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George Washington's War: The Saga of the American Revolutionby Robert Leckie
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter One The Fall of Quebec
During the early days of September 1759, General James Wolfe sank deeper and deeper into the dark night of despair. Only a few months previously, he had come sailing up the broad St. Lawrence River toward Quebec in a mood of the highest optimism and exaltation. To him, at only thirty-two years of age, had gone the chief command of William Pitt's three-pronged campaign to end the 150-year-old Anglo-French struggle for North America. While the veterans Lord Jeffrey Amherst and General John Prideaux were to capture Montreal and Fort Niagara, respectively, Wolfe, a mere colonel during the American campaign of a year earlier, had been chosen to crack the hardest nut of all: Quebec. The selection had provoked bitter criticism both in the army and in the ministry. The Duke of Newcastle complained to King George II that Wolfe not only was too young to command such an important expedition, but was also slightly demented. "Mad is he?" the old king growled. "Then I hope he will bite some others of my generals."
But James Wolfe was not insane, only insanely ambitious. When the British fleet arrived in the great basin below Quebec on June 26, his heart beat wildly when he beheld the beautiful white city on the cliff above him. If it were his, Niagara and Montreal would fall like rotten fruit and North America at last would be the king's. What, then, of James Wolfe? A peerage? James Wolfe, first Earl of Quebec? Why not? Dukedoms had been granted for less. Coming back to earth, Wolfe saw immediately that this clifftop city would be a tough nut to crack, indeed. He knew that it held 14,000 enemy soldiers against his 8,500, of whom many were those Americans whomhe despised as "the dirtiest, most contemptible, cowardly dogs that you can conceive." Yet it was the American Rangers--forty of them--whom he quickly ordered ashore to capture the Island of Orl ans, across the basin from Quebec. Here, he built his base camp, hastening a few days later to the island's tip to study Quebec's fortifications.
Wolfe held his telescope delicately. A soldier standing near noticed the marks of scurvy on the backs of his thin white hands. Here was no "normal" British general. Tall, thin and awkward; pallid in complexion; given to picking nervously at his cuffs with his long, tapering fingers, he seemed more a sissy than a soldier. He did not even wear the customary military wig or powder his bright red hair, but let it grow loose and long, pinning it together at the back of his head like any jackanapes. Yet James Wolfe's bulging blue eyes were hard, blazing now with a zealous fire and then with wonder while he studied his objective.
High, high above him, beautiful and white in the sunlight, was the city. He could see the stone houses, the churches, the palaces, the convents, the hospitals, the forest of spires and steeples and crosses glinting beneath the white flag whipping in the breeze. Everywhere he saw thick square walls and gun batteries, even along the strand of the Lower Town, straggling out of sight to his left beyond Cape Diamond. To his right as he swung his glass slowly like a swiveling gun, Wolfe perceived the entrenchments of Montcalm. He saw the sealed mouth of the St. Charles and the thundering falls of the Montmorency guarding the French left flank. He saw the little town of Beauport and the mud flats before it beneath the grape andmuskets of Montcalm's redoubts. From left to right he saw steep brown cliffs, scarred with the raw red earth of fresh entrenchments; the stone houses, with windows reduced to firing slits by piles of logs; and behind them, the tops of the Indian wigwams and the white tents of the regulars. If Wolfe could have seen beyond Cape Diamond to his left, he would have been appalled by natural obstacles that were more formidable than Montcalm's fortifications. Here for seven or eight miles west to Cape Rouge rose steep after inaccessible steep, ranges of cliffs atop which a few men might hold off an army, all ending at another river and waterfall like the Montmorency.
Each time Wolfe thought he detected a flaw in the enemy's fortifications, he paused, studying the area eagerly, searching for a likely landing place, each time shaking his head petulantly and moving on. At last he snapped his telescope shut in exasperation and returned to his camp to notify William Pitt that he had gazed upon "the strongest country in the world."
Louis Joseph, the Marquis de Montcalm, had commanded in Canada since 1755 and had proved himself a veritable thorn in the side of William Pitt and his luckless, feckless generals, from the unimaginative Edward Braddock to the listless Lord Loudoun to the willy-nilly and artless James Abercrombie, known to his contemptuous troops as "Mrs. Nanny Cromby." Montcalm was also a gentleman of high principle and deep religious convictions and a scholar. He was extremely proud of those fortifications that had so dismayed James Wolfe, having erected them over the objections of Pierre FranÝ ois Rigaud, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, governor of Canada and son of an earliergovernor of the little colony of sixty thousand souls along the mighty St. Lawrence. Vaudreuil seems to have studied corruption under his father, learning how best "to clip and cut and rob the king." Vaudreuil's objections to spending money to fortify the capital of the colony were based, in part, on his jealousy of Montcalm's victories--which he often reported to Versailles as his own--and, in part, on his awareness that Montcalm had informed Paris of Vaudreuil's connivance in the colony's corruption. "Everybody appears to be in a hurry to make his fortune before the colony is lost," Montcalm had written, "which event many perhaps desire as an impenetrable veil over their conduct."
Nevertheless, Montcalm had persevered in his determination to make Quebec impregnable. His confidence remained unshaken even after the appearance of the British fleet carrying Wolfe's army. "Let them amuse themselves," he said calmly. "Two months more, and they will be gone."
At first, James Wolfe made no impatient or impetuous assault upon this "strongest country," but rather attempted to lure Montcalm out of his fortifications. First, he deliberately divided his army into three dispersed forces, hoping Montcalm would seize this seeming opportunity to defeat him in detail, but relying on the British fleet to concentrate his separated army at any given point. Montcalm refused the bait. Next Wolfe ravaged the countryside, calculating that the French general would be so enraged that he would come rallying to the rescue of his tormented countrymen. Again Montcalm sat still. Finally, goaded into indiscretion, Wolfe launched an incredibly ill-conceived and badly executed amphibious assault in which boatedtroops crossed the river to disembark under enemy fire and attempt to storm a fortified height above them. Here--without harming a single Frenchman--he lost 443 men killed and wounded, together with the respect of his staff, his three brigadiers and Admiral Charles Saunders, commander of the fleet. Enemy sniping had also thinned his ranks, so that by the end of August he had lost 850 men killed and wounded, an alarming 10 percent of his entire force. Disease and desertion further reduced his strength, while the general himself was gripped by an indecision that was nearly as destructive of discipline as was his constant feuding with his brigadiers. Then, on August 20, Wolfe himself fell ill of a fever that was probably malaria. For a week he lay in a French farmhouse, his thin body racked in an oven of heat. Recovering, he assembled his brigadiers and asked them how best to attack the enemy.
As they had done before, the brigadiers recommended that he seize a position on the opposite shore somewhere between Quebec and Montreal upriver. To their surprise, instead of per
The author of Delivered from Evil and None Died in Vain brings us this third dramatic narrative of a climactic event in American history. Starting with a history of the causes of the break between the colonies and England, Leckie traces the course of events to the British surrender at Yorktown--in solid history that reads like fiction.
An exciting trip back in time to the American Revolution, "a reminder of what history can be when written by a master."--Publishers Weekly
Includes bibliographical references (p. 661-664) and index.
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