CHAPTER VII. THE PLAINS OF ABRAHAM September 13, 1759
But Montcalm was in a very different plight. Since the previous autumn, when Wolfe and Hardy had laid waste the coast of Gaspe, the supply of sea-fish had almost failed. Now the whole country below Quebec had been cut off by the fleet, while most of the country round Quebec was being laid waste by the army. Wolfe's orders were that no man, woman, or child was to be touched, nor any house or other buildings burnt, if his own men were not attacked. But if the men of the country fired at his soldiers they were to be shot down, and everything they had was to be destroyed. Of course, women and children were strictly protected, under all circumstances, and no just complaint was ever made against the British for hurting a single one. But as the men persisted in firing, the British fired back and destroyed the farms where the firing took place, on the fair-play principle that it is right to destroy whatever is used to destroy you.
It thus happened that, except at a few little villages where the men had not fired on the soldiers, the country all round Quebec was like a desert, as far as supplies for the French were concerned. The only way to obtain anything for their camp was by bringing it down the St Lawrence from Montreal, Sorel, and Three Rivers. French vessels would come down as far as they dared and then send the supplies on in barges, which kept close in under the north shore above Quebec, where the French outposts and batteries protected them from the British men-of-war that were pushing higher and higher up the river. Some supplies were brought in by land after they were put ashore above the highest British vessels. But as a hundred tons came far more easily by water than one ton by land, it is not hard to see that Montcalm's men could not hold out long if the St Lawrence near Quebec was closed to supplies.
Wolfe, Montcalm, the brigadiers, and every one else on both sides knew this perfectly well. But, as it was now September, the fleet could not go far up the much more difficult channel towards Montreal. If it did, and took Wolfe's army with it, the few French men-of-war might dispute the passage, and some sunken ships might block the way, at all events for a time. Besides, the French were preparing to repulse any landing up the river, between Cap Rouge, nine miles above Quebec, and Deschambault, forty miles above; and with good prospect of success, because the country favoured their irregulars. Moreover, if Wolfe should land many miles up, Montcalm might still hold out far down in Quebec for the few days remaining till October. If, on the other hand, the fleet went up and left Wolfe's men behind, Montcalm would be safer than ever at Beauport and Quebec; because, how could Wolfe reach him without a fleet when he had failed to reach him with one?
The life-and-death question for Wolfe was how to land close enough above Quebec and soon enough in September to make Montcalm fight it out on even terms and in the open field.
The brigadiers' plan of landing high up seemed all right till they tried to work it out. Then they found troubles in plenty. There were several places for them to land between Cap Rouge, nine miles above Quebec, and Pointe-aux-Trembles, thirteen miles higher still. Ever since July 18 British vessels had been passing to and fro above Quebec; and in August, Murray, under the guard of Holmes's squadron, had tried his brigade against Pointe-aux-Trembles, where he was beaten back, and at Deschambault, twenty miles farther up, where he took some prisoners and burnt some supplies. To ward off further and perhaps more serious attacks from this quarter, Montcalm had been keeping Bougainville on the lookout, especially round Pointe-aux-Trembles, for several weeks before the brigadiers arranged their plan. Bougainville now had 2,000 infantry, all the mounted men - nearly 300 - and all the best Indian and Canadian scouts, along the thirteen miles of shore between Cap Rouge and Pointe-aux-Trembles. His land and water batteries had also been made much stronger. He and Montcalm were in close touch and could send messages to each other and get an answer back within four hours.
On the 7th Wolfe and the brigadiers had a good look at every spot round Pointe-aux-Trembles. On the 8th and 9th the brigadiers were still there; while five transports sailed past Quebec on the 8th to join Holmes, who commanded the up-river squadron. Two of Wolfe's brigades were now on board the transports with Holmes. But the whole three were needed; and this need at once entailed another difficulty. A successful landing on the north shore above Quebec could only be made under cover of the dark; and Wolfe could not bring the third brigade, under cover of night, from the island of Orleans and the Point of Levy, and land it with the other two twenty miles up the river before daylight. The tidal stream runs up barely five hours, while it runs down more than seven; and winds are mostly down. Next, if, instead of sailing, the third brigade marched twenty miles at night across very rough country on the south shore, it would arrive later than ever. Then, only one brigade could be put ashore in boats at one time in one place, and Bougainville could collect enough men to hold it in check while he called in reinforcements at least as fast on the French side as the British could on theirs. Another thing was that the wooded country favoured the French defence and hindered the British attack. Lastly, if Wolfe and Saunders collected the whole five thousand soldiers and a still larger squadron and convoy up the river, Montcalm would see the men and ships being moved from their positions in front of his Beauport entrenchments, and would hurry to the threatened shore between Cap Rouge and Pointe-aux-Trembles almost as soon as the British, and certainly in time to reinforce Bougainville and repulse Wolfe.