||The Battle of the Plains of Abraham
This lesson corresponds to material found in:
Episode 4 Battle for a Continent
By 1759, the war between France and Britain had already been raging for three years. The American colonies intensified their pressure to put an end to French and Canadian supremacy in North America and appropriate the West and its economic resources. England diverted its energies from the European battlefields to the conquest of New France. The focus of its strategy was Quebec, a walled city that controlled access to the St. Lawrence River and consequently to the continent's entire network of waterways. The British sent 15,000 soldiers (more than the total population of Quebec) and 186 ships under the command of James Wolfe to take the city. The French, in turn, received only 400 reinforcements.
Quebec suffered siege and bombardment throughout the summer of 1759. By September, Wolfe's situation seemed desperate. Quebec was still resisting, and winter was fast approaching. The young general decided to make a daring move and transport 5,000 of his soldiers upstream from Quebec at night to face the French army and the Canadian militia. In the night of September 12, 1759, his soldiers climbed a cliff using a steep goat's path and took their positions on fields belonging to farmer Abraham Martin.
Montcalm was downstream in Beauport, anticipating an attack there. His 3,500 men, primarily Canadian militiamen, were on watch all night. Montcalm led them on foot towards Quebec and the British forces. At 10:00 pm, his exhausted army came face-to-face with Wolfe's. Fighting began instantly. The Canadians and French rushed the British lines. But the Canadian militiamen were unaccustomed to organized fighting. Their advance soon deteriorated into retreat. Twenty minutes later, the battle was lost.
Within a day, General Wolfe and General Montcalm would both die as a result of wounds they received on the battlefield. In the spring of 1760, Canadian militiamen led by Lévis attacked the British army on the Plains of Abraham. They won, and forced the British to retreat to Quebec. When the river was free of ice, the first ship to reach Quebec was British; it was followed by many others. Montreal was forced to capitulate and New France became a British possession.
top of page