Friday, May 21, 2010

1759 Battle of Quebec

Over the millennia all too many battles have been fought that settled nothing. The 1759 Battle of Quebec was fought with less than 10,000 men, yet was so crucial that it settled the destiny of an entire continent (North America). In 1754, France controlled most of modern-day Canada  and America. The British were hemmed in a narrow strip on the east coast. By 1763 France had lost all its North America possessions east of the Mississippi. It can also be argued that the war led directly to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 that truly set America on the pathway of Manifest Destiny.

The Battle of Quebec was preceeded by a three month siege. The French forces were led by Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm, the British by General James Wolfe. The British fleet was able to move up the St. Lawrence with relatively little impunity due to inability of a French fleet to reinforce after meeting disaster at the Battle of Cartagena off the coast of Spain. While Wolfe's camp was some ways downstream from Quebec at the Falls of Montmorence (Montmorency), his subordinate, Monckton, was able to establish artillery on Point Levis (Levy on this map) across from Quebec and bombard the city. Montcalm had a superior defensive position and would not budge despite British attempts to draw him into battle.

On the night of September 12th, Wolfe initiated a risky landing upstream of Quebec (left side of the map). A small group of soldiers scaled the bluffs and took out the sentries. Wolfe's troops quickly disemarked and climbed up the bluffs. By dawn, the troops were assembled on the Plains of Abraham. Montcalm had believed such a manuever to be impossible, saying that 100 men could hold off an army until daylight.

The English formed a line from one side of the peninsula to the other. At about 10AM, Montcalm, riding a black horse, ordered a general advance. Both sides held their fire. The French finally unleashed two unorganzied volleys. When the French had closed to 30 yards, the British unleashed two violent volleys that sent the French into retreat. During the retreat, Montcalm was struck by canister shot. he was able to make it back into the city where he died the next day. Wolfe, too, would perish. Mortally struck in the chest early in the battle, Wolfe died on the battlefield, but not before watching the French go into full retreat.

After Wolfe died, the British began a disorganized pursuit of the French. Brigadier-General George Townshend, knowing that French reinforcements were coming up behind, reorganized two battalions to face the new threat. Bougainville, inexplicably, decided to retreat rather than battle the British. It was six more days before the city fell to the British, but its fate had been sealed. It was almost four more years until the war was over, but the Battle of Quebec was the deciding battle.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Battle of Jenkin's Ferry

This past Saturday I was driving back through Arkansas with my family. We stumbled upon Jenkin's Ferry State Park, not far south of Little Rock. To call it a state park is generous at best. It is more like a boat ramp, pavilion and a couple of historical markers. Anyway, I stopped to read the markers.

While names like Gettysburg, Shiloh and Chickamauga come to mind when one thinks of the American Civil War, numerous smaller engagements took place. One of the more desperate battles for the Union occurred at Jenkin's Ferry on April 30, 1864.

The conditions on the day (only one day after the anniversary - May 1) of my visit were very similar to the actual battle. It had rained all night and the river was swollen. Union Major General Frederick Steele was leading his forces in a retreat back to little Rock late in the disastrous Camden expedition. Steele had already lost many men and abandoned much of his baggage as it was near impossible to move wagons through the muddy river bottom. 

Steele reached the battle site on the evening of the 29th. The Jenkins family  had run a ferry service at the easily forded part of the river for many years. Too swollen to ford, a pontoon bridge was erected and men and equipment moved across all during the night. The 40th Iowa Infantry and 43rd Illinois Infantry served as pickets to keep the Confederates at bay.

At daybreak on the 30th, over 2 miles of baggage train and artillery still had yet to cross the river. The battle raged back and forth with each side seeming to hold the upper hand. Eventually Steele was able to get most of his forces across the river and back safely to Little Rock. The Confederates lost about 1000 men, the Union 700.