Classic History Books


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

understood the order that they were not to fire till they were close to the French and were given the word
for a volley. He cast a glance at his brother, standing straight and proudly with the regimental colours

that he himself had carried past the king at Blackheath the year before. He was not anxious about 'Ned';

he knew how all the Wolfes could fight. He was not anxious about himself; he was only too eager for the

fray. A first battle tries every man, and few have not dry lips, tense nerves, and beating hearts at its

approach. But the great anxiety of an officer going into action for the first time with untried men is for

them and not for himself. The agony of wondering whether they will do well or not is worse, a thousand

times, than what he fears for his own safety.

Presently the French gunners, in the centre of their position across the Main, lit their matches and, at a
given signal, fired a salvo into the British rear. Most of the baggage wagons were there; and, as the shot

and shell began to knock them over, the drivers were seized with a panic. Cutting the traces, these men

galloped off up the hills and into the woods as hard as they could go. Now battery after battery began to

thunder, and the fire grew hot all round. The king had been in the rear, as he did not wish to change the

command on the eve of the battle. But, seeing the panic, he galloped through the whole of his army to

show that he was going to fight beside his men. As he passed, and the men saw what he intended to do,

they cheered and cheered, and took heart so boldly that it was hard work to keep them from rushing up

the heights of Dettingen, where Gramont's 30,000 Frenchmen were waiting to shoot them down.

Across the river Marshal Noailles, the French commander-in-chief, saw the sudden stir in the British
ranks, heard the roaring hurrahs, and supposed that his enemies were going to be fairly caught against

Gramont in front. In this event he could finish their defeat himself by an overwhelming attack in flank.

Both his own and Gramont's artillery now redoubled their fire, till the British could hardly stand it. But

then, to the rage and despair of Noailles, Gramont's men, thinking the day was theirs, suddenly left their

strong position and charged down on to the same level as the British, who were only too pleased to meet

them there. The king, seeing what a happy turn things were taking, galloped along the front of his army,

waving his sword and calling out, 'Now, boys! Now for the honour of England!' His horse, maddened by

the din, plunged and reared, and would have run away with him, straight in among the French, if a young

officer called Trapaud had not seized the reins. The king then dismounted and put himself at the head of

his troops, where he remained fighting, sword in hand, till the battle was over.

Wolfe and his major rode along the line of their regiment for the last time. There was not a minute to
lose. Down came the Royal Musketeers of France, full gallop, smash. through the Scots Fusiliers and into

the line in rear, where most of them were unhorsed and killed. Next, both sides advanced their cavalry,

but without advantage to either. Then, with a clear front once more, the main bodies of the French and

British infantry rushed together for a fight to a finish. Nearly all of Wolfe's regiment were new to war

and too excited to hold their fire. When they were within range, and had halted for a moment to steady

the ranks, they brought their muskets down to the 'present.' The French fell flat on their faces and the

bullets whistled harmlessly over them. Then they sprang to their feet and poured in a steady volley while

the British were reloading. But the second British volley went home. When the two enemies closed on

each other with the bayonet, like the meeting of two stormy seas, the British fought with such fury that

the French ranks were broken. Soon the long white waves rolled back and the long red waves rolled

forward. Dettingen was reached and the desperate fight was won.

Both the boy-officers wrote home, Edward to his mother; James to his father. Here is a part of Edward's
letter:

 

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