Classic History Books


William Wood - The Winning of Canada: A Chronicle of Wolfe

down on a sight such as the New World had never seen before, and has never seen again. The river
narrows opposite the Saguenay and is full of shoals and islands; so this was the last day the whole one

hundred and forty-one vessels sailed together, in their three divisions, under those three ensigns - 'The

Red, White, and Blue' - which have made the British Navy loved, feared, and famous round the seven

seas. What a sight it was! Thousands and thousands of soldiers and sailors crowded those scores and

scores of high-decked ships; while hundreds and hundreds of swelling sails gleamed white against the

sun, across the twenty miles of blue St Lawrence.

Wolfe, however, was not there to see it. He had gone forward the day before. A dispatch-boat had come
down from Durell to say that, in spite of his advanced squadron, Bougainville, Montcalm's ablest

brigadier, had slipped through with twenty-three ships from France, bringing out a few men and a good

deal of ammunition, stores, and food. This gave Quebec some sorely needed help. Besides, Montcalm

had found out Pitt's plan; and nobody knew where the only free French fleet was now. It had wintered in

the West Indies. But had it sailed for France or the St Lawrence? At the first streak of dawn on the 23rd

Durell's look-out off Isle-aux-Coudres reported many ships coming up the river under a press of sail.

Could the French West Indian fleet have slipped in ahead of Saunders, as Bougainville had slipped in

ahead of Durell himself? There was a tense moment on board of Durell's squadron and in Carleton's

camp, in the pale, grey light of early morning, as the bugles sounded, the boatswains blew their whistles

and roared their orders, and all hands came tumbling up from below and ran to battle quarters with a rush

of swift bare feet. But the incoming vanship made the private British signal, and both sides knew that all

was well.

For a whole week the great fleet of one hundred and forty-one ships worked their way through the
narrow channel between Isle-aux-Coudres and the north shore, and then dared the dangers of the

Traverse, below the island of Orleans, where the French had never passed more than one ship at a time,

and that only with the greatest caution. The British went through quite easily, without a single accident.

In two days the great Captain Cook had sounded and marked out the channel better than the French had

in a hundred and fifty years; and so thoroughly was his work done that the British officers could handle

their vessels in these French waters better without than with the French pilots. Old Captain Killick took

the Goodwill through himself, just next ahead of the Richmond, on board of which was

Wolfe. The captured French pilot in the Goodwill was sure she would be lost if she did not go

slow and take more care. But Killick laughed at him and said: 'Damn me, but I'll convince you an

Englishman can go where a Frenchman daren't show his nose!' And he did.

On June 26 Wolfe arrived at the west end of the island of Orleans, in full view of Quebec. The twenty
days' voyage from Louisbourg had ended and the twelve weeks' siege had begun. At this point we must

take the map and never put it aside till the final battle is over. A whole book could not possibly make

Wolfe's work plain to any one without the map. But with the map we can easily follow every move in

this, the greatest crisis in both Wolfe's career and Canada's history.

What Wolfe saw and found out was enough to daunt any general. He had a very good army, but it was
small. He could count upon the help of a mighty fleet, but even British fleets cannot climb hills or make

an enemy come down and fight. Montcalm, however, was weakened by many things. The governor,

Vaudreuil, was a vain, fussy, and spiteful fool, with power enough to thwart Montcalm at every turn. The

intendant, Bigot, was the greatest knave ever seen in Canada, and the head of a gang of official thieves

who robbed the country and the wretched French Canadians right and left. The French army, all together,

numbered nearly seventeen thousand, almost twice Wolfe's own; but the bulk of it was militia, half

 

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