Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wolfe, James
WOLFE, JAMES (1727–1759), major-general, born on 2 Jan. 1727 (22 Dec. 1726 O.S.) at the vicarage, Westerham, Kent, was eldest son of Edward Wolfe, by Henrietta (whose portrait was painted by Thomas Hudson; see Cat. Third Loan Exhib. No. 806), daughter of Edward Thompson of Marsden, Yorkshire. Of Edward Wolfe's father there is no trace, but his grandfather is said to have been Captain George Wolfe, who was one of the leading defenders of Limerick in 1651, and who belonged to a family, originally Welsh, but long settled in Ireland (Wright, p. 4).
Born in 1685, Edward Wolfe was commissioned as second lieutenant of marines on 10 March 1701–2. He served in the Netherlands under Marlborough, and in Scotland during the rebellion of 1715. He was adjutant-general in the expedition to Carthagena in 1740. On his return he was made inspector of marines. On 25 April 1745 he was given the colonelcy of the 8th foot, and on 4 June he was promoted major-general. He was employed for a short time under Wade during the rebellion of that year. He died, a lieutenant-general, on 26 March 1759, six months before his son. ‘Extremely upright and benevolent,’ he seems to have had no great force of character.
The childhood of James Wolfe was spent at Westerham in a house now known as Quebec house, which his parents took soon after his birth, and there he began a lifelong friendship with George Warde of Squerries Court. About 1737 his family removed to Greenwich, and he was sent to a school there, kept by the Rev. Samuel Swinden. In July 1740 he persuaded his father to let him go with him to the West Indies; but he fell ill before the expedition started, and was left behind.
On 3 Nov. 1741 he was given a commission as second lieutenant in his father's regiment of marines, then numbered the 44th foot. From this he passed, on 27 March 1742, to an ensigncy in the 12th foot (Duroure's), with which he embarked for Flanders a month afterwards. He was quartered at Ghent till February 1743, and then set out with the army on a long march to the Main. He soon found ‘my strength is not so great as I imagined;’ and he shared a horse with his brother Edward, an ensign in the same regiment.
At the battle of Dettingen on 27 June the regiment was in the middle of the first line, and was the one which suffered most. Wolfe wrote an excellent account of the battle to his father as soon as he had recovered from illness, brought on by fatigue. He was acting adjutant, though only sixteen, and his horse was shot; ‘so I was obliged to do the duty of an adjutant all that and the next day on foot, in a pair of heavy boots.’ He was commissioned as adjutant on 2 July, and promoted lieutenant on the 14th.
He spent the winter of 1743–4 at Ostend with his regiment. On 3 June 1744 he obtained a company in the 4th foot (Barrel's), and served with it in the futile campaign of that year, under Wade. In October he lost his brother, ‘an honest and a good lad;’ he was now the only child of his parents. He was in garrison at Ghent during the winter, and his regiment did not join the army till after the battle of Fontenoy. On 12 June 1745 he was appointed brigade-major, and for the next three years he served on the staff. In September he accompanied the regiments which were recalled to England, and sent to join Wade at Newcastle, to oppose the advance of the young Pretender.
After the retreat of the latter from Derby, Wade's army marched under Hawley upon Stirling, and was beaten at Falkirk. Wolfe was present, and afterwards went with the army to Aberdeen. During their stay there he was sent by Hawley to Mrs. Gordon, whose house Hawley was occupying, and she has left a vivid but not quite trustworthy account of his visits and of the plunder of her property (Lyon in Mourning, iii. 169, &c.)
He was on the staff at Culloden, and described the battle in a letter next day, but said nothing of his own share in it. His regiment was the one which suffered most, losing one-third of its men. According to an often-repeated story, Wolfe was told by the Duke of Cumberland, after the battle, to shoot a wounded highlander, ‘who seemed to smile defiance of them;’ he refused, and from that day declined in the duke's favour (Anti-Jacobin Review, 1802, p. 125). This last statement is certainly unfounded, and the rest perhaps equally so. Wolfe's name was not mentioned in the earliest version of the story, which is to be found in a letter from the Rev. James Hay of Inverness to Bishop Forbes. His authority for it is, ‘It was told by the sogars.’ The highlander was Charles Fraser of Inverallochy (Lyon in Mourning, ii. 305, iii. 56; Mackenzie, Hist. of the Frasers of Lovat, p. 515). Among the ‘Cumberland Papers’ at Windsor there are several letters to him, probably found on his body at Culloden.
Wolfe went back to the Netherlands in January 1746–7, and was brigade-major of Mordaunt's brigade in the campaign which followed. He was wounded at Laeffelt, and is said to have been personally thanked by the duke for his services. He went home for the winter, but rejoined the army in March, and remained till the end of the year with the troops quartered near Breda to guard the Dutch frontier. On his return to England he saw a good deal of Miss Elizabeth Lawson, the eldest daughter of Sir Wilfred Lawson, and the niece of General Mordaunt, his late brigadier. He formed a strong attachment for her, but his parents were adverse, and the lady herself refused him. At the end of four years he gave up hope. She died unmarried in March 1759. On 5 Jan. 1748–9 he obtained a majority in the 20th foot (Lord George Sackville's), and joined it at Stirling early in February. The lieutenant-colonel, Cornwallis, went to Nova Scotia soon afterwards as governor, and Wolfe had command of the regiment except when the colonel was present. This had its drawbacks: ‘My stay must be everlasting; and thou know'st, Hal, how I hate compulsion’ (2 April 1749). The regiment was sent to Glasgow in March, and to Perth in November. Lord Bury became colonel of it there, and on 20 March 1749–50 Wolfe was given the lieutenant-colonelcy. He felt his responsibility as ‘a military parent’ not yet twenty-three, and was at great pains to set a good example. But the monotony soon fretted him: ‘The care of a regiment of foot is very heavy, exceeding troublesome, and not at all the thing I delight in’ (6 Nov. 1751). The climate tried him, for he needed sunshine for health; and ‘the change of conversation, the fear of becoming a mere ruffian … proud, insolent, and intolerable,’ made him wish to get away from the regiment from time to time.
Besides this, he had a strong desire to make good the deficiencies of his education. He took lessons in mathematics and Latin while he was at Glasgow, and he wanted to go abroad for a year or two to perfect himself in French, and at the same time study artillery and engineering. But the Duke of Cumberland refused him leave, saying, not unreasonably, that a lieutenant-colonel ought not to be absent from his regiment for any considerable time. ‘This is a dreadful mistake,’ Wolfe wrote, ‘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’ (9 June 1751). Baulked of his purpose, he spent the winter of 1750–1 in London dissipations, which injured his health. He rejoined his regiment at Banff in April. In September they went to Inverness, and in May 1752 to Fort Augustus. He formed a friendship with Mrs. Forbes of Culloden, danced with the daughter of Macdonald of Keppoch, and tried to capture Macpherson of Cluny, who was still hiding in his own country (Wright, p. 310). He made the best of his ‘exile,’ taking plenty of exercise, for he was a keen sportsman, and reading much. He recommended ‘L'Esprit des Lois’ to his friend Rickson, and found ‘Thucydides’ (in a French version) ‘a most incomparable book.’
Rickson was then in Nova Scotia, and Wolfe took great interest in his accounts of that country, foreseeing that much would happen there in the next war with France. For the desultory frontier warfare which was going on, he said: ‘I should imagine that two or three independent highland companies might be of use; they are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall’ (9 June 1751).
In June 1752 he got leave of absence, and after paying a visit to his uncle, Major Walter Wolfe, in Dublin, he was allowed to go to Paris in October. He remained there till March 1753, taking daily lessons in French, riding, fencing, and dancing, but seeing a good deal of the court and society. He asked leave to attend a French camp of exercise in the summer, and hoped to see something of the Prussians and Austrians; but he was recalled to the regiment owing to the sudden death of the major.
The summer was spent in road-making on Loch Lomond. In September the regiment left Scotland for Dover, and for the next four years it was quartered in the south of England. In the winter of 1754–5 it was at Exeter, and Wolfe wrote: ‘I have danced the officers into the good graces of the Jacobite women hereabouts.’ A year later it was at Canterbury, preparing to take the field in case of invasion, and Wolfe issued his admirable ‘instructions for the 20th regiment (in case the French land)’ on 15 Dec. 1755. He was often severe both on officers and men, but at this time he wrote: ‘We have … some incomparable battalions, the like of which cannot, I'll venture to say, be found in any army,’ and his own was one of them. Men of rank who wished to learn soldiering elected to serve in it. Wolfe had introduced a system of manœuvres which continued in use long after his death (see p. 18 of Manœuvres for a Battalion of Infantry, published in 1766), and had a wide reputation as a regimental officer. It seems to have been in reply to some mention of this by his mother that he wrote to her: ‘I reckon it a very great misfortune to this country that I, your son, who have, I know, but a very moderate capacity, and some degree of diligence a little above the ordinary run, should be thought, as I generally am, one of the best officers of my rank in the service’ (8 Nov. 1755). But he did not strike others as diffident: ‘the world could not expect more from him than he thought himself capable of performing’ (Walpole, George II, ii. 240).
He had hopes of the colonelcy of the 20th when it became vacant in April 1755, but it was given to Philip Honeywood, and, when again vacant in May 1756, to William Kingsley. It was as ‘Kingsley's’ that the regiment fought at Minden. In February 1757 Wolfe accepted the post of quartermaster-general in Ireland, which was usually held by a colonel, in the hope of obtaining that rank; but he was still judged too young. The appointment (which he resigned in January 1758) did not take him away from his regiment, to which a second battalion was added in the spring of 1757. It was then stationed in Dorset, and a few months before part of it had been sent to Gloucestershire under Wolfe, on account of riots. He shared the general discontent at the mismanagement of affairs at this time: ‘We are the most egregious blunderers in war that ever took the hatchet in hand’ (17 July 1756); ‘this country is going fast upon its ruin by the paltry projects and more ridiculous execution of those who are entrusted’ (undated). He begged his mother ‘to persuade the general (his father) to contribute all he can possibly afford towards the defence of the island—retrenching, if need be, his expenses, moderate as they are’ (23 Feb. 1757).
At the end of June 1757 Pitt entered on his great administration, and in September an expedition was sent against Rochefort at his instance. The troops were commanded by Wolfe's friend, Sir John Mordaunt [q. v.] Both battalions of the 20th went, and Wolfe was made quartermaster-general of the force. It arrived off the French coast on 20 Sept., and remained there ten days, effecting nothing except the occupation of the Ile d'Aix. Wolfe came home very indignant: ‘We blundered most egregiously on all sides—sea and land’ (24 Oct.); ‘the public could not do better than dismiss six or eight of us from the service. No zeal, no ardour, no care and concern for the good and honour of the country’ (17 Oct.) There was much to be said on the other side, and it is doubtful if a landing would have fared better than that of Tollemache in 1694 (see Report of the Court of Inquiry, 1758, Wolfe's evidence is given at pp. 28–31 and 46–8; cf. Mémoires de Luynes, xvi. 189, 201). But Wolfe held that in such cases ‘the honour of our country is to have some weight, and that in particular circumstances and times the loss of a thousand men is rather an advantage to a nation than otherwise, seeing that gallant attempts raise its reputation and make it respectable; whereas the contrary appearances sink the credit of a country, ruin the troops, and create infinite uneasiness and discontent at home’ (5 Nov.)
In the same letter he says: ‘I am not sorry that I went; one may always pick up something useful from amongst the most fatal errors;’ and he went on to develop the lessons he had learnt. He profited, too, in another way. His own zeal and ardour had been conspicuous, and the admiral, Sir Edward Hawke, gave the king a good opinion of him. He made him brevet colonel on 21 Oct.; and afterwards said to Newcastle: ‘Mad, is he? then I hope he will bite some others of my generals’ (Wright, p. 487). Above all, Pitt welcomed evidence that the failure of the expedition was due to faults of execution, not of conception, and he marked Wolfe as a man to be employed. He was, in fact, as Walpole said, ‘formed to execute the designs of such a master as Pitt.’
On 7 Jan. 1758 he was summoned from Exeter to London, and made the journey, 170 miles, in thirty-two hours. He was offered the command of a brigade in the force which was to be sent against Louisbourg, and he accepted; ‘though I know the very passage threatens my life, and that my constitution must be utterly ruined and undone’ (12 Jan.) His letter of service as brigadier in America was dated 23 Jan. He embarked on 12 Feb. and reached Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 8 May. On the 28th the expedition left Halifax, the fleet commanded by Boscawen; the land forces, consisting of more than eleven thousand regulars and five hundred provincials, by Jeffrey (afterwards Baron) Amherst [q. v.] Louisbourg was sighted on 1 June, but for a week the weather prevented a landing. On the 8th, at dawn, the boats rowed for the shore of Gabarus Bay in three divisions, two of which were meant to distract the attention of the enemy. The third, under Wolfe, was to force a landing at Freshwater Cove, a crescent-shaped beach a quarter of a mile long, with rocks at each end. Wolfe had twelve companies of grenadiers, 550 light infantry, Fraser's regiment of Highlanders, and some New England rangers. The cove was guarded by nearly a thousand French troops, behind intrenchments and abatis, and eight guns in masked batteries swept the beach and the approaches. These guns opened fire upon the boats at close range, and with such effect that Wolfe signalled to retire; but some of the boats that were less exposed kept on, and landed their men on the rocks at one end. Wolfe followed with the rest, and, climbing the cliff, stormed the nearest battery with the bayonet. One of the other divisions landed soon afterwards at the other end of the beach, and the French, fearing they would be cut off from their fortress, left their intrenchments and fled. The British loss was only 109.
The siege of Louisbourg followed. Wolfe was sent round the harbour with twelve hundred men to occupy the Lighthouse point, and there he made batteries which fired on the ships in the harbour, and on the island battery which guarded the entrance. By the end of a fortnight the island battery was silenced, and on the 26th Wolfe rejoined the main force in front of Louisbourg. He took the leading part in the later stages of the siege. Walpole, though prejudiced against him, wrote (7 Feb. 1759) that he had ‘great merit, spirit, and alacrity, and shone extremely at Louisbourg.’
On 26 July the garrison, numbering 5637 soldiers and sailors, surrendered. There was great joy in England, but Wolfe was ill-satisfied: ‘Our attempt to land where we did was rash and injudicious, our success unexpected (by me) and undeserved. … Our proceedings in other respects were as slow and tedious as this undertaking was ill-advised and desperate. … We lost time at the siege, still more after the siege, and blundered from the beginning to the end of the campaign’ (1 Dec. 1758). He pressed Amherst either to make an attempt on Quebec, late as it was, or to send help to Abercrombie, who had been repulsed at Ticonderoga: ‘if nothing further is to be done, I must desire leave to quit the army’ (8 Aug.).
Amherst himself went to reinforce Abercrombie, and Wolfe was sent with three battalions to destroy the French fishing settlements in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He then went home, as he considered Ligonier, the commander-in-chief, had authorised him to do at the end of the campaign. In a farewell letter to Amherst he strongly advised ‘an offensive daring kind of war,’ and added, ‘if you will attempt to cut up New France by the roots, I will come back with pleasure to assist’ (30 Sept.). Orders were sent out for him to remain in America, but they came too late. He found them at Louisbourg on his return next year, and obsolete as they then were, he sent a hot reply to the secretary at war. He would have had to spend the winter at Halifax under the orders of Charles Lawrence (d. 1760) [q. v.], who had been junior to him, but had been made colonel and brigadier a month before him. ‘Though a very worthy man’ (and many years older), yet rather than submit to this, ‘I should certainly have desired leave to resign my commission; for as I neither ask nor expect any favour, so I never intend to submit to any ill-usage whatsoever’ (6 June 1759; Gent. Mag. February 1888, p. 139).
He reached England on 1 Nov., and joined the 2nd battalion of the 20th at Salisbury. It had been made a separate regiment, the 67th, and the colonelcy of it had been given to him on 21 April. He would have liked a cavalry command with the army in Germany—which would only have brought him the mortification of Minden—but failing this, he wrote to Pitt offering his services in America, ‘particularly in the River St. Lawrence, if any operations are to be carried on there’ (22 Nov.) By Christmas it was settled that he should command the force to be sent up the St. Lawrence against Quebec, while Amherst advanced on Montreal by way of Lake Champlain, and Prideaux on Niagara. His chief staff officers were to be men of his own choice, Guy Carleton and Isaac Barré [q. v.]; and he was given the rank of major-general in America on 12 Jan. 1759. Being ‘in a very bad condition, both with the gravel and rheumatism,’ he spent some time at Bath, and became engaged to Katharine, daughter of Robert Lowther, and sister of Sir James Lowther (afterwards first Earl of Lonsdale). Before starting for America he dined with Pitt and Temple, and after dinner he is said to have drawn his sword and broken out ‘into a strain of gasconade and bravado’ which shocked them (Stanhope, iv. 153). He had not taken much wine, but for such a man Pitt was a powerful stimulant; and the temperament which made him write of himself six months later as ‘a man that must necessarily be ruined’ (30 Aug.) was sure to have its moments of intoxication. Nelson, whom Wolfe resembled in so many points, was similarly tempted, as Wellington's account of their one interview shows.
On 17 Feb. he left Spithead in the flagship of Admiral Saunders, the new naval commander-in-chief, and arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 30 April. In the beginning of June the expedition left Louisbourg, and on the 27th the troops landed on the Isle of Orleans, which is four miles below Quebec. They numbered nearly nine thousand men, and consisted of ten battalions, forming three brigades under Robert Monckton [q. v.], George Townshend (afterwards first Marquis Townshend) [q. v.], and James Murray (1725?–1794) [q. v.], three companies of grenadiers from the Louisbourg garrison, three companies of light infantry, and six companies of New England rangers. Quebec was strongly fortified, mounted more than a hundred guns, and had a garrison of two thousand men, while fourteen thousand more (besides a thousand Indians) were intrenched at Beauport, on the left bank of the St. Lawrence, immediately below the town. But of the whole number only two thousand were regulars; and Wolfe wished ‘for nothing so much as to fight’ them on fairly equal terms.
On 30 June he occupied Point Levi, on the right bank of the St. Lawrence, with one brigade. This allowed the fleet to move up into the basin of Quebec, and on 12 July batteries near Point Levi began to bombard the town. On the 9th Wolfe had transferred his two other brigades from the Isle of Orleans to a camp on the left bank, separated from the French camp only by the Montmorenci. Here his guns were able to enfilade some of their intrenchments; but though he had tempted them by dividing his forces, the French would not attack him, but confined themselves to skirmishes and Indian warfare. On his first arrival Wolfe had issued a manifesto informing the Canadian peasantry that they would be unmolested if they took no part in the contest, but finding that they helped to harass his troops, he retaliated by burning their settlements.
In the night of 18 July two English frigates and some smaller vessels passed the batteries of Quebec and ran up the St. Lawrence. Wolfe joined them and carefully reconnoitred the left bank above the town. He found it well guarded and very difficult to land on, and, as troops landed might be beaten before they could be supported from below, he thought the attempt too hazardous.
On 31 July he made an attack upon the east end of the camp at Beauport. It was begun by troops brought over from Point Levi and the Isle of Orleans, and was to be supported by those on the left bank, who were to cross the Montmorenci by a ford below the falls. A redoubt was taken, but the grenadiers, who headed the attack, hurried on in disorder against a stronger position without waiting for their supports. They were repulsed; and as the operation depended on the tide, it had to be given up, with a loss of more than four hundred men. Wolfe blamed the grenadiers, who ‘could not suppose that they alone could beat the French army;’ but he also blamed himself for putting too many men into boats, ‘who might have been landed the day before and might have crossed the ford with certainty’ (30 Aug.)
Immediately after this check Brigadier Murray was sent up the St. Lawrence with twelve hundred men, to assist in the destruction of the French flotilla, and try to get news of Amherst. He learnt that Amherst was still at Crown Point, so that little help was to be had from him during the few weeks that the fleet could remain in the St. Lawrence. By this time Wolfe's incessant activity, with anxiety and the heat of the weather, had overtaxed ‘a body unequal (as Burke said) to the vigorous and enterprising soul that it lodged;’ in the latter part of August he was laid up with fever, and was suffering much. ‘I know perfectly well,’ he said to the doctor, ‘you cannot cure my complaint; but pray make me up so that I may be without pain for a few days, and able to do my duty; that is all I want’ (Wright, p. 543).
Hitherto he had taken his own course, but he now thought it best to consult his brigadiers. He suggested three different methods of attack upon the French camp, but the brigadiers were against them all, and were of opinion that ‘the most probable method of striking an effectual blow is to bring the troops to the south shore, and to carry the operations above the town.’ Wolfe acquiesced. He wrote to the admiral, ‘My ill state of health hinders me from executing my own plan; it is of too desperate a nature to order others to execute’ (30 Aug.); and at once made arrangements with him to carry out their recommendation. The Montmorenci camp was abandoned; more ships were sent up the river, and 3,600 men were marched up the right bank, and were embarked in them on 5 Sept.
The proposal of the brigadiers was that they should land on the left bank, somewhere above Cap Rouge, which is eight miles above Quebec, perhaps at two points simultaneously (Addit. MS. 32895, fol. 91). On 8 Sept. orders were issued accordingly. Some of the vessels were to go to Point au Tremble, ten miles higher up, and make a feint there, while five battalions were to be thrown ashore nearer to Cap Rouge. Bad weather caused the postponement of this attempt. Wolfe was not hopeful of it, and wrote next day to Lord Holderness: ‘I am so far recovered as to do business, but my constitution is entirely ruined, without the consolation of having done any considerable service to the state, or without any prospect of it.’ Montcalm, the French commander, had detached a corps of three thousand men to Cap Rouge to oppose a landing; and even if the landing were accomplished, the Cap Rouge river and several miles of woody country would still lie between the British and Quebec, and would give Montcalm time to bring up reinforcements.
By the 10th Wolfe had formed a new plan, the very audacity of which had its charm. He chose a landing-place, the ‘Anse du Foulon,’ now called Wolfe's Cove, only a mile and a half above Quebec. The wooded cliffs were so high and steep that, as Montcalm had said, ‘a hundred men posted there would stop their whole army’ (Parkman, ii. 276); but it was the more likely to be left ill-guarded, especially after Wolfe's demonstrations higher up, and it was a point on which he could quickly concentrate all his troops. ‘This alteration of the plan of operations was not, I believe, approved of by many beside himself. It had been proposed to him a month before, when the first ships passed the town, and when it was entirely defenceless and unguarded, but Montmorency was then his favourite scheme, and he rejected it. He now laid hold of it when it was highly improbable he should succeed from every circumstance that had happened since;’ so wrote Admiral Holmes, the commander of the up-stream squadron, on the 18th (Addit. MS. 32895, fol. 449).
The admiral was not alone in his disposition to find fault. Townshend had written to his wife on the 6th: ‘I never served so disagreeable a campaign as this … General Wolf's health is but very bad. His generalship in my opinion is not a bit better.’ Murray wrote a month afterwards: ‘His orders throughout the campaign shows little stability, stratagem, or fixt resolution’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pt. iv. pp. 309 and 316). When Wolfe issued his final orders on the morning of 12 Sept., the three brigadiers sent him a joint letter, requesting ‘as distinct orders as the nature of the thing will admit of, particularly [as] to the place or places we are to attack. This circumstance (perhaps very decisive) we cannot learn from the public orders.’ Such a step implies rather strained relations. Wolfe wrote to Monckton in reply, telling him the place, which he had indicated to him the day before, and adding: ‘It is not a usual thing to point out in the public orders the direct spot of our attack, nor for any inferior officers not charged with a particular duty to ask instructions upon that point. I had the honour to inform you to-day that it is my duty to attack the French army. To the best of my knowledge and abilities I have fixed upon that spot where we can act with the most force, and are most likely to succeed. If I am mistaken I am sorry for it, and must be answerable to his majesty and the public for the consequences’ (Addit. MS. 32895, fol. 92).
After dark seventeen hundred men entered the boats, and at 2 A.M., when the tide had turned, they dropped down the river to the point chosen. The light infantry climbed the cliffs, and drove away the guard, which was not on the alert; the others quickly followed, Wolfe among them. The upstream squadron had drifted down after the boats, and the troops that had been left on board were soon landed. Other troops had marched up the right bank from Point Levi, and were ferried across. By daybreak 4,500 men with two guns were on the heights above Quebec. Meanwhile the line-of-battle ships had been cannonading the French camp at Beauport, and boats filled with sailors and marines had threatened a landing there with such success that when Montcalm first heard the British were on shore above the town he took it for a feint.
As soon as he knew the truth he decided to engage them with all the troops he could collect, before they could entrench themselves. But besides the detachments he had made to Cap Rouge and to Montreal, a great many of his men had deserted by this time, and some were detained by the governor in the camp. Montcalm was only able to muster a force about equal to the English in number, and far inferior in quality (Parkman, ii. 298).
‘The officers and men will remember what their country expects from them, and what a determined body of soldiers are capable of doing against five weak battalions, mingled with a disorderly peasantry. The soldiers must be attentive to their officers, and resolute in the execution of their duty.’ These were the last words of Wolfe's last order, anticipating the signal of Trafalgar. His aim was not to entrench, but ‘to bring the French and Canadians to battle,’ and he had led his men forward to the plains of Abraham, an open tract within a mile of Quebec. They were drawn up with six battalions in first line facing Quebec, two covering the left flank, and one in reserve. One had been left to guard the landing-place. After some skirmishing Montcalm attacked in three columns about 10 A.M. These columns were allowed to come within forty paces, then the British first line shattered them with its fire, and charged.
Wolfe went forward to some high ground on the right, where he had an advanced post of the Louisbourg grenadiers much exposed to the enemy's sharpshooters. He had already been hit twice, and here a third bullet struck him in the breast. With the help of two or three grenadiers he walked about a hundred yards to the rear, and then had to lie down. ‘Don't grieve for me,’ he said to one of them; ‘I shall be happy in a few minutes. Take care of yourself, as I see you are wounded.’ He asked eagerly how the battle went, and some officers who came up told him that the French had given way everywhere, and were being pursued to the walls of the town. According to one eye-witness, he ‘raised himself up on this news and smiled in my face. “Now,” said he, “I die contented,” and from that instant the smile never left his face till he died’ (13 Sept. 1759; English Hist. Review, xii. 763). Others add that he sent an order to the reserve battalion to cut off the French retreat by the bridge over the St. Charles (Knox, ii. 79; cf. Notes and Queries, 6 Nov. 1897).
He had had a presentiment of his fate, which made him the night before take a miniature of Miss Lowther from his breast, and hand it over to his old schoolfellow, Commander John Jervis (afterwards Lord St. Vincent), to be restored to her. It was perhaps this feeling that prompted him to murmur the lines of Gray's ‘Elegy’ as the boats dropped down the St. Lawrence, and to say, ‘I would rather be the author of that piece than take Quebec’ (Professor E. E. Morris in Engl. Hist. Rev. xv. 125–9 gives some reason to think that this occurred earlier). A few lines of Sarpedon's speech to Glaucus (Pope, Iliad, xii. 391, &c.), written down from memory, were found in the pocket of his coat.
Montcalm survived him only a few hours, and Quebec surrendered on the 18th. As Monckton was wounded, Townshend was in temporary command. No sense of loss found expression in his despatch and general orders: Wolfe's death was barely mentioned. But it was otherwise with the troops. Wolfe's illness had caused ‘the greatest concern to the whole army,’ and his recovery ‘inconceivable joy;’ and now Major Knox notes in his ‘Diary’ (ii. 71) that ‘our joy at this success is inexpressibly damped by the loss we sustained of one of the greatest heroes which this or any other age can boast of.’
In a masterly despatch, dated 2 Sept., Wolfe had described to Pitt the operations up to that time, and the obstacles which stood in his way. This despatch arrived on 14 Oct. and caused general despondency. ‘Mr. Pitt with reason gives it all over, and declares so publicly,’ Newcastle wrote next day. On the following night, the 16th, Pitt ‘has the pleasure to send the Duke of Newcastle the joyful news that Quebec is taken, after a signal and compleat victory over the French army. General Wolfe is killed. Brigadier Monckton wounded, but in a fair way. Brigadier Townshend perfectly well. Montcalm is killed and about fifteen hundred French’ (Addit. MS. 32897, fols. 88 and 115). ‘The effect of so joyful news immediately on such a dejection, and then the mixture of grief and pity which attended the public congratulations and applauses, was very singular and affecting’ (Burke in Ann. Reg. 1759, p. 43; Wolfe's despatch is given at p. 241).
The fleet brought home Wolfe's body. It was landed at Portsmouth with military honours on 17 Nov. 1759, and was buried in the family vault at the parish church of St. Alfege, Greenwich, on the 20th. Next day Pitt moved an address for a public monument to Wolfe in a laboured speech, described by Walpole as ‘perhaps the worst harangue he ever uttered’ (Memoirs of George II, ii. 393). The monument, by Joseph Wilton, was uncovered on 4 Oct. 1773. It stands between the north ambulatory and St. John the Evangelist's in Westminster Abbey. At Westerham a tablet was put up to him in the parish church, and a cenotaph at Squerries Court, on the spot where Wolfe received his first commission. A column marks the place where he fell; and in the public garden at Quebec there is an obelisk, erected in 1828 by Canadians of French and English descent, to the joint memory of Wolfe and Montcalm. On it is inscribed, ‘Mortem virtus, communem famam historia, monumentum posteritas dedit.’ The Society for the Promotion of Arts and Commerce struck a medal to commemorate the capture of Quebec (Brit. Mus. English Medals, No. 502).
There is a portrait of Wolfe, at about the age of sixteen, at Squerries Court. In the National Portrait Gallery, London, there is also a good three-quarter-length portrait of a young officer, believed to be Wolfe. The artist is unknown (see also Century Magazine, January 1898). A profile sketch was made by his aide-de-camp, Captain Hervey Smith, at Quebec, and is now at the Royal United Service Institution; and an engraving from it by Houston was said by Wolfe's friend, General Warde, to be ‘the most like thing ever done of him’ (Addit. MS. 33929, fol. 44). This sketch is supposed to have been used by Schaak for his picture, of which there is a half-length in the National Portrait Gallery, London (together with a facsimile of Smith's sketch). They give the same singular profile, ‘like the flap of an envelope,’ but there is a marked difference of expression. The death of Wolfe was painted by West, Romney, and Penny. The former, in his well-known picture now at Grosvenor House, set a new example of realism in costume, but otherwise disregarded accuracy. West also painted a picture of Wolfe in 1777 (Cat. Third Loan Exhib. No. 767; cf. also No. 804). Wolfe was tall and slight, of Celtic type, and wore his red hair undisguised. He was a good son, a staunch friend, a kindly though strict commanding officer. He owned that he was ‘a whimsical sort of person,’ of a warm and uncertain temper, and that in writing he sometimes let fall expressions that were ‘arrogant and vain.’ But he claimed that this warmth of temper enabled him to hold his own, and ‘will find the way to a glorious, or at least a firm and manly end when I am of no further use to my friends or country, or when I can be serviceable by offering my life for either’ (29 June 1753). As a soldier he was a rare mixture of dash and painstaking, of Condé, and ‘the old Dessauer.’
Believing himself to have inherited part of his father's property, nearly 20,000l., Wolfe left large legacies to his friends. His mother asked for a pension to enable her to pay them without diminution of her life interest. It was not granted, but they were paid after her death, on 26 Sept. 1764. His letters to his parents then passed into the possession of General Warde of Squerries Court, where they are still preserved. His sword is in the United Service Museum, his cloak at the Tower of London. Miss Lowther married the last Duke of Bolton in 1765, and died in Grosvenor Square on 21 March 1809. The interesting imaginary portrait of Wolfe in Thackeray's ‘Virginians’ brings out the enthusiastic side of his character and its affinity to that of Nelson.[There is an excellent Life of Wolfe by Robert Wright, published in 1864, giving full extracts from his letters. The only separate life previously was ‘a fustian eulogium’ by J—— P——, published in 1760; but Gleig's British Military Commanders (1831) contained a memoir of him. ‘An Apology for the Life and Actions of General Wolfe,’ by Israel Mauduit, 1765, is mainly an attack on General Conway in connection with the Rochefort expedition. General Wolfe's Instructions to Young Officers (1768 and 1780) is valuable, being made up of extracts from his regimental orders, including those ‘in case the French land’ in 1755, and from his general orders in 1759. The latter should be compared with another copy printed in the fourth series of manuscripts relating to the early history of Canada, by the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec. The Streatfeild MSS. at the British Museum contain many extracts from his letters, but these have been used by Mr. Wright. Other letters, of 1758–9, are given in Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. pt. iii. pp. 76–7, and in the Morrison Autographs, 4th ser. vi. 429–30. See also Ann. Reg. 1759, p. 281, ‘Character of General Wolfe’ (by Burke?); Stanhope's History of England; Smyth's History of the 20th Regiment; Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. App. iv. (Townshend Papers), 308–25, 14th Rep. App. x. 546; Gent. Mag. February 1888; Bradley's Wolfe (English Men of Action, 1895); Edward's Salmon's General Wolfe, 1909. From Cromwell to Wellington: Twelve Soldiers (1899), has a memoir by General Sir Archibald Alison. For the American war, see especially Knox's Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America (1768) and Parkman's Montcalm and Wolfe (1884), with bibliographical notes, ii. 81 and 438; also Kingsford's Hist. of Canada, vol. iv.]