Battle of the Plains of Abraham

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Sealing the Fate of North America

The battle of the Plains of Abraham was fought on the 13th of September 1759. It was the result of a three-month British siege of the French North American capital of Quebec City. Although the battle lasted for a short period of time, involved comparatively few troops, and caused few casualties, the effects of the battle were far reaching. The British victory at the battle resulted both in the death of the French general – the Marquis de Montcalm – and the British major general James Wolf. More importantly, the battle resulted in the capture of Quebec, which in turn, led to the capture of the remaining French territories of North America.

In the previous years of French and Indian war – the North American colonial theatre of the 7 years war – France had originally been successful. As the war entered its latter stages however, poor harvests, a brutal winter, outbreaks of smallpox among France’s aboriginal allies, no reinforcements from France and finally, enormous number of men sent from England turned the tide. By 1759, the French had suffered a series of defeats and were pushed into Canada. The main cities or towns along the St. Lawrence were Quebec City and Montreal. James Wolf was selected to lead an army to conquer the city of Quebec. Major General James Wolf commanded a total of about 8,000 men in a flotilla, which originally disembarked him on the Isle D’Orléans (28th of June) then on Point Levis (29th of June), directly across from Quebec where the British could commence a bombardment of the city.

In response, Montcalm positioned his 12,000 men along the East side of Quebec, from the city to the Montmorency river in a series of earthworks (the line was about 9 kilometers long). The defenses proved to be effective, a forced Wolf to probe unsuccessfully and ravage the nearby settlements until September. By then, Montcalm had sent 3,000 men to Cap Rouge to observe British ship activities.

On the 12th of September, Wolf made his final decision regarding the landing site. He chose L’Anse-au-Foulon – a cove lying 53 meters below the plateau above and 3 km from the city. That same night, 3,300 British regulars crushed the French picket and assembled on the plateau, The Plains of Abraham. Montcalm moved immediately, believing that were the British to dig and bring up artillery, he would be unable to push them back into the St. Lawrence. Thus, instead of waiting for the 3,000 men upriver that could attack the British from behind or to assemble all the men he had in the fortifications along the St. Lawrence (in all he would have about 13,400 men), Montcalm only brought 3,500 men from Quebec for the battle.

On the 13th, Wolf arranged his troops across the Plains of Abraham, anchored on the flanks by the St. Lawrence to the right and a bluff and thick wood on the left. To cover this kilometer wide area, Wolf stretched his troops into two ranks rather than the usual three. French irregulars attacked the British left, taking cover in the tress and bushes, and were the only part of the French army to see any success that day.

Montcalm ordered his troops into different formations. His regular troops were positioned in the conventional three ranks, the militia in six and the least dependable in column. At 10 am, Montcalm ordered the attack. The French commenced their approach without response from the British.

Finally, the French fired two disorganized volleys at their enemies and started forward again. The British, more or less unscathed, fired a volley, then marched forward and fired a second (they had charged their muskets with two musket balls each in preparation), which shattered French morale, who broke ranks and ran towards Quebec. During the battle, both Wolf and Montcalm were struck by shots, Wolf died after being told that the French were routing and Montcalm passed away the next morning in Quebec city.

Covered by irregular and cannon fire, French forces were able to...
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