The Battle of Quebec 1759
War: The French and Indian War also known as the Seven Year War
(1757 - 1762)
Date: 13th September 1759
Place: Quebec in Canada
Landing of the British Army on 13th September 1759
Combatants: British and Americans against the French and
Generals: Major General James Wolfe against the Marquis de
Size of the Armies: The British Army besieging Quebec was
around 8,000 troops. The force Major General Wolfe took onto the
Plains of Abraham for the battle was around 4,500 men and 1 gun. The
Marquis de Montcalm brought to the battle a force of around 5,000
men and 3 guns.
The Death of General James Wolfe
15th Foot later the East Yorkshire Regiment and now the Prince of
Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire *
22nd Foot now the Cheshire Regiment (only the grenadier and light
28th Foot later the Gloucestershire Regiment and now the Royal
Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment *
35th Foot later the Royal Sussex Regiment and now the Princess of
Wales's Own Royal Regiment *
40th Foot later the South Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen's
Lancashire Regiment (only the grenadier and light companies)
43rd Foot later the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
and now the Royal Green Jackets *
45th Foot later the Sherwood Foresters and now the Worcestershire
and Sherwood Foresters Regiment
47th Foot later the North Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen's
Lancashire Regiment *
48th Foot later the Northamptonshire Regiment and now the Royal
Anglian Regiment *
58th Foot later the Northamptonshire Regiment and now the Royal
Anglian Regiment *
60th Foot later the King's Royal Rifle Corps and now the Royal Green
Fraser's Highlanders, disbanded at the end of the war.
The Louisburg Grenadiers, the Light Infantry and 6 companies of
* These regiments have Quebec as a battle honour.
The Battle of Quebec
Uniforms, arms and equipment:
The British Foot wore red coats falling to the knee with the skirts,
lapels and cuffs turned back to reveal a wide expanse of the lining
of the regiment's colour. The coat was embroidered with the
regiment's distinctive lace pattern. The lining colour was part of a
regiment's character so that the 3rd Foot was known as the "Buffs"
and the 19th Foot as "the Green Howard's" from their lining colours.
The main headwear for the foot was the black tricorne hat, a wide
brimmed hat with the brim turned up and fastened to form three
The Battle of Quebec
Illustration by John Mackenzie 2008.
Click on the illustration to reach the enlarged version
The grenadiers wore a mitre cap with an embroidered front of the
regimental facing colour. This was the standard form of uniform.
However on arrival in America the soldiers quickly adapted their
dress. Coats were cut back or abandoned. Many took to wearing
hunting shirts and leggings. Hats were adapted and mutilated. It is
unlikely that the grenadiers retained their inconvenient mitres for
long. The new light companies in particular adopted local dress.
Each soldier carried a musket, 24 rounds of ammunition carried in a
pouch slung from a shoulder belt, a short sword and a bayonet that
he fixed to the muzzle of his musket. In America the sword was
quickly abandoned as useless.
Landing barge filled with the grenadiers
The city of Quebec lies on the north bank of the St Lawrence
to the West of the St Charles river. Montcalm established his army
along the north shore of the St Lawrence between the St Charles
and Montmorency rivers building fortifications along the St
Lawrence bank. The city was strongly fortified and ships added to
The British and American force arrived and
established itself on the Isle of Orleans downstream from Quebec
in late June 1759. Monckton’s brigade took post on the southern
bank of the river opposite the city and began to bombard it. The
other two brigades occupied the banks of the Montmorency.
The 35th Foot
The musket of the period was a cumbersome and inaccurate weapon. Each
round of ammunition comprised a charge of gunpowder and a lead ball
wrapped in "cartridge paper". When ordered to load the soldier took
a cartridge and ripped it open, often with his teeth. He poured
sufficient powder into the pan of the firing mechanism to fill it.
He poured the main portion of powder down the barrel, folded the
paper and pushed it into the barrel and dropped the ball on top. He
used the ramrod carried under the barrel of the musket to push the
whole charge to the bottom of the barrel next to the hole leading to
the firing pan.
He then cocked the firing mechanism which comprised
a hammer holding a wedge of flint and the weapon was ready to fire.
Pulling the trigger caused the flint held by the hammer to strike
against the pan lid, flicking it open as it did so. The spark from
the flint ignited the powder in the pan which fired the charge in
the barrel. With a significant number of shots the musket would fail
to fire, particularly in wet weather.
If the musket did fire it gave out a gout of flame and
smoke with the discharged ball and if the target was large
and within 50 yards it might be hit. An experienced user of
the musket might be able to load and fire three or four
times in a minute.
After ten rounds or so the musket began to foul from the
powder residue and loading became slower and more difficult.
The soldier would use a "picker" to keep the hole from the
pan through the barrel clear. After each shot he would blow
down the barrel. Sparks from each shot might fly into his
eye or onto his hair. His face and hands would become
blackened with soot.
Officers carried short pikes and swords. In America they too
quickly adapted their equipment and dress to local usage. Pikes
were abandoned and many officers carried muskets and pistols.
The French foot wore similar uniforms to the
British but of white. They also quickly adapted their dress to
local conditions. The French musket fired a smaller ball than
The Rangers and Militia wore whatever they chose. In addition to their
muskets these troops being largely hunters carried tomahawks, knives
and other implements.
Following the capture of Louisburg in 1758, Wolfe took sick leave
in England. In February 1759 he returned to America to command the
attack on the St Lawrence and Quebec. The British force assembled at
Louisburg as three brigades under Monckton, Townsend and Murray. The
grenadier companies were formed into one battalion and other picked
men into a battalion of Light Infantry.
General Wolfe and his troops climb
up the hill to the Heights of Abraham.
In the first week of June 1759 the force set sail for the St Lawrence.
The French had been expecting attacks from Lake Ontario in the West
and Lake Champlain in the South and the descent on the St Lawrence
took them by surprise. Montcalm assembled five regular French
battalions, militia and a thousand Indians to Quebec.
On 31st July 1759 Wolfe attempted an attack on Montcalm’s riverside
fortifications. The disorganised assault was repulsed with heavy loss.
The grenadiers and 60th losing around 500 casualties.
Over the following weeks British ships managed to pass the batteries
into the area of the river above the city. This move prevented
supplies from reaching the French garrison and population. On
his recovery Wolfe determined to attempt a landing on the steep
northern bank of the St Lawrence to the West of the city.
On the night of 4th September 1759 the troops encamped on the
Montmorency were disembarked. On 12th September Wolfe was informed
that French supply ships were expected to venture down the St Lawrence
that night. A feint attack was made on Montcalm’s fortifications east
of the city to draw French troops away from the proposed landing site.
That night Wolfe’s flotilla rowed from the West down the river
to the Anse du Foulon, the point Wolfe had chosen for the landing
on the north bank. A French sentry challenged the boats but was
answered by a highland officer in French. The force landed and
scaled the cliff. By dawn 4,500 British and American troops were
assembled on the cliff top.
The situation of this British force
was precarious as Bougainville and a French force lay to the West
in their rear. About a mile to their front was the area of wide
open country called the Plains of Abraham extending to the walls
of the city.
Wolfe formed his army on the plains in a single line of battalions,
the right resting on the edge of the heights above the St Lawrence.
From the right his regiments were: the 35th Foot, the grenadier
companies of the 22nd, 40th and the 45th Foot, the 28th, 43rd, 47th
Foot, Fraser’s Highlanders and the 58th Foot. One light gun had been
dragged up the cliff and stood between the 47th and the Highlanders.
The 15th Foot was formed at a right angel to the line on the left to
protect the flank. Two battalions formed a reserve, the 3rd/60th and
the 48th Foot. Two companies of the 58th guarded the access up the cliff
and 3rd/60th guarded the rear against any incursion by Bougainville.
Of the brigadiers, Monckton and Murray commanded the line and Townsend
the reserves. Wolfe positioned himself with the 28th on the right of
Montcalm did not become aware of the British incursion until the
morning, when he saw the line formed outside Quebec. French, Canadian
and Indians streamed through the city towards the Plains of Abraham.
Montcalm applied to the governor of the city for some of the guns from
the ramparts, but the governor agreed to release only three.
Nevertheless Montcalm decided to attack the British line.
General Wolfe's army scales the Heights of Abraham in the attack on
Montcalm formed his army; from the right a battalion of Canadian
militia, then the regiments of Bearn, La Sarre, Guienne, Languedoc,
Rousillon and another battalion of militia. Skirmishing Canadians and
Indians formed on the flanks.
A savage fight developed on Wolfe’s left between the
skirmishers and the British Light Infantry and the reserve
regiments under Townsend. The three French guns and the single
British gun fired at the opposing lines. The French regular
battalions advanced to the attack and the British regiments, who
had been lying down to avoid the fire, rose up. The French fired
ineffectually at too great a distance and came on. The British
foot withheld its fire until the range was 35 yards, it is said.
Two volleys were sufficient to destroy the French line. The
British infantry then advanced and drove the French from the
Death of Wolfe by Benjamin West
Wolfe, who had been wounded in the hand, advanced with the 28th
Foot until he was shot in the groin and then in the chest. A group of
soldiers carried him to the rear.
Canadian skirmishers continued to fire on the British until they were
driven back. The French army retreated into the city in confusion.
Montcalm, who had been shot, was carried with the retreating throng
until he was taken from his horse iinto a house nearby, where he died.
Wolfe rejected medical attention and was laid on the ground. Someone
called “See them run". Wolfe said “Who?" He was answered, “The
French." Wolfe directed the 28th to march to the bridge across the St
Charles River to cut off the retreat and then died.
In addition to the two generals, Montcalm’s deputy was killed and
Brigadier Monckton wounded. Townsend took command and immediately had
to fight off an attack from Bougainville to his rear.
The death of General James Wolfe at the Battle of Quebec
Casualties (killed and wounded):
Royal Artillery: 15
15th Foot: 132
28th Foot: 126
35th Foot: 111
40th Foot: 38
43rd Foot: 48
47th Foot: 69
48th Foot: 65
58th Foot: 155
Fraser’s Highlanders: 187
Roger’s Rangers: 51
Royal Marines: 30
The French casualties are unknown.
After the battle the French civil governor of Canada, M. Vaudreuil
left Quebec taking the majority of his surviving force and on 18th
September 1759 the governor of Quebec surrendered the city to
Townsend. The taking of Quebec was the beginning of the end of French
rule in Canada although the British troops had to endure a severe
winter in the ruined city.
Regimental anecdotes and traditions:
- The 47th Foot took to wearing a black line in their lace to
commemorate the death of Wolfe.
- The 35th Foot took the plumes from the hats of the Rousillon
Regiment and adopted them as the regimental badge. The Rousillon
Regiment held the same number in the French line of 35th.
- History of the British Army by Fortescue
- Montcalm and Wolfe by Parkman
- Wolfe of Quebec by Robin Reilly