The National Battlefields Commission
Plains of Abraham
In a face-off that occurred at Lake George in September 1755, the commander of the French troops in America, Jean-Armand Dieskau, was wounded and taken prisoner. It therefore proved vital for Versailles to find a replacement for Dieskau. However, general officers were not queuing up to serve in America, even more so since the spectre of war hung over Europe. Consequently, lower ranking officers had to be considered, and the choice settled on Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, a professional soldier with several European campaigns to his credit. He was named brigadier and left for New France in 1756 with fresh troops. At first, the troops led by Montcalm were regular troops under the authority of the Ministry of War: eight infantry battalions sent out to New France between 1755 and 1757, all of them composed of 13 companies including 12 battalions of 40 riflemen and one of 45 grenadiers. Also under Montcalm’s command were the Troupes de la Marine, mainly camped out at the colony’s main posts – Québec, Trois-Rivières and Montreal – and the rest scattered in frontier forts and trading posts – Chambly, Saint-Jean, Saint-Frédéric, Carillon, Frontenac, Niagara and Detroit. There were 30 Compagnies de la Marine, their numbers rose to 40 in the years following the onset of hostilities. Finally, the military command could also count on the Militia: all parishes had at least one company. Québec had 10, Montreal, 1311.
On the British side, in 1754, the troops already present on North American soil were under the command of Major General Edward Braddock, commander in chief in North America. Two regiments were already there: the 44th and the 48th. Concerns about the Seven Years’ War prompted the British Secretary of State for War, Henry Fox, to dispatch reinforcements to the colony to help complete and appropriately train the army on American soil. In fact, as he mentions, the budding conflict was not like other colonial wars waged in North America. This time the British would be facing trained French soldiers, the same they had fought during the War of Austrian Succession – as compared with the Canadian Militia and the Amerindians they had battled against in prior conflicts12.
Be that as it may, France and Great Britain, having to deal with the threat of a conflict in North America, sent reinforcements to back up the troops in the colonies, bringing the number of troops recruited in Europe to about 5,000 in each camp. As for the Militia and the Amerindian allies, the opposing forces in New France numbered approximately 10,000 and 1,800 respectively. Of the 10,000 settlers old enough to fight, at least half were regulars. The British, for their part, relied on a colonial population that was twenty times higher so that they had a much larger supply of soldiers13. In addition to sending reinforcements, in 1755 Great Britain supplied its colonies with 10,000 pounds sterling and 2,000 guns14.
Over the years, the gap between the French and the British troops continued to widen: in 1758, once again Great Britain sent troops, established a unified command, supplied food and ammunitions, created a Light Infantry that included several provincial regiments that controlled the "little war", and were therefore able to face the Canadian and the Amerindian troops that advocated ambush tactics. In short, New France and its troops pitted themselves against a much larger, well-equipped army in a war that was shaping up, as early as 1756, to be a fight to the finish.