On this day: The Plains of Abraham

On this day in 1759, on the Plains of Abraham at Quebec City, the British, commanded by General James Wolfe, defeated the French, commanded by General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm. The battle lasted less than twenty minutes. Both generals were mortally wounded.

Wolfe, 32 years old, died on the field.

". . . being asked if he would have a surgeon he replied, 'It is needless; it is all over with me.' For a few brief moments his consciousness seemed to come and go. He closed his eyes and appeared to be in a coma, his breathing laboured and shallow. Blood flowed freely from his wounds and the handkerchief around his wrist was as scarlet as his coat. The men about him watched helplessly in stricken silence until one of them moved to a low ridge from which he could see the battle. Suddenly, he cried out, 'They run! See how they run!' Wolfe opened his eyes and attempted to rise. 'Who runs?' 'The enemy, Sir, Egad they give way everywhere.' Turning on his side Wolfe said, 'Now God be praised, I will die in peace.' He had fulfilled the task destiny had assigned him."

-- "Battle on the Plains of Abraham," Historical Narratives of Early Canada, by W. R. Wilson, 2007. This article contains details of the battle and of subsequent events. See, e.g., under the picture of Lowther Castle, the account of the first performance, by David Garrick, of the song, "Heart of Oak." (British ships were built of heart of oak, the best wood. ) The song is the official march of the Royal Navy. And notice, near the bottom of the page, the 2009 battle over the proposed re-enactment of the 1759 battle.

Montcalm "died peacefully at four o'clock on the morning of the fourteenth. He was in his forty-eighth year.

"In the confusion of the time no workman could be found to make a coffin, and an old servant of the Ursulines, known as Bonhomme Michel, gathered a few boards and nailed them together so as to form a rough box. In it was laid the body of the dead soldier, and late in the evening of the same day he was carried to his rest. There was no tolling of bells or firing of cannon. The officers of the garrison followed the bier, and some of the populace, including women and children, joined the procession as it moved in dreary cilence along the dusky street, shattered with cannon-ball and bomb, to the chapel of the Ursuline convent. Here a shell, bursting under the floor, had made a cavity which had been hollowed into a grave. Three priests of the Cathedral, several nuns, Ramesay with his officers, and a throng of townspeople were present at the rite. After the service and the chant, the body was lowered into the grave by the light of torches; and then, says the chronicle [of the Ursulines de Quebec, III, 10], 'the tears and sobs burst forth. It seemed as if the last hope of the colony were buried with the remains of the General.' In truth, the funeral of Montcalm was the funeral of New France."

--Montcalm and Wolfe: The French and Indian War, by Francis Parkman, 1884, page 486. If you are not familiar with this classic, it is available for Kindle for $4.39, and may be read free on Google Books.

Click here for a video of "The Battle of the Plains of Abraham."

Click here for a video of "Wolfe and Montcalm," produced by the National Film Board of Canada, 1957.

Click here for an excellent summary of "The Battle of Quebec" at BritishBattles.com. The regiments are listed; there are descriptions of the uniforms, arms, and equipment; the troop movements, including the scaling of the Heights of Abraham, are explained; a couple of anecdotes are related, such as, "The 47th Foot took to wearing a black line in their lace to commemorate the death of Wolfe." ("Lace", on a military uniform, refers to the gold braid.)

Click here for many pictures of Quebec City, including the Plains of Abraham and the Ursuline Convent.

Click here for the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the "Ursulines of Quebec," the first nuns in North America.

Click here for the Wikipedia article on the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

Click here to hear a sample of "Brave Wolfe," from Canada's Story in Song.

Click here for Carolyn Hester's version of "Brave Wolfe." (Do you recognize the men in the picture?)

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here