Gouvernement du Canada - Commission des champs de batails nationaux Gouvernement du Canada - Canada

The National Battlefields Commission

Plains of Abraham





The British Army Principles and Actions

During the winter of 1758-1759, Jeffery Amherst, newly appointed commander in chief of the British army in America, was making preparations for the next campaign that was to be waged against New France, one that he and his superiors hoped would be a final one. To that end, he went back to a plan developed the previous year by one of his predecessors, Major General John Campbell, Lord of Loudoun. The latter had devised a strategy based on an attack waged simultaneously on three different fronts: the Ohio Valley and Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River, and the city of Québec: the three armies would thus converge, via these three routes, on the heart of the colony: Montreal and Québec. The expedition against Fort Niagara was entrusted to Brigadier General John Prideaux. Amherst, for his part, took command of the forces that were to take the Lake Champlain and Richelieu route. As for the expedition against Québec, it was entrusted to a young 32-year-old officer who had been noticed at the capture of Louisbourg, and who was temporarily granted the rank of Major General: James Wolfe.

To prepare his attack strategy, Wolfe had access to information previously gathered by an Army Engineer, Major Patrick Mackellar, who had been detained in Québec a few years earlier. Although some of the data concerning the city's defence was missing or erroneous, Mackellar's report was very useful to the Major General. Like Phips before him in 1690, Wolfe considered landing at Beauport and then crossing the St. Charles River to attack the city from that side. The Beauport Flats in fact offered no natural defences, which facilitated the landing. However, the general would exercise caution until he was able to reconnoitre, so he considered other options such as launching an attack upriver. Moreover, Wolfe also developed a strategy that he could use if he was unable to capture Québec. He figured that, if this situation actually came about, he could set fire to the city by bombarding it and burn all the crops in the vicinity, thus reducing the people to starvation.

Moreover, the notion of raiding the supplies occurred early on in the British strategy. During the winter of 1758-1759, Rear Admiral Philipp Durell received the order to intercept the French vessels attempting to reach Québec by springtime. To do so, he would have to leave Halifax as soon as possible and take up his position on the river as soon as the ice melted. Durell, however, only left Halifax on the 5th of May and reached the Bic on the 21st. It was too late, more than twenty French vessels had already gone by a few days earlier.

The success of the 1759 British campaign against Québec rested largely on the ships and seamen of the Royal Navy. Under the command of Admiral Charles Saunders, the Navy managed to transport the soldiers to Québec up a treacherous river. True, the British had some help from French pilots Denys de Vitré, Martin Dechenique and Augustin Raby, who had been taken prisoner and threatened with hanging from a mast if they refused to guide the fleet86. Moreover, the French did nothing to hinder their progress. The Militia stationed along the coastline was there merely to watch the enemy and relay information concerning the fleet (progress, number of ships, etc.). Montcalm had actually planned to set up a battery at Cap Tourmente, a required passage for any ship intent on reaching Québec, but it was never built. Another plan was to block the "Traverse", but this idea proved impossible to carry through technically.

The first ships to drop anchor in the river in mid-June between the Île d'Orléans and Île Madame were those led by Captain William Gordon, himself under the command of Rear Admiral Durell. They were joined by the rest of the British fleet between June 21 and 27.

Wolfe realized fairly quickly that he would have to drop his initial plan to land at Beauport. The camps, batteries and redoubts built by Montcalm's men greatly complicating the operation. The French General had anticipated his enemy's intentions and had fortified the place, forcing the British General to rethink his strategy.

Although his initial plan had fallen through, Wolfe nevertheless saw that the heights of  Pointe-Lévy were not fortified and that he could therefore occupy this strategic site quite easily. His initial goal was to prevent the French from setting up a battery to stop British ships from casting anchor west of the Île d'Orléans. Monckton's men therefore captured the place despite the resistance of 40 militiamen and 200 Amerindians87. Soon after, the work for the erection of batteries began.

Hundreds of men were put to work. The French tried to stop them by bombarding them, but this turned out to be quite ineffective. Because of the position of the French artillerymen, which was lower than their target, it was very difficult for them to hit the British. What's more, the powder was in limited supply and so had to be used in moderation. After ten days or so (on July 12) the British artillerymen were ready. The bombardment could start.

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