CHAPTER VII. THE PLAINS OF ABRAHAM September 13, 1759
The 9th was Wolfe's last Sunday. It was a cheerless, rainy day; and he almost confessed himself beaten for good, as he sat writing his last official letter to one of Pitt's friends, the Earl of Holderness. He dated it, 'On board the Sutherland at anchor off Cap Rouge, September 9, 1759.' He ended it with gloomy news: 'I am so far recovered as to be able to do business, but my constitution is entirely ruined, without the consolation of having done any considerable service to the state, or without any prospect of it.'
The very next day, however, he saw his chance. He stood at Etchemin, on the south shore, two miles above Quebec, and looked long and earnestly through his telescope at the Foulon road, a mile and a half away, running up to the Plains of Abraham from the Anse au Foulon, which has ever since been called Wolfe's Cove. Then he looked at the Plains themselves, especially at a spot only one mile from Quebec, where the flat and open ground formed a perfect field of battle for his well-drilled regulars. He knew the Foulon road must be fairly good, because it was the French line of communication between the Anse au Foulon and the Beauport camp. The Cove and the nearest point of the camp were only two miles and a quarter apart, as the crow flies. But between them rose the tableland of the Plains, 300 feet above the river. Thus they were screened from each other, and a surprise at the Cove might not be found out too soon at the camp.
Now, Wolfe knew that the French expected to be attacked either above Cap Rouge (up towards Pointe-aux-Trembles) or below Quebec (down in their Beauport entrenchments). He also knew that his own army thought the attack would be made above Cap Rouge. Thus the French were still very anxious about the six miles at Beauport, while both sides were keenly watching each other all over the thirteen miles above Cap Rouge. Nobody seemed to be thinking about the nine miles between Cap Rouge and Quebec, and least of all about the part nearest Quebec.
Yes, one man was thinking about it, and he never stopped thinking about it till he died. That man was Montcalm. On the 5th, when Wolfe began moving up-stream, Montcalm had sent a whole battalion to the Plains. But on the 7th, when the British generals were all at Pointe-aux-Trembles, Vaudreuil, always ready to spite Montcalm, ordered this battalion back to camp, saying, 'The British haven't got wings; they can't fly up to the Plains!' Wolfe, of course, saw that the battalion had been taken away; and he soon found out why. Vaudreuil was a great talker and could never keep a secret. Wolfe knew perfectly well that Vaudreuil and Bigot were constantly spoiling whatever Montcalm was doing, so he counted on this trouble in the French camp as he did on other facts and chances.
He now gave up all idea of his old plans against Beauport, as well as the new plan of the brigadiers, and decided on another plan of his own. It was new in one way, because he had never seen a chance of carrying it out before. But it was old in another way, because he had written to his uncle from Louisbourg on May 19, and spoken of getting up the heights four or five miles above Quebec if he could do so by surprise. Again, even so early in the siege as July 18 he had been chafing at what he called the 'coldness' of the fleet about pushing up beyond Quebec. The entry in his private diary for that day is: 'TheSutherland and Squirrell, two transports, and two armed sloops passed the narrow passage between Quebec and Levy without losing a man.' Next day, his entry is more scathing still: 'Reconnoitred the country immediately above Quebec and found that if we had ventured the stroke that was first intended we should infallibly have succeeded.' This shows how long he had kept the plan waiting for the chance. But it does not prove that he had missed any earlier chances through the 'coldness' of the fleet. For it is significant that he afterwards struck out 'infallibly' and substituted ' probably'; while it must be remembered that the Sutherland and her consorts formed only a very small flotilla, that they passed Quebec in the middle of a very dark night, that the St Lawrence above the town was intricate and little known, that the loss of several men-of-war might have been fatal, that the enemy's attention had not become distracted in July to anything like the same bewildering extent as it had in September, and that the intervening course of events - however disappointing in itself - certainly helped to make his plan suit the occasion far better late than soon. Moreover, in a note to Saunders in August, he had spoken about a 'desperate' plan which he could not trust his brigadiers to carry out, and which he was then too sick to carry out himself.