Classic History Books


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

This left the French regulars face to face with Wolfe's front: five French battalions against the British six.
These two fronts were now to decide the fate of Canada between them. The French still came bravely on;

but their six-deep line was much shorter than the British two-deep line, and they saw that both their

flanks were about to be over-lapped by fire and steel. They inclined outwards to save themselves from

this fatal overlap on both right and left. But that made just as fatal a gap in their centre. Their whole line

wavered, halted oftener to fire, and fired more wildly at each halt.

In the meantime Wolfe's front stood firm as a rock and silent as the grave, one long, straight, living wall
of red, with the double line of deadly keen bayonets glittering above it. Nothing stirred along its whole

length, except the Union Jacks, waving defiance at the fleurs-de-lis, and those patient men who fell

before a fire to which they could not yet reply. Bayonet after bayonet would suddenly flash out of line

and fall forward, as the stricken redcoat, standing there with shouldered arms, quivered and sank to the

ground.

Captain York had brought up a single gun in time for the battle, the sailors having dragged it up the cliff
and run it the whole way across the Plains. He had been handling it most gallantly during the French

advance, firing showers of grape-shot into their ranks from a position right out in the open in front of

Wolfe's line. But now that the French were closing he had to retire. The sailors then picked up the

drag-ropes and romped in with this most effective six-pounder at full speed, as if they were having the

greatest fun of their lives.

Wolfe was standing next to the Louisbourg Grenadiers, who, this time, were determined not to begin
before they were told. He was to give their colonel the signal to fire the first volley; which then was itself

to be the signal for a volley from each of the other five battalions, one after another, all down the line.

Every musket was loaded with two bullets, and the moment a battalion had fired it was to advance

twenty paces, loading as it went, and then fire a 'general,' that is, each man for himself, as hard as he

could, till the bugles sounded the charge.

Wolfe now watched every step the French line made. Nearer and nearer it came. A hundred paces! -
seventy-five! - fifty! - forty!! - Fire!!! Crash! came the volley from the grenadiers. Five volleys

more rang out in quick succession, all so perfectly delivered that they sounded more like six great guns

than six battalions with hundreds of muskets in each. Under cover of the smoke Wolfe's men advanced

their twenty paces and halted to fire the 'general.' The dense, six-deep lines of Frenchmen reeled,

staggered, and seemed to melt away under this awful deluge of lead. In five minutes their right was

shaken out of all formation. All that remained of it turned and fled, a wild, mad mob of panic-stricken

fugitives. The centre followed at once. But the Royal Roussillon stood fast a little longer; and when it

also turned it had only three unwounded officers left, and they were trying to rally it.

Montcalm, who had led the centre and had been wounded in the advance, galloped over to the Royal
Roussillon as it was making this last stand. But even he could not stem the rush that followed and that

carried him along with it. Over the crest and down to the valley of the St Charles his army fled, the

Canadians and Indians scurrying away through the bushes as hard as they could run. While making one

more effort to rally enough men to cover the retreat he was struck again, this time by a dozen grape-shot

from York's gun. He reeled in the saddle. But two of his grenadiers caught him and held him up while he

rode into Quebec. As he passed through St Louis Gate a terrified woman called out, 'Oh! look at the

marquis, he's killed, he's killed!' But Montcalm, by a supreme effort, sat up straight for a moment and

said: 'It is nothing at all, my kind friend; you must not be so much alarmed!' and, saying this, passed on

 

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