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The French and Indian War (1754-1763)

Battle of Quebec

British Ascension (1758)

A Tenuous Peace (1760-63)

Summary

After the French abandoned Crown Point, the British controlled the western frontier. However, the French strongholds were further north, in Quebec and Montreal. These were also the French cities and forts that were most heavily supplied, funded, and protected.

William Pitt emphasized the importance of gaining Quebec in assuring outright British victory; he gave the assignment of conquering the city to famed general James Wolfe. Wolfe and Vice-admiral Charles Saunders organized a team of ships and infantry to besiege the city. The battle began in June 1759 and lasted for three months. The ships ascended the St. Lawrence flawlessly and held out against massive French assaults of fire and cannon.

Despite the romantic glaze that hangs over the Quebec campaign, it was a desperate struggle that frequently became brutal. Wolfe, like Montcalm, was not immune to terrorizing the civilian population, and one of his first orders to scouting parties was to "burn and lay waste the country." Louis-Joseph de Montcalm responded with equal brutality, threatening the frightened civilians with "the savages" when they meekly appealed to him for surrender.

Because Quebec was so mighty and heavily fortified, Wolfe was forced to starve the French out for two and a half months. The British forces were not large enough to completely surround the city and cut off its supplies; though French food and materiel were rapidly dwindling they were still enough to keep the soldiers alive.

Finally, on September 13, Wolfe landed a small host of soldiers in the middle of the night at l'Anse au Foulon, upstream of the city. Sheer luck played as much a role as skill in this success—Wolfe was able to fool a sentry and a general by speaking French and gathered the rest of his troops for the invasion. Montcalm was so disoriented by this bizarre turn of events that he made many mistakes in defending the city. First, he gathered his troops at the wrong place—downstream of the city, in a place called Beaumont. When they finally caught up to the British, Montcalm ordered them to charge instead of waiting for reinforcements. The battle lasted only fifteen minutes and both Wolfe and Montcalm were killed.

After the capture of Quebec, the rest of Canada quickly fell. The French attempted a brief counter-siege from May 11-16, 1760, but quickly gave up. Montreal capitulated in September 1760, and the British General Amherst and the French Marquise de Vaudreuil signed letters of capitulation that finished the surrender of Canada. On or around September 15, the British flag was hoisted over the city of Detroit, effectively ending the war.

Commentary

The victory at Quebec can be attributed to many factors. Although Quebec was heavily defended, the overall position of the French was extremely weak. They had lost many of their Indian allies. The army was strained to the limit after years of fighting against the greater resources of the British. British victories at Fort Duquesne and Niagara cut off French communication with the west, leaving the forces at Quebec without reinforcements of either men or supplies. All of this combined with James Wolfe's tactics of terror made the siege brutally effective.

It helped that Quebec's landscape was not twisted and wild like America's. The British soldiers could exercise their disciplined techniques of columns and volley fire without the threat of sniping and ambush that had worked so well for the French in the American colonies. Wolfe was also fortunate to be aided by several unflappable and highly skilled officers, including Saunders, who held up the pillars of the final battle.

After the fall of Quebec, the rest of the war was almost an afterthought. The French forces had been completely demoralized by a string of defeats, and the British were in position to dominate both the West and Canada. After a feeble attempt to win back Quebec, and a brave attempt to hold out against the British at Montreal, the French capitulated and turned their attention to gaining the best treaty possible.

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