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Case 12: Québec~Wolfe, Monckton, Townshend~September 13 & 18

Thomas More to S. More, ALS, September 16, 1759. Manuscripts Division, Seven Years’ War Collection.

Part of the romantic mystique of the battle at Québec is that the action claimed the lives of both commanders.  Wolfe was slightly wounded early in the fighting and then hit twice by Canadian marksmen as he moved forward in pursuit of the French.  He died soon after on the field of battle.  Montcalm, the French commander, was wounded during the action and carried into the city, where he lingered until the following morning.  There, in the burned-out ruins of the Ursuline convent, his remains were interred in a shell crater.

Thomas More conveyed his account of the September 13th battle to his uncle from HMS Devonshire just three days after the event.  In it More quotes Wolfe’s dying words on learning that the French army had collapsed: “I die contented & on the very spot I wished to die.”  More continued his letter on September 18 to give an account of the surrender of the town.

Justus Chevillet (1729-1802), engraver, after Louis Watteau (1731-1798), Mort du Marquis de Montcalm Gozon. Copperplate engraving. Paris, ca. 1780. Graphics Division, Prints C-3.

The deaths of both generals were artistically depicted, with that of Wolfe being by far the best known.  Benjamin West’s 1771 painting was engraved a number of times and became extremely popular as a print.

The French general’s death is depicted in a print of about 1780 engraved from a work by Louis Watteau.  Montcalm is seen expiring in a military camp rather than in the city.  With his officers around him, he gestures to the shell crater that will be his resting place.  The influence of “The Death of General Wolfe” is apparent.  A tiny version of West’s composition is even visible in the left background of Watteau’s scene.

A. Bennoist, engraver, after Richard Short (fl. 1754-1766), A View of the Church of Notre Dame de la Victoire, built in Commemoration of the raising the Siege in 1695 and destroyed in 1759. Hand-colored copperplate engraving. London, 1761. Graphics Division, Prints B-7.

The names of Robert Monckton and George Townshend share the Québec honor with James Wolfe on the 1759 victory medal.  Monckton (1726-1782) was Wolfe’s second-in-command and was wounded in the battle.  Townshend (1724-1807) was next in seniority and in practical command when Québec surrendered on September 18.

During the course of the summer the British had established batteries of cannon at Point Lévis across the river from Québec.  The heavy guns had wreaked great damage, especially to the lower town.  The British marched into a place that presented a scene of devastation.