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Major-General James Wolfe

Essay by   •  December 24, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  2,555 Words (11 Pages)  •  1,213 Views

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The history books should be re-written as to include Major-General James Wolfe as one of the founding fathers of our country. During the Seven years War he served as part of the British military and was the commander-in-chief of the British, American, and Highlander forces at the Battle of Quebec. His plan of attack up the Anse du Foulon to the Plains of Abraham was not only incredibly daring, but highly effective as it was this decisive move that allowed Wolfe's army to capture the city of Quebec. He caught the French forces completely off guard and was therefore able to even out the numbers to almost completely even fighting forces. The question that lies ahead of me in this paper is to answer a two part question to the best of my ability with the research I have done. How was James Wolfe able to lead the English forces, which were outnumbered 4 to 1, to victory? Was this victory at the Battle of Quebec truly a victory of a madman?

The siege of Quebec was a chess match between two men, Major-General James Wolfe of the British army, and Marquis de Montcalm of the French military. Major-General James Wolfe had been in service to the British army since the age of fifteen. However, his involvement in the army started at age thirteen and a half when he volunteered to go with his father on the Carthegena Expedition. Luckily for him he became ill and was sent home before setting sail. The Carthegena Expedition was a terrible excursion and took the lives of many stronger men to severe fever. It was inconceivable that a boy of Wolfe's age at the time would have survived such an expedition. Officially enlisting at the age of fifteen, James Wolfe had all the makings of a military prodigy. In fact, it was documented that for his leave from the army after being named lieutenant-colonel that he wanted to study artillery and engineering at Metz but was refused. Wolfe was able to successfully gain rank at a young age through diligence on the battlefield, and great military understanding. Major-General Wolfe understood the military better than most everybody he acted as a subordinate. Wolfe felt that there were problems with the British military due to political appointments where military appointments were needed. On top of this, Wolfe deemed chivalry one of the most important qualities of a strong military. During the Jacobite revolution Wolfe was riding with a superior through the battlefield when he was ordered to shoot a wounded highlander who had been staring at them. In response Wolfe rebutted with the statement, "My commission is at your Highness's disposal, but I can never consent to be an executioner" (Hart, 216). In this act, Wolfe was able to show that one person can be enthralled with war without being consumed by it entirely.

In previous courses that I have partaken in it had always been told that Captain James Wolfe was a "mad-man at the end of his wit," and that his attack at the Anse du Foulon was a "last ditch effort for Wolfe to die with honor on the field of battle." Indeed James Wolfe had his share of problems. Before being able to rejoice in being promoted to captain of the 4th Foot, he was passed the grave news that his brother Edward, one year his inferior, had died from the inclement conditions at Flanders. However, Wolfe was one of the lucky people who understood death as part of war. Wolfe's main problem was the way that the military was handled by those in charge. Speaking on the refusal for his leave to Metz to study in artillery, he sent a private letter in which he described his unhappiness with their (his superiors) decision; "They oppose the only method that can be fallen upon to preserve any knowledge of military affairs in the army." "This is a dreadful mistake and, if obstinately pursued, will disgust a number of good intentions, and preserve that prevailing ignorance of military affairs that has been so fatal to us in all our undertakings ..." (Hart, 223). Wolfe clearly was despondent, but nonetheless he continued on in his leadership to the best of his ability.

However, Wolfe wasn't completely the dreadful picture that I have painted thus far. In fact, Wolfe was a very personable character and understood full that troop morale was undoubtedly one of the keys to a successful army. With this in mind, Wolfe was known to throw the occasional dance, inviting the local women to come and enjoy the company of British soldiers. Wolfe was a man who was able to enjoy the finer things in life as well as the next. In October of 1752, Wolfe took leave to Paris where he woke up an hour before dawn so that he could get all of his daily routines in; his daily routines which included riding, fencing, and dancing. Having already studied Latin extensively, Wolfe found himself being tutored in French as well during his stay in Paris. After five months in Paris, Wolfe had planned to go to the countryside and visit French camps. However, his commanding officer didn't feel that it was a sufficient use of his leave and recalled him almost immediately upon hearing his pending request. Wolfe then headed back to the lugubrious setting of Glasgow where he found his company in quite a bit of disarray.

Finally good fortune found him as he was named Major-General of forces heading to America. This title was only bestowed upon him when he was present in North America, but that was only how long he was going to need the title. After being a part in capturing the strongest fortress in the New World, Louisburg, Wolfe was to return to London for two months in order to recuperate. It was upon his return that he was to navigate down the St. Lawrence River and lay siege upon the city of Quebec. His force of roughly nine thousand soldiers was comprised of British regulars, Scottish Highlanders, and American troops. Wolfe thought very highly of the Scottish Highlanders, saying that they were, "commanded by the most manly corps of officers I ever saw (Hart, 233)." This was much more highly a regard then he held the Americans calling them, "the dirtiest most contemptible cowardly dogs that you can conceive (Hart, 255)." He even continued on to say that they were, "the worst soldiers in the world" (Donaldson, 100). However, Wolfe still was upset at the fact that he only received six companies of the American Rangers at Louisburg. "Wolfe was to be hailed as "the soldier's friend", a general loved by his men, but his letters are marked by violent outbursts against the common soldier" (Donaldson, 99). Wolfe even went on to insult his British regulars. "I know their discipline to be bad and their valour precarious. They are easily put to disorder and hard to recover out of it. They frequently kill their officers through fear and murder one another in confusion" (Donaldson, 100). Major-General Wolfe was the

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