Where Are the Heights of Abraham?
These cliffs are one of the outstanding natural features of the city of Quebec in Canada and were the scene of a famous battle. Major-General James Wolfe (1727-59) was only 32 years old when commanded by the British Prime Minister, William Pitt, to capture Quebec from the French during the Seven Years’ War (1754-63). The capture of the city lying on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in eastern Canada, would open the way for the over throw of the French forces in North America.
For three months in the summer of 1759, Wolfe attempted to overcome the French by frontal attack from across the river, but the defenders held an almost impregnable position. Wolfe decided to make an attack from the rear. In the early, dark hours of September 13, he led his army across the river above the town and surprised the French soldiers guarding the small cove which now bears his name.
Then came the highly dangerous task of scaling the cliffs-the Heights of Abraham. By sunrise Wolfe and his army of 4,000 had achieved their goal and were on the Plains of Abraham, drawn up in battle array and ready for battle.
Before Wolfe’s audacious plan had been carried to its successful conclusion, both Wolfe and the great French commander, Montcalm, lay dying on the battlefield. Knowing that success was his, Wolfe whispered, “I die contented”. On the other hand, when told that he was fatally wounded, Montcalm cried out: “Thank God! I shall not live to see the surrender of Quebec.”
With Wolfe dead and many senior officers wounded, Brigadier General Murray ordered the 78th Fraser Highlanders to pursue the retreating French, but they were met near the city by heavy fire from a floating battery on the river and also by sniping militia firing from the tree line. The 78th took the highest number of casualties in the entire battle.
Brigadier General Townshend, realizing that more French reinforcements were approaching the British rear, quickly formed up two battalions to oppose them, but instead of attacking, the French commander retreated while the remains of Montcalm’s force fled towards Quebec.
It was during this retreat that Montcalm, still mounted, was struck several times by musket balls in the lower abdomen and thigh. He managed to make it to the city but died of his wounds the next morning. He was buried in a shell crater in the floor of the Ursuline chapel. The battle had cost him 200 dead and 400 wounded. British losses were 60 killed and 600 wounded.
The commander in chief of French forces, General Vaudreuil, blamed Montcalm for the defeat and decided to abandon Quebec and move his forces west to join up with other units. He left a garrison in the city under the command of John Baptiste Ramazey. Meanwhile, the British settled in to besiege the city, backed up with a large fleet under Admiral Saunders. On the 18th of September, Ramazey surrendered and signed the Articles of Capitulation of Quebec.
The city was turned over to British control. Shortly afterwards, the British fleet was forced to leave the St Lawrence due to the winter pack ice and the garrison was left to fend for itself. They suffered terribly throughout the winter with below zero temperatures and outbreaks of scurvy, reducing the garrison to some 4,000. On the 27th of April 1760, the French met and defeated the weakened British just outside the city in the Battle of Sainte Foy. Although defeated, the British were able to retreat into Quebec and now found themselves under siege.
The French made several attacks on the city, but their lack of artillery, plus British improvements to the fortifications meant that they could not dislodge the defenders before the return of the British fleet in mid May.
A naval battle fought at Quiberon Bay, just off the French coast proved decisive when the Royal Navy destroyed the French fleet, preventing them from sending badly needed reserve forces to New France. Without fresh troops, the whole French offensive against Quebec in 1760 would fail. In September, a depleted French force of just 2,000 men was confronted by 17,000 British and American troops. On the 8th of September, the French capitulated and the British took control of Montreal.
The Seven Years War had begun with Britain attempting to control French influence in North America, but quickly spread worldwide. During the war, Britain had conquered the French and Spanish colonies of Canada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St Lucia, Dominica and the Grenadines. She had also captured trading bases in India, Africa and the Philippines and the Spanish held island of Cuba. The French and Spanish had taken Minorca and Sumatra from the British, plus some territory in South America.
In 1763, the Treaty of Paris was signed to end the war and give possession of most of New France to Britain, including Canada and the eastern half of French Louisiana, stretching from the Mississippi to the Appalachian Mountains. As part of the treaty, France and Spain restored all their conquests to Britain while Britain returned Manila and Cuba to Spain. The French were given back Guadeloupe, Martinique, and St Lucia, plus their trading bases in India. France was also forced to cede Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Vincent and Tobago to Britain and Spain ceded the whole of Florida.
France had now given up all its territory in North America and retained only some fishing rights off Newfoundland, plus the two small islands of St Pierre and Miquelon to be used for fish drying and curing. Their vast territory of French Louisiana, stretching from Alberta and Saskatchewan in the north, through Montana, The Dakotas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, to Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and the Gulf of Mexico, had been secretly given to its ally Spain a year earlier in what became known as the Treaty of Fontainebleau and would remain a Spanish possession until 1800, when Napoleon took it back in an attempt to build a French Empire in North America. In 1803, the 828,000 square mile territory was bought by the United States for a little over three cents an acre.