On this day in history : 2nd January 1727 – The birth of James Wolfe – the British general who was fundamental in the capture of Quebec from the French….
James Wolfe was born in Westerham, Kent…. The eldest son of Lieutenant-General Edward Wolfe, James was born to a military career and joined the army at the age of 14….
After catching the eye of the Duke of Cumberland at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, during the War of Austrian Succession, Wolfe was to quickly rise through the ranks…. By the age of 23 he had been made lieutenant-colonel of the 20th Regiment of Foot….
He fought in the Jacobite rising and was then to return to the Continent in January 1747, after the French had taken advantage during the absence of British troops and had made advances into the Austrian Netherlands, capturing Brussels…. A narrow victory at Lauffield for the French then meant the capture of Maastricht…. Both sides were poised for further battles but an armistice was called and the fighting stopped…. However, Wolfe had received a severe injury – but had been given official commendation for his services to his country…. In 1748 he returned to England….
Next he was to spend several years in the Scottish garrison – where he was made a major, assuming command of the 20th Regiment, based at Stirling….
Wolfe was then to take part in the Seven Years War, distinguishing himself, especially during the assault on Rochefort in 1757 (which ended in having to be aborted)…. He then skilfully commanded a brigade at the siege of Louisbourg in 1758….
Wolfe had famously trained his troops in a unique method of volley fire….a method soon adopted by all of the British army…. After his service as brigade commander at the capture of Louisbourg, which was considered to be the gateway to the St. Lawrence River – and North America – he came to the attention of William Pitt the Elder….
At the age of 32 Wolfe was made major-general in command of the Quebec Expedition in 1759…. Quebec, then the capital of New France – the French colony in North America – was seen by Pitt as the way forward in the war with France…. Wolfe was sent to capture Quebec….
Many thought Wolfe was not up to the job – because he had been suffering from ill-health…. Wolfe led his troops, made up of English, Scots and colonial soldiers, to besiege Quebec – a siege that was to last three months…. Several frustrating unsuccessful raid attempts were made throughout the summer – and then Wolfe learned of a convoy of small boats heading to deliver food and supplies to the besieged city…. He decided to seize the opportunity and planned a night time raid….
The plan was to pass the city in their own small boats – to gain access to the Plains of Abraham – a large plateau above the city…. At just gone 4am on the 13th of September 1759 they set off and were successful in slipping past the sentries on guard….and reached the cliffs, which they then managed to scale to arrive at the plateau…. From here they planned to attack….
The French were caught unawares….they had believed the cliffs were impenetrable…. By the time they arrived at the Plains of Abraham, at just before 10am, the British were ready for them…. When the advancing enemy troops were just 40 yards away the British let off just two rounds of their special volley fire – the French fled – and the battle was won…. But not without heavy casualties on both sides….many were killed or wounded…. Wolfe himself was fatally wounded…. On hearing that the French had fled he said “Now, God be praised, I will die in peace”…. Those were to be his last words….
James Wolfe was to become the most celebrated military hero of the 18th century….