CHAPTER VII. THE PLAINS OF ABRAHAM September 13, 1759
On August 19 an aide-de-camp came out of the farmhouse at Montmorency which served as the headquarters of the British army to say that Wolfe was too ill to rise from his bed. The bad news spread like wildfire through the camp and fleet, and soon became known among the French. A week passed; but Wolfe was no better. Tossing about on his bed in a fever, he thought bitterly of his double defeat, of the critical month of September, of the grim strength of Quebec, formed by nature for a stronghold, and then - worse still - of his own weak body, which made him most helpless just when he should have been most fit for his duty.
Feeling that he could no longer lead in person, he dictated a letter to the brigadiers, sent them the secret instructions he had received from Pitt and the king, and asked them to think over his three new plans for attacking Montcalm at Beauport. They wrote back to say they thought the defeats at the upper fords of the Montmorency and at the heights facing the St Lawrence showed that the French could not be beaten by attacking the Beauport lines again, no matter from what side the attack was made. They then gave him a plan of their own, which was, to convey the army up the St Lawrence and fight their way ashore somewhere between Cap Rouge, nine miles above Quebec, and Pointe-aux-Trembles, twenty-two miles above. They argued that, by making a landing there, the British could cut off Montcalm's communications with Three Rivers and Montreal, from which his army drew its supplies. Wolfe's letter was dictated from his bed of sickness on the 26th. The brigadiers answered him on the 29th. Saunders talked it all over with him on the 31st. Before this the fate of Canada had been an affair of weeks. Now it was a matter of days; for the morrow would dawn on the very last possible month of the siege - September.
After his talk with Saunders Wolfe wrote his last letter home to his mother, telling her of his desperate plight:
The enemy puts nothing to risk, and I can't in conscience
put the whole army to risk. My antagonist has wisely
shut himself up in inaccessible entrenchments, so that
I can't get at him without spilling a torrent of blood,
and that perhaps to little purpose. The Marquis de
Montcalm is at the head of a great number of bad
soldiers and I am at the head of a small number of
good ones, that wish for nothing so much as to fight
him; but the wary old fellow avoids an action, doubtful
of the behaviour of his army. People must be of the
profession to understand the disadvantages and
difficulties we labour under, arising from the uncommon
natural strength of the country.
On September 2 he wrote his last letter to Pitt. He had asked the doctors to 'patch him up,' saying that if they could make him fit for duty for only the next few days they need not trouble about what might happen to him afterwards. Their 'patching up' certainly cleared his fevered brain, for this letter was a masterly account of the whole siege and the plans just laid to bring it to an end. The style was so good, indeed, that Charles Townshend said his brother George must have been the real author, and that Wolfe, whom he dubbed 'a fiery-headed fellow, only fit for fighting,' could not have done any more than sign his name. But when George Townshend's own official letter about the battle in which Wolfe fell was also published, and was found to be much less effective than Wolfe's, Selwyn went up to Charles Townshend and said: 'Look here, Charles, if your brother wrote Wolfe's letter, who the devil wrote your brother's?'
Wolfe did not try to hide anything from Pitt. He told him plainly about the two defeats and the terrible difficulties in the way of winning any victory. The whole letter is too long for quotation, and odd scraps from it give no idea of Wolfe's lucid style. But here are a few which tell the gist of the story: