General James Wolfe who led the forces that captured Quebec from the French Army in 1759 was once billeted at the Town Guard Barracks in Guard Vennel. The following is an instruction issued at that time:
“If any woman in the regiment has a venereal disease, and does not immediately make it known to the surgeon, she shall upon discovery be drummed out of the regiment, and be imprisoned in the Tolbooth if she ever returns to the corps.”
Oct. 27, 1749.
From Instructions to Young Officers by Major General James Wolfe
First published in 1768, 2nd edition published in 1780
Just after the 1745 uprising, James Wolfe became the effective commander of the 20thRegiment of Foot in Scotland; the regiment’s Colonel Lord George Sackville being a figurehead rather than an active officer – he was later replaced by a similar absent colonel, Lord Viscount Bury. On 16 October the regiment was quartered in Perth. Due to the lack of suitable barracks the officers and men were distributed across the town. Wolfe was billeted in Town Guard Barracks in Guard Vennel. In General Wolfe’s diaries and letters for that period he reveals the problem the town’s dram-shops and brothels were having on his soldier’s moral and behaviour. To counter this he issued an order those wives of soldiers who ‘sutle or sell liquor’ without leave should be imprisoned. Another order of the time related to charging soldiers for the medical assistance required by venereal disease. Soldiers were forced to pay for their treatment; 6s for the pox and 4s for the clap. Wolfe frequently berated his men for spending their wages on women and drink – the punishment regime in the 20thRegiment however was not any worse than a typical foot regiment of the period, so Wolfe was not a harsh disciplinarian in the context of normal Army behaviour. James Wolfe put a lot of store by the training and development of young soldiers and it would appear that his methods eventually paid off as he later reports on the improved discipline of the regiment. At the end of September 1750 the 20th Regiment of Foot along with James Wolfe were ordered to Dundee. Altogether James Wolfe spent three years in Scotland.
Wolfe returned to Perth briefly (4 days) on 20 June 1752 to visit a friend – Arthur Loftus. There are in existence numerous letters from Wolfe about his time in Perth – many relate to his desire for a woman called Elizabeth Lawson, of whom his mother disapproved. Others describe how he learned to enjoy hunting and other outdoor leisure pursuits. A few talk about how Wolfe suffering with scurvy of the hands visited farms outside Perth to drink goats’ whey as a cure.
Perth and Kinross Archives contain the following catalogue entry: B59/32/4 – Letter from Lieutenant Colonel [later General] Wolfe to Provost Crie relative to the legality of a sentence passed in the burgh court upon Adam Henry, a soldier in the Royal Artillery, who had been charged by Convener Buchan of insulting him in the public street. With draft reply, same date. Perth. 18 July 1750. This is from the series of documents relating to military and naval affairs, 1662-1866 in the B59 Perth Burgh collection.
“WOLFE, JAMES, army officer, commander of the British expedition that took Quebec in 1759; b. 2 Jan. 1727 (n.s.) at Westerham, England; d. 13 Sept. 1759 of wounds received in the battle of the Plains of Abraham. He was the son of Lieutenant-General Edward Wolfe, a respectable but not particularly distinguished officer, and Henrietta Thompson.
James Wolfe was educated in schools at Westerham and at Greenwich, to which the family moved in 1738; in 1740 he was prevented by illness from taking part as a volunteer in the expedition against Cartagena (Colombia), in which his father was a staff officer; and in 1741 he received his first military appointment, as second lieutenant in the 1st Regiment of Marines, of which Edward Wolfe was colonel. He never actually served with the marines, however, and in 1742 exchanged into the12th Foot as an ensign and went with that regiment to Belgium. The following year, at the age of 16, he underwent his baptism of fire in Bavaria at the battle of Dettingen, and thereafter was promoted lieutenant. In 1744 he was appointed captain in the 4th Foot and in 1745 he returned to England with the army withdrawn to deal with Prince Charles Edward’s invasion. In January 1746 he was present at the British defeat at Falkirk, Scotland. He was shortly afterwards made aide-de-camp to Lieutenant-General Henry Hawley. In this capacity he took part in the battle of Culloden (16 April 1746), and may or may not have refused to obey an order from William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, to shoot a wounded Highlander. In January 1747 he returned to the continent, where the 4th Foot was serving, and on 2 July was wounded in the battle of Laffeldt (Belgium). Following a period on leave in England he was sent back to the Low Countries as a brigade major. When in 1748 the War of the Austrian Succession ended, he was appointed major in the 20th Foot, then stationed in Scotland. He became acting lieutenant-colonel and in practice commander of the regiment as a result of Edward Cornwallis’ appointment to the governorship of Nova Scotia. While stationed at Glasgow Wolfe studied Latin and mathematics. Most of the next few years he spent in Scotland, the regiment being part of the time engaged in road-building. He was confirmed as lieutenant colonel in 1750. In 1752 he visited Ireland and that autumn went to Paris, where he stayed six months. Thereafter he rejoined the 20th Foot in Scotland and subsequently moved with it to the south of England.
Wolfe’s first active service in the Seven Years’ War was as quartermaster-general to the expedition of 1757 against Rochefort on the French Biscay coast. This was a fiasco, nothing effective being even attempted. Wolfe’s own part in the affair is not so clear as his biographers indicate; but he seems to have made a reconnaissance and suggested an offensive plan. His evidence before the subsequent inquiry into the conduct of his friend Sir John Mordaunt, the military commander, was naturally restrained; privately he wrote scathingly of the failure to make an attack. His own reputation seems to have profited rather than suffered; immediately after the failure the 2nd battalion of the 20th Foot was converted into a new regiment, the 67th, and he was appointed its colonel. This was the highest substantive rank he was to achieve.
In January 1758 came further evidence that Wolfe was regarded as a particularly valuable soldier. A comparatively junior officer, Colonel Jeffery Amherst*, was promoted major-general and placed in command of an expedition to proceed against Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). Wolfe was given local rank as “Brigadier in America” and made one of Amherst’s three brigade commanders, the others being Charles Lawrence, the governor of Nova Scotia, and Edward Whitmore, who was also already in the American theatre. In February he embarked in Admiral Edward Boscawen’s flagship Princess Amelia, which reached Halifax only on 9 May. Amherst had not yet arrived. While the force waited for him, training exercises were carried out, and Boscawen and the brigadiers made plans for the landing at Louisbourg. On 28 May the expedition sailed from Halifax without the military commander, but luckily met him just outside the harbour. The fleet and transports anchored in Gabarus Bay, close to Louisbourg, on 2 and 3 June. On the evening of the 2nd, Amherst with Lawrence and Wolfe “reconnoitred the shore as near as we could.” Amherst, dissenting from the plan made before his arrival, which provided for landings east of Louisbourg, had decided instead to land to the west of it. According to the author of the anonymous “Journal of the expedition against Louisburg” in Robert Monckton’s papers – Monckton himself was not present – Wolfe “opposed this Attack in Council”; he nevertheless played a leading part in executing it.
Bad weather postponed the landing until 8 June. Wolfe, with the grenadier companies of the army, the improvised light infantry battalion commanded by Major George Scott, the ranger companies, and Fraser’s Highlanders, was to make the genuine attack on the left in the Anse de la Cormorandière (Kennington Cove) while Lawrence’s brigade made one feint farther east at Pointe Platte (Simon Point) and Whitmore’s another, still closer to the town, at White Point. The French had in fact entrenched themselves above the chosen beach, and as soon as the boats came close they opened heavy musketry and artillery fire upon them. Wolfe is said to have signalled the boats to sheer off. A few of them carrying the light infantry nevertheless reached the shore and landed their men in a rocky area just east of the beach, and in spite of the rocks and the surf which damaged or wrecked many boats they were quickly reinforced, Wolfe himself setting a bold example. Seized with panic, the French, led by Jean Mascle de Saint-Julhien, abandoned their position, and Lawrence’s and Whitmore’s brigades, moving in behind Wolfe’s, landed in their turn. The British force thus got ashore with relatively little loss and was ready to begin siege operations, though these were delayed by continuing bad weather which prevented landing guns and stores.
During the weeks of the siege Wolfe did not command a brigade in the usual sense. The force under him was an ad hoc grouping of élite troops, especially light infantry and grenadiers; Amherst at first used this force for a detached task, while Whitmore and Lawrence (who are scarcely mentioned in Amherst’s journal or other contemporary accounts) held the line at large. On 12 June Amherst found that the French had evacuated and destroyed the Grand or Royal battery on the north side of the harbour, and the Lighthouse battery on the east side of the entrance. He ordered Wolfe with (according to one version) 1,200 men of the line, four companies of grenadiers, three ranger companies, and some light infantry to move round the harbour to the Lighthouse Point, with a view to setting up batteries there to silence the Island battery in the harbour mouth and destroy the enemy ships in the harbour; the necessary guns were sent by sea. Wolfe’s batteries opened fire against the Island battery and the ships on the night of 19 June, and had silenced the battery by the evening of the 25th. Amherst then instructed Wolfe to come back around the harbour with his artillery (which was replaced in the Lighthouse batteries by naval guns) and to “try to destroy the shipping, and to advance towards the west-gate.” From this time Wolfe may be said to have commanded the left or northernmost attack against the fortress. A reference in the contemporaneously published version of Amherst’s journal for 3 July to Wolfe “making an advanced work on the right” has misled various writers; Amherst’s personal version edited by J. C. Webster indicates that this was actually done by the engineer Major Patrick Mackellar. By this time Wolfe’s new batteries were firing actively at the ships, and on 6 July the frigate Aréthuse, commanded by Jean Vauquelin, which had greatly impeded the besiegers’ progress with her own fire, was forced to leave her position off the lagoon called the Barachois. Wolfe continued to push his batteries closer to the town defences and increasing damage was done to them as well as to the vessels. On 21 July one of his shot set a French ship on fire; the fire spread to two others and all three were destroyed. In the early morning of the 26th a British naval cutting-out force entered the harbour and captured the two remaining French ships. Plans for moving the British ships into the harbour and undertaking a joint assault by army and navy were forestalled when on the same day Governor Drucour [Boschenry] surrendered. Wolfe had undoubtedly shown himself throughout the siege to be an unusually efficient and active officer, and his merits were forcibly brought to the attention of the British government and people by the prompt publication of Amherst’s journal and other accounts.
Admiral Boscawen decided, probably wisely, that it was too late in the season to push on the campaign to Quebec. Wolfe had favoured this bold measure, and on 8 August, in a letter to Amherst that seems to verge on the insolent, he urged that in its place “we might make an offensive and a destructive war in the Bay of Fundy and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I beg pardon for this freedom, but I cannot look coolly upon the bloody inroads of those hell-hounds the Canadians; sand if nothing further is to be done, I must desire leave to quit the army.” Perhaps as a result of this suggestion, Monckton (who had sat out the siege of Louisbourg at Halifax) was sent to destroy the French settlements in the Saint John valley; Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Rollo to take possession of Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island); and Wolfe, with three battalions convoyed by a naval squadron of nine sail under Sir Charles Hardy, to lay waste the settlements and fishery in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Leaving Louisbourg on 29 August, the squadron anchored off Grande-Grève in Gaspé Bay on 4 September. The affair is described in some detail in the journal of Captain Thomas Bell, who was evidently already acting as an aide-de-camp to Wolfe and who held this appointment in the Quebec campaign the following year. Most inhabitants of the region had fled into the woods, but some were taken prisoner and attempts were made to use them to negotiate with the fugitives. A detachment in boats was sent to destroy the settlements along the Gulf shore to the southwest and the Baie des Chaleurs. Another made a difficult march along the shore of the St Lawrence to do the same at Mont-Louis. Still another force under Colonel James Murray was sent to lay waste the settlements on the Miramichi River. Bell claims that much unnecessary suffering was inflicted on the inhabitants of these outlying communities as the result of the navy’s extreme anxiety to get out of those waters as quickly as possible, and the seamen’s “accustomed rage for plundering.” But even at Gaspé, where Wolfe himself was present, “the General gave orders for every thing being burnt,” and this was done on 10 and 11 September. At the Miramichi Murray “destroy’d all the Houses & c.& a good Stone Church.” Large numbers of “shaloupes” and quantities of supplies of various sorts were burned. Wolfe’s force re-embarked on 25 and 26 September and arrived at Louisbourg on the 30th. On that day Wolfe reported to Amherst that his task had been accomplished, writing in terms that might suggest that he had forgotten that he had proposed it: “We have done a great deal of mischief, – spread the terror of His Majesty’s arms through the whole gulf; but have added nothing to the reputation of them.”
Bell recorded that Wolfe “as soon as he found what a small Game he had to play wanted Sir C. Hardy to go to Quebeck, if not so high as that, to go some way up in order to destroy their Settlements.” Hardy, however, had made difficulties. Bell added to his text at a later time the comment, “Had Sir Charles Hardy pursued Gen. Wolfe’s advice, Quebeck must certainly have fallen.” In fact, Wolfe’s idea seems to have been extremely rash, and it is more than doubtful whether the very small force at his disposal could have taken Quebec.
Wolfe at once went back to England; he had understood his return to be the intention of the British army’s commander-in-chief, Lord Ligonier, and the state of his health “and other circumstances” made him desire to comply. On arriving in London, however, he found that orders had been sent for him to remain in America. In a letter to William Pitt dated 22 Nov. 1758 he made his apologies and wrote further, “I take the freedom to acquaint you that I have no objection to serving in America, and particularly in the river St. Lawrence, if any operations are carried on there.” Whether the mention of the St Lawrence was his own idea, or whether some suggestion had already been made to him on the subject, remains uncertain. A letter he wrote to Amherst (who had now been appointed commander-in-chief in America) on 29 December describes, not too explicitly, the process by which his own share in the next year’s campaign was decided. In his first interview with Ligonier, on a date not given, he learned that the plan was to attack on two lines, one by Lake George (Lac Saint-Sacrement), the other by the St Lawrence against Quebec. Wolfe says, “I express’d my desire to go up the River, but to be excused from taking the chief direction of such a weighty enterprise.” He then went to Bath, but “in about a week” was called back to London to attend a meeting of “some of the principal Officers of State.” During his absence, he says, “Mr. Pitt had named me to the King for the command in the River.” It seems quite likely that Ligonier had recommended him. A commission dated 12 Jan. 1759 appointed Wolfe major-general and commander-in-chief of the land forces for the expedition against Quebec. The king’s secret instructions dated 5 February directed him at the conclusion of the campaign to put himself “as Brigadier General in North America” under Amherst’s command.
Wolfe wrote to his uncle, Major Walter Wolfe, “I am to act a greater part in this business than I wished or desired. The backwardness of some of the older officers has in some measure forced the Government to come down so low.” Service in America was not popular. If a junior officer was to get the command, the golden opinions won by Wolfe at Louisbourg made him an obvious choice. In appointing him, however, Pitt was making a considerable gamble; for the young general had never attempted to plan and conduct an independent campaign. And although at Quebec he would technically be under Amherst, he would in fact be an independent commander and Amherst would be unable to assist or advise him. He was given an excellent army, whose core consisted of ten battalions of British regular infantry, all already serving in America. They were below establishment, and Wolfe’s force amounted overall to only some 8,500 instead of the 12,000 for which Pitt had planned, but the quality was high. Wolfe moreover was apparently allowed to a large extent to choose his own officers, a point he had tried to insist upon in his dealings with Ligonier. From Louisbourg he had written, “If his Majesty had thought proper to let Carleton come with us as engineer and Delaune and 2 or 3 more for the light Foot, it would have cut the matter much shorter.” In 1759 George II was prevailed upon to allow Guy Carleton to accompany him as deputy quartermaster-general, and Captain William DeLaune of Wolfe’s 67th Foot was also in his army. In one important appointment, nevertheless, Wolfe did not get his way. The original intention was that his three brigadiers should be Monckton, Murray, and Ralph Burton, a selection with which he appears to have been happy. At a late stage, however, Burton, a special friend of Wolfe’s, was put aside in favour of the Hon. George Townshend, the eldest son of the 3rd Viscount Townshend. The circumstances remain obscure, but the episode contained the seeds of later trouble. The naval commander was Vice-Admiral Charles Saunders, an able, self-effacing officer, whose second-in-command was Rear-Admiral Philip Durell (for whom Wolfe seems to have acquired a dislike at Louisbourg), the third naval officer being Rear-Admiral Charles Holmes. The naval force numbered 49 sail, 22 being ships of 50 guns or more.
At the time when Wolfe undertook this great enterprise he was in poor health. He had written in December 1758, “I am in a very bad condition, both with the gravel & Rheumatism, but I had much rather die than decline any kind of service that offers.” This combination of disorders, almost certain to render a person irritable and difficult, doubtless contributed to the deterioration of Wolfe’s relations with his subordinates as the campaign proceeded. Despite ill health, however, he had been paying his addresses to Katherine Lowther, the daughter of Robert Lowther and afterwards Duchess of Bolton. No letters that passed between them have survived, and it seems uncertain whether there was a formal engagement; but the reference to the lady in Wolfe’s will, and one of her own letters after his death, suggest that they intended to marry.
Wolfe sailed from Portsmouth in mid February 1759 in Saunders’ flagship Neptune. They had a slow passage, and when they arrived off Louisbourg, their planned destination, ice prevented the fleet from entering. They sailed on to Halifax, where they arrived on 30 April. Here, to Wolfe’s indignation, they found Durell’s squadron still at anchor, though he had been ordered to enter the St Lawrence as early as possible to prevent supplies or reinforcements reaching Quebec. The ice had kept him from acting, but had not kept some 20 vessels from France, almost all supply ships, from getting up the St Lawrence. Without the supplies thus obtained the French would probably not have been able to hold out through the summer. Durell finally sailed from Halifax on 5 May. The army, having been concentrated at Louisbourg, sailed thence for Quebec on 4 June. Durell’s force pushed rapidly up the St Lawrence, neither it nor the main body coming on in the rear being seriously delayed by the difficulties of the channel which had been widely feared. Wolfe himself, full of eagerness, went forward as fast as the navy could take him; and on 27 June he landed on the south shore of the Île d’Orléans with the main body of his army and proceeded to reconnoitre the French positions from the west point of the island.
Although there is no evidence that Wolfe had studied Sir William Phips’ campaign of 1690, his intention had evidently been to follow much the same plan used by Phips: to land and encamp on the north shore of the St Lawrence near Beauport, east of Quebec, cross the Saint-Charles River, and attack the city from its weak land side. He also proposed to establish posts on the south side of the St Lawrence opposite Quebec, and suggested in addition that it might be possible to “steal a detachment,” land it some miles above the town, and entrench there. His first reconnaissance showed him that the idea of landing on the Beauport shore was impracticable; the French had anticipated him. Montcalm, the French commander, had occupied and fortified that area, and the main French force was encamped there. The first of many tactical reassessments was thus forced upon Wolfe.
Montcalm’s army was, in the beginning, nearly twice as large as Wolfe’s but in quality it was far inferior, being in great part composed of untrained militia. Wolfe’s object throughout was to bring the French to action in the open, and he never had any doubt of the result if he succeeded in doing so. The victory won on the Plains of Abraham is evidence of the soundness of his calculations. The nature of his strategic problem is nowhere better stated than in Wolfe’s last letter to his mother (31 Aug. 1759): “My antagonist has wisely shut himself up in inaccessible entrenchments, so that I cant get at him without spilling a torrent of blood, and that perhaps to little purpose. The Marquiss de Montcalm is at the head of a great number of bad soldiers, and I am at the head of a small number of good ones, that wish for nothing so much as to fight him – but the wary old fellow avoids an action doubtful of the behaviour of his army. People must be of the profession to understand the disadvantages and difficulties we labour under arising from the uncommon natural strength of the country.” For success Montcalm had only to hold his position through the short campaigning season until the approach of winter would drive the British fleet out of the river. The soundness of his cautious tactics is attested by the frustration which they caused Wolfe. Nevertheless, there was in the French situation an element of weakness that ultimately proved fatal. The orders from the court at Versailles had emphasized the importance of holding at least part of the colony even if Quebec were lost. This meant keeping the army in being, and it could not exist without food. Accordingly the decision had been taken not to store the available supplies in the city; the supply ships that had arrived from France were taken far up the St Lawrence to Batiscan, and the city and the army were provisioned by regular boat or cart convoys from there. Wolfe had only to cut this essential line of communication above Quebec to force Montcalm to come out of his defences and fight to reopen it. It is not to the credit of the British general that he took so long to discover this situation and exploit it.
For two months, while the summer ran away, Wolfe struggled with the problem of bringing the French to battle; his health plagued him (“Sad attack of dysentery,” he notes on 4 July) and his relations with his senior subordinates got worse and worse. During July there was increasing tension with Townshend; and in the course of the campaign Murray acquired a hatred for Wolfe which he continued to nourish long after the object of it was dead. About Monckton, the second in command, we know less. In August Wolfe was writing him apologizing for what Monckton evidently considered a slight. Monckton’s letters to Wolfe seem to have perished. But it is interesting that Monckton was the only one of the three brigadiers who allowed himself to be included in Benjamin West’s famous (and highly inaccurate) painting The death of Wolfe (1771); and the Monckton family commissioned West to paint a copy of it. These incidents suggest that Monckton was at least less hostile to Wolfe than the other brigadiers. There was trouble also with Guy Carleton, for whom Wolfe had had particular regard; on 31 July Bell, the general’s aide de-camp, wrote in his diary, “Colonel Carlton’s abominable behaviour to ye General.” What Carleton had done is unknown.