Louis-Joseph de Montcalm

Nation: France

Military Leader

Birth Date: February 28, 1712
France Louis-Joseph de Montcalm Military Leader Cover
I. Childhood
II. Destruction of Fort Oswego
III. Battle of Fort William Henry
IV. Final Struggle for Quebec
I. Childhood
Louis-Joseph de Montcalm was born on February 28, 1712 near Nimes in southern France. He entered the French army at the age of fifteen and would serve twenty-nine years before being sent to Canada. When still a schoolboy, he wrote his father what his aim in life should be: "First, to he an honorable man, of good morals, brave, and a Christian. Secondly, to read in moderation; to know as much Greek and Latin as most men of the world; also arithmetic, history, geography, arts, and sciences. Thirdly, and above all, to be obedient, docile, and very submissive to your orders and to those of my dear mother."

Foote, A. E., & Skinner, A. W. (1907). Montcalm, The French General. In Explorers and founders of America (p. 281). New York: American Book Company.
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II. Destruction of Fort Oswego
Montcalm and his troops left France in April 1756 and endured a very cold and stormy voyage of seven weeks before they reached Quebec. After examining and improving the defenses of Quebec, Montcalm moved up the river to Montreal, where he spent the greater part of his time for two years.

One day in the summer of 1756, Indian runners brought word that the English were preparing to attack the French forts on Lake Champlain. Montcalm at once sent reenforcements to strengthen the garrisons, and a band of French and Indians pushed on to meet the English. A young French captain in this division of the army wrote to his father: "The forests are full of game, ducks, geese, wild partridges, bears, and beavers...We are making here a place that history will not forget. The English colonies have ten times more people than ours; but the wretches have not the least knowledge of war; and if they go out to fight they must abandon wife, children, and all they possess...It is incredible what a quantity of scalps the Indians bring us. These miserable English are in the extremity of distress, and repent too late the unjust war they began against us." But the English attack was delayed; instead Montcalm hastened to Oswego, and captured and destroyed the fort which the English had built there.

Foote, A. E., & Skinner, A. W. (1907). Montcalm, The French General. In Explorers and founders of America (p. 282). New York: American Book Company.
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III. Battle of Fort William Henry
In 1757, Montcalm led an expedition against Fort William Henry, which was held by Colonel Monro with twenty-two hundred men. With the aid of his Indian allies, Montcalm was able to surprise and capture the outposts and burn the barracks around the fort. He then summoned Colonel Monro to surrender. Monro expected help from General Webb, who was at Fort Edward, only a few miles away, with sixteen hundred more men. He replied, "I will defend my trust to the last extremity." The French opened fire. No help came from Webb. The small band of English in Fort William Henry made a brave defense through a six days' siege. Half of their guns had burst, and their ammunition was almost gone. Colonel Monro knew there was no hope and surrendered.

Montcalm required the Indian allies to attend the council, in order to make terms of surrender binding on them, as well as on the French and English. "The garrison were to march out with the honors of war, carrying their private effects and delivering up the fort with the entrenched camp, artillery, and provisions to his most Christian majesty, the King of France." It was further agreed that the English garrison should not take up arms again in eighteen months, and that they should be given a French escort to Fort Edward.

The next morning, when the English survivors with their arms and baggage started on their march, the Indians fell upon them. Attacked so unexpectedly, the soldiers were thrown into a panic and became separated. Many were killed, and six hundred were taken captive by the Indians. Montcalm was unable to control the Indians, but he afterward secured the release of more than half the prisoners. News of this massacre aroused the colonists from New England to the Carolinas.

Foote, A. E., & Skinner, A. W. (1907). Montcalm, The French General. In Explorers and founders of America (pp. 282-284). New York: American Book Company.
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IV. Final Struggle for Quebec
On July 8, 1758, the English with a very large force attacked the French at Ticonderoga (Battle of Carillon) but again were defeated. Thus far, the French had been successful. After two years of fighting, nothing had been gained by the English. The English government had sent out incapable men, and the colonists had been greatly divided on questions connected with the war. Repeated reverses and shocking massacres like that at Fort William Henry led both the English government and the colonial governments to adopt better methods. New and better officers were sent out from England, and more soldiers were raised in the colonies. Very soon there was a change, and for the next two years the victories were more largely English than French.

First and most important of these English victories was the capture of Louisburg, the stronghold which commanded the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Next, in spite of Montcalm's able efforts, Fort Frontenac and Fort Duquesne were taken. Then Niagara and the forts on Lake Champlain fell into the hands of the English.

In the spring of 1759, a powerful English fleet of fifty ships with an army of eight thousand picked men under General James Wolfe started for Canada, determined to attack Quebec. Montcalm had expected that the English would make this move and made ready for siege or attack. Quebec is located on a high, rocky bluff extending into a bend of the St. Lawrence River. The situation is finely adapted by nature for defense. Montcalm placed his batteries in commanding positions and ordered all men, young and old, to the defense of the city. All told, including French regulars, Canadians, and Indians, Montcalm had at least sixteen thousand troops encamped in the city and along the river six or seven miles toward the east.

Montcalm decided to remain on the defensive and to take no risks in attempting to check the advance of the English up the river. After the English arrived, Montcalm was constantly on the watch to be ready to defend if Wolfe attacked his position at any point. On September 2nd, he wrote: "The night is dark; it rains; our troops are in their tents with clothes on, ready for an alarm; I in my boots; my horses saddled. In fact, this is our usual way. I have not taken off my clothes since the 23d of June."

About this time word was received by both armies that the English had been successful at Oswego and at Ticonderoga, and that the victorious General Jeffery Amherst was to move north to join Wolfe. This was disheartening to the Canadians, and Montcalm found them very difficult to control. Many deserted and furnished Wolfe with valuable information as to the location and condition of French troops.

On September 13th, the great Battle of the Plains of Abraham took place, alternatively named the Battle of Quebec. When it was over, the French and Canadians were defeated. Montcalm was wounded as he was desperately trying to rally his men. He was carried off the field, while the English pursued the fleeing French soldiers. The hospitals where the wounded were cared for were in the convents, where the nuns nursed English and French alike. Montcalm was carried to one near the city. When the surgeon was dressing his wound, Montcalm asked whether it was fatal. When told that it was, he appeared glad and asked how long he was likely to live. The surgeon replied that he would die in a few hours, probably. Montcalm said, "So much the better. I shall not live to see the surrender of Quebec." He died in the morning of September 14, 1759, and on the morning of the 18th Quebec was surrendered to the English. Montcalm was buried in the Cathedral grounds, and it has been said that "the funeral of Montcalm was also the funeral of New France."

Foote, A. E., & Skinner, A. W. (1907). Montcalm, The French General. In Explorers and founders of America (pp. 284-286). New York: American Book Company.
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