The Capture of Québec
Digital History ID 103
The climatic battle of the conflict took place on September 12-13, 1759. After laying siege to the city of Québec for three months, 5,000 British regulars sail past the city and secretly scaled the cliffs leading to the Plains of Abraham, west of the city, under cover of darkness. The French moved quickly to repel the surprise attack, but within 15 minutes, the battle was decided. Captain John Knox offers a first-hand account of the decisive battle that brought an end to French rule over Canada.
Before daybreak this morning we made a descent upon the north shore, about half a quarter of a mile to the eastward of Sillery, and the light troops were fortunately, by the rapidity of the current, carried lower down, between us and Cape Diamond; we had, in this debarkation, thirty flat-bottomed boats, containing about sixteen hundred men. This was a great surprise on the enemy, who, from the natural strength of the place, did not suspect, and consequently not prepared against, so bold an attempt. The chain of sentries, which they had posted along the summit of the heights, galled us a little, and picked off several men, and some officers, before our light infantry got up to dislodge them.
This grand enterprise was conducted and executed with great good order and discretion; as fast as we landed, the boats put off for re-enforcements.... We lost no time here, but clambered up one of the steepest precipices that can be conceived, being almost a perpendicular, and of an incredible height. As soon as we gain the summit all was quiet, and not a shot was heard.... The general then detached the light troops to our left to rout the enemy from their battery, and to disable their guns, except they could be rendered serviceable to the party who were to remain there; and this service was soon performed. We then faced to the right, and marched toward the town by files, till we came to the Plains of Abraham: an even piece of ground which Mr. [British General James] Wolfe had made choice of, while we stood forming upon the hill. Weather showery; about six o'clock [a.m.] the enemy first made their appearance upon the heights, between us and the town; whereupon we halted, and wheeled to the right, thereby forming the line of battle.
About eight o'clock we had two pieces of short brass six-pounders playing on the enemy, which threw them into some confusion, and obliged them to alter their disposition, and Montcalm [the French commander] formed them into three large columns; about nine the two armies moved a little nearer each other....
About ten o'clock the enemy began to advance briskly in three columns, with loud shouts and recovered arms, two of them inclining to the left of our army, and the third towards our right, firing obliquely at the two extremities of our line, from the distance of one hundred and thirty, until they came within forty, yards; which our troops withstood with the greatest intrepidity and firmness, still reserving their fire, and paying the strictest obedience to their officers. This uncommon steadiness, together with the havoc which the grapeshot from our fieldpieces made among them, threw them into some disorder, and was most critically maintained by a well-timed, regular, and heavy discharge of our small arms, such as they could no longer oppose. Hereupon they gave way, and fled with precipitation, so that, by the time the cloud of smoke was vanished, our men were again loaded, and, profiting by the advantage we had over them, pursued them almost to the gates of the town and the bridge over the little river, redoubling our fire with great eagerness, making many officers and men prisoners.
An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America for the Years, 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760, Arthur G. Doughty, ed., Toronto, 1914, II, 94-101
Source: An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America for the Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760, Vol. 1, ed. Arthur G. Doughty (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1914-16), Vol. II, pp. 94-101.
Copyright 2021 Digital History