Classic History Books


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

mother in September: 'This place is full of officers, and we never want company. I go to the play once or
twice a week, and talk a little with the ladies, who are very civil and speak French.' Before Christmas it

had been decided at home - where the war-worn father now was, after a horrible campaign at Cartagena -

that Edward, the younger son, was also to be allowed to join the Army. Wolfe was delighted. 'My brother

is much to be commended for the pains he takes to improve himself. I hope to see him soon in Flanders,

when, in all probability, before next year is over, we may know something of our trade.' And so they did!

The two brothers marched for the Rhine early in 1743, both in the same regiment. James was now
sixteen, Edward fifteen. The march was a terrible one for such delicate boys. The roads were ankle-deep

in mud; the weather was vile; both food and water were very bad. Even the dauntless Wolfe had to

confess to his mother that he was 'very much fatigued and out of order. I never come into quarters

without aching hips and knees.' Edward, still more delicate, was sent off on a foraging party to find

something for the regiment to eat. He wrote home to his father from Bonn on April 7: 'We can get

nothing upon our march but eggs and bacon and sour bread. I have no bedding, nor can get it anywhere.

We had a sad march last Monday in the morning. I was obliged to walk up to my knees in snow, though

my brother and I have a horse between us. I have often lain upon straw, and should oftener, had I not

known some French, which I find very useful; though I was obliged the other day to speak Latin

for a good dinner. We send for everything we want to the priest.'

That summer, when the king arrived with his son the Duke of Cumberland, the British and Hanoverian
army was reduced to 37,000 half-fed men. Worse still, the old general, Lord Stair, had led it into a very

bad place. These 37,000 men were cooped up on the narrow side of the valley of the river Main, while a

much larger French army was on the better side, holding bridges by which to cut them off and attack

them while they were all clumped together. Stair tried to slip away in the night. But the French, hearing

of this attempt, sent 12,000 men across the river to hold the place the British general was leaving, and

30,000 more, under the Duc de Gramont, to block the road at the place towards which he was evidently

marching. At daylight the British and Hanoverians found themselves cut off, both front and rear, while a

third French force was waiting to pounce on whichever end showed weakness first. The King of England,

who was also Elector of Hanover, would be a great prize, and the French were eager to capture him. This

was how the armies faced each other on the morning of June 27, 1743, at Dettingen, the last battlefield

on which any king of England has fought in person, and the first for Wolfe.

The two young brothers were now about to see a big battle, like those of which their father used to tell
them. Strangely enough, Amherst, the future commander-in-chief in America, under whom Wolfe served

at Louisbourg, and the two men who succeeded Wolfe in command at Quebec - Monckton and

Townshend - were also there. It is an awful moment for a young soldier, the one before his first great

fight. And here were nearly a hundred thousand men, all in full view of each other, and all waiting for the

word to begin. It was a beautiful day, and the sun shone down on a splendidly martial sight. There stood

the British and Hanoverians, with wooded hills on their right, the river and the French on their left, the

French in their rear, and the French very strongly posted on the rising ground straight in their front. The

redcoats were in dense columns, their bayonets flashing and their colours waving defiance. Side by side

with their own red cavalry were the black German cuirassiers, the blue German lancers, and the gaily

dressed green and scarlet Hungarian hussars. The long white lines of the three French armies, varied with

royal blue, encircled them on three sides. On the fourth were the leafy green hills.

Wolfe was acting as adjutant and helping the major. His regiment had neither colonel nor
lieutenant-colonel with it that day; so he had plenty to do, riding up and down to see that all ranks

 

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