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The War of 1812 

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The First World War

The French Forces in North America during the Seven Years’ Wars

From 1713 to 1744 France and England were at peace, the span of one generation. During those years French overseas trade steadily increased. Trade with the French colonies rose from 25,000,000 livres a year in 1710 to 140,000,000 by 1741. In the latter year the total of French overseas trade was valued at 300,000,000 livres, that is £12,500,000 sterling. Much of this trade was with the Spanish empire, one-half to seven-ninths of the goods shipped from Cadiz being French in origin. France now supplied all continental Europe with sugar and coffee, and in addition French fishermen were garnering the lion’s share of the fisheries on the Grand Banks and in the Gulf of St Lawrence. But while French trade had expanded during the 1730s, that of England had remained stationary. Moreover, a sizable proportion of England’s overseas commerce consisted of contraband trade with the Spanish colonies. Thus, when Spain began taking effective measures to curb this illicit traffic the English commercial community became alarmed; half of the world’s maritime commerce might still be under the British flag but were its trade to continue to stagnate while French industry and commerce kept on expanding, then England, its population less than half that of France, might well go the same way as the Netherlands, and eventually be reduced to the status of a fourth-rate power. It was to forfend this possibility that England went to war with Spain in 1739, and with France in 1744.

The British government did not pursue that war, the War of the Austrian Succession, known to the English colonies as King George’s War, effectively. It chose to engage France on the continent where the poorly officered British army proved no match for the Maréchal de Saxe, the foremost soldier of his age. In North America a combined Anglo-American and British naval force captured Louisbourg in 1745 [see William Pepperrell and Peter Warren], but it was not until 1747 that the Royal Navy gained the upper hand and succeeded in severing temporarily France’s communications with her colonies. By 1748 the belligerents were exhausted and in October of that year the treaty of Ai‑la‑Chapelle was signed, which merely restored the status quo ante bellum. France recuperated rapidly and her overseas trade quickly recovered. The English commercial community now became convinced that a better conducted spoiling war was essential to prevent the French overtaking them in the struggle for supremacy. The French, on the other hand, had no desire for a maritime war – they had too much to lose; nevertheless, they still had to prepare for it.

Although the West Indies were the great prize – by 1740 the exports of the French islands were valued at 100,000,000 livres a year and their imports, mainly slaves, at 75,000,000 – the north Atlantic fisheries were also extremely valuable, particularly since they were regarded as vital by both Britain and France for the training of seamen needed to man their fleets. In 1754, 444 ships from France fished in these waters, employing some 14,000 sailors. In addition the resident maritime population of Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), Îles de la Madeleine, and Gaspé provided a large number of mariners. It was estimated that the loss of these fisheries would cost France 15,000 experienced seamen, nearly a third of her total supply. Canada, on the other hand, produced little except furs, in good years some wheat for export to Louisbourg, and a few ships built at Quebec by the crown at great expense [see Pierre Lupien, dit Baron, and Louis-Pierre Poulin de Courval Cressé]. This colony was, in fact, an economic liability much of the time. Politically and militarily, however, Canada was regarded as valuable to curb the expansion of the English colonies, hence of England’s commercial strength, and to protect Louisiana for whose resources great hopes were entertained. Moreover, it was calculated that in time of war the Canadians, with the aid of a few reinforcements from France, would be able to tie down a much larger British army and a sizable part of the Royal Navy, thus preventing their deployment elsewhere. The success enjoyed by the Canadians against the Anglo-Americans in the previous wars gave every reason for confidence in this policy.

The fortress of Louisbourg was therefore strengthened to serve as a naval base for a fleet to protect the fisheries, guard the entrance to the St Lawrence, and prey on British shipping. When an influential group of Anglo-American land speculators began to implement their scheme to seize the Ohio valley, thereby threatening the French hold on the west, a Canadian force was dispatched, on orders of the minister of Marine, to drive the Americans out [see Paul Marin de La Malgue]. Forts were then built in the region. In 1754 came the first clash of arms near Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh, Pa.). Although war between England and France was not declared until 1756, this skirmish in the wilderness marked the beginning of the Seven Years’ War [see Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville].

Unfortunately for France the government, its personnel, and its methods were to prove inadequate to meet the challenge offered by Great Britain and her new-found ally, Prussia. Louis XV could rarely bring himself to make decisions and when he attended council meetings he concerned himself with trivia. Moreover, until 1761 when the Duc de Choiseul was given charge of the ministries of War, Marine, and Foreign Affairs, the ministers, all of them mediocrities or worse, did not remain long in office. During the course of the war there were four ministers of Foreign Affairs, four controllers-general of Finance, four ministers of War, and five ministers of Marine. Their ministries were grossly understaffed and overworked, which resulted in interminable delays and too often in non-decisions. To cap it all, the entire decision-making process was beset by intrigue of Byzantine proportions, the king being to the fore in this activity.

Nor were the instruments of government policy, the armed forces, in better condition. Under Louis XIV, and later under Napoleon, the French army was the best in Europe. Under Louis XV it sank to a low level of efficiency. After the demise of the Maréchal de Saxe its commanders were incompetent. Defence predominated over offence in their thinking. Here too intrigue was rife. Every general in the field knew that many about him, and at the court, were scheming to have him removed. At the regimental level also officers were not distinguished by competence, the military capacity of most of the colonels being virtually nil. Commissions were purchased; money and family connections, not merit, governed advancement.

As is always the case, military tactics were dominated by the principal weapon employed, in this instance the smooth-bore, flint-lock, muzzle-loading musket, mounted with a bayonet, making it both a fire and a shock weapon. Even well-trained soldiers could fire no more than two or three rounds a minute; loading and firing required some 12 movements executed to command and drum beat. At close range, under 80 paces, a musket volley could be murderous, but at that distance there was barely time to reload before the enemy’s charge, if it were not checked, reached the line. In battle two basic formations were employed, the line and the column. The line, three ranks deep, depended on the fire power of the musket followed by a bayonet charge against the shattered foe. Attack by column depended on the shock effect of an attack on a narrow front to pierce and shatter the enemy’s line. Deployment in line demanded the most rigorous discipline to make the men stand fast and deliver measured volleys against the charging foe. Attack by column also required discipline to have the men press on into the hail of fire. The swifter their advance, the fewer volleys they had to endure. The British army relied on the line; the French at this time still had a predilection for the column, believing that the charge with the arme blanche was better suited to their poorly trained troops with their impetuous temperament.

To manoeuvre the troops on the battlefield, and have them attack either in line or in column, required that they receive at least 18 months of basic training on the drill ground until they became virtually automatons. After that, five years’ experience was deemed necessary to produce a good, dependable soldier. Iron discipline was the essence of it all, instilled by fear and by esprit de corps. The men had to be rendered more afraid of their own officers than of the enemy, and to be willing to stand and die rather than turn and run. Everything depended on the ability of the officers to manoeuvre their troops, and on the discipline and training of the men once battle was joined. Compared to other European armies the French army was deficient on both counts. Its officers lacked spirit and professional training, its men were badly instructed, poorly drilled, and wretchedly disciplined; its equipment, with the exception of the Charleville musket, was inferior. The supply system and the cannon were both antiquated, essentially the same as in the time of Louis XIV. All attempts at reform had been blocked by reactionary elements or vested interests.

The French navy was in a better state than the army. Its ships were superior to those of the Royal Navy. They could outsail and outgun the British ships. A French ship of 52 guns was a match for a British 72. The reverse was true of the officers of the two navies. The British officers were better trained and more aggressive. Although the Royal Navy was in poor shape at the onset of the war it had twice as many ships as the French and its reserve of seamen was much greater. To make matters worse for the French, before war was declared the Royal Navy seized 800 French merchant ships and 3,000 seamen. This was a crippling blow. Moreover, during the course of the war epidemics in the French ports took a heavy toll. At Brest alone, in 1757–58, 2,171 sailors died in a four-month period. Many others fled the ports to avoid the contagion. The navy was reduced to impressing landsmen who had never been afloat to work their ships. Yet despite the superiority of the Royal Navy supply ships reached Quebec every year until 1760 [see Jacques Kanon], after the city had been taken by Wolfe’s army.

When hostilities began the French had three distinct military forces at their disposal in North America: the colonial regular troops (troupes de la Marine), the militia, and the Indian allies. The colonial regulars were infantry units raised for guard duty in the naval ports of France and for service in the colonies. They were the creation of Louis XIV’s great minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert and were under the control of the ministry of Marine, not of the ministry of War, hence were known as the troupes franches de la Marine. To obviate the abuses rampant in the regimental organization of the army Colbert had incorporated these marines in independent companies rather than in regiments. Commissions were not purchased but were obtained on merit and, of course, influence. A good reference was essential. Each company consisted of a captain, a lieutenant, a brevet ensign, a second ensign, two cadets, two sergeants, three corporals, two drummers and 41 soldiers. By 1758, 20 companies of these marines were stationed at Louisbourg and 21 in Louisiana. In Canada there were 30 companies in 1756. In that year their strength was increased to 65 non-commissioned ranks per company, and the following year their number was raised to 40 companies with a nominal strength of 2,760 officers and men.

During the half-century following the establishment of the colonial regulars, the officer corps became Canadian although the other ranks were nearly all recruited in France. By the 1740s commissions were reserved for the sons of serving officers, who were invariably seigneurs. Unlike the regiments of the French army the colonial regulars gave no direct entry into the commissioned ranks, except for such privileged persons as the son of a governor general [see Joseph-Hyacinthe and Louis‑Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil]. With that notable exception, every would-be officer had to serve in the ranks for several years as a cadet. Despite this arduous training, so eager were the Canadians for commissions that in 1728 the age for entry as cadets was lowered to 15, and the waiting list became ever longer. Promotion could not be accelerated by purchase, only by a display of exceptional valour in action, and even then, only when a vacancy occurred through death or retirement. This condition served to inculcate a very aggressive spirit in the corps.

When the Seven Years’ War began most of the officers of the colonial regulars had had years of military experience at the western posts, in the Fox and Chickasaw campaigns, and in savage raids on the frontier settlements of the English colonies [see Louis Coulon de Villiers, Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery, Nicolas-Joseph Noyelles de Fleurimont]. In addition to their training in the drill manoeuvres demanded in European style warfare these troops had had to master the art of guerilla fighting both against and alongside the Indian nations. They could travel long distances, winter or summer, living off the land if need be, strike swiftly, then disappear before the enemy could muster a force to counter attack. Against them the American provincial troops and militia were no match. Great mobility, deadly marksmanship, skilful use of surprise and forest cover, high morale and, as in the Royal Navy, a tradition of victory, gave the colonial regulars their superiority. Just how effective they could be was demonstrated when, in 1755, 250 Canadians with some 600 Indian allies destroyed Edward Braddock’s army of 1,500 [see Jean‑Daniel Dumas*].

Supporting, and frequently serving alongside, the colonial regulars were the militia units. In 1669 Louis XIV had ordered the establishment of militia companies for colonial defence. Each company comprised all the able-bodied men between 15 and 60 in a parish and was commanded by a captain of militia (who also had important civil functions), with a lieutenant, one or two ensigns, and sergeants. They all served without pay. During the wars against the English colonies and hostile Indian nations the militia was called out for war parties, to repel invading forces, for corvées to supply the frontier fortresses, or for the building of military roads.

When properly utilized this Canadian militia was a formidable fighting force, but its men were of little use in European style warfare. Faced with regular army units in the open, firing massed volleys, they took cover or fled. They would not stand and be shot at while waiting for an order to fire back. There were other limits to the use that could be made of these habitant soldiers; many of them had to be released for work on the land in the spring and in late summer for the harvest; others had to serve in the canoe brigades to the western posts. A muster roll of 1750 lists 165 companies varying in number from 31 to 176, comprising 724 officers, 498 sergeants, 11,687 men; in all, 12,909. This total may well be too low, by as much as 25 per cent; it gives for one company a total strength of 55 whereas a separate muster roll of that particular company lists 76 names, half of whom are noted as fit to go on detachment. An important factor with these militiamen was their high morale. When they were ordered to Quebec in 1759 to help defend the city against Wolfe’s army, Montcalm and his staff were astounded by the number that appeared, boys of 12, old men of 85, all demanding muskets and the right to serve. The contrast with the militia of the English colonies could not be more marked.

In addition to the colonial regulars and the militia the French had the aid of a horde of Indian allies, Micmacs, Abenakis, Ottawas, Algonkins, Delawares, Shawnees, to mention a few. The British, significantly, had virtually none. The operative word here is “allies,” for these nations would take orders from no one – indeed their own chiefs had no authority over the warriors. They did not regard themselves as an auxiliary force of the French, but as allies in a joint effort against a common foe. Another inducement was the liberal supplies of food, clothing, arms, and munitions provided by the French, as well as the bounties paid for scalps and prisoners. Although they proved to be highly effective in guerilla warfare, the Indians could never be relied on. They were subject to whims that appeared strange to Europeans. After being well supplied a war party would set out but, en route, suffer a change of heart and quietly disperse. Yet mixed war parties of Canadians and Indians did wreak havoc on the Anglo‑American settlements and tied down enemy forces vastly superior in numbers. The enemy’s supply lines were constantly threatened, his advanced bases frequently destroyed. The mere knowledge that a French force had Indians with it was sometimes enough to cause a large Anglo-American force to flee or surrender. As scouts and intelligence agents the Indians were particularly useful. Although their verbatim reports were, on occasion, imaginary tales of things not seen, they could take prisoners far behind the enemy’s lines who revealed much when questioned by the French. By such means the French were usually better informed than were the British of the opponent’s dispositions and intentions.

When, in 1754, the British government decided to launch an all-out assault on New France without the formality of a declaration of war, it detached two battalions of regular troops for service in America. France had to counter this threat by reinforcing its units at Louisbourg and in Canada. A serious military and administrative problem immediately emerged. The colonies were in the charge of the ministry of Marine but its colonial regular troops could not be expanded rapidly enough to meet the emergency. Recourse had to be had to the regiments of the French regular troops (troupes de terre, so called because most of them took their titles from the provinces of France where they were raised) under the ministry of War, and the mutual hostility of these two ministries was extreme. Moreover, the governor general of New France, always an officer in the Marine, was commander-in-chief of all the French forces in North America whether stationed at Louisbourg, in Canada, or in Louisiana. The council of ministers, however, agreed that divided responsibility would be fatal, and that unity of command, at such a remove from the centre of authority, was essential. It was therefore concluded that the reinforcement of six army battalions from the regiments of La Reine, Artois, Bourgogne, Languedoc, Guyenne, and Béarn, 3,600 officers and men all told, would be placed under the orders of the ministry of Marine, which would be responsible for their pay and maintenance.

Two of the battalions, Artois and Bourgogne, went to Louisbourg. The other four went to Canada. In 1756 a battalion each from the La Sarre and Royal Roussillon regiments were shipped to Quebec, and in 1757 two more battalions from the Régiment de Berry were sent to Canada. Each battalion had an officer corps made up of a lieutenant-colonel in command, an adjutant (aide‑major), and a surgeon major; a captain, a lieutenant, and a sub-lieutenant (sous‑lieutenant) of grenadiers; 12 fusilier captains, 12 lieutenants, and two ensigns. The other ranks consisted of the grenadier company comprising two sergeants, two corporals, two lance-corporals, one drummer, 38 grenadiers; 24 fusilier sergeants, 24 corporals, 24 lance-corporals, 12 drummers, and 396 fusiliers; a total strength of 557. The grenadier company in each battalion was an elite group of shock troops, men chosen for their superior physique, martial appearance, and training. One of their functions was to stand directly behind the line in battle to prevent, with their bayonets, the fusiliers from turning tail – as occurred at Carillon in 1758 when some of the Régiment de Berry made to bolt. If a section of the line reeled under an assault, the grenadiers stepped into the breach.

Separate from both the French regular troops and the colonial regulars were the engineers, represented by two French officers, Nicolas Sarrebource* de Pontleroy and Jean-Nicolas Desandrouins*, and a company of artillery. At this time the artillery was the weakest branch in the French army. The unit in Canada, commanded by François Le Mercier*, comprised eight officers, three of them Canadians, four sergeants, ten cadets, and 86 gunners. The engineers were mainly concerned with fortifications. Pontleroy agreed with Montcalm that all the fortifications in the colony, including those at Quebec, were worthless and could not resist an assault let alone bombardment. On some points, however, Pontleroy’s testimony is palpably false, for example his statement that there was no dry moat beneath the walls of Quebec. After Quebec fell to the British the French officers, including Desandrouins, deemed its defences virtually impregnable. As for the frontier fortresses, in their criticisms the French officers ignored the fact that they had been built to fend off the feeble Anglo-American forces and hostile Indians, not a British army which, although its engineers were poor, had in the Royal Artillery one of the finest artillery corps in the world.

At Louisbourg the four battalions from the regiments of Artois, Bourgogne, Cambis, and Volontaires Étrangers, along with 1,000 colonial regulars and 120 gunners, all came under the orders of the commandant, Augustin de Boschenry de Drucour. For the battalions serving in Canada, however, a general staff had to be appointed. Baron Jean-Armand de Dieskau accepted the appointment as commanding officer with the rank of major-general (maréchal de camp) – making him one of 170 holding that rank in the French army. He was given a staff consisting of a second in command, an adjutant (major), an aide-de-camp, a war commissary (commissaire des guerres) in charge of supplies, and two partisan officers for detached duties.

Great care was taken in the drafting of Dieskau’s instructions to prevent any conflict or misunderstanding between him and the newly appointed Canadian-born governor general, Pierre de Rigaud*, Marquis de Vaudreuil. They carefully spelled out that the governor general was in full command of all the military forces. Dieskau was to take his orders from Vaudreuil, and whether he liked them or not he had no alternative but to obey them to the letter. The governor general was required to leave the details of the command of the army battalions to Dieskau but the latter had to keep the commander-in-chief informed of their strength, deployment, and everything else needed to enable him to make the most effective use of them in any operations he chose to undertake. When, in 1756, the Marquis de Montcalm replaced Dieskau he received the same instructions and the same restricted authority. He and his officers were also subordinate to the governments at Montreal and Trois‑Rivières, which consisted of a local governor, a king’s lieutenant (lieutenant du roy), a town major, and an adjutant (aide‑major). The army battalions were there for one main purpose, to defend the colony, and they had to take their orders from the colonial authorities.

The council of ministers also decreed, not only that the French regular troops would, contrary to custom, be paid during the Atlantic voyage but that they would be paid over double the normal rate while serving in America. It was anticipated that the colonial regulars would protest, since the increase was not accorded them, but it was pointed out that they were defending their homeland. Their officers, and some of the men who had married in the colony, could enjoy the pleasures of their own homes and attend to their personal and business affairs when not campaigning. The French officers, on the other hand, had to face the prospect of years of exile from their families and friends in a colony where life was harder, and more expensive, than in France. Unfortunately, there was friction between the army and marine officers at the outset, and the pay differential aggravated the problem. More specifically it caused trouble when replacements for both corps were sent from France. The men all wanted to be incorporated into the higher paid French battalions.

Many of the French officers found campaigning in the North American wilderness not at all to their liking. The tedium of garrison duty at the remote frontier forts sapped their morale. Some of them were physically incapacitated and nearly driven out of their minds by the clouds of mosquitoes and stinging flies. Receiving news from home only once a year, and being unable to cope at such a remove with trouble that might arise, was hard to bear. Some of them were repelled by the seeming barbarism of the Indians and wanted nothing to do with them. The guerilla tactics of the Canadians, both regulars and militia, were remote from their concepts of how war should be waged. Even by European standards the French army was seriously deficient in reconnaissance and light infantry units trained for skirmishing and scouting duties. When army companies were detached to serve with the Canadians on their frontier raids their officers were disconcerted to discover that no mobile field hospitals or baggage trains went with them. Were they to be wounded they would have to make their way back to a French base as best they could before receiving medical attention. Their food supplies and equipment they had to carry on their backs like common soldiers. When rivers were encountered they had to wade or swim across. Resentful Canadians who were ordered to carry them across on their backs had an unfortunate habit of tripping in mid-stream. Some of the French officers declared that this was not warfare at all, and they refused to have any part in it. For them military operations required a secure, comfortable base, with servants, camp followers, clean linen, well-prepared food, and wine, close by the chosen field of battle or fortified place, where all the paraphernalia of siege warfare could be brought into play.

The Canadians formed a low opinion of the French officers, and the latter thought that the Canadians had far too high an opinion of themselves. The Canadians thought the French troops displayed too great a reluctance to seek out the enemy, preferring to remain on the defensive and let the enemy come to them. The defeatist attitude of Montcalm and several of his officers did nothing to ease the situation. While the French troops were employed in garrison duty, taking part in a campaign each summer, then remaining in their dispersed quarters all winter, many of the Canadians were fighting on the enemy’s frontiers all year round. Vaudreuil felt constrained to complain to the minister of Marine that the French officers were too loath to abandon their comforts for active campaigning. He also complained that some of these officers, including Montcalm, abused the Canadians shamefully, and that unless a stop were put to it there could be serious trouble. He stated bluntly that the moment hostilities ended he wanted the French troops shipped back to France. One cause of this problem, attested to in considerable detail by an official of the Marine recently arrived from France, may well have been that the French army in Europe, since the days of Louis XIV, had fought its wars on foreign soil and was accustomed to live largely off the land, treating the hostile population of the occupied territory with scant regard.

In this controversy one thing stands out clearly: the calibre of the French officers was much lower than that of the Canadians. Among the senior regimental officers physical and mental competence was not always in evidence. In 1758 Montcalm informed the minister of War that the commandants of the Béarn and Royal Roussillon battalions were hors de combat and ought to be retired. In fact, only one lieutenant-colonel, Étienne-Guillaume de Senezergues de La Rodde of the La Sarre regiment was fit for active campaigning. After the battle of Carillon Montcalm had to ship nine officers back to France as quietly as possible. One, a knight of Malta and scion of an illustrious family, had been insane for some time and it had become impossible to conceal his condition; five others were sent back for displaying a want of courage – or as Montcalm put it, “pour avoir manqué à la première qualité nécessaire à un soldat et à un officier” – two for stealing from their fellow officers and one for having displayed considerable talent as a forger. Two other officers were allowed to resign their commissions, for good cause. Montcalm pleaded with the minister to see to it that replacements not be sent merely because their regiments, or their families, wanted to be rid of them. Meanwhile, he was obliged to fill the vacancies by granting the sons of Canadian officers lieutenants’ commissions. Vaudreuil, although he sanctioned this solution, pointed out that it had established a bad precedent since these young officers entered the service with a higher rank than the Canadians in the colonial regular troops who had had several years of active campaigning. He added that too many of them could never have hoped to obtain commissions in the Canadian regulars.

Because the population of New France was only a fraction of that of the English colonies, some 75,000 compared to over 1,500,000, it is frequently assumed that the outcome of the war was a foregone conclusion. If numbers alone were what counted then Britain’s ally, Prussia, also could not have escaped destruction. Such comparisons can be misleading since the size of the forces that either side could bring to bear was governed by the nature of the terrain, communications, and supply routes. The British had 23,000 regulars in America by 1758, but they were not able to make very effective use of their provincial levies. The largest force they could deploy in a campaign against Canada was 6,300 regulars and 9,000 provincials at Lake Champlain in 1758. That army was routed by Montcalm’s 3,500 regulars. Similarly, at Quebec in 1759 Wolfe arrived with 8,500 troops, mostly British regulars. By September his force was reduced to 4,500 effectives. To oppose them the French had over 15,000 men – regulars, militia, and Indians. It was not numerical superiority that conquered Canada but poor generalship on the part of Montcalm that lost Quebec in one battle.

During the course of the war, however, the effectiveness of the British army improved, that of the French declined. On the British side the introduction of short term enlistments and the popularity of the war brought forth higher quality recruits for the regulars. Officers who proved to be too incompetent were weeded out; in some instances they were replaced by highly competent Swiss professional soldiers who, ironically, introduced the Canadian methods and tactics in the wilderness campaigns that the French officers sneered at. On the French side the quality of the reinforcements sent from France was low. They were mostly raw recruits, the sweepings of the streets. Some of them were even cripples who had to be shipped back. To make matters worse they brought disease with them that spread through the ranks and among the civilian population in epidemic proportions. In 1757, 500 troops were hospitalized and more than half of them died. Thus as the number of veteran trained soldiers dwindled through the wastage of war the quality of the regulars declined badly. By 1759 both the French battalions and the colonial regulars were not of the calibre they had been three years earlier. Among the French regulars discipline was not maintained; there were mutinies; morale sank to a low ebb. Thieving, looting, and other crimes became rampant. The war commissary was kept busy sending men before the council of war. He complained, “We spend our life having the rogues punished.” The effectiveness of the French battalions was further reduced by Montcalm’s decision to bring them up to strength by drafting Canadian militiamen into their ranks. It required more than the grey-white uniform of the French army to make regular soldiers out of them, capable of fighting in line. They did not receive the harsh, intensive, parade-ground training that that type of warfare demanded. The lack was to prove fatal on the Plains of Abraham.

Another frequently stated reason for the conquest of New France is inadequate supplies. The question requires more critical scrutiny than it has received to date. Far too much tainted subjective evidence has been accepted at face value. Owing to crop failures and the greatly increased number of mouths to feed, estimated to be 17 per cent, the colony could not produce enough food to supply its needs. It was dependent on supplies shipped from France, but the supply ships reached Quebec every year up to 1759. In 1757 Montcalm reported that a three years’ supply of clothing for the troops had arrived and there was nothing to worry about on that score. Moreover, sizable quantities of food and other military supplies were captured by the French; enough to maintain the army for months were captured at Oswego (Chouaguen) and Fort William Henry (Lake George, N.Y.). There is no viable evidence that military operations were curtailed by a shortage of supplies. Poor distribution and the habitants’ distrust of inflated paper money obliged the urban population to tighten its belt and eat unpalatable food, such as horse meat, at times, but no one starved.

Account also has to be taken of the fact that the British had supply problems. The chicanery of their colonial supply contractors and the provincial assemblies was notorious. At Quebec in 1759 over a quarter of Wolfe’s army was on the non-effective list, suffering from the dietary diseases of dysentery and scurvy. Moreover, owing to the military ineptitude of the Anglo-Americans, the British had to import in far larger numbers than the French the most essential military commodity of all, fighting men. Had no regular troops been imported by either side, the Canadians would certainly not have been conquered.

In 1758 Vaudreuil had contrasted the attitude of the colonial regular troops towards the war with that of the French regulars. For the Canadians, he wrote, the colony was their homeland; it was there that they had their families, lands, resources, and aspirations for the future. The French troops on the other hand, being expatriates, wanted only to return home with their honour intact, without having suffered a defeat, caring little what wounds the enemy inflicted on the colony, not even about its total loss.

The events of 1759 and 1760 made all too plain that there was more than a little truth in these charges. After the débâcle on the Plains of Abraham the French officers refused to give battle again, despite the fact that they outnumbered the British three to one and still held Quebec. The following year their failure to recapture the city they had abandoned and to block the British drive up Lake Champlain, the arrival of three British armies at the portals of the colony, the failure of reinforcements to arrive from France, all meant that further resistance was completely hopeless. James Murray*, advancing up the river from Quebec, ravaged and burned the homes of the Canadians who had not laid down their arms. At one point his men got out of hand and some Canadian women were violated. Yet Lévis* and his staff still demanded that the British be resisted for the honour of the army, which meant their personal honour and future careers. When many of the Canadians deserted to protect their homes and families the French officers wanted them apprehended and shot. French troops were sent to seize at gun point the last remaining cattle of the habitants, who resisted vigorously since this was all that was left them to feed their families during the coming winter. Even when the British stood at the gates of Montreal in overwhelming strength, and although the sacking of the town might ensue, Lévis demanded that the capitulation terms be rejected because Jeffery Amherst* had churlishly refused to grant the French the honours of war. Vaudreuil would not heed him and capitulated to spare the colony further devastation. The king subsequently declared, in a savagely worded letter from the minister of Marine, that Vaudreuil should not have accepted the terms; that he should have heeded Lévis and continued to resist, come what may, for the honour of French arms. The missive made plain that the loss of the colony and the plight of the Canadians were of no consequence compared to the army’s having surrendered without receiving the right to march out of Montreal bearing its arms, flags unfurled, and drums beating.

After the surrender arrangements had to be made for the transport of the regular troops, the civil officials, and the Canadians who chose to quit the colony rather than remain under the British, some 4,000 in all. Of the 2,200 French regular troops who remained on strength, 500 to 600 opted to stay in the colony; upwards of 800 had previously deserted to that end. Among them were 150 British deserters who had enlisted in the French forces. Vaudreuil and Lévis allowed these deserters to make themselves scarce before the capitulation, but most of them were subsequently rounded up by the British. Some French soldiers were persuaded to enlist in the British army, but one of their officers remarked that now they had discovered they were to be transported to serve elsewhere few would be tempted to follow their example.


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