Inquiry Question: To what extent was the leadership of James Wolfe essential to the outcome of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham?


The year is 1759, and the seven-year war has already been ongoing for three years. On one September day, one of the most important battles that decided history for the French, Canadians, and the Europeans will take place on the Plains of Abraham.
In 1608, a French navigator, Samuel de Champlain sailed up the St. Lawrence River in search of more land and more wider trade. He then stumbled upon Canada which was already colonized by the Native Americans. He allied himself with the Wendat Confederacy and settled in a place that would come to be known as Quebec City in New France. Champlain colonized the area and soon grew into a whole colonization. Walls were built to protect the city, more and more people lived in it, and as time went on, the quarrel between the French and British grew and grew, resulting in the seven-year war in the future.

Later during the mid 18th century, why was the Battle of the Plains of Abraham so important, and how did James Wolfe contribute to it? The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was a pivotal point during the seven-years war. It decided the fate of New France and what Canada would eventually be in the future.

This is British General James Wolfe. He has led many attacks on the French, and his tasks were to convey Wolfe’s soldiers to a position from which they could attack the French, maintain a blockade of the St. Lawrence River to prevent supplies from reaching Quebec, and bombard Quebec with cannon fire to demoralize the French. Although sick with illnesses and diseases, he had his final mission to capture Quebec City. He and his army of 9,000 men were set to overtake Quebec City from the French. This was easier said than done, though. Quebec City was protected with plenty of French guards, a nine-meter high wall surrounding the city and cliffs on either side. He struggled to find an opening of attack but then he had an idea. General Wolfe discovered the cliffs were loosely guarded. If his army was able to get to the top, they would surprise the French and have a high chance of victory. There was no other way for an easier win. He also knew the St. Lawrence River would freeze up in the winter and he had to act soon. In the early morning of September 13, 1759, at 4:30 am, Wolfe and a portion of his men scaled the 53-meter cliff. It was a challenging task to do, but he also knew the consequences of asking his army to do it. Wolfe’s idea seemed crazy and reckless, but he had trust in his highly trained men and if they could do it, Quebec would fall and it would put an end to New France. Britain would gain a huge advantage against France and put them farther ahead. Alas, after a great night of climbing, Wolfe and 4,00 of his men made it to the top. They marched in rows that spanned the whole plain, the plains of Abraham.

Plains of Abraham, 120m

Plains of Abraham, 120m

Plains of Abraham, 40m

Plains of Abraham, 40m

Once the French noticed this, General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm hurriedly gathered 4,500 men to the Plains of Abraham. They charged at the British army and once they were about 120 meters from the enemy line, they began firing. Although there was open fire, General Wolfe ordered his men to stay still, watching as a few of their men fall to the ground. The French were too far away from the British line to do any harsh damage. Wolfe knew they wouldn’t be effective enough to harm his troops. However, once the French line was around 40 meters away, Wolfe gave the order to fire. With the enemies being much closer, there was much more damage done. The French and British armies traded bullets but with the British destroying the French lines, they started to retreat. During the battle, both generals were fatally wounded. Montcalm died the next day in Quebec City, but Wolfe’s last words were on the battlefield. He knew the French were retreating and that the British had won.

“Now, God be praised, I die contented.”

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham lasted less than 30 minutes but decided the fate of France, Canada, and Britain. The victors went to the British and they gained control of Quebec City after the French surrendered. New France crumbled and the British took over Canada. The leadership and guidance from James Wolfe were essential to the European’s win. He had the wits of climbing the cliff, something that the French never thought they would do, thus letting the British surprise them with an attack. Wolfe had the smarts of holding fire until the enemy was close and the strategy duration of the whole battle. His approach to staying still while the enemy was still far away proved his knowledge and experience of war, he knew what to sacrifice for the greater victory. His men had trust in his decisions and they put faith that he would lead them to victory. Overall, James Wolfe made critical decisions that won the battle. The outcome is fair from both sides. What won the battle was Wolfe’s decision-making skills and him being able to outsmart the French. If it was to the standards of our time now, it would still be fair. It depended on the general’s minds and Wolfe just happened to have a more “outside the box” plan. After the loss of the French, they lost power in Canada and Britain gained control. With the boost of Quebec being in the possession of Britain, the British cities in Canada (New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts)’s confidence also boosted leaving a subconscious want to be independent of Great Britain, indirectly leading to the American Revolution.



Textbook pg 63-67

Gr. 10