Upon learning that he was dying from his wounds, the great French General Montcalm replied, “So much the better. I shall not live to see the fall of Quebec.” This hero was the mainstay of French military efforts in Canada during the French and Indian War.
Louis-Joseph de Montcalm was born in Saint Veran, France to a family with a long and distinguished record in the French army. Montcalm entered the service as an ensign in 1724, and fought in the War of the Polish Succession.
The French and Indian War began in the colonies in western Pennsylvania in 1754. The conflict spread to Europe, and in 1756 Britain and France began what the Europeans called the Seven Years’ War. It was this conflict that brought Montcalm to North America.
Holding the rank of major general, Montcalm arrived at Quebec, the capital of French Canada in 1756. His orders were to hold the colony at all costs against the British. Unfortunately, the colony of New France had a population of only 80,000, while the British colonies to the south had a population of 1.5 million.
Nonetheless, at the outset of hostilities Montcalm more than held his own. In 1756, he led a force southwest and captured the British fort on Lake Ontario. The next year, he marched directly south and captured Fort William Henry near Lake George.
The French victory was marred by the fact that Montcalm’s Native American allies attacked and massacred some 200 British troops who were marching away under a British-French truce agreement.
In July 1758, Montcalm and 3,500 French troops successfully defended Fort Ticonderoga against a British-American army of 15,000. It was the greatest victory of his career.
However, the tide soon turned against the French. Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania and Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island both fell to the British in 1758. By the spring of 1759, the war had reached a crisis point. Later that year, Montcalm prepared to defend the city of Quebec.
With 16,000 men, only 4,000 of whom were seasoned soldiers, Montcalm rebuffed the first attack of British general James Wolfe. But on the morning of September 13, Montcalm found that Wolfe had brought 5,000 regular troops onto the Plains of Abraham, behind the city’s walls.
While the two armies were of roughly equal strength, the discipline and co-ordination of the British troops won the battle. Montcalm was wounded by a musket ball and died the next morning. Despite the defeat, he is remembered as a great military leader who mounted a heroic defense in a valiant effort to save the colony of New France.