Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed.
Glenora Single Malt Whisky

Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.
Scottish Review

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

The Fall of Canada
Chapter V - The Relief of Quebec by the Fleet

It was natural that the survivors in Quebec after the battle of Ste Foy should be dejected and disorganized. One-third of those who had gone forth with such elation had been killed or wounded. The defeated army now expected every moment that Levis would press the attack, take Quebec by assault, and put its defenders to the sword. Panic and despair found vent in reckless lawlessness. Then, as always, drink was the snare of the British soldier, and to get drink the men broke into stores and dwelling-houses. In such conditions an assault upon Quebec immediately after the battle might well have proved successful. The English thought that Levis lacked, at this crisis, the insight and promptness of a great leader. Deserters who now came into the British camp declared, indeed, that the success of the French was due to the confidence of the army, not in Levis, but in Bourlamaque, who, they said, was the life and spirit of the troops. The British undoubtedly expected a prompt assault on Quebec, and a day or two later, when it had not taken place, Captain Knox wrote : ' They have let slip a golden opportunity ; had they followed their blow . . . before the soldiers re-collected themselves, I am strongly inclined to think . . . Quebec would have reverted to its old masters.'

^Levis, however, delayed and hesitated. ' The enemy is unmasking many embrasures,' he wrote on the second day after the battle; ' this shows that they can keep up a considerable fire. All this would be nothing if we had the

^artillery and the ammunition to answer them. We can only hope that some aid will come for us from France.' In spite of his victory he was not as strong as his enemy supposed. His labours were incessant, and he spoke of being worn out. A rare leader, such as Napoleon, would probably have followed up victory at once, and would have mastered Quebec even at the cost of dire slaughter. In the end, however, Quebec would fall to the power which could place in its basin the stronger fleet. Levis paused to think of to-morrow, and perhaps he was wise. Certainly Vaudreuil and Bigot at Montreal believed that he was the sole hope of France. Their letters breathe an unwavering confidence in his skill which can hardly have been aroused except by really strong qualities.

The panic in Quebec did not last long. To check drunkenness Murray promptly ordered all the spirits in the Lower Town other than those of the King to be spilled. He also weakened with water the daily allowance of rum. Lawlessness he discouraged by promptly hanging a man found breaking into a house. Stragglers and marauders were warned that a similar fate awaited them. In the crisis Murray showed great capacity. His redoubt and blockhouses without the walls remained active. Levis held the Buttes a Neveu not more than nine hundred yards from the walls. The British expected that he would begin a bombardment, but he could not do so at once. His only cannon, for a time, were the three field-pieces which he had so laboriously brought with him over hills and through snow and mud from St. Augustin. He would, of course, turn the abandoned British cannon against their former owners, but it was not easy to bring up either these or his own cannon at the Anse an Foulon. Moreover, he had little ammunition, and what he had was of bad quality. Murray gave orders that the first cannon-ball which the French fired into Quebec should be brought to him, and we are told that

the inspection gavePim pleasure, for iiMroved the inferior quality of their powder.1

Murray had thought of trying to take his army in boats to the island of Orleans, there to await the arrival of a British fleet, but he promptly abandoned this plan and resolved to hold Quebec. When the first panic was over, he kept up a vigorous fire at the French whenever they appeared at the high points which commanded the walls. ' The best we could do was to endeavour to knock their works to pieces before they could mount their cannon,' he wrote in his diary on the day after the battle, and he carried on this work with untiring energy. A dash by the enemy on the walls of Quebec under cover of darkness was possible. But it is more than doubtful whether it would have succeeded. Superior in numbers though the French were, the British would have had a great advantage in fighting behind walls to meet an assault. The scaling-ladders prepared so laboriously during the winter would have been of great service to the French. But they had little stomach for such an enterprise, and with some justice. Their regulars now numbered only about three thousand ; their Canadian allies had had no experience of this type of warfare ; and for such an attempt the Indians were useless. In truth, Levis had lost a great opportunity in not striking the British when they were in a panic after the battle. A similar opening did not recur.

Murray's men were soon confident and cheerful. ' We no longer harbour a thought of visiting France or England, or of falling a sacrifice to a merciless scalping-knife,' wrote Captain Knox on May 2. ' We are roused from our lethargy ; we have recovered our good humour.' The men boasted that if the French tried to storm the walls they would catch a Tartar, and they expressed their resolution in the words with which the English soldier of an earlier time is said to 1 Malartic, p. 369.


have awaited the French foe at Crecy : ' Damn them, if they do come, there is enough of them to fight, enough to be killed, and enough to run away.' On the second night after the battle Ensign Maw led twenty-two men in a sortie in the hope of taking a prisoner who could be forced to tell what the enemy was doing. The design failed, and six men were killed. The incident served to prove that the spirit of the men was even better than that of the officers. When, on May i, Murray asked for volunteers to make a second sortie, some non-commissioned officers and men came forward, but not a single officer.

Murray tried to give his men some ground for good cheer. Late on the night of his defeat he issued to the army an order deploring the misfortunes of the day but promising ultimate success. ' The 28th of April has been unfortunate to the British arms, but affairs are not so desperate as to be irretrievable . . . The fleet may be hourly expected, reinforcements are at hand ; and shall we lose, in one moment, the fruits of so much blood and treasure ? Both Officers and men are exhorted patiently to undergo the fatigues they must suffer, and to expose themselves chearfully to some dangers ; a duty they own to their King, their Country, and themselves.'

There was heavy work to do, and, when order was once restored, Murray allowed the men a double supply of food and also of rum. Any of the French who still remained in Quebec were sent away. Murray named ' alarm posts ' where the different regiments should be stationed. The men lived in what tents could be procured. This enabled them to be always on hand at the point of danger, and it also avoided the peril of being in houses which might be knocked to pieces by the cannon of the enemy. Except when on duty no officer or man was allowed to stir from these posts ; for days Quebec had an army as much on the alert as if drawn up in line of battle face to face with the enemy. To prevent the secret apProach oBassailants, companies of rangers lay all night outside the walls, half-way between the town and the block-houses. The hour just before daybreak was the most likely time for an assault, and each morning at this time the garrison was drawn up under arms until daylight. There was much engineering work to do, and it was all the more difficult because Major Mackellar, the chief of the engineering staff, had been dangerously wounded in the battle of April 28. Within the walls, the British made batteries to enfilade the roads leading to the Lower Town, and they threw up barricades in different parts of the city. From dark until daybreak two hundred men worked outside the St. Louis gate, constructing defences that should protect that gate from attack. On Cape Diamond, Murray caused an observation tower to be built. It cost much labour, but from this high point within the walls he could survey the enemy's works and throw shot and shell into the vulnerable parts of their trenches. Nor while thus alert did Murray forget to urge the speedy coming of outside help. On the 30th the French on the heights saw the sloop of war Racehorse draw away from Quebec and hasten on her way down the river. They flattered themselves that the ship carried off the French deserters, so that, after the expected fall of the town, these traitors should not suffer the shameful execution which Levis had promised if he caught them ; but, in fact, she was speeding away to meet the expected British squadron and to hasten its arrival.

During the time of waiting, every one in Quebec was obliged to work ; even the women had their daily labour, by no means light. Those who could do nothing else made wads for the guns ; and a day's task of 100 was required from each of the convalescents. The British opened embrasures in the walls, and they covered the parapet wall towards the enemy with bundles of wood, and rammed down earth between this lining and the wall of masonry ; then the wall could not be shattered by cannon-balls. They planted artillery not only upon every bastion but upon the rather flimsy wall. The heaviest labour was that of dragging up the cannon from the Lower Town to replace what Murray had lost in the battle, and to strengthen the defences. Murray aimed to use one hundred and forty cannon, and he stripped the Lower Town of guns, planks, and platforms. The officers toiled with the men. ' None but those who were present on the Spot', writes Quartermaster-Sergeant Johnson, ' can imagine the grief of heart the Soldiers felt, to See their Officers doing the common labour of the Soldier, equal with themselves ; to see them yoked in the harness dragging up Cannon from the Lower town . . . [and] at Work at the Batteries, with the Barrow, Pickax, and Spade, with the same Ardour as themselves.' At all hours of the night Murray and the Lieutenant-Governor, Colonel Burton, paid surprise visits to the various posts to make sure that nothing was neglected. Even with the best vigilance accidents sometimes happened. On May 3 a fire broke out near the Intendant's palace and caused some destruction. The French supposed that the English were purposely destroying the town before the coming evacuation. Far away at Montreal, Vaudreuil, always fluent and often foolish, wrote to Levis complaining of British barbarity in thus destroying Quebec !

The victory of Ste Foy had sent a thrill of pride and pleasure throughout New France. ' The jubilation here is unparalleled,' wrote Bougainville from Isle aux Noix. Vaudreuil and Bigot saw in it the beginning of the end of their sorrow. From Montreal, almost daily, Vaudreuil poured forth glowing letters full of hope. It was almost unnecessary, he wrote on May 4, to send Levis a further supply of powder, for he would, of course, have taken Quebec. On May 5, in another mood, he says that he should regard the capture of Quebec as uncertain if any one but Levis was


besitKrg the plaR^ ' but with you there I am tranquil concerning the outcome.' The next day, when a north-east wind is blowing, he rejoices, for it will be bringing nearer to Quebec the French vessels which he is sure are in the river. He bursts into praises of the part which the French-Canadians took in the battle of Ste Foy, though the French engineer Desandroiiins says that three hundred of them deserted during the day. Even Bigot, a man of a colder temper, writes to tell Levis that he must occupy the choicest room in the Intendant's palace at Quebec, while he himself will be content with a little bed in a smaller chamber. Bigot has misgivings on May 9 when the north-east wind blows : ' If, as seems likely, this continues, we have everything to fear.' Obviously he, unlike Vaudreuil, believed that it was a British and not a French fleet which such a wind would bring up the river.

Not long, however, after the battle of Ste Foy, all in the French camp who were not irresponsible optimists had begun to realize the almost hopeless nature of their task. With a storm of shot and shell sweeping the Buttes a Neveu, Levis found that he could not retain his camp as near Quebec as he had hoped, and he lost much time in moving it about a mile further back and in taking the necessary precautions for safety. The British fire plunged behind the Buttes a Neveu and made the ground look like a ploughed field for two miles from the walls. What Levis aimed at was to get his guns soon in position and then to batter the walls and make breaches. This done, he thought he could either force Quebec to surrender or carry it by assault. Always he hoped to be aided by the expected fleet -from France.

The plan of Levis was not easy to carry out. The French could approach the exposed positions only by trenches, and to make these in the frozen ground was killing work. At some points where they wished to plant batteries they

1*41 T found only about six inches of earth covering the hard rock. The French had to carry much material needed for entrenchments in sacks for long distances over heavy roads and also to pass along narrow trenches to the exposed places. They brought their artillery in boats to the Anse au Foulon, and had to drag it up the steep height. Then they had to take the guns to the batteries through melting snow and through mud, in face of the plunging British fire on the Plains of Abraham. In the same way they had to carry with heavy labour fascines and gabions—bundles of wood and buckets to hold the earth in place in the entrenchments— to their positions. The men who worked in the trenches were exposed to the biting cold at night and often to a terrific fire. Sometimes the British brought sixty guns to bear on a single point, and Knox declares that the enemy could never before have experienced so vigorous a bombardment. It is no wonder that while, on the British side, there were only thirty casualties during the siege, there were two hundred and six on the French side, and of these seventy-three were deaths. Daily three or four men were killed and half a dozen wounded ; on one occasion a single shot from Quebec killed six French soldiers at work. These experiences were trying and the work went on but slowly. In answer to complaints Levis gave vigorous and menacing orders to the engineers to get the artillery in place more quickly.

The work carried out before Quebec was done at needless cost. Corruption was as active as ever in the French administration. Cadet, its high priest, was in the French camp, busy, efficient, doing wonders in the way of securing supplies, but always robbing the King, his master. He went about now, followed by a staff befitting the rank of a general, and carrying himself as the equal of Levis. He was treated with much deference by the General. Levis declares that Cadet had gone beyond all expectations in furnishing provisions for his force, and that he was zealous and entirely devoted to the service. This was not inconsistent, however, with the pillage which he and others carried on. For every piece of cannon brought up from the Foulon to the trenches the sum of 1,800 livres was paid, and the same account was often rendered twice over. In the name of a clerk Cadet sent in great bills for supplies which in some cases were not required and in others were not delivered. Though Bigot had now broken with Cadet, he was in no position to check the brigandage which he himself had brought into being.

The preparations to bombard Quebec occupied a fortnight, and during that time the fire of the defenders met with no reply from the French camp. The British, looking out from Cape Diamond, could see horses and men dragging up guns and supplies. They could follow the movements in the trenches and make targets of the human occupants. Deserters who came into Quebec said that the French were keeping quiet until they could open simultaneously a battery of forty pieces on Quebec. Sometimes courtesies passed between the two armies. Murray sent to ask Levis for spruce as medicine for his men sick of the scurvy, for now the British had no access to the neighbouring forests. At first Levis refused to send what might help to turn invalid enemies into combatants, but he sent Murray a supply for himself. In return Murray sent a Cheshire cheese and some casks of wine for the use of the sick in the General Hospital. Then Levis sent a present of partridges and snipe.

The keenest hopes of each side were for succour from Europe. They watched the river. They watched the weather and were dismayed by every adverse wind which might delay the arrival of vessels under sail. The ship which Murray had sent down the river after his defeat on the 28th was followed by a French ship on May 4. When she passed Quebec its guns were turned on her, but she went on her course unharmed. Four days later, however, on the night of the 8th, when what Knox calls 'a delightful gale' was blowing from the east-south-east, a wind well fitted to speed ships up the river, she was seen on her way back. Her return was taken to mean that she had met a British force and was hurrying to escape from it. The defenders did not now fire as she passed Quebec, but an officer called out to her from the citadel on Cape Diamond to ask 'why she did not stay below to pilot up the French armada'.

All were aroused by this incident, and the next day every eye was strained to watch the river. Levis had good reasons for misgivings. If a French fleet was near, word of its approach would have reached him by land as Vaudreuil had arranged; and he had heard nothing. At eleven o'clock on the morning of the 9th the watchers in Quebec and in the French camp saw a ship appear round the Point of Levy. 'For a moment we hoped she was French,' writes Malartic, and in the French camp the news that a ship was in sight received welcoming shouts of 'Vive le Roi'. Among the British in Quebec all eyes were fixed upon the ship, every mind was in suspense. To check the premature joy which they saw about them, some said that she could not possibly be British. But when she dropped anchor not far from the Point of Levy, and, in response to signals from Quebec, hoisted the British colours and fired a salute of twenty-one guns, her identity was no longer doubtful; she was the British frigate Lowestoffe. Quebec went mad with joy. Officers and soldiers mounted the parapets which looked out towards the French camp, threw their hats in the air, and shouted in the face of the enemy for well nigh an hour. To show their glee the gunners fired off their cannon repeatedly. 'The general satisfaction', writes Knox, 'is not to be conceived, and to form a lively idea of it is impossible, except by a person who had suffered the extremities of a siege, and been destined, with his brave friends and valiant countrymen, to the scalping knives of a faithless conqueror and his barbarous allies.' Some of those in Quebec gave utterance to devout praise. 'Let us turn ourselves' said Quartermaster-Sergeant Johnson, 'and with the deepest humiliation and reverence adore that All-Seeing Providence whose Piercing Eye Saw our distresses, and in the needful time of our trouble sent us comfort.'

The arrival of a single ship did not, however, necessarily mean deliverance for Quebec. Good news for the British she indeed brought. She was one of a considerable fleet under Commodore Swanton which had left England in March. She had been separated from the fleet at sea, and her commander, Captain Deane, confident in his ship, had decided to go on alone to Quebec. Off Newfoundland he met the British fleet from Halifax under Lord Colville on the way to the rendezvous at the island of Bic, in the St. Lawrence, about one hundred and sixty miles below Quebec, where Colville was to meet Swanton. It would, however, be some time still before the combined squadrons could reach Quebec, and meanwhile there was danger that the imminence of relief might induce Levis to make a desperate assault. Murray received word that such was his intention, and the night of the 9th, after the arrival of the Lowestoffe, was one of alarm in Quebec. All through the dark hours Murray kept half of the garrison on the ramparts. As soon as he could, he sent a sloop down the river to warn the approaching ships of the acute danger and of the need of haste. He found time to extend a courtesy to Levis and sent him European newspapers which the Lowestoffe had brought. There was a half-malicious pleasure in the attention, for the journals contained the news of the overwhelming defeat of the French fleet at Quiberon Bay in November 1759; of the landing of the privateer Thurot in Ireland in February 1760; and of his subsequent defeat and death. The newspapers said nothing, however, about the contending armies in America. That campaign Europe seemed to have forgotten, something which Levis did not fail to note, with misgivings, only too well founded, that his own country would pay but little heed to the needs of her half-strangled colony.

Murray's fear of an assault on the 9th proved unfounded. The night of the 10th was rainy, but again all was quiet in the French camp. In truth, before attempting an assault, Levis wished first to batter the walls of Quebec with his guns, and these were not ready until the 11th. On that day the long labours of the French were crowned with a measure of success, for at noon Levis unmasked four batteries and began firing with great spirit. Every mortar and gun in the French lines was active without intermission; Levis declares that the most experienced of his foes could never before have undergone such a fire. 'Our French, in despair of losing us, fired on us like very devils,' says a nun of the Ursuline convent in Quebec. This fire produced a considerable effect; within a short time the French had dismounted or disabled five of Murray's guns. The British fear that, under artillery fire, the walls of Quebec would prove rotten and easily breached was fully justified. Murray was dismayed at the havoc wrought by the bombardment. It added to his concern that his men were soon worn out with the hardships of remaining under arms night and day. By the evening of the 12th four had been killed and nine wounded by the French fire. 'Carcases'—iron shells filled with inflammable material, and intended to set fire to the houses in Quebec—and shot and shell made at Three Rivers during the winter poured into Quebec. In fear lest the magazine at the Jesuit barracks should be blown up, Murray scattered his supplies to various parts of the town.

An assault under cover of so vigorous a fire seemed imminent. But Levis could not keep up a strong attack. For only a day or two was he able to make his fire superior to that of the British. To his great disappointment, his cannon, which he knew to be weak in calibre, proved also poor in quality. Owing to lack of proper care by the artillerymen, some of them burst. His ammunition, too, was bad, the powder especially having suffered by exposure to the damp; the supply also was small. In consequence of these defects the French attack soon slackened. The order was given that each gun should fire but twenty times in twenty-four hours. The bad equipment was emphasized by the policy of the French engineer Pontleroy. Vaudreuil declares that he was capricious and self-willed. At any rate he had placed the batteries so far from the walls of Quebec, no doubt to save his men from the deadly English fire, that many of the guns were quite ineffective.

It was not long before Levis had concluded that the attack on Quebec could not be pressed. Talk of raising the siege was soon heard. On the 13th the French leaders held a council at Bourlamaque's quarters. Failure must always find a scapegoat. There were now some who called the whole attempt against Quebec 'the folly of Levis', while others laid all the blame on Pontleroy. To make a breach seemed hopeless, as did also a successful assault; and the discouraged officers decided that the only thing to do was to hold the British in check and await succour from France. Levis tried to believe that such succour was possible, and he declares in his journal that Quebec would go to the side whose fleet arrived first. He did not know that succour left France only on April 12, more than a month after the British fleet had set out, and that even then France had sent help so slight that it was totally inadequate to meet the great naval force which Pitt had provided to ensure the conquest of Canada.

Again, as in the earlier days of the siege of Quebec, every one watched the weather. 'Our situation is most disquieting,' Levis wrote to Bigot on May 15; 'I fear that France has abandoned us ; . . . nothing comes. . . . We have done and are doing what we can. If no help comes the colony is hopelessly lost. We trust that peace may be made in the interval. We can only prolong the conflict. To aid this you ought to use every means to collect all the grain to be had, since, if we are forced to raise the siege of Quebec, we must expect that the Canadians will wholly abandon us and their bad feeling will be such that we shall get nothing except by the use of force.' He adds: 'It is no fault of ours; it appears that God has abandoned this wretched colony.'

The despair of Levis was justified. Far down the river at this time many British ships were threading their way, sometimes among floes of ice, to bring rescue to Quebec. Two great squadrons were converging on this point. The squadron under Commodore Swanton had set out from England in March. The other squadron under Lord Colville had wintered at Halifax. Though Colville had been anxious for an early start he was unable to get out of Halifax Harbour until April 22. Even then heavy fog and great fields of ice made progress difficult. Colville, sailing near the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, had to face more dangers than Swanton on the open sea. Off Cape Ray and St. Paul's Island he was delayed for twelve days by gales, fog, and ice. He had a number of transports in his convoy, and he notes in his diary his special fear lest he should lose sight of one of the most precious of them—that laden with clothing for the needy garrison of Quebec. Colville arrived at the rendezvous at the island of Bic on May 16, only to find that Swanton had come on May 14 and had gone on without a moment's delay because of an urgent summons from Murray to hasten to his rescue. A similar message awaited Colville, and he followed in the race for Quebec. This ascent of the river by a squadron in the spring is the earliest on record. The channel was difficult and there were no pilots. In the previous year, however, British seamen had made careful observations, and now a long line of ships of war and transports, stretched out for miles in a river full of shoals and, at times, tempestuous like the sea, went on its way in confidence. The word was to make haste. Yet the ships were guided with such skill that not a serious accident occurred.

At Quebec, meanwhile, both sides were longing for the help which could come only by the river. At seven o'clock on the evening of May 15 a strong north-east wind was blowing, a wind that would speed ships on their way to Quebec. It was this wind which fixed the moment of the final crisis in the struggle for Canada. In the early evening the French, looking out from their camp, saw three ships come round the head of the island of Orleans. Men cling tenaciously to what they like to believe. Levis, who had been despondent, now felt a delighted certainty that the ships were French. He clung to this faith even when the ships answered signals from Quebec and anchored in the basin near the Lower Town. Late that night, however, some Indians brought to him an English prisoner whom they had taken while prowling near the walls of Quebec. Only when Levis questioned this man did he believe the unwelcome truth. The ships were British. Swanton himself had arrived in the Vanguard, and a whole fleet was following him. It was a bitter moment for the French leader. He now saw that his most cherished hopes were vain, and that there would be no rescue from France. The next day he ordered the withdrawal of the artillery from the trenches. The whole army was to prepare to retire. The siege of Quebec was to be raised.

The British were determined to strike hard and at once. Between the departure of Saunders in the previous year and the arrival of Swanton, the French fleet in the St. Lawrence had been stronger than the British, and a source of incessant anxiety to Murray. Until it was destroyed the British could not use the water route to Montreal. In charge of this small fleet was Vauquelain, a seaman of great capacity. He was not a regular naval officer. His father had been a 'sea wolf' in the merchant service and he himself had been brought up to that calling. When the Seven Years' War broke out, good officers had been sorely needed in the French navy, and M. de Moras, who was Secretary of the Navy in 1757, gave commands to officers in the merchant service. This course met, however, with determined resistance from the regular naval officers. They were all of noble descent; it was a tradition that only men of noble birth should become officers in the royal navy; and they refused to co-operate with plebeians brought in from the merchant service. M. de Moras urged that France could not do without such men, that heroes in French naval history like Du Quay-Trouin and Jean Bart had come from this class. This did not soften the bitterness of the opposition. Officers from the merchant service continued, however, to serve during the war, chiefly as privateers, and inflicted very great damage on British shipping. Vauquelain had come into prominence during the siege of Louisbourg, in 1758. He had managed during a fog to sail his ship past the blockading British fleet and to get away to France to beg for help. The next year, 1759, he was sent to the St. Lawrence with the few ships that France could equip.

Nothing illustrates the spirit of the old regime in France better than the savage hostility with which men like Vauquelain were regarded. Regular naval officers would not take orders from them and went so far as to refuse to give them needed help in naval engagements; patriotism was sacrificed to pride. In spite of Vauquelain's brilliant service he was met in Canada by this class prejudice even among the army officers, and was not received in their society. From the letters of Montcalm, Levis, Bourlamaque and others we should hardly gather that such a person existed. Vaudreuil, to whose orders he was subject, treated him coldly and gave the corrupt and intriguing Cadet such authority in respect to the ships that Vauquelain protested with warmth. Cadet, true to the spirit of the parvenu, strutted and swaggered, and spoke of 'my fleet', 'my ships' and 'my captains'. He did what he liked and reaped from the navy as he reaped from the army the rewards of far-reaching corruption.

Vauquelain had played a useful part in the attack on Quebec. By noon of the day of the battle of Ste Foy he had landed supplies at the Foulon. A little later Vaudreuil had ordered him to take his two frigates, the Atalante and the Pomone, down the river and to attack any British ships which should arrive. The difficulty of getting past the guns of Quebec had discouraged this enterprise, and the frigates anchored near the historic spot where Wolfe had landed at night. Here Vauquelain could help Levis, and here he would remain while the siege went on. It was certain, however, that he would retire up the river the moment he was free to do so. When he had done this in the previous year, even Saunders, though he had a great fleet, had been unable to touch him. If now he did it again he might defy another British fleet and help to keep Montreal secure from its approach. To prevent this a sudden and overwhelming blow must be struck at once. Accordingly, the moment Captain Swanton in the Vanguard dropped anchor in the basin of Quebec, Murray urged prompt action, and Swanton decided to go up the river and attack the French ships with the first turn of the tide.

The night of the 15th was stormy and the strong northeast wind aided the British plan of sailing up the river. There were two French frigates, and in all six ships. Vauquelain in the Atalante was prompt to see his danger. On the evening of the 15th he sent an officer ashore to ask Levis for instructions. The storm raged throughout the night. Vauquelain watched and waited in vain for the return of his messenger. At four o'clock in the morning, though it was still dark, he could see far down the river between Quebec and the island of Orleans the shadowy forms of two of the ships which had arrived on the previous day. The wind was still strong, the sky was dark and clouded, and there were troublesome waves on the broad river. Even in the darkness Vauquelain observed that the ships were making preparations to sail. He signalled to his own vessels to hoist their sails. Only when day was breaking did his messenger to Levis return. He had been kept at the General's quarters until after midnight, and had then been delayed in putting off from shore, apparently because he had found his boat injured. He now brought instructions that if Vauquelain saw any movement on the part of the British to ascend the river, he should get away as soon as possible.

Not a moment was to be lost. The British ships were already moving. The other French frigate, the Pomone, cut her cable and set sail, and the transports did the same. With one of the British frigates already bearing down on him in the Atalante, Vauquelain had no time to raise his own anchor. So he, too, cut his cable and headed up the river. In the strong wind navigation was not easy, and disaster quickly overtook the Pomone. She could not clear the point of the Anse au Foulon and was soon aground. Vauquelain held on to protect the transports. But it became clear that they were not fast enough to escape the pursuer. Five or six miles above the Anse au Foulon the Cap Rouge River enters the St. Lawrence. Vauquelain now signalled to the transports to make for the mouth of this river and there run aground. He was sure that the British frigates would continue to pursue him up the river, and hoped that at least the stores in the transports might be saved.

What Vauquelain had hoped for took place. When the transports grounded, the Diana and the Lowestoffe held on in pursuit of the Atalante. Vauquelain soon perceived that they were overhauling him, and he then made the desperate resolve of running his ship also on shore. When he did this at Pointe aux Trembles, his two pursuers anchored within short range and began a furious bombardment. Vauquelain answered with vigour. To keep up his fire he had to cut away his main-mast, which was causing the ship to heel over too much. From half-past seven to half-past nine in the morning the fight went on, and Vauquelain, though outclassed, inflicted heavy damage on the British ships.

The falling of the tide caused the British, fearful of running aground, to draw off a little and to slacken their fire for a time. This gave the French some chance to escape to the shore. Vauquelain, however, had lost all his small boats. There were people on the shore within calling distance, and he cried out to them to send off a boat. Naturally, in view of the British fire, there was no prompt reply to this request. In the end, however, a boat came off. Vauquelain was especially anxious to send off his wounded. He put as many as possible into the boat and sent it to the shore. To bring the boat back without endangering lives, he attached to it a long rope by which it could be drawn to the ship. But the men who took the boat to the shore treacherously cast off the rope and ran away. Then the French on the ship had to rig up a clumsy raft with which they reached the shore and secured the boat.

By this time the powder of the French was wet and their ship had heeled over so that the guns were, in any case, useless. The work of landing the men went on. At half-past one in the afternoon only a boat-load remained. But, with the French fire silenced, the British now rowed in to board the enemy. When the boarding party called out to Vauquelain to lower his flag, he replied fiercely that they must come and haul it down, for he would not. He was himself wounded and so were most of the five officers and the six men still with him. The boarding party found them lying almost helpless. Of the original ship's company, in spite of the escape of some to land, Vauquelain lost about fifty, probably one-third of the whole number, either killed or severely wounded. The British had one man killed and five wounded. Vauquelain had won their respect, and Murray loaded him with attentions and gave him quarters at the General Hospital. It is not without interest that Levis, in describing the naval battle in his journal, does not even mention the name of Vauquelain. This yawning gulf between the classes represented by the high-born Chevalier and the plebeian sailor was not to be bridged. It helps to explain the bitter hatreds of the revolution which was drawing so near in France.

On this disastrous day the French ships were nearly all destroyed. The French themselves set the Pomone on fire as she lay stranded off the Foulon. They were able to remove the equipment from the transports which ran ashore in the Cap Rouge River, and when this had been done they burned the ships. The British burned the Atalante. Of all the French ships, only one, a small sloop of war, the Marie, escaped. As she was laden with wounded officers and men, she had thrown her guns overboard and hastened up the river without waiting to take part in the fight. Nor did the British themselves wholly avoid disaster. Their ignorance of the river above Quebec was still great, and the Lowestoffe, the arrival of which on May 9 had caused such cheering on the ramparts of Quebec, ran aground on May 19 and became a total wreck. This disaster, however, hardly marred the complete triumph of the British. Up to this time the difficult navigation of the St. Lawrence and the menace from the French ships which lay there had kept the British from advancing for more than a few miles above Quebec. Now . the power of France on the sea in America was wholly shattered. She still had, indeed, one or two vessels far up on Lake Ontario, but to destroy them was to prove no hard task. In truth, on that stormy spring day of 1760, France's long naval record in Canada ended in final disaster. It was French seamen, Cartier and Champlain, who had first told Europe about the great river. In the days of Jean Bart France had held both the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi. Iberville had humbled the English even on Hudson Bay. It was the white flag of France that Vauquelain had refused to pull down. Now it disappeared almost entirely from the river, and the rival power that was to become mistress of the seas at Trafalgar was already mistress of the St. Lawrence. [The heroism of Vauquelain has been a favourite topic with some French writers. Alfred de Vigny wrote a spirited poem on the subject. The statement is made that Vauquelain nailed his flag to the mast and threw his sword overboard, but I am not aware of any original authority for it. His own narrative is in the Levis MSS., vol. xi.]

On the 16th, while the poor remains of the French navy were being destroyed in the river, Levis was preparing to withdraw the army which lay on the Heights before Quebec. All through the day he had troublesome evidence of Britain's sea-power. The Vanguard, a powerful ship of war, still continued to hover about the Anse au Foulon and bombarded the French positions within range. When night came the retreat of the French began. Levis issued orders that the army should march at ten o'clock with La Pause in charge. The men were to march in silence, no weapons were to be discharged, no fires were to be made. One of the critics of Levis says that he lost his head, and, dazed by his position, gave contradictory orders. Once more we see that he lacked the striking vigour and decision in a time of crisis which are indispensable to a great leader. When officers came to him for directions he would look at them blankly without saying a word. There was much confusion.

The Indians, always troublesome were completely out of hand. In search of pillage and mad for drink they attacked the quarters of the officers and killed a grenadier on guard. One of them was in turn killed by another grenadier whom he tried to strangle. The Indians were soon drunk with the liquor thus secured, and some French soldiers also got drunk on stolen spirits. Bourlamaque wrote to Bougainville that everything fell into disorder. Levis could not take away all his artillery, and most of it he frankly abandoned. He dragged some heavy guns to the edge of the cliff at the Foulon and threw them down to the strand below, in the hope that the French might be able to get them away in the boats. Some light artillery and field-pieces he sent up the river by land. He tried to load his small boats at the Foulon, but most of these were either sunk by the Vanguard or abandoned by their crews. In them were the personal effects of some of the French officers, now, of course, lost.

Under cover of night Levis marched his army to Cap Rouge and by daybreak of the 17th he was comparatively safe beyond the river of Cap Rouge. It was here that the French transports had run aground. They were laden with provisions, and Levis spent the 17th in trying to withdraw from them supplies which he sorely needed. Bourlamaque declares that the whole affair was badly managed. He himself, disabled by his wound, had been brought in a litter from the General Hospital. Now, surrounded chiefly by men also wounded, he tried to get something done. At Cap Rouge lay one hundred and twenty boats, but the oars had been left behind at the Foulon, and all day long Bourlamaque attempted in vain to have the oars brought up. He induced thirty Canadians to help him. Something was done, but, if we may believe the chief lieutenant of Levis, there was a conspicuous lack of competent leadership in the French army.

On the 18th the army marched as far as Pointe aux Trembles, where, with something like dismay, they learned that more British ships had arrived at Quebec. This produced new fears and the resolve to press on farther to a safer place. The next day the army reached the Jacques Cartier River. To cross was not easy, for there were no bridges or pontoons, and the clumsy bateaux were of little use in the swollen spring floods. Not until far into the night of the 19th was the task accomplished. Then the French army had the swift river between them and possible pursuit by land from Quebec. At this point eight months earlier Levis had taken command of the army of Vaudreuil, worn out after a panic-stricken flight from Quebec. It must have been with bitterness of heart that he now found the experience of panic and flight repeated, and, this time, under his own leadership.

Meanwhile the French camp lay almost deserted. It was not long, however, before some inkling reached Quebec of what was happening. Deserters came in to say that the Canadian militia had been ordered by Levis to return to their parishes. They had come in readily after the victory of Ste Foy, even from the parishes east of Quebec. Now from the walls the British could see large parties of Canadians filing off towards Charlesbourg and Beauport. Others managed to cross the river and were seen going to the south country. A few of them, however, still stayed in the trenches, by command of Levis, to check any sally from Quebec. The British kept up a fierce artillery fire. 'I believe I may venture to advance,' writes Knox on May 16, 'that there never was such tremendous firing heard ... as our artillery displayed this evening for near two hours.' Only slowly the British learned what had really taken place. Early on the morning of the 17th the Canadian soldiers left in the French entrenchments fired a volley of musketry in order to keep up the appearance of an active defence. After this they all retired. They had deceived the British, however, until the evening of the 17th—nearly a whole day after Levis had begun his retreat—that a scouting party found the trenches abandoned. Murray pushed forward light infantry and grenadiers in the hope of overtaking the French army. But Levis was well away, and the British, in high spirits, could only take possession of his abandoned camp. They found evidence that his retreat had been precipitate, for not only heavy articles such as cannon and mortars, but tents, baggage, fire-arms, and ammunition were left behind.

Captain Knox calls the retreat of Levis a 'shameful flight' and he could explain it only by panic fear that the French army might be caught between two forces. In spite of his haste Levis left a letter recommending to Murray's care those lying wounded in the neighbouring houses and in the General Hospital. He also assured Murray that he had not required from the French-Canadians who had taken the oath to George II any military service, though he had made them work for his army, a course quite proper under the laws of war. Some things in the French camp filled the British with rage. Their officers and men who had been killed in the battle of the 28th had not been buried; perhaps with the scanty and frozen soil and the hard rock of the Plains of Abraham this would have been impossible. But the British now found that the dead had been treated with great indignity. The bodies had been scalped and mangled, and had then been thrown clear of the camp and left for ravenous birds and wild beasts. Hanging on the bushes the victors found a great many scalps of their countrymen, a sight that filled them with fury.

The flight of Levis made the end of the long struggle hardly doubtful and relieved a tension that the British had found very real. 'If a French fleet had appeared first in the river, the place must inevitably have fallen,' wrote Captain Knox, and his words reflect the opinion in Quebec; but he adds that, rather than surrender, the officers had resolved to die with arms in their hands, and that the men would follow their example. Levis himself wrote to Belle Isle, the French Minister of War, and to Berryer, the Minister of Marine, who were doing so little to help him, that 'a single frigate would have involved the surrender of Quebec and assured us the possession of Canada for another year. This was a common saying on the French side—that a single ship would have saved Canada. But even the recapture of Quebec would have only delayed the final climax. France was making no preparations that could cope with the might of Britain in America. While the French Ministry was doing little or nothing for Canada, and was supinely hoping that something favourable might happen, Pitt, with vast resources, had been toiling for months to make victory certain. On May 19 Lord Colville's fleet from Halifax, composed of six ships of the line and seven frigates and sloops of war, arrived at Quebec; and after that date ships came up on every tide laden with stores and provisions. The puny efforts of France stand in vivid contrast with Pitt's far-reaching plans. At that moment a single frigate with a convoy of transports was coming from France to the rescue of Canada. She, like Canada, was only hastening to her doom. France had no master mind to rival Pitt.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus