Montreal while Arnold was finally able to cross the St. Lawrence River. Arnold then withdrew to Point-Aux-Trembles and waited for reinforcements from Montgomery, while Carleton marched into Quebec City after having abandoned Montreal.

On December 3, Montgomery arrived at Point-Aux-Trembles with only 350 men, having left the rest at Montreal.

On December 5, Montgomery and Arnold began a siege and demanded surrender, which was rebuffed by Maj. Gen. Guy Carleton. Montgomery and Arnold knew they had to act soon, because the expedition’s enlistments ended on December 31. They decided to attack under the cover of a snowstorm. After a near miss on December 27, a huge storm brewed on the night of December 30.

On December 31, at 2:00 AM, in the midst of a fierce snowstorm, muster was called in the Continental camp and a surprise attack on Quebec was soon underway. However, Carleton had been warned by an American deserter of the American plan.

The Americans had intended to use the cover of a storm to move their men into position. Montgomery would take his 300 men and attack the city along the river from the west, while Arnold would take his 600 men, and attack from the east.

The two forces would join in the middle of the business district in Lower Town and then march up the main route to Upper Town.

At 4:00 A.M., Montgomery fired rockets, signalling that he was in position and launching the assault. As Montgomery reached the western edge of Lower Town, he found a rough barricade had been thrown up by the British.

The general, his aide-de-camp and a battalion commander walked forward to get a closer look at the situation. When the men were within yards of the barricade, the defenders of the barricade fired their lone load of shot from their cannon and fired their muskets.

All 3 men were mortally wounded. The next in command, Lieutentant Colonel Donald Campbell, immediately ordered a retreat. The panicked defenders continued firing even after the Continentals were long gone.

On the eastern edge of Lower Town, Arnold had launched his attack when he sighted the rockets. Having lost his 1 artillery piece on the way in a snowdrift, Arnold had no choice but to lead a frontal assault on another British barricade.

Arnold was wounded when a musket ball tore into his leg. He attempted to continue on, but could not. He allowed himself to be carried from the from the fight, leaving Morgan in command. Morgan rallied the men and the Continentals overran the barricade after some heavy fighting. Morgan and his men raced through Lower Town, pouring over another unmanned barricade.

Morgan was ready to continue toward Upper Town, but his subordinates advised caution and persuaded him to wait for Montgomery.

By dawn, Morgan finally grew impatient and ordered his men forward. The wait had cost the Americans their advantage and momentum. Carleton had used the time to position men throughout the city.

As the Americans now attempted to move toward Upper Town, they were under constant fire coming from the surrounding houses. After fighting most of the day still hoping for aid from Montgomery, the Americans finally turned back. However, the once abandoned barricade was now occupied by Carleton’s men and the Americans were trapped in the streets of the city.

Fighting still dragged on as the American column spread throughout Lower Town. Eventually, almost the entire American force was captured or surrendered, as they were isolated in small pockets throughout the streets of the city.

Morgan himself refused to surrender even when completely surrounded. He dared the British to shoot him, but his men pleaded with him until he finally turned his sword over to a French priest, rather than surrender it to the British.

Arnold was able to escape when Carleton recalled his men before they reached the hospital. He retreated to about a mile from Quebec City with the remaining 600 men and awaited reinforcements from Brig. Gen. David Wooster.

He refused to retire from the field and continued his “siege” of Quebec. Word arrived that Montgomery had been promoted to major general on December 9.

On January 10, 1776, Arnold was promoted to brigadier general. In a few months, he was relieved of overall command by Brigadier General Wooster and was appointed commandant of Montreal. In May, the Americans began to withdraw from Canada as Major General John Burgoyne arrived with over 4,000 troops.

On June 18, Arnold was the last American to withdraw from Canada. Thus ended America’s actions in Canada for the remainder of the war.

With the British victory at Quebec and the later retreat of the Americans from Canada, another attempted annexation of Quebec was suggested in 1778 with the help of the French. But the plan was not implemented. Clément Gosselin and his spy network drafted a report on the state of Quebec in October 1778 for Congress which was planning another attack on the British in Quebec.

In 1780, yet another attempt was considered, but Washington, fearing he could not hold Quebec even if he took it, wrote Moses Hazen a letter explaining that he could not again risk being forced to leave Quebec and cause misery for the any Quebecois who were to support him.

Birthdays in History

    Jacques Cathelineau, French royalist & army leader, born in Le Pin-en-Mauges, France (d. 1793) Paul Cuffe, Mass, merchant/shipbuilder/African American nationalist Johan Valckenaer, Dutch politician/patriot Friedrich A Wolfius [Wolf], German philological (Prolegomena) Hedwig Elizabeth Charlotte of Holstein-Gottorp, Queen of Sweden and Norway (d. 1818)

Mary Wollstonecraft

Apr 27 Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, English writer and feminist (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman), mother of Mary Shelley, born in London (d. 1797)

    Jacob Albright, German-American Christian leader, founder of Albright's People (Evangelical Association), born in Fox Mountain, Pennsylvania (d. 1808) François Andrieux, French playwright, born in Strasbourg, France (d. 1833) William Thornton, British-American architect (Capitol Building in Washington, D.C), born in Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands (d. 1828)

William Pitt the Younger

    Jan Ekels, the Young, Dutch painter, born in Amsterdam (d. 1793) Thomas Dunham Whitaker, British topographer, born in Rainham, Norfolk (d. 1821) Alexander J. Dallas, American statesman and financier, born in Kingston, Jamaica (d. 1817) Seraphim of Sarov, Russian Orthodox Saint, born in Kursk, Russian Empire (d. 1833) [OS] Victor Emmanuel I, King of Sardinia (1802-21), born in Royal Palace of Turin, Italy (d. 1824)

William Wilberforce

Aug 24 William Wilberforce, British politician, philanthropist and leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade, born in Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire, England (d. 1833)

    William Kirby, English entomologist and original member of the Linnean Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society, born in Witnesham, Suffolk, England (d. 1850) Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg, Prussian Generalfeldmarschall, born in Potsdam, Brandenburg, Kingdom of Prussia (d. 1830) Louis François Antoine Arbogast, French mathematician (Du calcul des derivations), born in Mutzig, France (d. 1803) Ecco Epkema, Dutch classic linguist (Frisian, old-Frisian), born in Wirdum, Netherlands (d. 1832) Chauncey Goodrich, U.S. Senator from Connecticut (d. 1815)

William Grenville

Oct 25 William Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (Whig: 1806-07), born in Wotton Underwood, Buckinghamshire, England (d. 1834)

    Maria Feodorovna of Russia, second wife of Tsar Paul I of Russia, born in Stettin, Kingdom of Prussia (d. 1828)

Georges Danton

Oct 26 Georges Danton, French politician and revolutionary (1st president of the Committee of Public Safety during the French Revolution), born in Arcis-sur-Aube, France (d. 1794)

Siege of Quebec, 25 June-18 September 1759 - History

In June 1759, the British navy transported Major-General James Wolfe and a powerful army to Québec. Unable to overcome the city’s tenacious garrison, steep cliffs, and stone walls, Wolfe bombarded Québec for two months. On the verge of failure, the British noticed a small cove three kilometres west of the city walls. Wolfe and 4800 troops landed undetected there on the night of 13 September 1759. They scaled the cliffs and advanced to the Plains of Abraham. The Marquis de Montcalm, the French commander, left a strong position just outside the city and fought them with an army of 4500 French regulars, Canadiens, and First Peoples. The British won following an intense, 30-minute battle. Both Montcalm and Wolfe were mortally wounded. Québec surrendered five days later.

NAC/ANC C- 139911


1759 Siege of Quebec

Designed for solitaire play and playable by 2 players. Refight the 1759 Siege of Quebec in the French & Indian War.

Game Overview:

1759: Siege of Quebec is the first in our Great Sieges game series. These games highlight command decisions for players against a solitaire game engine opponent. They have been designed for easy set up and quick game play. Game unit placement is shown on the game board and units are wooden markers representing troop and ship formations. The game was developed for solitaire play and players can play as either the French or the British against the solitaire player game engine. There is also a two player version of the game. Both sides require you to make great decisions based on good strategy, keep your wits about you when orders do not turn out well, and press on to victory.

Game play is centered around using Field Commands to issue orders by the British and French commanders to defeat each other. Either side can be defeated by their morale falling too low. The game allows you to play either side against a solitaire opponent that has 3 levels of difficulty.

Pick the side you want to be, French or British, and then shuffle the solitaire card deck for your opponent. The card mix used by the solitaire opponent differs from game to game so no two games play alike.

Each commander (solitaire or player) can issue one order per game turn from their Commands available. Your order is carried out based on your strategy and current situation faced. Your choice can cause multiple actions and reactions with results that cause troop eliminations, morale reductions, and events to occur.

The game board map shows the impact of orders by either removing units from play, moving units, or recording affects to morale. During game play one side is played by you (either British or French) and uses player Field Orders from the Field Order Book and the other side uses the solitaire order cards for issuing orders. You issue one Command order per turn. You are never sure of what counter measures the solitaire side is planning to use against your Orders issued until after your order is issued and their counter order is revealed. Field Orders issued by you determine results applied to each side based on its affect compared to the solitaire counter order played. These results generally show French and British troop reductions in the locations the orders are carried out, morale reductions, and movement success or failure.


Any time one side's morale reaches zero during a turn, the other side wins the game. Also, the French win if they hold out until the British Navy departs. And the British can win by taking Quebec.

2 Player Game

1759 Siege of Quebec was designed as a solitaire game but it can also be played by two players. The game includes a deck of cards that are used for the two player version. The two player game is played just like the solitaire version of the game except the Command Decision Cards Deck is used as the draw deck for BOTH players. Both players (French and British) use their Command Field Orders Book to issue orders (Using cards representing the Field Orders, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.). Both players also play a counter order (A, B, C, D, etc. using counter order cards) against their opponent's Field Order played for the turn.

Orders and counter orders are placed face down. A Command Decision Card is flipped face up and applies to both players. The British player executes his Field Order first and decides how to use the Command Decision Card shown. The French player reveals his counter order. Results are applied. Then the process is repeated with the French player executing his Field Order, deciding how to apply the Command Decision card, and the British player revealing his counter order and applying the results.


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