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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham
By George Bancroft (1800–1891)
 
From ‘History of the United States’

BUT, in the meantime, Wolfe applied himself intently to reconnoitring the north shore above Quebec. Nature had given him good eyes, as well as a warmth of temper to follow first impressions. He himself discovered the cove which now bears his name, where the bending promontories almost form a basin, with a very narrow margin, over which the hill rises precipitously. He saw the path that wound up the steep, though so narrow that two men could hardly march in it abreast; and he knew, by the number of tents which he counted on the summit, that the Canadian post which guarded it could not exceed a hundred. Here he resolved to land his army by surprise. To mislead the enemy, his troops were kept far above the town; while Saunders, as if an attack was intended at Beauport, set Cook, the great mariner, with others, to sound the water and plant buoys along that shore.  1
  The day and night of the twelfth were employed in preparations. The autumn evening was bright; and the general, under the clear starlight, visited his stations, to make his final inspection and utter his last words of encouragement. As he passed from ship to ship, he spoke to those in the boat with him of the poet Gray, and the ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard.’ “I,” said he, “would prefer being the author of that poem to the glory of beating the French to-morrow;” and, while the oars struck the river as it rippled in the silence of the night air under the flowing tide, he repeated:—
  “The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
  And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour—
  The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”
  2
  Every officer knew his appointed duty, when, at one o’clock in the morning of the thirteenth of September, Wolfe, Monckton, and Murray, and about half the forces, set off in boats, and, using neither sail nor oars, glided down with the tide. In three quarters of an hour the ships followed; and, though the night had become dark, aided by the rapid current, they reached the cove just in time to cover the landing. Wolfe and the troops with him leaped on shore; the light infantry, who found themselves borne by the current a little below the intrenched path, clambered up the steep hill, staying themselves by the roots and boughs of the maple and spruce and ash trees that covered the precipitous declivity, and, after a little firing, dispersed the picket which guarded the height; the rest ascended safely by the pathway. A battery of four guns on the left was abandoned to Colonel Howe. When Townshend’s division disembarked, the English had already gained one of the roads to Quebec; and, advancing in front of the forest, Wolfe stood at daybreak with his invincible battalions on the Plains of Abraham, the battle-field of the Celtic and Saxon races.  3
  “It can be but a small party, come to burn a few houses and retire,” said Montcalm, in amazement as the news reached him in his intrenchments the other side of the St. Charles; but, obtaining better information, “Then,” he cried, “they have at last got to the weak side of this miserable garrison; we must give battle and crush them before mid-day.” And, before ten, the two armies, equal in numbers, each being composed of less than five thousand men, were ranged in presence of one another for battle. The English, not easily accessible from intervening shallow ravines and rail fences, were all regulars, perfect in discipline, terrible in their fearless enthusiasm, thrilling with pride at their morning’s success, commanded by a man whom they obeyed with confidence and love. The doomed and devoted Montcalm had what Wolfe had called but “five weak French battalions,” of less than two thousand men, “mingled with disorderly peasantry,” formed on commanding ground. The French had three little pieces of artillery; the English, one or two. The two armies cannonaded each other for nearly an hour; when Montcalm, having summoned De Bougainville to his aid, and dispatched messenger after messenger for De Vaudreuil, who had fifteen hundred men at the camp, to come up before he should be driven from the ground, endeavored to flank the British and crowd them down the high bank of the river. Wolfe counteracted the movement by detaching Townshend with Amherst’s regiment, and afterward a part of the Royal Americans, who formed on the left with a double front.  4
  Waiting no longer for more troops, Montcalm led the French army impetuously to the attack. The ill-disciplined companies broke by their precipitation and the unevenness of the ground; and fired by platoons, without unity. Their adversaries, especially the Forty-third and the Forty-seventh, where Monckton stood, of which three men out of four were Americans, received the shock with calmness; and after having, at Wolfe’s command, reserved their fire till their enemy was within forty yards, their line began a regular, rapid, and exact discharge of musketry. Montcalm was present everywhere, braving danger, wounded, but cheering by his example. The second in command, De Sennezergues, an associate in glory at Ticonderoga, was killed. The brave but untried Canadians, flinching from a hot fire in the open field, began to waver; and, so soon as Wolfe, placing himself at the head of the Twenty-eighth and the Louisburg grenadiers, charged with bayonets, they everywhere gave way. Of the English officers, Carleton was wounded; Barré, who fought near Wolfe, received in the head a ball which made him blind of one eye, and ultimately of both. Wolfe, also, as he led the charge, was wounded in the wrist; but still pressing forward, he received a second ball; and having decided the day, was struck a third time, and mortally, in the breast. “Support me,” he cried to an officer near him; “let not my brave fellows see me drop.” He was carried to the rear, and they brought him water to quench his thirst. “They run! they run!” spoke the officer on whom he leaned. “Who run?” asked Wolfe, as his life was fast ebbing. “The French,” replied the officer, “give way everywhere.” “What,” cried the expiring hero, “do they run already? Go, one of you, to Colonel Burton; bid him march Webb’s regiment with all speed to Charles River to cut off the fugitives.” Four days before, he had looked forward to early death with dismay. “Now, God be praised, I die happy.” These were his words as his spirit escaped in the blaze of his glory. Night, silence, the rushing tide, veteran discipline, the sure inspiration of genius, had been his allies; his battle-field, high over the ocean river, was the grandest theatre for illustrious deeds; his victory, one of the most momentous in the annals of mankind, gave to the English tongue and the institutions of the Germanic race the unexplored and seemingly infinite West and South. He crowded into a few hours actions that would have given lustre to length of life; and, filling his day with greatness, completed it before its noon.  5
 
 
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