James Wolfe was born in Westerham, in Kent, England. He joined the British army as a commissioned officer in 1741.
This was an inglorious time for the British with the Jacobite Rebellion. Wolfe’s career only began to blossom after the campaign that ended with the Battle of Culloden (1746). In the wake of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s failed effort to retake the throne, Wolfe fought remorselessly against the rem¬ nants of the Scottish clans, hunting down all the Jacobite supporters he could find. Ruthlessness remained an integral aspect of Wolfe’s career and his character.
When the Seven Years’ War began,William Pitt, (who became Britain’s foreign minister), was convinced that the way to defeat France was to win the war at sea and capture her colonies in North America and the Caribbean. Pitt sent an enormous fleet and 16,000 men under Lord Jeffrey Amherst to capture the French fortress of Louisbourg, on the eastern coast of Cape Breton Island. Wolfe was sent as second in command.
Wolfe asserted himself boldly during the siege. He personally led a daring landing under full fire from French cannons and mus¬ kets at Kennington Cove. The British estab¬ lished a virtual city of their own to house and feed the troops during the seven-week siege of Louisbourg. When the enemy capitulated on July 20, it was a vindication of Wolfe and his particular breed of stubbornness. Hearing from one of his ministers that Wolfe must be mad, King George II replied “Mad, is he? Then I hope he will bite some of my other generals.”
In June 1759, Wolfe and 9,000 troops were brought up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City by Admiral Charles Saunders. Wolfe spent weeks reconnoitering and seeking a chink in the defenses of the French who were led by the Marquis de Montcalm. In
early September, he discovered that the Plains of Abraham, only one mile south of the city, were guarded by just 100 men. During the night of September 12-13, 1759, Wolfe brought 5,000 troops by boat to Anse de Foulon, the cove at the river’s edge. The British climbed the heights in darkness, over¬ powered the tiny garrison, and had 5,000 men and even some small artillery pieces on the plains by early morning.
Montcalm was both amazed and distressed by the British move. Rather than coordinate movements with French troops just 10 miles to the south, Montcalm chose to attack immediately. The British waited until the French were within 40 yards, then they released two devastating volleys of gunfire that routed Montcalm’s men. Wolfe fell with three bullet wounds, however. His death on the plains was commemorated in a famous paint¬ ing by Benjamin West. The victory won Canada for the British crown.