CHRONICLES OF CANADA Edited by George M. Wrong and H. H. Langton In thirty-two volumes
THE PASSING OF NEW FRANCE A Chronicle of Montcalm
By WILLIAM WOOD
MONTCALM IN FRANCE 1712-1756
'War is the grave of the Montcalms.' No one can tell how old this famous saying is. Perhaps it is as old as France herself. Certainly there never was a time when the men of the great family of Montcalm-Gozon were not ready to fight for their king and country; and so Montcalm, like Wolfe, was a soldier born.
Even in the Crusades his ancestors were famous all over Europe. When the Christians of those brave days were trying to drive the unbelievers out of Palestine they gladly followed leaders whom they thought saintly and heroic enough to be their champions against the dragons of sultan, satan, and hell; for people then believed that dragons fought on the devil's side, and that only Christian knights, like St George, fighting on God's side, could kill them. The Christians banded themselves together in many ways, among others in the Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, taking an oath to be faithful unto death. They chose the best man among them to be their Grand Master; and so it could have been only after much devoted service that Deodat de Gozon became Grand Master, more than five hundred years ago, and was granted the right of bearing the conquered Dragon of Rhodes on the family coat of arms, where it is still to be seen. How often this glorious badge of victory reminded our own Montcalm of noble deeds and noble men! How often it nerved him to uphold the family tradition!
There are centuries of change between Crusaders and Canadians. Yet the Montcalms can bridge them with their honour. And, among all the Montcalms who made their name mean soldier's honour in Eastern or European war, none have given it so high a place in the world's history as the hero whose life and death in Canada made it immortal. He won the supreme glory for his name, a glory so bright that it shone even through the dust of death which shrouded the France of the Revolution. In 1790, when the National Assembly was suppressing pensions granted by the Crown, it made a special exception in favour of Montcalm's children. As kings, marquises, heirs, and pensions were among the things the Revolution hated most, it is a notable tribute to our Marquis of Montcalm that the revolutionary parliament should have paid to his heirs the pension granted by a king. Nor has another century of change in France blotted out his name and fame. The Montcalm was the French flagship at the naval review held in honour of the coronation of King Edward VII. The Montcalm took the President of France to greet his ally the Czar of Russia. And, but for a call of duty elsewhere at the time, the Montcalm would have flown the French admiral's flag in 1908, at the celebration of the Tercentenary of the founding of Quebec, when King George V led the French- and English-speaking peoples of the world in doing honour to the twin renown of Wolfe and Montcalm on the field where they won equal glory, though unequal fortune.
Montcalm was a leap-year baby, having been born on February 29, 1712, in the family castle of Candiac, near Nimes, a very old city of the south of France, a city with many forts built by the Romans two thousand years ago. He came by almost as much good soldier blood on his mother's side as on his father's, for she was one of the Castellanes, with numbers of heroic ancestors, extending back to the First Crusade.
The Montcalms had never been rich. They had many heroes but no millionaires. Yet they were well known and well loved for their kindness to all the people on their estates; and so generous to every one in trouble, and so ready to spend their money as well as their lives for the sake of king and country, that they never could have made great fortunes, even had their estate been ten times as large as it was. Accordingly, while they were famous and honoured all over France, they had to be very careful about spending money on themselves. They all—and our own Montcalm in particular—spent much more in serving their country than their country ever spent in paying them to serve it.
Montcalm was a delicate little boy of six when he first went to school. He had many schoolboy faults. He found it hard to keep quiet or to pay attention to his teacher; he was backward in French grammar; and he wrote a very bad hand. Many a letter of complaint was sent to his father. 'It seems to me,' writes the teacher, 'that his handwriting is getting worse than ever. I show him, again and again, how to hold his pen; but he will not do it properly. I think he ought to try to make up for his want of cleverness by being more docile, taking more pains, and listening to my advice.' And then poor old Dumas would end with an exclamation of despair—'What will become of him!'
Dumas had another pupil who was much more to his taste. This was Montcalm's younger brother, Jean, who knew his letters before he was three, read Latin when he was five, and Greek and Hebrew when he was six. Dumas was so proud of this infant prodigy that he took him to Paris and showed him off to the learned men of the day, who were dumbfounded at so much knowledge in so young a boy. All this, however, was too much for a youthful brain; and poor Jean died at the age of seven.
Dumas then turned sadly to the elder boy, who was in no danger of being killed by too much study, and soon renewed his complaints. At last Montcalm, now sixteen and already an officer, could bear it no longer, and wrote to his father telling him that in spite of his supposed stupidity he had serious aims. 'I want to be, first, a man of honour, brave, and a good Christian. Secondly, I want to read moderately; to know as much Greek and Latin as other men; also arithmetic, history, geography, literature, and some art and science. Thirdly, I want to be obedient to you and my dear mother; and listen to Mr Dumas's advice. Lastly, I want to manage a horse and handle a sword as well as ever I can.' The result of it all was that Montcalm became a good Latin scholar, a very well read man, an excellent horseman and swordsman, and—to dominie Dumas's eternal confusion—such a master of French that he might have been as great an author as he was a soldier. His letters and dispatches from the seat of war remind one of Caesar's. He wrote like a man who sees into the heart of things and goes straight to the point with the fewest words which will express exactly what he wishes to say. In this he was like Wolfe, and like many another great soldier whose quick eye, cool head and warm heart, all working together in the service of his country, give him a command over words which often equals his command over men.
In 1727, the year Wolfe was born, Montcalm joined his father's regiment as an ensign. Presently, in 1733, the French and Germans fell out over the naming of a king for Poland. Montcalm went to the front and had what French soldiers call his 'baptism of fire.' This war gave him little chance of learning how great battles should be fought. But he saw two sieges; he kept his eyes open to everything that happened; and, even in camp, he did not forget his studies. 'I am learning German,' he wrote home, 'and I am reading more Greek than I have read for three or four years.'
The death of his father in 1735 made him the head of the family of Montcalm. The next year he married Angelique Talon du Boulay, a member of a military family, and grand-daughter of Denis Talon; a kinsman of Jean Talon, the best intendant who ever served New France. For the next twenty years, from 1736 to 1756, he spent in his ancestral castle of Candiac as much of his time as he could spare from the army. There he had been born, and there he always hoped he could live and die among his own people after his wars were over. How often he was to sigh for one look at his pleasant olive groves when he was far away, upholding the honour of France against great British odds and, far worse, against secret enemies on the French side in the dying colony across the sea! But for the present all this was far off. Meanwhile, Candiac was a very happy home; and Montcalm's wife and his mother made it the happier by living together under the same roof. In course of time ten children were born, all in the family chateau.
Montcalm's second war was the War of the Austrian Succession, a war in which his younger opponent Wolfe saw active service for the first time. The two future opponents in Canada never met, however, on the same battlefields in Europe. In 1741, the year in which Wolfe received his first commission, Montcalm fought so well in Bohemia that he was made a Knight of St Louis. Two years later, at the age of thirty-one, he was promoted to the command of a regiment which he led through three severe campaigns in Italy. During the third campaign, in 1746, there was a terrific fight against the Austrians under the walls of Placentia. So furious was the Austrian attack that the French army was almost destroyed. Twice was Montcalm's regiment broken by sheer weight of numbers. But twice he rallied it and turned to face the enemy again. The third attack was the worst of all. Montcalm still fought on, though already he had three bullet wounds, when the Austrian cavalry made a dashing charge and swept the French off the field altogether. He met them, sword in hand, as dauntless as ever; but he was caught in a whirlwind of sabre-cuts and was felled to the ground with two great gashes in his head. He was taken prisoner; but was soon allowed to go home, on giving his word of honour, or 'parole,' that he would take no further part in the war until some Austrian prisoner, of the same rank as his own, was given back by the French in exchange. While still on parole he was promoted to be a brigadier, so that he could command more than a single regiment. In due time, when proper exchange of prisoners was made, Montcalm went back to Italy, again fought splendidly, and again was badly wounded. The year 1748 closed with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle; and seven years of peace followed before the renewed tumult of the Seven Years' War.
Life went very well with Montcalm at Candiac. He was there as much as possible, and spent his time between his castle and his olive groves, his study and his family circle. His eldest son was a young man of much promise, growing immensely tall, devoted to the army, and engaged to be married. His wife and her mother-in-law were as happy as ever with him and with each other. Nothing seemed more peaceful than that quiet corner in the pleasant land of southern France.
But the age-long rivalry of French and British could not long be stilled. Even in 1754 there were rumours of war from the Far East in India and from the Far West in Canada. Next year, though peace was outwardly kept in Europe, both the great rivals sent fleets and armies to America, where the clash of arms had already been heard. There were losses on both sides. And, when the French general, Baron Dieskau, was made prisoner, the minister of War, knowing the worth of Montcalm, asked him to think over the proposal that he should take command in New France.
On January 26, 1756, the formal offer came in a letter approved by the king. 'The king has chosen you to command his troops in North America, and will honour you on your departure with the rank of major-general. But what will please you still more is that His Majesty will put your son in your place at the head of your present regiment. The applause of the public will add to your satisfaction.'
On the very day Montcalm received this letter he made up his mind, accepted the command, bade good-bye to Candiac, and set out for Paris. From Lyons he wrote to his mother: 'I am reading with much pleasure the History of New France by Father Charlevoix. He gives a pleasant description of Quebec.' From Paris he wrote to his wife: 'Do not expect any long letter before the 1st of March. All my pressing work will then be finished, and I shall be able to breathe once more. Last night I came from Versailles and I am going back to-morrow. My outfit will cost me a thousand crowns more than the amount I am paid to cover it. But I cannot stop for that.' On March 15 he wrote home: 'Yesterday I presented my son, with whom I am very well pleased, to all the royal family.' Three days later he wrote to his wife: 'I shall be at Brest on the twenty-first. My son has been here since yesterday, for me to coach him and also in order to get his uniform properly made. He will thank the king for his promotion at the same time that I make my adieux in my embroidered coat. Perhaps I shall leave some debts behind me. I wait impatiently for the accounts. You have my will. I wish you would have it copied, and would send me the duplicate before I sail.'
On April 3 Montcalm left Brest in the Licorne, a ship of the little fleet which the French were hurrying out to Canada before war should be declared in Europe. The passage proved long and stormy. But Montcalm was lucky in being a much better sailor than his great opponent Wolfe. Impatient to reach the capital at the earliest possible moment he rowed ashore from below the island of Orleans, where the Licorne met a contrary wind, and drove up to Quebec, a distance of twenty-five miles. It was May 13 when he first passed along the Beauport shore between Montmorency and Quebec. Three years and nine days later he was to come back to that very point, there to make his last heroic stand.
On the evening of his arrival Bigot the intendant gave a magnificent dinner-party for him. Forty guests sat down to the banquet. Montcalm had not expected that the poor struggling colony could boast such a scene as this. In a letter home he said: 'Even a Parisian would have been astonished at the profusion of good things on the table. Such splendour and good cheer show how much the intendant's place is worth.' We shall soon hear more of Bigot the intendant.
On the 26th Montcalm arrived at Montreal to see the Marquis of Vaudreuil the governor. The meeting went off very well. The governor was as full of airs and graces as the intendant, and said that nothing else in the world could have given him so much pleasure as to greet the general sent out to take command of the troops from France. We shall soon hear more of Vaudreuil the governor.
MONTCALM IN CANADA 1756
The French colonies in North America consisted of nothing more than two very long and very thin lines of scattered posts and settlements, running up the St Lawrence and the Mississippi to meet, in the far interior, at the Great Lakes. Along the whole of these four thousand miles there were not one hundred thousand people. Only two parts of the country were really settled at all: one Acadia, the other the shores of the St Lawrence between Bic and Montreal; and both regions together covered not more than four hundred of the whole four thousand miles. There were but three considerable towns—Louisbourg, Quebec, and Montreal—and Quebec, which was much the largest, had only twelve thousand inhabitants.
The territory bordering on the Mississippi was called Louisiana. That in the St Lawrence region was called New France along the river and Acadia down by the Gulf; though Canada is much the best word to cover both. Now, Canada had ten times as many people as Louisiana; and Louisiana by itself seemed helplessly weak. This very weakness made the French particularly anxious about the country south of the Lakes, where Canada and Louisiana met. For, so long as they held it, they held the gateways of the West, kept the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi quite securely, shut up the British colonies between the Alleghany Mountains and the Atlantic and prevented them from expanding westward. One other thing was even more vital than this to the French in America: it was that they should continue to hold the mouth of the St Lawrence. Canada could live only by getting help from France; and as this help could not come up the Mississippi it had to come up the St Lawrence.
The general position of the French may be summed up briefly. First, and most important of all, they had to hold the line of the St Lawrence for a thousand miles in from the sea. Here were their three chief positions: Louisbourg, Quebec, and Lake Champlain.
Secondly, they had to hold another thousand miles westward, to and across the Lakes; but especially the country south of Lakes Ontario and Erie, into the valley of the Ohio. Here there were a few forts, but no settlements worth speaking of.
Thirdly, they had to hold the valley of the Mississippi, two thousand miles from north to south. Here there were very few forts, very few men, and no settlements of any kind. In fact, they held the Mississippi only by the merest thread, and chiefly because the British colonies had not yet grown out in that direction. The Mississippi did not come into the war, though it might have done so. If Montcalm had survived the battle of the Plains, and if in 1760 the defence of Canada on the St Lawrence had seemed to him utterly hopeless, his plan would probably then have been to take his best soldiers from Canada into the interior, and in the end to New Orleans, there to make a last desperate stand for France among the swamps. But this plan died with him; and we may leave the valley of the Mississippi out of our reckoning altogether.
Not so the valley of the Ohio, which, as we have seen, was the meeting-place of Canada and Louisiana, and the chief gateway to the West; and which the French and British rivals were both most fiercely set on possessing. It was here that the world-wide Seven Years' War first broke out; here that George Washington first appeared as an American commander; here that Braddock led the first westbound British army; and here that Montcalm struck his first blow for French America.
But, as we have also seen, even the valley of the Ohio was less important than the line of the St Lawrence. The Ohio region was certainly the right arm of French America. But the St Lawrence was the body, of which the lungs were Louisbourg, and the head and heart Quebec. Montcalm saw this at once; and he made no single mistake in choosing the proper kind of attack and defence during the whole of his four campaigns.
The British colonies were different in every way from the French. The French held a long, thin line of four thousand miles, forming an inland loop from the Gulf of St Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico, with only one hundred thousand people sparsely settled in certain spots; the British filled up the solid inside of this loop with over twelve hundred thousand people, who had an open seaboard on the Atlantic for two thousand miles, from Nova Scotia down to Florida.
Now, what could have made such a great difference in growth between the French and the British colonies, when France had begun with all the odds of European force and numbers in her favour? The answer is two-fold: France had no adequate fleets and her colonies had no adequate freedom.
First, as to fleets. The mere fact that the Old and New Worlds had a sea between them meant that the power with the best navy would have a great advantage. The Portuguese, Spaniards, Dutch, and French all tried to build empires across the sea. But they all failed whenever they came to blows with Britain, simply because no empire can live cut up into separate parts. The sea divided the other empires, while, strange as it may appear, this same sea united the British. The French were a nation of landsmen; for one very good reason that they had two land frontiers to defend. Their kings and statesmen understood armies better than navies, and the French people themselves liked soldiers better than sailors. The British, on the other hand, since they lived on an island, had no land frontiers to defend. The people liked sailors better than soldiers. And their rulers understood navies better than armies, for the sea had always been the people's second home.
At this period, whenever war broke out, the British navy was soon able to win 'the command of the sea'; that is, its squadrons soon made the sea a safe road for British ships and a very unsafe road for the ships of an enemy. In America, at that time, everything used in war, from the regular fleets and armies themselves down to the powder and shot, cannon and muskets, swords and bayonets, tools, tents, and so on—all had to be brought across the Atlantic. While this was well enough for the British, for the French it was always very hard and risky work. In time of war their ships were watched, chased and taken whenever they appeared on the sea. Even during peace they had much the worse of it, for they had to spend great sums and much effort in building vessels to make up for the men of-war and the merchant ships which they had lost and the British had won. Thus they never quite succeeded in beginning again on even terms with their triumphant rival.
We must remember, too, that every sort of trade and money-making depended on the command of the sea, which itself depended on the stronger navy. Even the trade with Indians in America, two thousand miles inland, depended on defeat or victory at sea. The French might send out ships full of things to exchange for valuable furs. But if they lost their ships they lost their goods, and in consequence the trade and even the friendship of the Indians. In the same way the navy helped or hindered the return trade from America to Europe. The furs and food from the British colonies crossed over in safety, and the money or other goods in exchange came safely back. But the French ships were not safe, and French merchants were often ruined by the capture of their ships or by having the sea closed to them.
To follow out all the causes and effects of the command of the sea would be far too long a story even to begin here. But the gist of it is quite short and quite plain: no Navy, no Empire. That is what it meant then, and that is what it means now.
Secondly, as to freedom in the French colonies. Of course, freedom itself, no matter how good it is and how much we love it, would have been nothing without the protection of fleets. All the freedom in the world cannot hold two countries on opposite sides of the sea together without the link of strong fleets. But even the strongest fleet would not have helped New France to grow as fast and as well as New England grew. The French people were not free in the motherland. They were not free as colonists in Canada. All kinds of laws and rules were made for the Canadians by persons thousands of miles away. This interference came from men who knew scarcely anything about Canada. They had crude notions as to what should be done, and sometimes they ordered the men on the spot to do impossible things. The result was that the men on the spot, if they were bad enough and clever enough, just hoodwinked the government in France, and did in Canada what they liked and what made for their own profit.
Now, Bigot the intendant, the man of affairs in the colony, was on the spot; and he was one of the cleverest knaves ever known, with a feeble colony in his power. He had nothing to fear from the people, the poor, helpless French Canadians. He had nothing to fear from their governor, the vain, incompetent Vaudreuil. He was, moreover, three thousand miles away from the French court, which was itself full of parasites. He had been given great power in Canada. As intendant he was the head of everything except the army, the navy, and the church. He had charge of all the public money and all the public works and whatever else might be called public business. Of course, he was supposed to look after the interests of France and of Canada, not after his own; and earlier intendants like Talon had done this with perfect honesty. But Bigot soon organized a gang of men like himself, and gathered into his grasping hands the control of the private as well as of the public business.
One example will show how he worked. Whenever food became dangerously scarce in Canada the intendant's duty was to buy it up, to put it into the king's stores, and to sell out only enough for the people to live on till the danger was over. There was a reason for this, as Canada, cut off from France, was like a besieged fortress, and it was proper to treat the people as a garrison would be treated, and to make provision for the good of the whole. But when Bigot had formed his gang, and had, in some way, silenced Vaudreuil, he declared Canada in danger when it was not, seized all the food he could lay hands on, and sent it over to France; sent it, too, in the king's ships, that it might be carried free. Then he made Vaudreuil send word to the king that Canada was starving. In the meantime, his friends in France had stored the food, and had then assured the king that there was plenty of grain in hand which they could ship to Canada at once. The next step was to get an order from the king to buy this food to be shipped to Canada. This order was secured through influential friends in Paris, and, of course, the price paid by the king was high. The food was then sent back to Canada, again in the king's ships. Then Bigot and his friends in Canada put it not into the king's but into their own stores in Quebec, sold it to the king's stores once more, as they had sold it in France, and then effected a third sale, this time to the wretched French Canadians from whom they had bought it for next to nothing at first. Thus both the king and the French Canadians were each robbed twice over, thanks to Vaudreuil's complaisance and Bigot's official position as also representing the king.
Bigot had been some time in Canada before Vaudreuil arrived as governor in 1755. He had already cheated a good deal. But it was only when he found out what sort of man Vaudreuil was that he set to work to do his worst. Bigot was a knave, Vaudreuil a fool. Vaudreuil was a French Canadian born and very jealous of any one from France, unless the Frenchman flattered him as Bigot did. He loved all sorts of pomp and show, and thought himself the greatest man in America. Bigot played on this weakness with ease and could persuade him to sign any orders, no matter how bad they were.
Now, when an owl like Vaudreuil and a fox like Bigot were ruining Canada between them, they were anything but pleased to see a lion like Montcalm come out with an army from France. Vaudreuil, indeed, had done all he could to prevent the sending out of Montcalm. He wrote to France several times, saying that no French general was needed, that separate regiments under their own colonels would suffice, and that he himself could command the regulars from France, just as he did the Canadians.
But how did he command the Canadians? By law every Canadian had to serve as a soldier, without pay, whenever the country was in danger. By law every man needed for carrying supplies to the far-off outposts could also be taken; but, in this case, he had to be paid. Now, all the supplies and the carriage of them were under Bigot's care. So when the Canadians were called out as soldiers, without pay, Bigot's gang would ask them if they would rather go and be shot for nothing or carry supplies in safety for pay. Of course, they chose the carrier's work and the pay, though half the pay was stolen from them. At the same time their names were still kept on the muster rolls as soldiers. This was the reason why Montcalm often had only half the militia called out for him: the other half were absent as carriers, and the half which remained for Montcalm was made up of those men whom Bigot's friends did not think good enough for carriers.
But there were more troubles still for Montcalm and his army. As governor, Vaudreuil was, of course, the head of everything in the country, including the army. This was right enough, if he had been fit for his post, because a country must have a supreme head, and the army is only a part, though the most important part, in war. A soldier may be also a statesman and at the head of everything, as were Cromwell, Napoleon, and Frederick the Great. But a statesman who is not a soldier only ruins an army if he tries to command it himself. And this was precisely what Vaudreuil did. Indeed, he did worse, for, while he did not go into the field himself, he continued to give orders to Montcalm at every turn. Besides, instead of making all the various forces on the French side into one army he kept them as separate as he could—five parts and no whole.
It should be made clear what these five parts were. First, there were the French regulars, the best of all, commanded by Montcalm, who was himself under Vaudreuil. Next, there were the Canadian regulars and the Canadian militia, both directly under Vaudreuil. Then there were the French sailors, under their own officers, but subject to Vaudreuil. Montcalm had to report to the minister of War in Paris about the French regulars, and to the minister of Marine about the Canadians of both kinds. Vaudreuil reported to both ministers, usually against Montcalm; and the French naval commander reported to his own minister on his own account. So there was abundant opportunity to make trouble among the four French forces. But there was more trouble still with the fifth force, the Indians, who were under their own chiefs. These men admired Montcalm; but they had to make treaties with Vaudreuil. They were cheated by Bigot and were offered presents by the British. As they very naturally desired to keep their own country for themselves in their own way they always wished to side with the stronger of the two white rivals, if they could not get rid of both.
Such was the Canada of 1756, a country in quite as much danger from French parasites as from British patriots. It might have lasted for some years longer if there had been no general war. The American colonists, though more than twelve to one, could not have conquered it alone, because they had no fleet and no regular army. But the war came, and it was a great one. In a great war a country of parasites has no chance against a country of patriots. All the sins of sloth and wilful weakness, of demagogues and courtiers, and whatever else is rotten in the state, are soon found out and punished by war. Canada under Vaudreuil and Bigot was no match for an empire under Pitt. For one's own parasites are always the worst of one's enemies. So the last great fight for Canada was not a fight of three against three; but of one against five. Montcalm the lion stood utterly alone, with two secret foes behind him and three open foes in front— Vaudreuil the owl, and Bigot the fox, behind; Pitt, Saunders and Wolfe, three lions like himself, in front.
In 1753 the governor of Virginia had sent Washington, then a young major of only twenty-one, to see what the French were doing in the valley of the Ohio, where they had been busy building forts to shut the gateway of the West against the British and to keep it open for themselves. The French officers at a post which they called Venango received Washington very politely and asked him to supper. Washington wrote in his diary that, after they had drunk a good deal of wine, 'they told me that it was their absolute design to take possession of the Ohio, and by God they would do it.' When Washington had returned home and reported, the Virginians soon sent him back with a small force to turn the French out. But meanwhile the French had been making themselves much stronger, and on July 4, 1754, when Washington advanced into the disputed territory, he was overcome and obliged to surrender—a strange Fourth of July for him to look back upon!
Exciting events followed rapidly. In 1755 Braddock came out from England with a small army of regulars to take command of the British forces in America and drive the French from the Ohio valley. But there were many difficulties. The governments of the thirteen British colonies were jealous of each other and of the government in Britain; their militia were jealous of the British regulars, who in turn looked down on them. In the end, with only a few Virginians to assist him, Braddock marched into a country perfectly new to him and his men. The French and Indians, quite at home in the dense forest, laid an ambush for the British regulars. These stood bravely, but they could not see a single enemy to fire at. They were badly defeated, and Braddock was killed. The British had a compensating success a few weeks later when, in the centre of Canada, beside Lake George, the French general, Baron Dieskau, was defeated almost as badly as Braddock had been. Following this, down by the Gulf the French Acadians were rooted out of Nova Scotia, for fear that they might join the other French in the coming war. Their lot was a hard one, but as they had been British subjects for forty years and had always refused to take the oath of allegiance to the British crown, and as they were being constantly stirred up against British rule, it was decided that they could not be safely left inside the British frontier.
At sea the French had also suffered loss. Admiral Boscawen had seized two ships with four hundred seasoned French regulars on board destined for Canada. The French then sent out another four hundred to replace them. But no veteran soldiers could be spared. So the second four hundred, raised from all sorts of men, were of poor quality, and spoiled the discipline of the regiments they joined in Canada. One of the regiments, which had the worst of these recruits, proved to be the least trust. worthy in the final struggle before Quebec in 1759. Thus the power of the British navy in the Gulf of St Lawrence in 1755 made itself felt four years later, and a long distance away, at the very crisis of the war on land.
Strange as it seems to us now, all this fighting had taken place in a time of nominal peace. But in 1756 the Seven Years' War broke out in Europe, and then many plans were made, especially in the English colonies in America, for the conquest of Canada. The British forces were greater than the French, all told on both sides, both then and throughout the war. But the thirteen colonies could not agree. Some of them were hot, others lukewarm, others, such as the Quakers of Pennsylvania, cold. Moreover, the British generals were of little use, and the colonial ones squabbled as the colonies themselves squabbled. Pitt had not yet taken charge of the war, and the British in America were either doing nothing or doing harm.
There was only one trained and competent general on the whole continent; and that general was Montcalm. Though new to warfare in the wilds he soon understood it as well as those who had waged it all their lives; and he saw at a glance that an attack on Oswego was the key to the whole campaign. Louisbourg was, as yet, safe enough; and the British movements against Lake Champlain were so slow and foolish that he turned them to good account for his own purposes.
At the end of June, 1756, Montcalm arrived at Ticonderoga, where he had already posted his second-in-command, the Chevalier de Levis, with 3,000 men. He walked all over the country thereabouts and seized the lie of the land so well that he knew it thoroughly when he came back, two years later, and won his greatest victory. He kept his men busy too. He moved them forward so boldly and so cleverly that the British who had been planning the capture of the fort never thought of attacking him, but made sure only of defending themselves. All this was but a feint to put the British off their guard elsewhere. Suddenly, while Levis kept up the show of force, Montcalm himself left secretly for Montreal, saw Vaudreuil, who, like Bigot, was still all bows and smiles, and left again, with equal suddenness, for Fort Frontenac (now Kingston) on July 21. From this point he intended to attack Oswego.
At the entrance to the Thousand Islands there was a point, called by the voyageurs Point Baptism, where every new-comer into the 'Upper Countries' had to pay the old hands to drink his health. The French regulars, 1,300 strong, were all new to the West, and, as they formed nearly half of Montcalm's little army, the 'baptism' of so many newcomers caused a great deal of jollity in camp that night. Serious work was, however, ahead. Fort Frontenac was reached on the 29th; and here the report that Villiers, with the advance guard, had already taken from the British 200 canoes and 300 prisoners soon flew round and raised the men's spirits to the highest pitch.
Montcalm at once sent out two armed ships, with twenty-eight cannon between them, to cut off Oswego by water, while he sent a picked body of Canadians and Indians into the woods on the south shore to cut the place off by land. There was no time to lose, since the British were, on the whole, much stronger, and might make up their slow minds to send an army to the rescue. Montcalm lost not a moment. He sailed across the lake with his 3,000 men and all his guns and stores, and landed at Sackett's Harbour, which his advance guard had already seized and prepared. Then, hiding in the mouths of rivers by day and marching and rowing by night, his army arrived safely within cannon-shot of Oswego under cover of the dark on August 10.
There were three forts at the mouth of the Oswego. The first was Fort Ontario; then, across the river, stood Fort Oswego; and, beyond that again, little Fort George. These forts were held by about 1,800 British, mostly American colonists, with 123 guns of all kinds.
While it was still dark Montcalm gave out his orders. At the first streak of dawn the Indians and Canadians were in position to protect the engineers and working parties. Only one accident marred the success of the opening day. One of the French engineers was returning to camp through the woods at dusk, when an Indian, mistaking him for an enemy, shot him dead. It is said that this Indian felt so sorry for what he had done that he vowed to avenge the engineer's loss on the British, and did not stop scalp-hunting during the rest of the war; but went on until he had lifted as many as thirty scalps from the hated British heads. In the meantime, other engineers had traced out the road from the bay to the battery. Led by their officers the French regulars set to work with such goodwill that the road was ready next day for the siege train of twenty-two cannon, now landed in the nick of time.
Every part of the siege was made to fit in perfectly with every other part. While the guns were being landed, the British, who had only just taken alarm, sent round two armed vessels to stop this work. But Montcalm had placed a battery all ready to beat off an attack, and the landing went on like clock-work. The next day, again, the soldiers were as busy as bees round the doomed British forts. Canadians and Indians filled the woods. Canadians and French hauled the cannon up to the battery commanding Fort Ontario, but left them hidden near by till after dark. The engineers made the first parallel. French troops raised the battery; and at daylight the next morning it was ready. Fort Ontario kept up an active fire, at a distance of only a musket shot, two hundred yards; but the French fire was so furious that the British guns were silenced the same afternoon.
Colonel Mercer, the British commander, called in the garrison, who abandoned Fort Ontario and crossed the river after spiking the guns. Without a moment's delay Montcalm seized the fort and kept his working parties hauling guns all night long. In the morning Fort Oswego on the other side of the river was commanded by a heavier battery than the one that had taken Fort Ontario the day before. More than this, the Canadians and Indians had crossed the river and had cut off the little Fort George, half a mile beyond. There was a stiff fight for it, but Mercer's men were driven off into the other fort with considerable loss.
Montcalm's new battery beside the river was on higher ground than Fort Oswego, which was only five hundred yards away. At six o'clock it opened fire and ploughed up the whole area of the fort with terrible effect. Hardly a spot was left which the French shells did not search out. The British reply, fired uphill, soon began to falter. The French fire was redoubled. Colonel Mercer was killed by a cannon ball, and this, of course, weakened the British defence, The second-in-command kept up the unequal fight for another couple of hours. Then, finding that he could not induce his men to face the murderous fire any longer, and seeing his fort cut off by land and water, he ran up the white flag.
Montcalm gave him an hour to surrender both fort and garrison. Again there was no time to lose, and again Montcalm lost none. That morning a letter found on a British messenger showed that Colonel Webb, with 2,000 men, was somewhere up the river Oswego waiting for news. So, while Montcalm was attacking the fort with his batteries, he was also preparing his army to attack Webb. He did not intend to wait; but to march out and meet the new enemy, so as not to be caught between two fires.
At eleven the fort surrendered with 1,600 prisoners, 123 cannon, powder, shot, stores and provisions of all kinds; 5 armed ships and 200 boats. There was also a large quantity of wine and rum, which Montcalm at once spilt into the lake, lest the Indians should get hold of it and in their drunken frenzy begin a massacre. As it was, they were anything but pleased to find that he was conducting the war on European principles, and that he would not let them scalp the sick and wounded British. Some of them sneaked in and, in the first confusion, took a few scalps. But Montcalm was among them at once and stopped them short. He had been warned not to offend them; and so he promised them rich presents if they would behave properly. In his dispatch to the minister of War he said: 'I am afraid my promises will cost ten thousand francs; but the keeping of them will attach the Indians more to our side. In any case, there is nothing I would not have done to prevent any breach of faith with the enemy.'
In a single week every part of all three forts was levelled with the ground. This delighted the Indians more than anything else, for they rightly feared that any British advance in this direction would be sure to end in their being driven out of their own country. By August 21, ten days from the time the first shot was fired, Montcalm was leading his victorious army back to Montreal.
The news spread like wildfire. No such sudden, complete, and surprising victory had ever before been won in the West. The name and fame of Montcalm ran along the war-paths of the endless forest and passed from mouth to mouth over ten thousand leagues of inland waters. In one short summer the magic of that single word, Montcalm, became as great in America as it had been for centuries in France. The whole face of the war was changed. At the beginning of the year the British had thought of nothing but attack. Then, when Montcalm had shown them so bold a front at Ticonderoga, they had paused to make sure. Now, after Oswego, they thought of nothing but defence.
People could hardly believe that one and the same man had in July checked the threatened British invasion at Lake Champlain and in August had taken the stronghold of British power on Lake Ontario. Every step of the way had to be covered by force of the men's own legs and arms, marching, paddling, hauling, carrying. In short, Montcalm had moved a whole army, siege train and all, as fast through the wilderness without horses as another army would have been moved over good roads in Europe with them. The wonder grew when the numbers became known. With 3,000 men and 22 guns Montcalm had taken three forts with a garrison of 1,800 men and 123 guns; and had done this in face of five armed British vessels against his own two, and in spite of the fact that 2,000 more British soldiers were close behind him in the forest.
Canada burst into great rejoicings. All the churches sang Te Deum. The five captured flags were carried in triumph through Montreal, Three Rivers, and Quebec. In France the news was received with great jubilation, and many of Montcalm's officers gained promotion. In the midst of all this glory Montcalm was busy looking after the health and comfort of his men, seeing that the Canadians were sent home as soon as possible to gather in their harvest, and engaging the Indians to join him for a still greater war next year. Nor did he forget any one who had done him faithful service. He asked, as a special favour, that an old sergeant, Marcel, who had come out as his orderly and clerk, should be made a captain. Marcel had thus good reason never to forget Montcalm. It was his hand that wrote the last letter which Montcalm ever dictated and signed, the one to the British commander after the battle of the Plains, the one which admitted the ultimate failure of all Montcalm's heroic work.
Another man whom Montcalm specially praised was Bougainville, his aide-de-camp, of whom we shall hear again very often. Bougainville, though still under thirty, was already a well-known man of science who had been made a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. 'You could hardly believe how full of resource he is,' wrote the admiring Montcalm, who then added modestly: 'As the account of this expedition may be printed I have asked him to correct it carefully, because he writes much better than I do.'
Only one thing spoiled the triumph; and that was the jealousy of Vaudreuil, who tried to claim all the credit of making the plan for himself and the credit of carrying it out for the Canadians. Certainly he had been saying for some time before Montcalm arrived that Oswego ought to be taken. Everybody on both sides knew perfectly well, however, that Oswego was the gateway of the West; so Vaudreuil was not a bit wiser than many others. In a way he did make the plan. But Montcalm was the one who really worked it out. Vaudreuil pressed the button that launched the ship. It was Montcalm who took her into action and brought her out victorious.
Montcalm's crew worked well together. But this did not suit Vaudreuil at all. He wrote both to the minister of War and to the minister of Marine in France, praising the Canadians and Indians and making as little as possible of the work of the French. 'The French regulars showed their wonted zeal; but the enemy did not give them a chance to do much work.' 'Our troops, the Canadians and Indians, fought with courage. They have all done very well.' True enough. But, all the same, the regulars were, from first to last, the backbone of the defence of Canada. 'The measures I took made our victory certain. If I had been less firm, Oswego would still have been in the hands of the British. I cannot sufficiently congratulate myself on the zeal which my brother [an officer in the Canadian service] and the Canadians and Indians showed. Without them my orders would have been given in vain.' And so on, and so on.
Montcalm saw the real strength and weakness of the Canadians and wrote his own opinion to the minister of War. 'Our French regulars did all I required with splendid zeal. ... I made good use of the militia, but not at the works exposed to the enemy's fire. These militiamen have no discipline. In six months I could make grenadiers of them. But at present I would not rely on them, nor believe what they say about themselves; for they think themselves quite the finest fellows in the world. The governor is a native of Canada, was married here, and is surrounded by his relatives on all sides.'
The fact is that the war was no longer an affair of little raids, first on one side and then on the other, but was becoming, more and more, a war on a great scale, with long campaigns, larger numbers of men, trains of artillery, fortifications, and all the other things that require well-drilled troops who have thoroughly learned the soldier's duty, and are ready to do it at any time and in any place. War is like everything else in the world. The men whose regular business it is will wage it better than the men who only do it as an odd job. Of course, if the best men are chosen for the militia, and the worst are turned into regulars, the militia may beat the regulars, even on equal terms. If, too, regulars are set down in a strange country, quite unlike the one in which they have been trained to fight, naturally they will begin by making a good many mistakes. But, for all-round work, the same men, as regulars, are worth much more than twice what they are worth as militia, everywhere and always.
FORT WILLIAM HENRY 1757
In January Montcalm paid a visit to Quebec, and there began to see how Bigot and his fellow-vampires were sucking away the life-blood of Canada. 'The intendant lives in grandeur, and has given two splendid balls, where I have seen over eighty very charming and well-dressed ladies. I think Quebec is a town of very good style, and I do not believe we have a dozen cities in France that could rank before it as a social centre.' This was well enough; though not when armies were only half-fed. But here is the real crime: 'The intendant's strong taste for gambling, and the governor's weakness in letting him have his own way, are causing a great deal of play for very high stakes. Many officers will repent it soon and bitterly.' Montcalm was placed in a most awkward position. He wished to stop the ruinous gambling. But he was under Vaudreuil, had no power over the intendant, and, as he said himself, 'felt obliged not to oppose either of them in public, because they were invested with the king's authority.'
Vaudreuil nearly did Canada a very good turn this winter, by falling ill on his way to Montreal. But, luckily for the British and unluckily for the French, he recovered. On February 14 he began hatching more mischief. The British, having been stopped in the West at Oswego, were certain to try another advance, in greater force, by the centre, up Lake Champlain. The French, with fewer men and very much less provisions and stores of all kinds, could hope to win only by giving the British another sudden, smashing blow and then keeping them in check for the rest of the summer. The whole strength of Canada was needed to give this blow, and every pound of food was precious. Vaudreuil, however, was planning to take separate action on his own account. He organized a raid under his brother, Rigaud, without telling Montcalm a word about it till the whole plan was made, even though the raid required the use of some of the French regulars, who were, in an especial degree, under Montcalm's command. Montcalm told Vaudreuil that it was a pity not to keep their whole strength for one decisive dash, and that, if this raid was to take place at all, Levis or some other regular French officer high in rank should be in command.
Vaudreuil, however, adhered to his own plan. This time there was to be no question of credit for anyone but Canadians, Indians, Vaudreuil himself, and his brother. As for making sure of victory by taking, as Montcalm advised, a really strong force: well, Vaudreuil would trust to luck, hit or miss, as he always had trusted before. And a strange stroke of luck very nearly did serve his unworthy turn. For, on March 17, when the 1,600 raiders were drawing quite close to Fort William Henry, most of the little British garrison of 400 men were drinking so much New England rum in honour of St Patrick's Day that their muskets would have hurt friends more than foes if an attack had been made that night. Next evening the French crept up, hoping to surprise the place. But the sentries were once more alert. Through the silence they heard a tapping noise on the lake, which turned out to be made by a Canadian who was trying the strength of the ice with the back of his axe to see if it would bear. This led to a brisk defence. When the French advanced over the ice the British gunners sent such a hail of grape-shot crashing along this precarious foothold that the enemy were glad to scamper off as hard as their legs would take them.
The French did not abandon their attempt, however, and two days later Vaudreuil's brother arrayed his 1,600 men against the fort and summoned it to surrender. As he had no guns the garrison would not listen to him. Rigaud then proceeded to burn what he could outside the fort. He certainly made a splendid bonfire; the wild, red flames leaped into the sky from the open, snow-white clearings beside the fort, with the long, white reaches of Lake George in front and the dark, densely wooded hills all round. A great deal was burnt: four small ships, 350 boats, a sawmill, sheds, magazines, immense piles of firewood, and a large supply of provisions. But the British could afford this loss much better than the French could afford the cost of the raid. And the cost, of course, was five times as great as it ought to have been. Bigot's gang took care of that.
Then the raiders, unable to take the fort, set out for home on snow-shoes. There had been a very heavy snowstorm before they started, and the spring sun was now shining full on the glaring white snow. Many of them, even among the Canadians and Indians, were struck snowblind so badly that they had to be led by the hand—no easy thing on snow-shoes. At the end of March they were safely back in Montreal, where Vaudreuil and his brother went strutting about like a pair of turkey-cocks.
Montcalm's first Canadian winter wore away. Vaudreuil and Bigot still kept up an outward politeness in all their relations with him. But they were beginning to fear that he was far too wise and honest for them. He was, however, under Vaudreuil's foolish orders and he had no power to check Bigot's knaveries. Much against his will he was already getting into debt, and was thus rendered even more helpless. Vaudreuil, as governor, had plenty of money. Bigot stole as much as he wished. But Montcalm was not well paid. Yet, as the commander-in-chief, he had to be asking people to dinners and receptions almost every day, while becoming less and less able to meet the expense. The Bigot gang made provisions so scarce and so dear that only the thieves themselves could pay for them. Well might the sorely tried general write home: 'What a country, where knaves grow rich and honest men are ruined!'
In June there was such a sight in Montreal as Canada had never seen before, and never saw again. During the autumn, the winter, and the spring, messengers had been going along every warpath and waterway, east and west for thousands of miles, to summon the tribes to meet Onontio; as they called the French governor, at Montreal. The ice had hardly gone in April when the first of the braves began to arrive in flotillas of bark canoes. The surrender of Washington at Fort Necessity and the capture and rebuilding of Fort Duquesne in 1754, the bloody defeat of Braddock in 1755, and Montcalm's sudden, smashing blow against Oswego in 1756, all had led the western Indians to think that the French were everything and the British nothing. In Canada itself the Indians were equally sure that the French were going to be the victors there; while in the east, in far Acadia, the Abnakis were as bitter as the Acadians themselves against the British. So now, whether eager for more victories or thirsting for revenge, the warriors came to Montreal from far and near.
Fifty-one of the tribes were ready for the warpath. Their chiefs had sat in grave debate round the council fires. Their medicine men had made charms in secret wigwams and seen visions of countless British scalps and piles of British booty. Accordingly, when the braves of these fifty-one tribes met at Montreal, there was war in every heart among them. No town in the world had ever shown more startling contrasts in its streets. Here, side by side, were outward signs of the highest civilization and of the lowest barbarism. Here were the most refined of ladies, dressed in the latest Paris fashions, mincing about in silks and satins and high-heeled, golden-buckled shoes. Here were the most courtly gentlemen of Europe, in the same embroidered and beruffled uniforms that they would have worn before the king of France. Yet in and out of this gay throng of polite society went hundreds of copper-coloured braves; some of them more than half-naked; most of them ready, after a victory, to be cannibals who revelled in stews of white man's flesh; all of them decked in waving plumes, all of them grotesquely painted, like demons in a nightmare, and all of them armed to the teeth.
Much to Vaudreuil's disgust the man whom the Indians wished most to see was not himself, the 'Great Onontio,' much less Bigot, prince of thieves, but the warrior chief, Montcalm. They had the good sense to prefer the lion to the owl or the fox. Three hundred of the wildest Ottawas came striding in one day, each man a model of agility and strength, a living bronze, a sculptor's dream, the whole making a picture for the brush of the greatest painter. 'We want to see the chief who tramples the British to death and sweeps their forts off the face of the earth.' Montcalm, though every inch a soldier, was rather short than tall; and at first the Ottawa chief looked surprised. 'We thought your head would be lost in the clouds,' he said. But then, as he caught Montcalm's piercing glance, he added: 'Yet when we look into your eyes, we see the height of the pine and the wings of the eagle.'
Meanwhile, prisoners, scouts, and spies had been coming in; so too had confidential dispatches from France confirming the rumours that the greater part of the British army was to attack Louisbourg, and that the French were well able to defend it. With the British concentrating their strength on Louisbourg a chance offered for another Oswego-like blow against the British forts at the southern end of Lake George if it could be made by July. But Vaudreuil's raid in March, and Bigot's bill for it, had eaten up so much of the supplies and money, that nothing like a large force could be made ready to strike before August; and the month's delay might give the militia of the British colonies, slow as they were, time to be brought up to the help of the forts.
Montcalm was now eager to strike the blow. Once clear of Montreal and its gang of parasites, he soon had his motley army in hand, in spite of all kinds of difficulties. In May Bourlamaque had begun rebuilding Ticonderoga. In July Lake Champlain began to swarm with boats, canoes, and sailing vessels, all moving south towards the doomed fort on Lake George. Montcalm's whole force numbered 8,000. Of these 3,000 were regulars, 3,000 were militia, and 2,000 were Indians from the fifty-one different tribes, very few of whom knew anything of war, except war as it was carried on by savages. By the end of the month these 8,000 men were camped along the four miles of valley between Lakes Champlain and George. Meanwhile the British were at the other end of Lake George, little more than thirty miles away. Their first post was Fort William Henry, where they had 2,200 men under Colonel Monro. Fourteen miles inland beyond that was Fort Edward, where Webb commanded 3,600 men. There were goo more British troops still farther on, but well within call, and it was known that a large force of militia were being assembled somewhere near Albany. Thus Montcalm knew that the British already had nearly as many men as his own regulars and militia put together, and that further levies of militia might come on at any time and in any numbers. He therefore had to strike as hard and fast as he could, and then retire on Ticonderoga. He knew the Indians would go home at once after the fight and also that he must send the Canadians home in August to save their harvest. Then he would be left with only 3,000 regulars, who could not be fed for the rest of the summer so far from headquarters. With this 3,000 he could not advance, in any case, because of lack of food and because of the presence of Webb's 4,500, increased by an unknown number of American militia.
The first skirmish on Lake George was fought while the main bodies of both armies were still at opposite ends. A party of 400 Indians and 50 Canadians were paddling south when they saw advancing on the lake a number of British boats with 300 men, mostly raw militia from New Jersey. The Indians went ashore and hid. The doomed militiamen rowed on in careless, straggling disorder. Suddenly, as they passed a wooded point, the calm air was rent with blood-curdling war-whoops, and the lake seemed alive with red-skinned fiends, who paddled in among the British boats in one bewildering moment. The militiamen were seized with a panic and tried to escape. But they could not get away from the finest paddlers in the world, who cut them off, upset their boats, tomahawked some, and speared a good many others like fish in the water. Only two boats, out of twenty-three, escaped to tell the tale. That night the forest resounded with savage yells of triumph as the prisoners, out of reach of all help from either army, were killed and scalped to the last man.
On August 1 Montcalm advanced by land and water. He sent Levis by land with 3,000 men to cut Fort William Henry off from Fort Edward, while he went himself, with the rest of his army, by water in boats and canoes. The next day they met at a little bay quite close to the fort. On the 3rd the final advance was made. The French canoes formed lines stretching right across the lake. While the artillery was being landed in a cove out of reach of the guns of the fort Levis was having a lively skirmish with the British, who were trying to drive in their cattle and save their tents. About 500 of them held the fort, and 1,700 were in the entrenched camp some way beyond.
Montcalm sent in a summons to surrender. But old Colonel Monro replied that he was ready to fight. On the 4th and 5th the French batteries rose as if by magic. But the Indians, not used to the delay and the careful preparation which a siege involves, soon grew angry and impatient, and swarmed all over the French lines, asking why they were ordered here and there and treated like slaves, why their advice had not been sought, and why the big guns were not being fired. Montcalm had been counselled to humour them as much as possible and on no account whatever to offend them. Their help was needed, and the British were quite ready to win them over to their own side if possible. Accordingly, on the afternoon of the 5th, Montcalm held a grand 'pow-wow' with the savages. He told them that the French had to be slow at first, but that the very next day the big guns would begin to fire, and that they would all be in the fight together. The fort was timbered and made a good target. The Indians greeted the first roar of the siege guns with yells of delight; and when they saw shells bursting and scattering earth and timbers in all directions they shrieked and whooped so loudly that their savage voices woke almost as many wild echoes along those beautiful shores as the thunder of the guns themselves.
Presently a man came in to the French camp with a letter addressed to Monro, which the Indians had found concealed in a hollow bullet on a British messenger whom they had killed. This letter was from Monro's superior officer, General Webb, fourteen miles distant at Fort Edward. He advised Monro to make the best terms possible with Montcalm, as he did not feel strong enough to relieve Fort William Henry. Montcalm stopped his batteries and sent the letter in to Monro by Bougainville, with his compliments. But Monro, while thanking him for his courtesy, still said he should hold out to the last.
Montcalm now decided to bring matters to a head at once. As yet his batteries were too far off to be effective, and between them and the fort lay first a marsh and then a little hill. By sheer hard work the French made a road for their cannon across the marsh; and Monro saw, to his horror, that Montcalm's new batteries were rising, in spite of the British fire, right opposite the fort, on top of the little hill, and only two hundred and fifty yards away.
Monro knew he was lost. Smallpox was raging in the fort. Webb would not move. Montcalm was able to knock the whole place to pieces and destroy the garrison. On the 9th the white flag went up. Montcalm granted the honours of war. The British were to march off the next morning to Fort Edward, carrying their arms, and under escort of a body of French regulars. Every precaution was taken to keep the Indians from committing any outrage. Montcalm assembled them, told them the terms, and persuaded them to promise obedience. He took care to keep all strong drink out of their way, and asked Monro to destroy all the liquor in the British fort and camp.
In spite of these precautions a dire tragedy followed. While the garrison were marching out of the fort towards their own camp, some Indians climbed in without being seen and began to scalp the sick and wounded who were left behind in charge of the French. The French guard, hearing cries, rushed in and stopped the savages by force. The British were partly to blame for this first outrage: they had not poured out the rum, and the Indians had stolen enough to make them drunk. Montcalm came down himself, at the first alarm, and did his utmost. He seized and destroyed all the liquor; and he arranged with two chiefs from each tribe to be ready to start in the morning with the armed British and their armed escort. He went back to his tent only at nine o'clock, when everything was quiet.
Much worse things happened the next morning. The British, who had some women and children with them, and who still kept a good deal of rum in their canteens, began to stir much earlier than had been arranged. The French escort had not arrived when the British column began to straggle out on the road to Fort Edward. When the march began the scattered column was two or three times as long as it ought to have been. Meanwhile a savage enemy was on the alert. Before daylight the Abnakis of Acadia, who hated the British most of all, had slunk off unseen to prepare an ambush for the first stragglers they could find. Other Indians, who had appeared later, had begged for rum from the British, who had given it in the hope that, in this way, they might be got rid of. Suddenly, a war-whoop was raised, a wild rush on the British followed, and a savage massacre began. The British column, long and straggling already, broke up, and the French escort could defend only those who kept together. At the first news Montcalm ordered out another guard, and himself rushed with all his staff officers to the scene of outrage. They ran every risk to save their prisoners from massacre. Several French officers and soldiers were wounded by the savages, and all did their best. The Canadians, on the other hand, more hardened to Indian ways, simply looked on at the wild scene. Most of the British were rescued and were taken safely to Fort Edward. The French fired cannon from Fort William Henry to guide fugitives back. Those not massacred at once, but made prisoners by the Indians in the woods, were in nearly all cases ransomed by Vaudreuil, who afterwards sent them to Halifax in a French ship.
Such was the 'massacre of Fort William Henry,' about which people took opposite views at the time, as they do still. It is quite clear that, in the first instance, Montcalm did almost everything that any man in his place could possibly do to protect his captives from the Indians. It is also clear that he did everything possible during and after the massacre, even to risking his life and the lives of his officers and men. He might, indeed, have turned out all his French regulars to guard the captive column from the first. But there were only 2,500 of these regulars, not many more than the British, who were armed, who ought to have poured out every drop of rum the night before, and who ought to have started only at the proper time and in proper order. There were faults on both sides, as there usually are. But, except for not having the whole of his regulars ready at the spot, which did not seem necessary the night before, Montcalm stands quite clear of all blame as a general. His efforts to stop the bloody work—and they were successful efforts involving danger to himself—clear him of all blame as a man.
The number of persons massacred has been given by some few British and American writers as amounting to 1,500. Most people know now that this is nonsense. All but about a hundred of the losses on the British side are accounted for otherwise, under the heading of those who were either killed in battle, or died of sickness, or were given up at Fort Edward, or were sent back by way of Halifax. It is simply impossible that more than a hundred were massacred.
Still, a massacre is a massacre; all sorts of evil are sure to come of it; and this one was no exception to the rule. It blackened unjustly the good name of Montcalm. It led to an intensely bitter hate of the British against the Canadians, many of whom were given no quarter afterwards. It caused the British to break the terms of surrender, which required the prisoners not to fight again for the next eighteen months. Most of all, the massacre hurt the Indians, guilty and innocent alike. Many of them took scalps from men who had smallpox; and so they carried this dread disease throughout the wilderness, where it killed fifty times as many of their own people as they had killed on the British side.
The massacre at Fort William Henry raises the whole vexed question of the rights of the savages and of their means of defence. The Indians naturally wished to live in their own country in their own way—as other people do. They did not like the whites to push them aside—who does like being pushed aside? But, if they had to choose between different nations of whites, they naturally chose the ones who changed their country the least. Now, the British colonists were aggressive and numerous; and they were always taking more and more land from the Indians, in one way or another. The French, on the other hand, were few, they wanted less of the land, for they were more inclined to trade than to farm, and in general they managed to get on with the Indians better. Therefore most of the Indians took sides with the French; and therefore most of the scalps lifted were British scalps. The question of the barbarity of Indian warfare remains. The Indians were in fact living the same sort of barbarous life that the ancestors of the French and British had lived two or three thousand years earlier. So the Indians did, of course, just what the French and the British would have done at a corresponding age. Peoples take centuries to grow into civilized nations; and it is absurd to expect savages to change more in a hundred years than Europeans changed in a thousand.
We need hardly inquire which side was the more right and which the more wrong in respect to these barbarities. The fact is, there were plenty of rights and wrongs all round. Each side excused itself and accused the other. The pot has always called the kettle black. Both the French and the British made use of Indians when the savages themselves would gladly have remained neutral. In contrast with the colonial levies the French and British regulars, trained in European discipline, were less inclined to 'act the Indian'; but both did so on occasion. The French regulars did a little scalping on their own account now and then; the Canadian regulars did more than a little; while the Canadian militiamen, roughened by their many raids, did a great deal. The first thing Wolfe's regulars did at Louisbourg was to scalp an Indian chief. The American rangers were scalpers when their blood was up and when nobody stopped them. They scalped under Wolfe at Quebec. They scalped whites as well as Indians at Baie St Paul, at St Joachim, and elsewhere. Even Washington was a party to such practices. When sending in a batch of Indian scalps for the usual reward offered by Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia he asked that an extra one might be paid for at the usual rate, 'although it is not an Indian's.' It is thus clear that the barbarities were in effect a normal feature of warfare in the wilderness.
A week after its surrender Fort William Henry had been wiped off the face of the earth, as Oswego had been the year before, and Montcalm's army had set out homeward bound. But he was sick at heart. Vaudreuil had been behaving worse than ever. He had written and ordered Montcalm to push on and take Fort Edward at once. Yet, as we have seen, the Indians had melted away, the Canadians had gone home for the harvest, only 3,000 regulars were left, and these could not be kept a month longer in the field for lack of food. In spite of this, Vaudreuil thought Montcalm ought to advance into British territory, besiege a larger army than his own, and beat it in spite of all the British militia that were coming to its aid.
Even before leaving for the front Montcalm had written to France asking to be recalled from Canada. In this letter to the minister of Marine he spoke very freely. He pointed out that if Vaudreuil had died in the winter the new governor would have been Rigaud, Vaudreuil's brother. What this would have meant every one knew only too well; for Rigaud was a still bigger fool than Vaudreuil himself. Montcalm gave the Canadians their due. 'What a people, when called upon! They have talent and courage enough, but nobody has called these qualities forth.' In fact, the wretched Canadian was bullied and also flattered by Vaudreuil, robbed by Bigot, bothered on his farm by all kinds of foolish regulations, and then expected to he a model subject and soldier. How could he be considered a soldier when he had never been anything but a mere raider, not properly trained, not properly armed, not properly fed, and not paid at all?
While Montcalm was writing the truth Vaudreuil was writing lie after lie about Montcalm, in order to do him all the harm he could. Busy tell-tales repeated and twisted every impatient word Montcalm spoke, and altogether Canada was at sixes and sevens. Vaudreuil, sitting comfortably at his desk and eating three good meals a day, had written to Montcalm saying that there would be no trouble about provisions if Fort Edward was attacked. Yet, at this very time, he had given orders that, because of scarcity, the Canadians at home should not have more than a quarter of a pound of bread a day. Canada was drawing very near a famine, though its soil could grow some of the finest crops in the world. But what can any country do under knaves and fools, especially when it is gagged as well as robbed? Montcalm's complaints did not always reach the minister of Marine, who was the special person in France to look after Canada; for the minister's own right-hand man was one of the Bigot gang and knew how to steal a letter as well as a shipload of stores.
To outward view, and especially in the eyes of the British Americans, 1757 was a year of nothing but triumph for the French in America. They had made Louisbourg safer than ever; the British fleet and army had not even dared to attack it. French power had never been so widespread. The fleurs-de-lis floated over the whole of the valleys of the St Lawrence, Ohio, and Mississippi, as well as over the Great Lakes, where these three valleys meet. But this great show of strength depended on the army of Montcalm—that motley host behind whose dauntless front everything was hollow and rotten to the last degree. The time was soon to come when even the bravest of armies could no longer stand against lions in front and jackals behind.
Montcalm's second winter in Canada was worse than his first. Vaudreuil, Bigot, and all the men in the upper circles of what would nowadays be the business, the political, and the official world, lived on the fat of the land; but the rest only on what fragments were left. In our meaning of the word 'business' there was in reality no business at all. There were then no real merchants in Canada, no real tradesmen, no bankers, no shippers, no honest men of affairs at all. Everything was done by or under the government, and the government was controlled by or under the Bigot gang. This gang stole a great deal of what was found in Canada, and most of what came out from France as well. In consequence, supplies became scarcer and scarcer and dearer and dearer; and the worst of it was that the gang wished things to be scarce and dear, so that more stores and money might be sent out from France and stolen on arrival. For France, in spite of all her faults in governing, helped Canada, and helped her generously. It seems too terrible for belief, but it is true that the parasites in Canada did their best on this account to keep the people half starved. Montcalm saw through the scheme, but complaint was almost useless, for many of his letters were stopped before they reached the head men in France. To cap all, the wretched army was no longer paid in gold, which always has its own fixed value, but in paper bills which had no real money to back them, as bank-notes have to-day. The result was that this money was accepted at much less than its face value, and that every officer who had to support himself, as he must when not campaigning, fell into debt, Montcalm, of course, more than the others. 'What a country,' to repeat his words, 'where knaves grow rich and honest men are ruined!'
As the winter wore away food grew scarcer—except for those who belonged to the gang. Soldiers were allowed about a pound of meat a day. This would have been luxury if the meat had been good, and if they had had anything else to eat with it. But a pound of bad beef, or of scraggy horse-flesh, or some times even of flabby salt cod-fish, with a quarter of a pound of bread, and nothing else but a little Indian corn, is not a good ration for an army. The Canadians were worse off still. In the spring the bread ration was halved again, and became only a couple of ounces. Two thousand Acadians had escaped from the British efforts to deport them, and had reached the St Lawrence region. Their needs increased the misery, for they could not yet grow as much as they ate, even if they had had a fair chance.
At last the poor, patient, down-trodden Canadians began to grumble. One day a crowd of angry women threw their horse-flesh at Vaudreuil's door. Another day even the grenadiers refused to eat their rations. Then Montcalm's second-in-command, Levis, who ate horse-flesh himself, for the sake of example, told them that Canada was now like a besieged fortress and that the garrison would have to put up with hardships. At once the pride of the soldier came out. Next day they brought him some roast horse, better cooked and served than his own. He gave each grenadier a gold coin to drink the king's health; and the trouble ended.
The Canadians and Indians made two successful raids. One was against a place near Schenectady, where they destroyed many stores and provisions. The other ended in a fight with the British guerilla leader Rogers and his rangers, who were badly cut up near Ticonderoga. The Canadians were at their best in making raids. Yet now raids hardly counted any longer, for the war had outgrown them. Larger and larger armies were taking the field, and these armies had artillery, engineers, and transport on a greater scale. The mere raider, or odd-job soldier, though always good in his own place and in his own kind of country, was becoming less and less important compared with the regular. The larger an army the more the difference of value widens between regulars and militia. In great wars men must be trained to act together at any time, in any place, and in any numbers; and this is only possible with those all-the-year-round soldiers who are either regulars already or who, though militia to start with, become by practice the same as regulars.
When Montcalm looked forward to the campaign of 1758, he saw in what a desperate plight he was. The wild, unstable Indians were the weakest element. Gladly would he have done without them altogether. But some were always needed as scouts and guides; and, in any case, it was a good thing to employ them so as to keep them from joining the enemy. The trouble was that they were already beginning to fail him. Some of the ships with goods for the Indians were captured by the British fleet. Those that arrived were in as real a sense captured, for they were stolen by the Bigot gang, and did not fulfil the purpose of holding the Indian allies. 'If,' said Montcalm, in one of his despairing letters to the minister, 'if all the presents that the king sends out to the Indians were really given to them, we should have every tribe in America on our own side.'
The Canadians were robbed even more; and they and the Canadian regulars were set against Montcalm and the French by every lie that Vaudreuil could speak in Canada or write to France. The wonder is, not that the French Canadians of those dreadful days did badly now and then, but that they did so well on the whole; that they were so brave, so loyal, so patient, so hopeful, so true to many of the best traditions of their race. One other feature of their system must be noted—the influence of their priests. Protestants would think them too much under the thumb of the priests. But, however this may have been, it can be said with truth that the church and the native soldiers, with all their faults, were the glory of Canada, while the government was nothing but its shame. The priests stood by their people like men, suffered hardship with them, and helped them to face every trial of fortune against false friends and open foes alike.
The mainstay of the defence of Canada was, however, the disciplined strength of the French regulars. There were eight battalions, belonging to seven regiments whose names deserve to be held in honour wherever the fight for Canada is known: La Reine, Guienne, Bearn, Languedoc, La Sarre, Royal Roussillon, and Berry. Each battalion had about 500 fighting men, making about 4,000 in all. About 2,000 more men were sent out to Quebec to fill up gaps at different times; so that, one way and another, at least 6,000 French soldiers reached Canada between 1755 and 1759. Yet, when Levis laid down the arms of France in Canada for ever in 1760, only 2,000 of all these remained. About 1,000 had been taken prisoner on sea or land. A few had deserted. But almost 3,000 had been lost by sickness or in battle. How many armies have a record of sacrifices greater than these, and against foes behind as well as in front?
From the very first these gallant men showed their mettle. They were not forced to go to Canada. They went willingly. When the first four battalions went, the general who had to arrange their departure was afraid he might have trouble in filling the gaps by getting men to volunteer from the other battalions of the same regiments. But no. He could have filled every gap ten times over. It was the same with the officers. Every one was eager to fight for the honour of France in Canada. One officer actually offered his whole fortune to another, in hopes of getting this other's place for service in Canada. But in vain. France had parasites at court, plenty of them. But the French troops who went out were patriots almost to a man. The only exception was in the case we have noticed before, when 400 riff-raff were sent out to take the places of the 400 good men whom Boscawen had captured in the Gulf during the summer of 1755.
The year 1758 saw the tide turn against France. Pitt was now at the head of the war in Britain; throughout the British Empire the patriots had gained the upper hand over the parasites. Canada could no longer attack; indeed, she was hard pressed for defence. Pitt's plan was to send one army against the west, a fleet and an army against the east at Louisbourg, and a third army straight at the centre, along the line of Lake Champlain. This third, or central, army was the one which Montcalm had to meet. It was the largest yet seen in the New World. There were 6,000 British regulars and 9,000 American militia, with plenty of guns and all the other arms and stores required. Its general, Abercromby, was its chief weakness. He was a muddle-headed man, whom Pitt had not yet been able to replace by a better. But Lord Howe, whom Wolfe and Pitt both thought 'a perfect model of military virtue,' was second-in-command and the real head. He was young, as full of calm wisdom as of fiery courage, and the idol of Americans and of British regulars alike.
This year the campaign took place not in August but in July. By the middle of June it was known that Abercromby was coming. Even then Montcalm and his regulars were ready, but nothing else was. Every one knew that Ticonderoga was the key to the south of Canada; yet the fort was not ready, though the Canadian engineers had been tinkering at it for two whole summers. These engineers were, in fact, friends of Bigot, and had found that they could make money by spinning the work out as long as possible, charging for good material and putting in bad, and letting the gang plunder the stores on the way to the fort. Montcalm had arranged everything in 1756, and there was no good reason why Ticonderoga should not have been in perfect order in 1758, when the fate of Canada was hanging on its strength. But it was not. It had not even been rightly planned. The engineers were fools as well as knaves. When the proper French army engineers arrived, having been sent out at the last moment, they were horrified at the mess that had been made of the work. But it was too late then. Montcalm and Abercromby were both advancing; and Montcalm would have to make up with the lives of his men for all that the knaves and fools had done against him.
Bad as this was, there was a still worse trouble. Vaudreuil now thought he saw a chance for another raid which would please the Canadians and hurt Montcalm. So he actually took away 1,600 men in June and sent them off to the Mohawk valley, farther west, under Levis, who ought to have known better than to have allowed himself to be flattered into taking command. This came near to wrecking the whole defence. But the owls did not see, and the foxes did not care.
Meanwhile, Montcalm was hurrying his little handful of regulars to the front. He was to leave on June 24. On the night of the 23rd Vaudreuil sent a long string of foolish orders, worded in such a way by some of his foxy parasites that the credit for any victory would come to himself, while the blame for any failure would rest on Montcalm. This was more than flesh and blood could endure. Once before Montcalm had tried to open Vaudreuil's eyes to the mischief that was going on. Now he spoke out again, and proved his case so plainly that, for very shame, Vaudreuil had to change the orders. Montcalm arrived at Ticonderoga with his new engineers on the 30th. Here he found 3,000 men and one bad fort. And the British were closing in with 15,000 men and good artillery.
The two armies lay only the length of Lake George apart, a little over thirty miles; in positions the same as last year, except that Montcalm was now on the defensive with less than half as many men, and the British were on the offensive with more than twice as many. Montcalm's great object was to gain time. Every minute was precious. He sent messenger after messenger, begging Vaudreuil to hurry forward the Canadians and to call back the Mohawk valley raiding party of 1,600 men. His 3,000 harassed regulars were working almost night and day. The fort was patched up until nothing more could be done without pulling it down and building a new fort; and an entrenched camp was dug in front of it. Meanwhile Montcalm's little army, though engaged in all this work, was actually making such a show of force about the valley between the lakes that it checked the British, who now gave up their plan of seizing a forward position in the valley as a cover for the advance of the main body later on. Montcalm, with 3,000 toil-worn soldiers, had out-generalled Abercromby and Howe with 15,000 fresh ones. He had also gained four priceless days.
But on July 5 the British advanced in force. It had been a great sight the year before, when Montcalm had gone south along Lake George with 5,000 men; but how much more magnificent now, when Abercromby came north with 15,00 men, all eager for this Armageddon of the West. Perhaps there never has been any other occasion on which the pride and pomp of glorious war have been set in a scene of such wonderful peace and beauty. The midsummer day was perfectly calm. Not a cloud was in the sky. The lovely lake shone like a burnished mirror. The forest-clad mountains never looked greener or cooler; nor did their few bare crags or pinnacles ever stand out more clearly against the endless blue sky than when those thousand boats rowed on to what 15,000 men thought certain victory. The procession of boats was wide enough to stretch from shore to shore; yet it was much longer than its width. On each side went the Americans, 9,000 men in blue and buff. In the centre came 6,000 British regulars in scarlet and gold, among them a thousand kilted Highlanders of the splendid 'Black Watch,' led by their major, Duncan Campbell of Inverawe, whose weird had told him a year before that he should fight and fall at a place with what was then to him an unknown name—Ticonderoga. The larger boats were in the rear, lashed together, two by two, with platforms laid across them for artillery.