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The Plains of Abraham and the Stamp Act (Part 1)


 THE gathering of soldiers from France, England, and the colonies, and the rousing of the Indians on one side and the other, made the great forest which stretched across northern New York and New England populous with troops and resonant with the sounds of war. Those solemn woodland aisles and quiet glades were desecrated by marchings and campings, and in the ravines and recesses lay the corpses of men in uniforms, the grim remains of peasants who had been born three thousand miles away. Passing through the depths of the wilderness, apparently remote from all human habitation, one would suddenly come upon a fortress, frowning with heavy guns, and surrounded by the log-built barracks of the soldiery, who, in the intervals of siege and combat, passed their days impatiently, thinking of the distant homes from which they came, and muttering their discontent at inaction and uncertainty. The region round the junction of Lake George and Lake Champlain, where stood the Strongholds of Fort Edward and Fort William Henry, of Crown Point and Ticonderoga, was the scene of many desperate conflicts, between 1758 and 1780; and the wolves of the forest, and the bears of the Vermont mountains, were disturbed in their lairs by the tumults and the restless evolutions, and wandered eastward until they came among. the startled hamlets and frontier farms of the settlements. The savagery of man, surpassing theirs, drove them to seek shelter 'amid the abodes of man himself; but there was no safety for them there, as many a bloody bead and paws, trophies of rustic marksmanship, attested. The dominion of the wilderness was approaching its end in America. Everywhere you might hear the roll of the drum, and there was no family but bad its soldier, and few that did not have their dead. There were a score of thousand British troops in the northern provinces, and every week brought rumors and alarms, and portents of victory or defeat. The haggard postrider came galloping in with news from north and west, which the throng of anxious village folks gather to hear. There have been skirmishes, successes, retreats, surprises, massacres, retaliations; there is news from Niagara and Oswego on far-away Lake Ontario, and echoes of the guns at Ticonderoga. There are proclamations for enlistment, and requisitions for ammunition; and the tailors in the towns are busy cutting out scarlet uniforms and decorating them with gold braid. Markets for the supply of troops are established in the woods, far from any settled habitations, where shrewd farmers bargain with the hungry soldiery for carcasses of pigs and beeves, and for disheveled hens from distant farmyards; the butcher's shop is kept under the spreading branches of the trees, from whose low limbs dangle the tempting wares, and a stump serves as a chopping block. Under the shrubbery, where the sun cannot penetrate, are stored homemade firkins full of yellow butter, and great cheeses, and heaps of substantial home-baked bread. Kegs of hard cider and spruce beer and perhaps more potent brews are abroach, and behind the haggling and jesting and bustle you may catch the ,sound of muskets or the whoop of the Indians from afar. Meanwhile, in the settlements, all manner of in dustries were stimulated, and a great number, of women throughout the country, left to take care of their children and themselves by the absence of their men folk, went into business of all kinds, and drove a thriving trade. Lotteries were also popular, the promoters retaining a good share of the profits after the nominal object of the transaction had been attained. It was well that the war operations were carried on far from the populous regions, so that only the fighters themselves were involved in the immediate consequences. The battle was for the homes of posterity, where as yet the woodman's ax had never been heard, except to provide defenses against death, instead of habitations for life. Those who could not go to the war sat round the broad country hearthstones at night, with the fire of logs leaping up the great cavern of the chimney, telling stories of past exploits, speculating as to the present, praying perhaps for the future, and pausing now and then to listen to strange noises abroad in the night-ridden sky--- strains of ghostly music playing a march or a charge, or the thunder of phantom guns.

Governor Shirley, who while .in France in 1749 bad married a French wife and brought her home with him, and who for a while bad the chief command of the King's forces in America, was in disfavor with the people, who suspected his wife of sending treasonable news to the enemy; and having also proved inefficient as a soldier, be was recalled to England iii 1756, and vanished thenceforth as a factor in American affairs, in which his influence had always been selfish and illiberal, if not worse. Thomas Pownall succeeded him and held his position for three years, when he was transferred to South Carolina. He was a man of fashion, and of little weight. From the shufe of men who appeared and disappeared during the early years of the war, a few stand out in permanent distinctness. Washington's reputation steadily increased; Amherst, Wolfe, and Lyman achieved distinction on the English side, and Montcalm and Dieskau on the French. In 1757, General Lou doun, ono, of the agents of the despoiling of Acadia, made a professed attempt to capture Louisburg, which had been given back to the French at the last peace; but after wasting a summer in vain drilling of his forces, retired in dismay -on learning that the French fleet outnumbers 'his own by one vessel. The place was bombarded a taken the next year by Amherst and Wolfe, but Ha ax was the English headquarters in that region. Before a this, however, in the summer of 1755, immediately after the defeat of Braddock, an army of New Englanders assembled at Albany to capture Crown Point, where the French had called together every able bodied man available. William Johnson was commander, and associated with him was Phinehas Lyman, a natural-born soldier. They marched to the southern shore of what the French called the Lake of the Holy Sacrament, but which Johnson thought would better be named Lake George. The army, with its Indian allies, numbered about thirtyfour hundred; a camping ground was cleared, but no intrenchments were thrown up; no enemy seemed to be within reach. Dieskau, informed of the advance, turned from his design against Oswego in the west, and marched for Fort Edward, in the rear of Johnson's troops. By a mistake of the guide he found himself approaching the open camp: Johnson sent a Massachusetts man, Ephraim Williams, with. a thousand troops, to save Fort Edward. They. nearly fell into an ambush; as it was, their party was overpowered by the enemy; Williams was killed, but Whiting of Connecticut guarded the retreat. During the action, a redoubt of logs had been constructed in the. camp, and was, strengthened with baggage and wagons. The Americans, with their fowling pieces, defended this place for five hours against two hundred regular French troops, six hundred Canadians, and as many Indians. Johnson received a scratch early in the engagement, and made it an excuse to retire; and Lyman assumed direction. Dieskau bravely led the French regulars, nearly all of whom were killed; he was four times wounded; the Canadians were intimidated. At length, about half past four in the afternoon, the French retreated, though the American losses equaled theirs; a body of them were pursued by Macginnes of New Hampshire and left their baggage behind them in their haste; but the body of Macginnes also remained on the field. , The credit for this battle, won by Lyman, was given by the English Government to Johnson, who received a baronetcy and a "tip" of five thousand pounds. It would have been the first step in a series of successes had not Johnson, instead of following up his victory, timidly remained in camp, building Fort William Henry; and when winter approached, he disbanded the New Englanders and retired. The French had taken advantage of their opportunity to intrench themselves in Ticonderoga, which was destined to become a name of awe for the colonists. At. the same time that Braddock marched on Fort Duquesne, Shirley had set out with two thousand men to capture the fort at Niagara, garrisoned by but thirty ill-armed men; the intention being to form a junction there with the all-conquering Braddock. The latter's annihilation took all the heart out of the superserviceable Shirley; he got no further than Oswego, where he frittered the summer away, and then retreated under a cloud of pretexts. He and the other royal officials were all this while pleading for a general fund to be created by Parliament, or in any other manner, so that a fund there be; and asserting ,that the frontiers would otherwise be, and in fact were, defenseless. In the face of such tales the colonies were of their own motion providing all the necessary supplies for war, and Franklin had taken personal charge of the northwest border. But the English ministry saw an these measures only increasing peril from popular power, and pushed forward a. scheme I for a military dictatorship. In May, 1756, war was formally declared, and England arbitrarily forbade other nations to carry French merchandise in their ships. Abercrombie was chosen general for the prosecution of the campaign in America, and arrived at Albany, after much dilatoriness in June. Bradstreet reported that he had put stores into Oswego for five thousand men; and that the place was already threatened by the enemy. Still the English delayed. Montcalm arrived at Quebec to lead the French army, I and immediately, planned the capture of Oswego. In August he took an outlying redoubt, and the garrison of Oswego surrendered just as he was about to open fire upon it. Sixteen hundred prisoners, over a hundred cannon, stores, boats, and money were the prize ; and Montealm destroyed. the fort and returned in triumph. Loudoun and Abercrombie, with an army of thousands of men, which could have taken Canada with ease, thought only of keeping out of Montcalm's way, pleading in excuse that they feared to trust the "provincials" -who had thus far done all the fighting that had been done, and won all the successes. In spite of the remonstrances of the civic authorities, the British troops and officers were billeted upon New York and Philadelphia. Two more frightened generals were never seen; and the provinces were left open to the enemy's attack. But the Americans took the war into their own hands. John Armstrong of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, crossed the Alleghenies in September, and in a desperate fight destroyed an Indian tribe that had been massacring along the border, burned their town and blew up their powder. In January of 1757; Stark, a daring ranger, with seventy men, made a dash on Lake George, and engaged a party of two hundred and fifty French. About the same time, at Philadelphia and Boston, it was voted to raise men for the service; a hundred thousand pounds was also voted, but the proprietors refused to .pay their quota, and represented in England that the Pennsylvanians were obstructing the measures for defense. Franklin, sent to England to remonstrate, was told that the King was the legislator of the colonies. All action was paralyzed by the corruption and cowardice of the royal officials. The pusillanimity of Loudoun, with his ten thousand men and powerful fleet in Nova Scotia, has been already mentioned. In July Montcalm, with a mixed force of more than seven thousand, advanced upon Fort William Henry. Webb, who should have opposed him, retreated, leaving Monro with five hundred men to hold the fort. He refused Montcalm's summons to surrender; Webb, who might still have saved him, refused to do so; he fought until. his ammunition was gone and half his guns burst, and then surrendered, upon Montcalm's promise of the honors of war and an escort out of the country. But the Indians had got rum from the English stores and passed the night in drunken revelry; in the morning they set upon the unarmed English as they left the fort, and began to plunder and tomahawk them. Montcalm and his officers did their utmost to stop the treacherous outrage; but thirty men were murdered. Montcalm has been treated leniently by history; he was indeed a brilliant and heroic soldier, and lie had the crowning honor of dying bravely at Quebec; but he cannot be held blameless in this affair. He had taught the Indians that he was as one of themselves, had omitted no means of securing their amity; had danced and sung with them and smiled approvingly on their butcherings and scalpings; and he had no-right to imagine that they would believe him sincere in his promise to spare the prisoners. It was too late for him to cry "gill me, but spare them!" after the massacre had commenced. It was his duty to have taken measures to render such a thing impossible beforehand. He had touched pitch, and was defiled.

Disgrace and panic reigned among all the English commanders. Webb whimpered to be allowed to fall back on the Hudson with his six thousand men; Loudoun cowered in New York with his large army, .and could think of no better way of defending the northwest frontier than by intrenching himself on Long Island. There was not an Englishman in the Ohio or the St. Lawrence Basins. Everywhere beyond the narrow strip of the colonies the French were paramount. In Europe, England's position was almost as contemptible. Such was the result of the attempt of the aristocracy to rule England. There was only one man who could save England, and he was an old man, poor, a commoner, and sick almost to death. But in 1757 William Pitt was called to the' English helm, accepted the responsibility, and steered the country from her darkest to her most brilliant hour. The campaigns which drove the soldiers of Louis XV out of America were the first chapter of the movement which ended in the expulsion of the British from the territory of the United States. Catholicism and Protestantism were arrayed against each other for the last time. Pitt was the man of the people; his ambition, though generous, was as great as his abilities; the colonies knew him as their friend. "I can save this country, and nobody else can," he said; and bent his final energies to making England the foremost nation in the world, and the most respected. The faith of Rome allied France with Austria; and Prussia, with Frederick the Great, standing as the sole bulwark of Protestantism on the continent, was inevitably drawn toward England.

With one movement of his all-powerful hand, Pitt reversed the oppressive and suicidal policy of the colonial administration. Loudoun was recalled; his excuses were vain. Amherst and Wolfe were sent out. The colonies were told that no compulsion should be put upon them; they were expected to levy, clothe and pay their men, but the Government would repay their outlay. Instantly they responded, and their contributions exceeded all anticipation. Massachusetts taxed herself thirteen and fourpence in the pound. Provincial officers not above colonel ranked with the British, and a new spirit animated, all. On the other hand, Canada suffered from famine, and Montcalm foresaw eventual defeat. Amherst and Wolfe, with ten thousand men, captured Louisburg and destroyed the fortifications. At the same time, a great army was collected against Ticonderoga. Nine thousand provincials, with Stark, Israel Putnam, and six hundred New England dangers, camped side by side with over six thousand troops of the British regulars under Abercrombie and Lord Howe. The French under Montcalm had erected Fort Carillon on the outlet from Lake George to Champlain, approachable only from the northwest. It was here that be planned his defense. The English disembarked on the west side of the lake, protected by Point Howe. In marching round the bend they came upon a French party of three hundred and defeated them, Howe falling in the first attack. Montcalm was behind intrenchments with thirty-six hundred men; Abercrombie rashly gave orders to carry the works by storm without waiting for cannon, but was careful to remain far in the rear during the action. The attack was most gallantly and persistently delivered; nearly two thousand men, mostly regulars, were killed; and, at the end of the murderous day, Moritcalm remained master of the field. Abercrombie still had four times as man men as Montcalm, and with his artillery could easily have carried the works and captured Ticonderoga; but he was by this time "distilled almost to a jelly by the act of fear" and fled headlong at once. Montcalm had not yet met leis match.

Bradstreet, however, with seven hundred Massachusetts men and eleven hundred New Yorkers, crossed Lake Ontario and took Fort Frontenae, the garrison fleeing at their approach. Amherst, on hearing of Abercrombie's cowardice, embarked for Boston with over four thousand men, marched thence to Albany and on to the camp; Abercrombie was sent to England, and Amherst took his place as chief.' The capture. of Fort Duquesne was the first thing planned. Over forty-five hundred men were raised in South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia; Joseph Forbes commanded them ax brigadier-general; Washington led the Virginians; John Armstrong and the boy, Anthony Wayne, were with the Pennsylvanians. Washington, who had clad part of his men in Indian deerskins, wanted to follow Braddock's line of march; but Forbes, who had not long to live, though his brain remained clear, preferred to build a road by which ready communication with Philadelphia could be kept up. Washington got news that the Fort had but eight hundred defenders, and a strong reconnoissance was sent forward, without his knowledge, under Major Grant, who, thinking he had the ]French at advantage, exposed himself and was defeated with a loss of three hundred. The remaining five hundred reached camp in good order, thanks to the discipline which had been given them by Washington.. Forbes had decided to advance no further that season-it was then November; but Washington had information which caused him to gain permission to advance with twenty-five hundred provincials, and he occupied intrenchments near Duquesne. Nine days later the rest of the army arrived; and the garrison of the Fort set fire to it at night and fled. The place was entered by the troops, Armstrong raised the British flag, and at Forbes's suggestion it was rechristened Pittsburgh. And there, above the confluence of the two rivers, the city named after the Great Commoner stands to-day. A vast and fertile country was thenceforward opened to the east. After burying the bleaching bones of the men killed under Braddock, a garrison was left on the spot, and the rest of the army returned.

Washington, who had seen five years' arduous service, resigned his commission, and after receiving cordial honors from his fellow officers and the Virginia Legislature, married the widow, Martha Custis, and settled down as a planter in Mount Vernon. He was a delegate to the Virginia House of Burgesses and to the Continental Congresses of 1774 and 1775; but it was not until the later year that be reappeared as a soldier, accepting the command of the Continental forces on the 15th of June, not against the French, but against the English.

In 1759 the genius and spirit of Pitt began to be fully felt. The English were triumphant in Europe, and a comprehensive plan for the conquest of Canada was intrusted for the first time to men capable of carrying it out. Thousands of men were enlisted and paid for by the colonies north of Maryland. Stanwix, Amherst, Prideaux, and Wolfe were the chiefs in command. Fifty thousand English and provincial troops were opposed by not more than an eighth as many half-starved Frenchmen and Canadians. Montcalm had no illusions; be told the French Minister of War that, barring extraordinary accidents, Canada's hour had come; but he "was resolved to find his grave under the ruins of _ the colony." And young General Wolfe 'had said, on being given the department of the St. Lawrence, "I feel called upon to justify the notice taken of me by such exertions and exposure of myself as will probably lead to my fall." . The premonitions of both these valiant soldiers were fulfilled. Wolfe was at this time thirtytwo years of age, and had spent half his life in the army. The Marquis de Montcalm was forty-seven when he fell on the Plains of Abraham. Neither general had been defeated up to the moment they faced each other; neither could succumb to any less worthy adversary.

But the first objective point was not Quebec, but Fort Niagara, which, standing between Erie and Ontario, commanded the fur trade of the country to the west. Prideaux, with an adequate force of English, Americans, and Indians, invested the place in July, D'Aubry, the French commanders bringing up twelve hundred men to relieve it. Just before the action, Prideaux was killed by the bursting of a mountain howitzer, but Sir William Johnson was at hand to take his place. On the 24th- the battle took place; the French were flanked by the English Indiana, and charged by the English; they broke and - fled, and the Fort surrendered next day. Stanwix had meanwhile taken possession of all the French posts between Pittsburgh and Erie. The English had got their enemy on the run all along the line. Gage was the only English officer to disgrace himself in this campaign; he squirmed out of compliance with Amherst's order to occupy the, passes of Ogdensburg. Amherst, with artillery and eleven thousand men, advanced on the hitherto invincible Ticonderoga. The French knew they. were beaten, and therefore, instead 0f fighting, abandoned the famous stronghold and Crown Point, and retreated down to Isle aux Nois, whither Amherst should have followed them. Instead of doing so,, he took to building and repairing fortifications-the last infirmity of military minds of a certain order-and finally went into winter quarters with nothing further hone. Amherst, at the end of the war, received the routine rewards of a well-meaning and not defeated commander in chief; but it was Wolfe who won immortality.

He collected his force of eight thousand men, including two battalions of "Royal Americans," at Louisburg; among his ship captains was Cook the explorer; Lieutenant Colonel Howe commanded a body of light infantry. Before the end of June the army stepped ashore on the island that fills the channel of the St. Lawrence below Quebec, called the Isle of Orleans. Montcalm's camp was between them and -the tall ac. clivity on which stood the famous fortress, which had defied capture for a hundred and thirty years. The French outnumbered the English, but neither the physical condition nor the morale of their troops was good. That beetling cliff was the ally on which Montcalm most depended. All the landing places up stream for nine miles had been fortified: the small river St. Charles covered with its sedgy marshes the approach on the north and east, while on the west another stream, the Montmorenci, rising nearly at the same place as the St. Charles, falls in cataracts into the St. Lawrence nine miles above the citadel. All these natural features had been improved by military art. High up, north and west of the city, spread the broad Plains of Abraham.

Wolfe's fleet commanded the river and the south shore. Point Levi, on this shore, opposite Quebec, was fortified by the English, and siege guns were mounted there, the channel being but a mile wide; the lower town could be reached by the red-hot balls, but not the lofty citadel. After personally examining the region during the greater part of July, Wolfe decided on a double attack; one party to ford the Montmorenci, which was practicable at a certain hour of the tide, and the other to cross over in boats from Point Levi. But the boats grounded on some rocks in the channel; and Wolfe was repulsed at the Montmorenci. Four hundred men were lost. An expedition was now sent up stream to open communication with Amherst; but though it was learned that Niagara, Crown Point and Ticonderoga had fallen, Amherst did not appear. Wolfe must do his work alone; the entire population of the country was against him, and the strongest natural fortification in the world. His eager anxiety threw him into a fever. "My constitution is entirely ruined, without the consolation of having done any considerable service to the state, and without any prospect of it," was what he wrote to the English Government. Four days afterward he was dying victorious on the Plains of Abraham.

The early Canadian winter would soon. be at hand. The impossible must be done, and at once. Wolfe, after several desperate proposals of his had been rejected by the council of war, made a feint in force up the river in the hope of getting Montcalm where he could fight him. He scrutinized the precipitous north shore as with a magnifying glass. - At last, on the 11th of September, the hope that had so long been burning within him was gratified. By what a hope! A headlong goat track cleft its zigzag way upon the awful steep and emerged at last upon the dizzy and breathless .height above. Two men could scarce climb Abreast in it; and even this was defended by fortifications, and at the summit, against the sky, tents could be seen. Yet this was the only way to victory: only by this heartbreaking path could England drive France from the western continent and give a mighty nation to the world. Wolfe saw and was content; where one roan could go thousands mighty follow. And he perceived that the very difficulty of the enterprise was the best assurance of its success. The place was defended indeed, but not strongly. Montcalm knew what daring could accomplish, but even he had not dreamed of daring such as this. Wolfe, with a great soul kindled into flame by the resolve to achieve a feat almost beyond mortal limitations, dared it and prevailed.

Till the hour of action he kept his troops far up the stream. By the 13th all preparations were made. Night came on calm like the heart of the hero who knows that the culminating moment of his destiny has arrived. At such a crisis the mortal part of the man is transfigured by the towering spirit, and his eyes pierce through the veils of things. His life lies beneath him and he contemplates its vicissitudes with the high tranquillity of an immortal freedom. What is death to him who has already triumphed over the fetters of the flesh and tasted the drink of immortality?, He is the trustee of the purpose of God, and the guerdon his deed deserves can be nothing less noble than to die.

It was at one in the morning that the adventure was begun. Silently the boats moved down the stream, the dark ships following in silence. Thousands of brave hearts beat with heroic resolve beneath the eternal stars. The shadowy cove was gained; Wolfe's foot has touched the shore; as the armed figures follow and gather at the foot of the ascent, no words are spoken, but what an eloquence in those faces! Upward they climb, afire with zeal; Howe has won a battery! upward! the picket on the height, too late aroused from sleep by the stern miracle, is overpowered. With panting lungs man after man tope the ascent and sees the darkling plain and forms in line with his comrades, while still the stream winds up endlessly from the depths below. The earth is giving birth to an army. Coiling upward, deploying, ranging out, rank after rank they are extended along the front of the forest, with Quebec before them. No drum has beat; no bugle has spoken; but Wolfe is there, his spirit is in five thousand breasts, and there needs no trumpet for the battle.

Continue to Chapter 12 Part 2