Classic History Books


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

bear arms then were really fit for duty.

Montcalm's successor, Levis, now made a skilful, bold, and gallant attempt to retake Quebec before
navigation opened. Calling the whole remaining strength of New France to his aid, he took his army

down in April, mostly by way of the St Lawrence. The weather was stormy. The banks of the river were

lined with rotting ice. The roads were almost impassable. Yet, after a journey of less than ten days, the

whole French army appeared before Quebec. Murray was at once confronted by a dire dilemma. The

landward defences had never been strong; and he had not been able to do more than patch them up. If he

remained behind them Levis would close in, batter them down, and probably carry them by assault

against a sickly garrison depressed by being kept within the walls. If, on the other hand, he marched out,

he would have to meet more than double numbers at the least; for some men would have to be left to

cover a retreat; and he knew the French grand total was nearly thrice his own. But he chose this bolder

course; and at the chill dawn of April 28, he paraded his little attacking force of a bare three thousand

men on the freezing snow and mud of the Esplanade and then marched out.

The two armies met at Ste Foy, a mile and a half beyond the walls; and a desperate battle ensued. The
French had twice as many men in action, but only half of these were regulars; the others had no bayonets;

and there was no effective artillery to keep down the fire of Murray's commanding guns. The terrific

fight went on for hours, while victory inclined neither to one side nor the other. It was a far more

stubborn and much bloodier contest than Wolfe's of the year before. At last a British battalion was fairly

caught in flank by overwhelming numbers and driven across the front of Murray's guns, whose protecting

fire it thus completely masked at a most critical time. Murray thereupon ordered up his last reserve. But

even so he could no longer stand his ground. Slowly and sullenly his exhausted men fell back before the

French, who put the very last ounce of their own failing strength into a charge that took the guns. Then

the beaten British staggered in behind their walls, while the victorious French stood fast, worn out by the

hardships of their march and fought to a standstill in the battle.

Levis rallied his army for one more effort and pressed the siege to the uttermost of his power. Murray
had lost a thousand men and could now muster less than three thousand. Each side prepared to fight the

other to the death. But both knew that the result would depend on the fleets. There had been no news

from Europe since navigation closed; and hopes ran high among the besiegers that perhaps some friendly

men-of-war might still be first; when of course Quebec would have to surrender at discretion, and

Canada would certainly be saved for France if the half-expected peace would only follow soon.

Day after day all eyes, both French and British, looked seaward from the heights and walls; though fleets
had never yet been known to come up the St Lawrence so early in the season. At last, on May 9, the tops

of a man-of-war were sighted just beyond the Point of Levy. Either she or Quebec, or both, might have

false colours flying. So neither besiegers nor besieged knew to which side she belonged. Nor did she

know herself whether Quebec was French or British. Slowly she rounded into the harbour, her crew at

quarters, her decks all cleared for action. She saluted with twenty-one guns and swung out her captain's

barge. Then, for the first time, every one watching knew what she was; for the barge was heading straight

in towards the town, and redcoats and bluejackets could see each other plainly. In a moment every

British soldier who could stand had climbed the nearest wall and was cheering her to the echo; while the

gunners showed their delight by loading and firing as fast as possible and making all the noise they

could.

But one ship was not enough to turn the scale; and Levis redoubled his efforts. On the night of the 15th

 

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