Montcalm launches fireboats
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Montcalm launches fireboats
Montcalm launches fireboats
At midnight, on June 28th, 1759 while British General James Wolfe was trying to come up with a new plan for his attack on Quebec, the French General Marquis de Montcalm launched his own attack.
The French struck first at Quebec, launching explosive-laden ships and rafts toward the anchored British fleet. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
The French struck first at Quebec, launching explosive-laden ships and rafts toward the anchored British fleet. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Boats and rafts carrying gunpowder were chained together and sent with the current toward the English fleet, anchored off Île d'Orleans. Aboard each craft, a man awaited the signal to ignite his cargo before plunging into the river. But one of the boats exploded too soon and the others took it as the signal to ignite theirs. The element of surprise was lost, but from the British camps it doesn't look like a mistake.

"Nothing could be more formidable than these infernal engines on their first appearance," wrote John Knox, an Irish-born Lieutenant who kept a detailed journal of the war. "They were certainly the grandest fireworks (if I may be allowed to call them that) that can possibly be conceived, every circumstance having contributed to their awful, yet beautiful appearance; the night was serene and calm, there was no light but what the stars produced, and this was eclipsed by the blaze of the floating fires...
The French assault on the British fleet failed because the fireships were ignited too soon as they drifted toward the British fleet. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
The French assault on the British fleet failed because the fireships were ignited too soon as they drifted toward the British fleet. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
the profuse clouds of smoke with the firing of the cannon, the bursting of the grenades, and the crackling of the other combustibles; all of which reverberated thro' the air, and the adjacent woods... afforded a scene, I think, infinitely superior to any adequate description." Despite their daunting appearance, the boats, which had been intended to blow up the British fleet, missed their mark and burned uselessly until morning.

"The project was beautiful, but badly executed..." wrote Jean-Claude Panet, a citizen of Quebec.
"...the English who, at first, were dismayed, cried Hurrah! And mocked our operations."

A second attempt at fireboats was tried and thwarted. Wolfe was angry at the tactic and wrote Montcalm a letter. "If you send any more fire-rafts," he warned, "They shall be made fast to the two transports in which the Canadian prisoners are confined in order that they may perish by your own base invention."


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Suffering and Excess under Siege

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Louis-Joseph de Montcalm

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