“We Do Not Need To Imagine That The Enemy Has Wings”

Montcalm leading his troops at Quebec.
Montcalm leading his troops at Quebec. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you know the old adage about “for want of a nail, a shoe was lost.  For want of a shoe a horse was lost.  For want of a horse a battle was lost”?  Well, it has a sequel: “For want of a proper guard at the top of the cliff at Quebec on September 13, 1759, France lost Canada“!

Many historians believe that General Montcalm was not to blame, really.  When an aid proposed that the British might try to climb the cliffs, Montcalm replied, “We do not need to imagine that the enemy has wings, so that in one night they can cross the river, disembark, and climb the obstructed cliffes.”  He nonetheless had stationed the Guienne Regiment on top of the cliff, but later had been moved for some other duty.  When Montcalm ordered it back, Governor Vaudreuil‘s cancelled the order and said he would see about it the following day.  It was a day too late.  Vaudreuil’s action punctured a clever defence that “old fox” Montcalm had sustained since June 27, when Wolfe began his campaign.

Wolfe deserved the lucky break that enabled him to get his troops up the cliff to the Plains of Abraham.  Women had been seen washing clothes along the river bank.  Later the clothes were seen drying on top of the cliff.  Obviously there must be a path, and Wolfe decided to use it.

The Royal Navy provided enough row boats to carry 1,800 troops from the warship Sunderland which had taken up a position in the river at Sillery, above Quebec.  When a signal light flashed at 1:30 a.m., they drifted quietly down the shore until they reached the path.  Wolfe was the first to land and then twenty-four trained men scaled the cliff by clinging to roots and branches.  The small guard at the top was taken by surprise and captured.  Then the path was cleared and the main force climbed up quickly.  By dawn there were 5,000 British troops in battle formation on the Plains of Abraham.  In the meantime, Admiral Saunders had threatened a landing at Beauport below Quebec, drawing attention away from Wolfe’s operation.

The battle was over by noon.  General Wolfe was one of the 655 British soldiers who were killed.  General Montcalm was one of the French casualties estimated as high as 1,200 by the British and as low as 150 by the French.  Governor Vaudreuil escaped to Montreal, and Quebec was surrendered on September 18.

“The world could not expect more from him than he thought himself capable of performing.  He looked on danger as the favourable moment that would call forth his talents.” – Horace Walpole, 1763

“Valour gave them a common death, history a common fame, posterity a common monument.” – James C. Fisher, 1828

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was an important event in Canada’s history. As such, there are a few places where you can learn more about this. I suggest visiting the Scholastic.ca for a .pdf report “Chapter 9
September 13, 1759”, and then the Canadian Encyclopedia, and the Upper Canada History, and then the British Battles.com, and finally History.com. All these are great places to start.


    • This is one of my favourite event in Canadian history as well … actually interesting, no matter which “angle” or “point of view” you look at it.
      Have a great day 🙂


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