French & Indian War: Marquis de Montcalm

Marquis de Montcalm
Louis-Joseph de Montcalm. Public Domain

Marquis de Montcalm - Early Life & Career:

Born February 28, 1712 at Chateau de Candiac near Nîmes, France, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm-Gozon was the son of Louis-Daniel de Montcalm and Marie-Thérèse de Pierre. At the age of nine, his father arranged for him to be commissioned as an ensign in the Régiment d’Hainaut. Remaining at home, Montcalm was educated by a tutor and in 1729 received a commission as a captain. Moving to active service three years later, he took part in the War of the Polish Succession. Serving under Marshal de Saxe and the Duke of Berwick, Montcalm saw action during the siege of Kehl and Philippsburg. Following his father's death in 1735, he inherited the title of Marquis de Saint-Veran. Returning home, Montcalm married Angélique-Louise Talon de Boulay on October 3, 1736.

Marquis de Montcalm - War of the Austrian Succession:

With the beginning of the War of the Austrian Succession in late 1740, Montcalm obtained an appointment as aide-de-camp to Lieutenant General Marquis de La Fare. Besieged at Prague with Marshal de Belle-Isle, he sustained a wound but quickly recovered. Following the French withdraw in 1742, Montcalm sought to improve his situation. On March 6, 1743, he purchased the colonelcy of the Régiment d'Auxerrois for 40,000 livres. Taking part in Marshal de Maillebois' campaigns in Italy, he earned the Order of Saint Louis in 1744. Two years later, Montcalm sustained five saber wounds and was taken prisoner by the Austrians at the Battle of Piacenza. Paroled after seven months in captivity, he received a promotion to brigadier for his performance in the 1746 campaign.

Returning to active duty in Italy, Montcalm fell wounded during the defeat at Assietta in July 1747. Recovering, he later aided in lifting the siege of Ventimiglia. With the end of the war in 1748, Montcalm found himself in command of part of the army in Italy. In February 1749, his regiment was absorbed by another unit. As a result, Montcalm lost his investment in the colonelcy. This was offset when he was commissioned mestre-de-camp and given permission to raise a regiment of cavalry bearing his own name. These efforts strained Montcalm's fortunes and on July 11, 1753, his petition to the Minister of War, Comte d’Argenson, for a pension was granted in the amount of 2,000 livres annually. Retiring to his estate, he enjoyed the country life and society in Montpellier.

Marquis de Montcalm - The French & Indian War:

The next year, tensions between Britain and France exploded in North American following Lieutenant Colonel George Washington's defeat at Fort Necessity. As the French & Indian War began, British forces won a victory at the Battle of Lake George in September 1755. In the fighting, the French commander in North America, Jean Erdman, Baron Dieskau, fell wounded and was captured by the British. Seeking a replacement for Dieskau, the French command selected Montcalm and promoted him to major general on March 11, 1756. Sent to New France (Canada), his orders gave him command of forces in the field but made him subordinate to the governor-general, Pierre de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial.

Sailing from Brest with reinforcements on April 3, Montcalm's convoy reached the St. Lawrence River five weeks later. Landing at Cap Tourmente, he proceeded overland to Quebec before pressing on to Montreal to confer with Vaudreuil. In the meeting, Montcalm learned of Vaudreuil's intention to attack Fort Oswego later in the summer. After being sent to inspect Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) on Lake Champlain, he returned to Montreal to oversee operations against Oswego. Striking in mid-August, Montcalm's mixed force of regulars, colonials, and Native Americans captured the fort after a brief siege. Though a victory, Montcalm and Vaudreuil's relationship showed signs of strain as they disagreed over strategy and the effectiveness of colonial forces.

Marquis de Montcalm - Fort William Henry:

In 1757, Vaudreuil ordered Montcalm to attack British bases south of Lake Champlain. This directive was in line with his preference for conducting spoiling attacks against the enemy and conflicted with Montcalm's belief that New France should be protected by a static defense. Moving south, Montcalm mustered around 6,200 men at Fort Carillon before moving across Lake George to strike at Fort William Henry. Coming ashore, his troops isolated the fort on August 3. Later that day he demanded that Lieutenant Colonel George Monro surrender his garrison. When the British commander refused, Montcalm began the Siege of Fort William Henry. Lasting six days, the siege ended with Monro finally capitulating. The victory lost a bit of luster when a force of Native Americans who had fought with the French attacked the paroled British troops and their families as they departed the area.

Marquis de Montcalm - Battle of Carillon:

Following the victory, Montcalm elected to withdraw back to Fort Carillon citing a lack of supplies and the departure of his Native American allies. This angered Vaudreuil who had desired his field commander to push south to Fort Edward. That winter, the situation in New France deteriorated as food became scarce and the two French leaders continued to quarrel. In the spring of 1758, Montcalm returned to Fort Carillon with the intention of stopping a thrust north by Major General James Abercrombie. Learning that the British possessed around 15,000 men, Montcalm, whose army mustered less than 4,000, debated if and where to make a stand. Electing to defend Fort Carillon, he ordered its outer works expanded.

This work was nearing completion when Abercrombie's army arrived in early July. Shaken by the death of his skilled second-in-command, Brigadier General George Augustus Howe, and concerned that Montcalm would receive reinforcements, Abercrombie ordered his men to assault Montcalm's works on July 8 without bringing up his artillery. In making this rash decision, Abercrombie failed to see obvious advantages in the terrain which would have allowed him to easily defeat the French. Instead, the Battle of Carillon saw British forces mount numerous frontal assaults against Montcalm's fortifications. Unable to break through and having taken heavy losses, Abercrombie fell back across Lake George.

Marquis de Montcalm - Defense of Quebec:

As in the past, Montcalm and Vaudreuil fought in the wake of the victory over credit and the future defense of New France. With the loss of Louisbourg in late July, Montcalm became increasingly pessimistic about whether New France could be held. Lobbying Paris, he asked for reinforcements and, fearing defeat, to be recalled. This latter request was denied and on October 20, 1758, Montcalm received a promotion to lieutenant general and made Vaudreuil's superior. As 1759 approached, the French commander anticipated a British onslaught on multiple fronts. In early May 1759, a supply convoy reached Quebec with a few reinforcements. A month later a large British force led by Admiral Sir Charles Saunders and Major General James Wolfe arrived in the St. Lawrence.

Building fortifications on the north shore of the river to the east of the city at Beauport, Montcalm successfully frustrated Wolfe's initial operations. Seeking other options, Wolfe had several ships run upstream past Quebec's batteries. These began seeking landing sites to the west. Locating a site at Anse-au-Foulon, British forces started crossing on September 13. Moving up the heights, they formed for battle on the Plains of Abraham. After learning of this situation, Montcalm raced west with his men. Arriving on the plains, he immediately formed for battle despite the fact that Colonel Louis-Antoine de Bougainville was marching to his aid with around 3,000 men. Montcalm justified this decision by expressing concern that Wolfe would fortify the position at Anse-au-Foulon.

Opening the Battle of Quebec, Montcalm moved to attack in columns. In doing so, the French lines became somewhat disorganized as they crossed the uneven terrain of the plain. Under orders to hold their fire until the French were within 30-35 yards, the British troops had double-charged their muskets with two balls. After enduring two volleys from the French, the front rank opened fire in a volley that was compared to a cannon shot. Advancing a few paces, the second British line unleashed a similar volley shattering the French lines. Early in the battle, Wolfe was hit in the wrist. Tending to the injury he continued, but was soon hit in the stomach and chest. Issuing his final orders, he died on the field. With the French army retreating towards the city and the St. Charles River, the French militia continued to fire from nearby woods with the support of floating battery near the St. Charles River bridge. During the retreat, Montcalm was hit in the lower abdomen and thigh. Taken into the city, he died the next day. Initially buried near the city, Montcalm's remains were moved several times until being reinterred at the cemetery of the Quebec General Hospital in 2001.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "French & Indian War: Marquis de Montcalm." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). French & Indian War: Marquis de Montcalm. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "French & Indian War: Marquis de Montcalm." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).