By the 18th century the dominant European powers had realised that the bounties of almost the entire undeveloped world were for the taking. Virtually nowhere on the surface of the earth was beyond their reach or influence. Faraway lands promised resources, trade and potential for colonisation. Often, more primitive cultures could hinder domination and exploitation and only powerful European nations were able to muster a serious opposition which could foil success. Ultimately the matter of which nation would found a global empire came down to a choice between the ancient rivals—Britain or France. The race inevitably became a battle which was fought wherever the two nations vied for the territory. This special Leonaur edition charts the struggle for the domination of North America. The first book in this two-for-the-price-of-one volume, by historian George Wrong, deals with the conflict from its earliest sparks, through the French and Indian War and to the fall of Quebec. The second work focusses on a much smaller time frame in greater detail from Quebec’s fall through the winter of 1759-60 to the Battle of Sainte Foy and the naval actions which followed it. This is an excellent view of how French aspirations to create a ‘New France’ across the western ocean were confounded by the British.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
This disaster, however, hardly marred the complete triumph of the British. Up to this time the difficult navigation of the St. Lawrence and the menace from the French ships which lay there had kept the British from advancing for more than a few miles above Quebec. Now the power of France on the sea in America was wholly shattered. She still had, indeed, one or two vessels far up on Lake Ontario, but to destroy them was to prove no hard task. In truth, on that stormy spring day of 1760, France’s long naval record in Canada ended in final disaster. It was French seamen, Cartier and Champlain, who had first told Europe about the great river. In the days of Jean Bart, France had held both the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi, Iberville had humbled the English even on Hudson Bay. It was the white flag of France that Vauquelain had refused to pull down. Now it disappeared almost entirely from the river, and the rival power that was to become mistress of the seas at Trafalgar was already mistress of the St. Lawrence.
On the 16th, while the poor remains of the French Navy were being destroyed in the river, Lévis was preparing to withdraw the army which lay on the Heights before Quebec. All through the day he had troublesome evidence of Britain’s sea-power. The Vanguard, a powerful ship of war, still continued to hover about the Anse au Foulon and bombarded the French positions within range. When night came the retreat of the French began. Lévis issued orders that the army should march at ten o’clock with La Pause in charge. The men were to march in silence, no weapons were to be discharged, no fires were to be made. One of the critics of Lévis says that he lost his head, and, dazed by his position, gave contradictory orders. Once more we see that he lacked the striking vigour and decision in a time of crisis which are indispensable to a great leader. When officers came to him for directions he would look at them blankly without saying a word. (Mémoires sur le Canada, 1749-60).
There was much confusion. The Indians, always troublesome, were now completely out of hand. In search of pillage and mad for drink they attacked the quarters of the officers and killed a grenadier on guard. One of them was in turn killed by another grenadier whom he tried to strangle. The Indians were soon drunk with the liquor thus secured, and some French soldiers also got drunk on stolen spirits. Bourlamaque wrote to Bougainville that everything fell into disorder. Lévis could not take away all his artillery, and most of it he frankly abandoned. He dragged some heavy guns to the edge of the cliff at the Foulon and threw them down to the strand below, in the hope that the French might be able to get them away in the boats. Some light artillery and field-pieces he sent up the river by land. He tried to load his small boats at the Foulon, but most of these were either sunk by the Vanguard or abandoned by their crews. In them were the personal effects of some of the French officers, now, of course, lost.
Under cover of night Lévis marched his army to Cap Rouge and by daybreak of the 17th he was comparatively safe beyond the river of Cap Rouge. It was here that the French transports had run aground. They were laden with provisions, and Lévis spent the 17th in trying to withdraw from them supplies which he sorely needed. Bourlamaque declares that the whole affair was badly managed. He himself, disabled by his wound, had been brought in a litter from the General Hospital. Now, surrounded chiefly by men also wounded, he tried to get something done.
At Cap Rouge lay one hundred and twenty boats, but the oars had been left behind at the Foulon, and all day long Bourlamaque attempted in vain to have the oars brought up. He induced thirty Canadians to help him. Something was done, but, if we may believe the chief lieutenant of Lévis, there was a conspicuous lack of competent leadership in the French Army. On the 18th the army marched as far as Pointe aux Trembles, where, with something like dismay, they learned that more British ships had arrived at Quebec. This produced new fears and the resolve to press on farther to a safer place.
The next day the army reached the Jacques Cartier River. To cross was not easy, for there were no bridges or pontoons, and the clumsy bateaux were of little use in the swollen spring floods. Not until far into the night of the 19th was the task accomplished. Then the French army had the swift river between them and possible pursuit by land from Quebec. At this point eight months earlier Lévis had taken command of the army of Vaudreuil, worn out after a panic-stricken flight from Quebec. It must have been with bitterness of heart that he now found the experience of panic and flight repeated, and, this time, under his own leadership.
Meanwhile the French camp lay almost deserted. It was not long, however, before some inkling reached Quebec of what was happening. Deserters came in to say that the Canadian militia had been ordered by Lévis to return to their parishes. They had come in readily after the victory of Ste Foy, even from the parishes east of Quebec. Now from the walls the British could see large parties of Canadians filing off towards Charlesbourg and Beauport. Others managed to cross the river and were seen going to the south country. A few of them, however, still stayed in the trenches, by command of Lévis, to check any sally from Quebec. The British kept up a fierce artillery fire. Knox writes on May 16:
I believe I may venture to advance, that there never was such tremendous firing heard . . . as our artillery displayed this evening for near two hours.
Only slowly the British learned what had really taken place. Early on the morning of the 17th the Canadian soldiers left in the French entrenchments fired a volley of musketry in order to keep up the appearance of an active defence. After this they all retired. They had deceived the British, however, for it was not until the evening of the 17th—nearly a whole day after Lévis had begun his retreat—that a scouting party found the trenches abandoned. Murray pushed forward light infantry and grenadiers in the hope of overtaking the French army. But Lévis was well away, and the British, in high spirits, could only take possession of his abandoned camp. They found evidence that his retreat had been precipitate, for not only heavy articles such as cannon and mortars, but tents, baggage, fire-arms, and ammunition were left behind.
Captain Knox calls the retreat of Lévis a ‘shameful flight’, and he could explain it only by panic fear that the French army might be caught between two forces. In spite of his haste Lévis left a letter recommending to Murray’s care those lying wounded in the neighbouring houses and in the General Hospital. He also assured Murray that he had not required from the French-Canadians who had taken the oath to George II any military service, though he had made them work for his army, a course quite proper under the laws of war. Some things in the French camp filled the British with rage. Their officers and men who had been killed in the battle of the 28th had not been buried; perhaps with the scanty and frozen soil and the hard rock of the Plains of Abraham this would have been impossible. But the British now found that the dead had been treated with great indignity. The bodies had been scalped and mangled, and had then been thrown clear of the camp and left for ravenous birds and wild beasts. Hanging on the bushes the victors found a great many scalps of their countrymen, a sight that filled them with fury.