Louis-Joseph Montcalm (1712-1759)

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French commander in Canada during the French and Indian War. He entered the army aged 12, and was a colonel by the age of 24, and first went to Canada in 1746 as a brigadier general. In 1755 he was sent back to Canada as commander of the army, along with 3,000 elite soldiers, and the new governor of new France, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, with whom he had a stormy, hostile relationship. News of the troops being sent to Canada provoked the British to attempt to intercept them, and three of the French ships were stopped, but Montcalm, Vaudreuil and the bulk of the fleet reached Canada in the summer of 1755.

His position in Canada was weak. There was famine in the province, and food was short, while the British outnumbered Montcalm three to one, but he was initially very successful. In 1756 he was able to capture Oswego from the British, while in June-July 1758 he successfully defended Fort Ticonderoga against an apparently overwhelming British force. Montcalm built wooden defences to defend a hill overlooking the fort, where he placed 3000 regular soldiers. If the British under Lord Abercromby, had either bombarded the position, or simply starved them out, the French could not have held, but instead, believing the fortifications to be weak and French reinforcements on the way, he ordered a direct assault on the defences, which was beaten back, with heavy British losses. Abercromby withdrew, leaving Montcalm victorious, much to his surprise. The victory at Ticonderoga made Montcalm's name, but he soon suffered two serious setback, the fall of Fort Louisbourg on 27 July 1758, which had secured communications between France and Canada, and of Fort Frontenac (Lake Onterio) on 26 August 1758, which Montcalm felt to be more serious, as it cut his lines of communication within Canada. By this point, Montcalm felt that the only way to save Canada for France was by peace.

The following year, the British launched their attack on Quebec. Meant to be a three pronged attack, only one pronge, that led by James Wolfe, reached Quebec, where he found himself facing 5,000 regular French troops and 12,000 Canadian militia. To make things worse, Montcalm had received an intercepted copy of the orders for the British attack, allowing him to prepare for the battle. By now, Montcalm had been created Lieutenant-General, outranking Vaudreuil, and placing him in total command. He had ordered the abandonment of the border forts, allowing him to gather such a large force at Quebec. Wolfe arrived before Quebec at the end of June 1759, but was unable to make any progress against the city, which was well guarded by cliffs and ravines, as well at the Lawrence River. Eventually, Wolfe tried a desperate gamble, and managed to get much of his army across the river by climbing the Heights of Abraham, cliffs to the west of the city (13 September 1759). Montcalm himself discovered the British army, but believing it to be a small force, did not wait to gather all of his troops, and launched an attack on Wolfe with just the troops in the city itself. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was short, lasting under an hour, and saw the French army utterly defeated. Wolfe was killed in the battle, while Montcalm died on the following day. Quebec surrendered on the 18th.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (1 November 2000), Louis-Joseph Montcalm (1712-1759), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_montcalm.html

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