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General James Wolfe

      General Edward Wolfe, an officer who distinguished himself under the Duke of Marlborough, was the father of James Wolfe, conqueror of Quebec. He was the eldest son of the general, and was born at Westerham, a small town in Kent, on November 6, 1726. As liberal an education as could be acquired before the early age of fourteen, was given to the future hero. He then went with his father to Flanders to study the profession of an officer amid active warfare; and, thus engaged, seven years soon passed. During this novitiate, he was not without opportunities of distinguishing himself; his name was on several occasions mentioned with honor; till at length, at the battle of Laffeldt, his courage and skilful conduct attracted the notice of his commander, the Duke of Cumberland, who, at the close of the day, thanked him in the presence of the army; and from that time he was marked out "as an officer of extraordinary merit and promise."

      His merit, rather than any favor, brought Wolfe the rank of lieutenant-colonel when he was barely twenty-two. The battalion he commanded was soon distinguished by many and striking improvements in discipline, so that its superiority at exercise, and in the order of its quarters, gave sure proof of ability and temper in its young commander. "The men," it is said, "adored while they profoundly respected him; and his officers esteemed his approbation as much as they dreaded his displeasure."

      Canada, with a portion of New Brunswick, and also the islands of St. John and Cape Breton, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, were at this time possessed by the French; while Nova Scotia and New Brunswick belonged to the English. The latter also claimed the tract of land called New England, lying (as will be seen on looking at a map of North America) to the west of New Brunswick, and south of the river St. Lawrence. The French, however, disputed their claim to this country; and constant quarrels arose between the rival settlers about their right to land, of which, in reality, the poor Indians were the proprietors. In virtue of a grant of parliament in 1750, a large body of English took possession of this "debatable ground;" but scarcely had they done so, when a superior force of French and Indians attacked them, and killing some, made prisoners of others, and drove the rest back. Many vigorous but unsuccessful efforts were made on the part of the colonists and their neighbors, during eighteen months, to regain their territory. A body of troops was then sent from England under General Braddock, but this attempt also failed; and, the struggle having now assumed some importance, an army of not less than sixteen thousand men, under Lord Loudon, renewed the contest of 1755 against the army under the Marquis de Montcalm, a most able and enterprising officer. His superiority as a commander had been shown in several instances, till, the slur which was being cast on the reputation of our country's arms having excited attention at home, Lord Loudon was recalled, and the army then in America was intrusted to General Abercrombie (not the celebrated Abercromby). At the same time a fresh force was raised at home, which put to sea in February, 1757. Wolfe accompanied this expedition as brigadier under Major-General Amherst. Its object was to reduce Cape Breton, the possession of which island, commanding as it does the grand entrance of the St. Lawrence, was felt to be of the greatest importance.

      The town of Louisburg stands upon a small tongue of land, and at this period was carefully fortified, having heavy batteries toward the sea, and a strong defence of regular works on its land sides. Its harbor, which is considered the most magnificent in the world, was carefully guarded by five ships of the line extending quite across the mouth. Goat Island formed one extremity of the entrance, and Lighthouse Point the other; both these were surmounted by strong redoubts, having the largest cannon and mortars used in war; while a garrison of 3,000 soldiers, with 2,500 seamen to man the intrenchments, seemed to present an insuperable obstacle to a successful descent.

      Four miles westward of the town, however, there was a little creek, called Freshwater Cove; and, after much deliberation, it was resolved to attempt a landing at this point. The frigates and lighter vessels accordingly moved thither as soon as the weather moderated, and anchored there one evening, with the wind still boisterous, and the surf running very high. Next morning, at daybreak, the first division of the troops entered their boats, Wolfe at their head.

      The seamen had scarcely dipped their oars a second time, when a sudden glancing of arms amid the sand-hills warned the troops to expect opposition. The French had foreseen the probability of such an attempt as the present, and had prepared to oppose it by throwing up breastworks, placing field-pieces in the hollows, and stationing a considerable force to dispute a landing.

General Wolfe landing at Louisburg.

      Gallantly the boats pressed onward; while the frigates, which had approached within half-cannon shot of the shore, opening their fire, swept the beach with a shower of round shot. The flotilla was now within musket range, when the French all at once poured in a volley of small-arms. Wolfe ordered his men not to fire in return; but, trusting to the broadsides from the frigates, which, ploughing up the sand, threw it high in the air, and thus kept the beach open, he urged his rowers to their utmost strength, passed through a heavy surf, though not without some loss, and made good his landing. Company by company, as the men arrived, they quickly formed, and pushing on, after a sharp encounter, forced the French to abandon their works, and retreat within the walls of Louisburg.

      The terrible surf proved the more formidable enemy. Above one hundred boats, with a large number of their crews, were lost in attempting to pass through to the shore. But officers and men were too enthusiastic to be disheartened. In a short time all the troops were landed; guns, stores, work-tools, ammunition, and provisions, followed quickly; and, ere the enemy had learned that real danger at last threatened them, the business of the siege was begun.

      General Amherst invested the place without delay on the land side, and, having opened his trenches before it, despatched Wolfe with the light infantry and a body of Highlanders to attack the battery on Lighthouse Point. Before dawn one morning, he reached the outposts, drove them in, and followed with such rapidity, that, ere the enemy could form, and almost before they had got under arms, they were completely routed. The guns were immediately turned with terrible accuracy upon the harbor and town. The five ships of war now found their position very hazardous; one was soon on fire, and blew up; the flames spread to two others, and the remaining two were attacked and captured by boats. The breaching batteries shook the ramparts of the town to their foundations, while the shells carried ruin and death into the streets. On July 26th, the enemy, finding it impossible to resist any longer, surrendered; the garrison became prisoners of war, and the islands of Cape Breton and Prince Edward fell into the hands of the English.

      Wolfe's part in this campaign was now over, for domestic matters summoned him to England. He had not, however, been long at home, when he was informed from head-quarters, that his brilliant services as a subaltern had caused the king to select him to conduct an enterprise of still greater hazard and honor. It had been proposed in Council, as the speediest mode of putting an end to the transatlantic war, that the reduction of Quebec, the enemy's colonial capital, should be effected. Competent authorities declared the attempt to be not impracticable; it was therefore resolved on, and Wolfe was nominated to the command of an armament to invest the town. An attack, to be made on three other points, was determined as a commencement of the campaign.

      The armament set sail early in February, 1759. Admiral Saunders commanded the fleet, which comprised twenty-two line-of-battle ships, and an equal number of frigates. The whole came within sight of Louisburg April 21st. The harbor being still choked with ice, the vessels could not get in; and the delays which occurred prevented Wolfe from entering the St. Lawrence till June. The ships reached the Isle of Orleans by the end of the month; and, casting anchor, possession was taken. The land was in a high state of cultivation, affording abundant supplies to soldiers and sailors.

      The Marquis of Montcalm, now an old but still energetic man, occupied Quebec and the adjoining district with an army of five thousand regular troops, and the same number of militia and Indians. He made preparations for the defence with great judgment; the mass of his army was in the town, which he had further protected by intrenchments extending nearly eight miles to the west, till they reached the Montmorency River. Montreal was also well garrisoned; and, twenty miles above Quebec, a body of two thousand men lay encamped to attack in flank any force which might attempt to land in that direction.

      Many skirmishes took place at first between the Indians and British troops; and one attack of more importance, on the intrenchments near the St. Charles, was headed by Wolfe in person. It completely failed; but it taught him the strength of the enemy's position, and clearly showed that it would require stratagem to accomplish his design of reducing the town itself.

      A council was summoned, when it was found that disease and the petty combats in which they had been engaged, had reduced the troops to five thousand effective men. Insufficient as this army seemed, Wolfe determined to remain idle no longer; and a plan of attack on the town was agreed upon. Accordingly, the following morning (September 11th), the ships of the line, with the exception of two or three, and all the frigates, suddenly hoisted sail, and, exposed to a cannonade from all the batteries, sailed up the river past Quebec. The troops had previously been landed on the southern side of the river, and in perfect safety they marched in the same direction. When they had proceeded about nine miles, they found the fleet riding at anchor, already beyond the reach or observation of the enemy. The point of attack Wolfe had chosen lay within a mile and a half of Quebec, and consequently this march had no other purpose in view than to mislead the enemy as to his intentions. No sooner had the tide turned, and evening set in, than the surface of the river suddenly swarmed with boats, which had secretly been brought to this distant mustering-place. Then the signal for the ships to sail was hung out, and they immediately began proudly to descend the channel, leaving the flotilla boats behind them.

      Before midnight, the fleet had reached its first anchorage, and the troops up the river could hear the thundering of their guns, as they cannonaded at long shot the fortifications below the St. Charles. The cheering sound told them that the ships had repassed the town safely; while the French naturally concluded, that from the ships a descent was about to be attempted.

      During the interval, the troops had silently and in complete order taken their places in the boats; and, as soon as it became quite dark, like a huge flock of waterfowl, they glided down the stream. Not a word was spoken; the soldiers sat upright and motionless; and the sailors scarcely dipped their oars, lest the splash should reach the ears of the French placed along the shore at short distances. Wolfe sat in the leading boat, surveying attentively each headland, to prevent the hazard of shooting beyond the point at which he purposed landing. Unobserved, he gained the little cove which has since borne his name, and shortly before midnight all the men were landed.

      The troops now stood upon a narrow beach. Above them rose a precipice, nearly perpendicular, to the height of two hundred and fifty feet. A winding path, broad enough to admit four men abreast, led to the summit; and here lay one of the large plains, or table-lands, which distinguish the heights of Abraham, on a level with the upper town of Quebec. A battery of four guns, and a strong party of infantry, defended this important pass. Vigilance, however, was not one of the qualities of this guard; for the leading files of the British, under Colonel Howe, were close upon the station of the French sentinel ere he challenged. Replying with a hearty cheer, they sprung forward. An irregular volley poured upon them; but the next instant they were high on the ground, and at close bayonets with the French guard, who immediately fled in terror, leaving Colonel Howe quietly in possession of their redoubt and artillery.

      Long before dawn, all the troops had gained this ground. Leaving two companies in charge of the redoubt, Wolfe hastened forward with the rest toward Quebec. He halted when within a mile of the town, and there the men lay down with their arms in readiness for the first alarm. A communication by small parties, called videttes, was kept up with the companies at the redoubt.

      A trooper, with his horse covered with foam, appeared in the French camp at Beau Point, as the morning sky began to redden. He brought Montcalm the first intelligence of the landing the English had effected, and the unwelcome news was soon confirmed by the appearance of some of the fugitive soldiers from the redoubt. The camp was instantly in commotion; but the marquis gave his orders coolly, and before an hour the entire army had crossed the river, and were in full march for the Heights of Abraham.

      About eleven in the forenoon, a large body of Indians and Canadian riflemen were seen issuing from a wood on one side of the plain on which the English were stationed. They were soon hidden again by a thicket; and dexterously spreading themselves among the bushes, they opened a smart skirmishing fire on the pickets. This was the first warning that the long-wished-for event was at hand--a general conflict might now be confidently expected.

      Without delay, Wolfe drew up his men in two lines, placing a few light companies in skirmishing order in front, and retaining one regiment (the 47th) in divisions, as a reserve. The French skirmishers were quickly engaged with the light troops, whom they compelled to fall back on the line; while a heavy column advancing on the left, obliged Wolfe to wheel round three battalions to strengthen that side. But ere the column bore down, a fresh body of skirmishers appeared, and under their cover it silently withdrew; then, suddenly appearing on the right, it came down impetuously upon the irregular troops which Wolfe had there stationed. These did their duty nobly; the fierce attack of the enemy failed to break their order, or make them even flinch for a moment. The skirmishers, meantime, continued to gall the light infantry with their desultory fire, which acted also as a vail to conceal the intended movements of the main body of the enemy. As the light troops, however, hastily fell back, they caused a slight dismay among their supporters. Wolfe instantly rode along the line, and assured the men that these were only obeying instructions in order to draw the French onward. "Be firm, my lads!" said he; "do not return a shot till the enemy is within forty yards of the muzzles of your pieces; then you may fire!"

      The men replied by a shout; and, shouldering their muskets, they remained as though on parade, while the French continued to press nearer and nearer. At length they were within the appointed distance. Every gun was now levelled--a crashing volley passed from left to right--a dense smoke followed the discharge, and hid its effects for a minute. The breeze soon carried this off, and then the huge gaps in the enemy's line exceeded all expectation. In the rear, the ground appeared crowded with wounded men hurrying or being borne from the conflict; while the army, which had just advanced so confidently, now wavered, and then stood still. Seeing the irresolution of the enemy, Wolfe cheered his men to charge. A moment after, a musket-ball struck his wrist. He paused only to wrap his handkerchief round the wound, and again pressed on. He received a second ball in his body, but still continued to issue his orders without evincing any symptom of pain, when a third bullet pierced his breast.

      Wolfe fell to the ground; he was instantly raised and borne to the rear, where the utmost skill of the surgeons was put forth in a vain attempt to save his life. While they were engaged in examining his wounds, Wolfe continued to raise himself, from time to time, to watch the progress of the battle. His eyesight beginning to fail, he leaned backwards upon one of the grenadiers who had supported him from the field, and his heavy breathing and an occasional groan, alone showed that life remained.

      "See how they run!" exclaimed an officer, beside the dying general.

      "Who run?" cried Wolfe, instantly raising himself on his elbow, and looking up, as if life were returning with full vigor.

      "The French," answered the officer; "they are giving way in all directions."

      "Run, one of you," said the general, speaking with great firmness, "run to Colonel Burton; tell him to march Webb's regiment down to Charles River with all speed, so as to secure the bridge, and cut off the enemy's retreat."

      His orders were obeyed, and after a short pause, he continued, "Now, God be praised, I shall die happy!" He fell back at these words, turned convulsively on his side and expired.

      Montcalm had also fallen in the battle; the enemy was totally routed, and, five days after, Quebec capitulated to General Townshend.

      The body of the gallant and high-minded Wolfe was conveyed home in a ship of war. When the hero's remains arrived at Portsmouth, minute-guns were fired, the flags half struck, and a body of troops, with reversed arms, received the coffin on the beach, and followed the hearse. Parliament voted Wolfe a monument in Westminster Abbey, and in that venerable pile would have been his last resting-place; but a mother claimed the ashes of her son, and laid them beside those of his father, in a vault of the parish church of Greenwich.

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