Military history




Military successes at Louisbourg and elsewhere consolidate Pitt’s power and increase his determination to strip France of its empire. American anxieties and commitment to the war effort grow as the invasion of Canada nears. British successes at Niagara, Ticonderoga, and Crown Point. Wolfe meets Montcalm—and both meet their Maker—at the Battle of Québec. Amherst reacts unenthusiastically to provincial behavior; the colonists react ecstatically to British victories. The state of the European powers and the increasingly perilous circumstances of Frederick the Great. The year’s decisive battle: Quiberon Bay.


Success, Anxiety, and Power THE ASCENT OF WILLIAM PITT

LATE 1758

AT SEVEN O’CLOCK on Friday morning, August 18, 1758, a weary young infantry officer knocked at William Pitt’s door. Captain William Amherst had landed at Portsmouth the previous day with dispatches from America, then posted more than sixty miles to London by an overnight coach. The secretary was out but expected back; the captain was welcome to wait. Amherst cooled his heels for three hours more before Pitt returned. Then, at last, he could speak the words that he had come three thousand miles to say: Louisbourg had surrendered four weeks before, and he had the honor of being sent to inform His Majesty of the event. Unable to restrain himself, Pitt hugged the startled captain and cried, “This is the greatest news!” Amherst, he exclaimed, was “the most welcome messenger that had arrived in this kingdom for years!”

As they hurried from dignitary to dignitary that morning, Pitt found “many handsome things to say” about Amherst’s brother Jeffery, who “would make nothing of Quebec after this.” Lord Ligonier was so delighted that he gave the young captain five hundred pounds and then added another hundred so Amherst could buy himself a suitable sword. The king, characteristically, asked many questions and offered no reward. The prince of Wales—himself a young man who longed for distinction—said that “he had expected great things” of General Amherst, but “what he had done exceeded his expectation and added that it was a very fine thing for so young a man to distinguish himself in so particular a manner.” And Newcastle’s enthusiasm, of course, overflowed. “His Grace,” Captain Amherst noted, “in great joy often repeated that he had sent‘orders for two Corporations to be made drunk.’ ” 1

More than two corporations, of course, honored the duke’s desire. Britain’s beer barrels gurgled dry in their thousands to honor Amherst, Pitt, and the sovereign. On every hill, it seemed, bonfires blazed; from every battery cannons boomed. Amid pealing bells a procession of eminences bore Louisbourg’s colors to Saint Paul’s, there to deposit them among the cathedral’s sacred symbols and to hear a sermon on the victory’s providential significance. It was incomparably the greatest news to come from America since the war’s beginning, and the nation spared nothing in its jubilation. 2

BRITAIN WOULD HAVE so many more occasions to celebrate before the year was out that Horace Walpole could facetiously complain that “our bells are worn threadbare with ringing for victories.” Yet for many months after Amherst delivered his news, it was far from apparent that the victory at Louisbourg would set the pattern for events yet to come. Indeed, just two days after Pitt had hugged Amherst in delight, news arrived of disaster at Ticonderoga and the death of Lord Howe, plunging the secretary into a gloom that would remain unrelieved for days. Not until October would he know that Bradstreet had destroyed Fort Frontenac, nor until the New Year that Forbes had taken Fort Duquesne. Thus in the last days of August, as Pitt considered what to do next, he was less prone to contemplate the glories of victory at Louisbourg than the problems that clouded his horizon. The darkest of them all loomed up from Europe.3

Although Pitt’s strategic vision still focused on attacking France’s imperial periphery rather than her armies in Europe, during 1758 the fighting on the Continent had forced itself to the center of his attention and had commanded an increasingly large share of his government’s resources. There was no way to avoid this, for since the middle of 1757 Britain’s ally Frederick of Prussia had been beset from every quarter by French, Austrian, Russian, and Swedish enemies. While Frederick had won impressive victories—he had beaten the French, brilliantly, at Rossbach in November 1757 and just a month later had stunned the Austrians with even greater tactical mastery at Leuthen—his armies had paid a heavy price in casualties. Encouraged by his successes, the British had tried to compensate for his losses by dramatically increasing their subsidies. In April 1758, as part of a formal treaty of alliance in which both powers promised not to conclude a separate peace, Pitt’s government agreed to provide Frederick with £670,000 sterling per year. Money could not relieve the pressure on Prussia’s armies, however, and the treaty accordingly stipulated that Britain would take the Hanoverian army into its pay (an obligation that would cost £1,200,000 a year) and would garrison the North Sea port of Emden—the first redcoats to be committed on the Continent.4

Heretofore Pitt had resisted direct involvement, worrying that to commit so much as a battalion to the fighting in Germany would open the door to endless escalations in the demand for troops. Events soon showed how prescient that fear had been, for even before the Emden garrison had taken ship, the calls for thousands more redcoats to be sent to the Continent were becoming steadily more urgent. What ultimately made them irresistible was not the necessity of plugging up the drain of manpower in Prussia, but rather the hope of inflicting a decisive defeat on the French army in Western Europe; and Pitt, ironically, would reverse the policy himself.

After the renunciation of the Convention of Kloster-Zeven, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick had taken command of Cumberland’s army of observation in Hanover and with remarkable speed rebuilt it into a force capable of taking the offensive. He waited only for Frederick’s victory at Rossbach before opening a winter campaign against the French in Hanover and the Prussian territory of East Friesland. Ferdinand’s deft maneuvering, together with the timely arrival of a few British warships, had compelled the French and Austrians to evacuate Emden in March 1758. Their withdrawal had made it necessary to send a British garrison to hold the city; but it was the subsequent retreat of the French from the River Ems across the Rhine that had created the demand for a large number of redcoats.5

To this point Pitt had preferred to make “descents”—amphibious raids—on the coast of France. These had proven less successful than he hoped, for although they tied down thousands of French soldiers in shore defenses, they were risky, difficult to execute, inherently indecisive, and unpopular among the officers assigned to lead them. The most recent descent, a raid in June on the Breton shipbuilding port of St.-Malo, had destroyed a great deal of French shipping but gained little else; its commander, fearing a French counterattack, had withdrawn without even attacking the town. This inglorious result became known in Whitehall shortly after word arrived that Prince Ferdinand had moved his army across the Rhine in pursuit of the French, who were withdrawing toward the Austrian Netherlands. On June 23 Ferdinand finally goaded his opposite number, Prince Louis de Bourbon Condé, comte de Clermont, to give battle at the town of Crefeld, near Düsseldorf. The result, a sharp defeat for the French, caused Clermont to retire up the Rhine all the way to Cologne.6


Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick (1721–92). Brother-in-law of Frederick the Great and the duke of Cumberland’s successor in command of the army of observation, Ferdinand was a master of the art of maneuver and an exemplar of eighteenth-century military professionalism. His success in reanimating the army in early 1758 made him a hero in England, and the most ambitious officers in the British army clamored to serve under him on the Continent. Courtesy of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

With such dramatic developments afoot in Westphalia and the Austrian Netherlands, and with his coastal raids showing so few tangible results, Pitt reversed his policy against direct engagement on the Continent and agreed to send six regiments of cavalry and five of infantry (in all, about seven thousand men) to Ferdinand’s aid. As it happened, this reinforcement came too late to make a difference. After a year of maneuvering, many minor engagements, and one major battle, Ferdinand had taken his army as far as it could go. In November he went into winter quarters, making his Hanoverian, Hessian, Prussian—and now British— force once more into an army of observation. Spring would come before he would again take them into action against the French.7

Thus the principal result of Pitt’s decision to send troops to the Continent was to increase the expense of the war—between three and four million pounds sterling a year would now be required to maintain British commitments in Europe—while diminishing the number of men available to defend the home islands. Sending British troops to serve with Ferdinand’s army undeniably rendered Hanover more secure and lessened the ability of the French to launch an invasion of England from the Low Countries. It did nothing, however, to alter the strategic balance in Europe—an equation that depended on the relative strength of Prussia. And, to Pitt’s consternation no less than Frederick’s, Prussia seemed to be growing steadily weaker. 8

Frederick had followed up his spectacular victories at Rossbach and Leuthen by reconquering those parts of Silesia that had fallen to Austria and then by pressing south into Austrian Moravia. As he was pursuing this enterprise, however, a great Russian army struck into the Prussian heartland, threatening Frankfurt an der Oder and Berlin. Dashing back from Moravia, Frederick met his adversaries on August 25, about twenty miles east of Frankfurt near the village of Zorndorf. In what was technically a Prussian victory, he forced the Russians to withdraw, but only at a horrendous price: his army of 36,000 men had suffered losses of 13,500 killed, wounded, and missing—a casualty rate of nearly 40 percent. Worse followed. No sooner had the Russians assumed the defensive than Frederick learned that a huge Austrian army was threatening Dresden. Dividing his battered troops in two, he left half to watch the Russians and took the remainder south into Saxony, by a series of rapid marches, to seek battle with the Austrians. On October 14, Field Marshal von Daun gave him one near Hochkirch, where Frederick saw a quarter of his army destroyed before he broke off contact and withdrew to Dresden—which the Austrians promptly besieged.9

Winter now gave the grim little monarch breathing space enough to concentrate on rebuilding his forces. Even though he had won three major victories and suffered only one defeat in 1758, even though he had retained his hold on Saxony and Silesia and forced the invaders to back out of East Prussia, Frederick was anything but the master of the European war. His position was in fact becoming critical, for his victories had cost him as dearly as any defeat. The matchless discipline of the Prussian army had given Frederick an edge early in the war, but that discipline was an asset less easy to replace than the dead and broken bodies of the men who had once possessed it. Whereas Prussia had boasted the best-trained troops in Europe at the outset of the war—so much so that virtually any company could fire four or even five volleys a minute, a phenomenal rate for the day—by the time of Hochkirch, Frederick had lost more than a hundred thousand soldiers to death, wounds, capture, disease, and desertion. These he could only replace with untrained men, many of whom were foreigners, and prisoners of war. By the autumn of 1758 many of his regiments were barely half-disciplined, and Frederick’s early advantage had all but vanished. Without British money to recruit, pay, and supply his troops, he knew, the army itself would vanish in short order.

Pitt understood Frederick’s position and thus had continued throughout the summer to harass the coast of France in the hope of tying down French forces there. Unfortunately for his hopes, the one unqualified success in the history of these operations—a raid on Cherbourg in August— was followed, in early September, by the disaster that would bring them to a halt. Part of the reason for this stemmed from the fact that as soon as Pitt had decided to send troops to the aid of Prince Ferdinand, the most capable officers in the army had rushed to claim commands on the Continent, and the leadership of the coastal raiding force had fallen, as if by default, to a seventy-three-year-old lieutenant general named Thomas Bligh.

General Bligh’s qualifications for command included enviably strong connections to the prince of Wales’s political establishment, Leicester House, but not, unfortunately, military competence. His descent on Cherbourg in August had succeeded by virtue of good fortune, lack of French preparedness, and the sensible advice he received from the descent’s naval commander, Captain Richard Howe (younger brother of Viscount Howe, recently killed near Ticonderoga). Bligh’s September descent on St.-Malo possessed none of those fortunate qualities. The French had so strengthened defenses in the months following the June raid that the town could no longer be taken without a prolonged siege. Moreover, foul weather so interfered with the landing that only about 7,000 men and very few supplies came ashore before the attempt had to be abandoned. This put the whole expedition in jeopardy, for in order to reembark his men safely, Bligh had to march them overland about nine miles to the Bay of St.-Cas, a sheltered anchorage where Howe could meet him. Bligh managed the march badly, moving so slowly that the French had time to gather at least 10,000 men and attack as the British tried to embark. Notwithstanding the courageous efforts of Howe and his sailors to cover the infantry’s retreat, Bligh lost between 750 and 1,000 men killed, wounded, and captured. It was an episode more humiliating than militarily significant, but the fiasco of St.-Cas helped convince Pitt to send troops to the direct aid of Frederick and Ferdinand, a policy he had ridiculed not six months before.10

Historians have taken Pitt’s ability to reverse himself in questions of policy as evidence of intellectual flexibility, and indeed it was. But it was also much more, for Pitt’s abrupt abandonment of his previous course reveals three distinctive features of his situation in the aftermath of Louisbourg: elements that together enabled him to exercise almost sole control over British strategy and policy from 1758 through 1760. The first derived from the temporarily abnormal configuration of British politics, in which no effective opposition existed to constrain his actions. The duke of Newcastle was nervous—justifiably so—about Pitt’s indifference to the costs of the war, worrying that the financiers in the City of London would become unwilling to satisfy the government’s bottomless appetite for credit. But while his money-anxiety would make the duke yearn for the peace that Pitt spurned, that alone would not make him withdraw from what by 1758 had become a solid partnership. Newcastle, admiring Pitt’s willingness to accept responsibility, conceived a dogged loyalty to him, while Pitt came to trust Newcastle’s judgment in matters of patronage and finance. Since Newcastle was the only politician in England capable of bringing the secretary down, his support in effect guaranteed Pitt’s political survival. Newcastle’s refusal to grant offices to Pitt’s would-be critics shielded him from effective opposition in the House of Commons. Pitt so much appreciated this that his tilt toward engagement in Germany in part reflected his growing regard for Newcastle, who continually pressed him to concentrate on the European war instead of the expensive empire-building that Pitt preferred.11

Of course Newcastle’s support could not prevent a disorderly opposition from arising among the independent backbenchers in Parliament, men who habitually opposed any measure likely to raise their taxes, diminish their local authority, or expand the power of the state. Pitt, however, was fully capable of protecting himself on that front. In part his reputation as a politician above party and his previous eminence as an opposition figure preserved his standing with the country M.P.s, but he also preserved their affections by refusing to increase taxes on land and corn and by proposing to rely upon militia instead of regulars to defend against invasion. The establishment of a national militia in 1757 had indeed proven especially useful in maintaining good relations with the backbenchers for, as Walpole observed, “by the silent douceurs of commissions in the Militia” the conservative squires “were weaned from their opposition, without a sudden transition to ministerial employment.”12

Pitt’s power over policy, like Newcastle’s command of patronage, ultimately derived from the king’s confidence, without which—as the duke of Cumberland himself had learned the hard way—no one could survive in office. Royal support, then, was the critical second element in Pitt’s algorithm of power, and that was growing ever more secure. Pitt quite deliberately cultivated the king by committing substantial subsidies, and eventually troops, to the defense of Hanover; meanwhile, the conquest of Louisbourg fired George’s imagination to such a degree that he endorsed Pitt’s plan to expel France from North America for good and all. From the fall of Louisbourg onward, in the frail old king’s one good eye Pitt could do no wrong, while he reserved the deafest of the royal ears for any complaints—even Newcastle’s—about the expense of the war.13

So firm indeed was the king’s support that Pitt remained unconcerned when his relations with Leicester House, once so ardent, cooled in the fall of 1758. The dowager princess, the prince of Wales, and the prince’s tutor, Lord Bute, still opposed the Crown’s heavy commitment to defending Hanover, and Pitt’s newfound willingness to send troops to reinforce Prince Ferdinand had put a great strain on his relations with them. The final break came when the king refused to receive the Leicester House favorite General Bligh after the disaster of St.-Cas. The prince and Bute complained to Pitt of the king’s callousness, but Pitt refused to curry favor on Bligh’s behalf and, irritated by Lord Bute’s insistent letters, finally broke off correspondence with him. The prince fumed at Pitt’s refusal “to communicate what is intended to be done.” “Indeed my Dearest Friend,” the prince wrote to Bute, “he treats both you and me with no more regard than he would do a parcel of children[. H]e seems to forget that the day will come, when he must expect to be treated according to his deserts.”14 And indeed, Pitt did forget. The staunchness of the king’s support had given him more freedom of action than any first minister since Robert Walpole and enabled him to indulge the megalomaniacal streak that he had never fully repressed. From Louisbourg onward, George II’s approbation meant that Pitt would feel little personal constraint in making his decisions, even as Newcastle’s loyalty freed him from those limits that were merely political.

The third factor that allowed Pitt to control policy was the institutional character of the British war effort—or, more properly, the lack of strong institutions to stabilize and give continuity to it. Although the army and navy had both produced substantial bureaucracies to deal with supply, finance, and other technical functions, neither had developed anything approaching a general staff. The armed forces and the government lacked organizations to gather intelligence or to present Pitt with reasoned estimates of enemy—or allied—strengths and capabilities. No minister, no agency, had the authority to supervise defense policy; the Crown’s nominal chief military officer, the secretary at war, was not ordinarily even a member of the cabinet, and his duties consisted almost exclusively of presenting financial estimates to Parliament and dealing with legal issues affecting the services.15

The absence of bureaucratic machinery gave Pitt the ability to control strategy and policy personally, but it also imposed upon him a workload that not even he, at his most manic, could sustain. He had turned for help not to the secretary at war, Viscount Barrington—a man he despised as a hack—but to the first lord of the Admiralty, Lord Anson, and to the commander in chief of the army, Lord Ligonier. By late summer 1758, Anson and Ligonier had learned to cooperate better than any two service chiefs in British history and in effect were functioning as Pitt’s rudimentary general staff. Ingenious, vigorous, experienced, and loyal, they offered the advice he needed to make sound policy and the administrative expertise necessary to keep the armed forces capable of performing the missions he might assign. Capable as they were, however, Anson and Ligonier could not provide sound intelligence estimates on which Pitt might base his decisions.16

In fact no one could, and throughout the war Pitt relied largely on instinct and private advice to decide where he should concentrate his forces to take maximum advantage of the weaknesses of the enemy. This meant that he made decisions about where to send military expeditions with a casualness that would have been unthinkable had any trustworthy intelligence service existed to offer him advice. In the absence of accurate information about enemy and allied forces alike, success did not always crown his decisions: had he known more about Prince Ferdinand’s army, for example, he might well have declined to send thousands of men to reinforce a general who had already decided to assume the defensive.17 Yet Pitt’s willingness to respond to suggestions, together with his generally reliable ability to distinguish sensible from crackpot schemes, led to some of the most important breakthroughs of the war. Finally, when something happened to work, Pitt was opportunistic enough to capitalize on his success. Thus in 1757 he had taken the advice of Thomas Pownall in replacing Lord Loudoun and encouraging the colonies to cooperate voluntarily in return for reimbursements, and once the fruits of those changes were clear to see, he was prepared to pursue them to the end, regardless of expense. In the same way, in 1758 Pitt had listened to an even less likely figure than Pownall and parlayed a visionary scheme into one of the war’s more spectacular coups.

In this case, the man with a plan had been Thomas Cumming, a Quaker merchant from New York who had approached Pitt with information about France’s trading stations on the west coast of Africa— weakly defended posts rich with slaves, gold dust, ivory, and gum senega (the sap of the acacia tree, also known as gum arabic—a product critical to the sizing and dyeing of silk, and always in short supply in Britain). In return for a trade monopoly in Senegal, Cumming offered to guide an expedition to the region and to negotiate with the native rulers for aid. At the beginning of 1758, Pitt had appointed the enterprising Quaker as his political agent and had sent him to West Africa with a small naval squadron (two ships of the line and four auxiliary vessels carrying a couple hundred marines). When this minute force appeared before the unformidable walls of Fort Louis on the Senegal River at the end of April, the French commandant promptly surrendered, the resident factors swore allegiance to George II, and the British took control without losing a man.

The return to England of Cumming’s ships, deep-laden with slaves, gold, silver, and four hundred tons of valuable gum, prompted Pitt to dispatch a second expedition to seize France’s remaining African posts, Fort St. Michaels on the island of Goree and a slave-trading factory on the River Gambia. By the end of the year, all of it was in British hands. French silk manufacturers had been deprived of the gum senega they needed; sugar planters in the French West Indies had been deprived of the supply of slaves without whom they could not survive; the French privateers who had previously preyed on the Anglo-American slave trade had lost their only secure base of operations on the African coast. By the same token, British textile makers no longer had to buy their gum from the neutral Dutch at high prices, and British sugar planters found their profits growing as a new supply of slaves lowered labor costs. Uncharacteristically for wartime, the pace and the profitability of trade between the mother country and the sugar islands were on the upswing. And all of this had been possible because William Pitt, who would once have had trouble finding Senegal on a map, had been willing to listen to a buccaneering Quaker who had had the persistence to seek him out.18

Pitt’s virtually unassailable political position, his robust combination of flexibility and opportunism, his suggestibility, and his ability to exploit whatever measures seemed to work all furnish the backdrop to the important moves he made in September 1758. The news from Louisbourg and Senegal, together with his fading hopes that a decision would soon be gained on the battlefields of Europe, only increased his determination to strip France of her empire while Frederick and Ferdinand held the line in Europe. Thus even before Pitt had finished formulating plans for 1759 he took two steps that would be of great consequence for the coming year’s campaigns. The first came on September 18 when he issued orders relieving Abercromby from command and appointing Jeffery Amherst as his successor. Although Amherst was only forty, he had shown himself to be both competent and successful, qualities combined in no previous American commander in chief. In him Pitt recognized an able administrator who knew how to follow orders as well as give them: a man whom the colonials could trust, and to whom Pitt could entrust the conquest of Canada.


Negroland. Emmanuel Bowen’s New and Accurate Map of Negroland and the Adjacent Countries(1760) shows the location of Fort Louis, at the mouth of the “Sanaga” (Senegal), the longest river depicted. Goree lies to the south, just below Cape Verde and fifteen degrees north latitude; the next river to the south is the Gambia, site of the slave factory seized in early 1759. Bowen responded to English interest in the commercial potential of the region by carefully portraying the location of the gum forests on either side of the Senegal River, as well as the region’s other resources: gold, ivory, “good Tin,” and slaves. Courtesy of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

Pitt’s second step was to organize—and once the hurricane season was safely over, to dispatch—an amphibious expedition against the French West Indian island of Martinique. Like the Senegalese expedition, this venture originated in a suggestion from an interested party who knew something about the local scene and who happened to get the secretary’s attention. In this case it was William Beckford, a nonresident sugar baron of Jamaica, alderman of London, member of Parliament, and political confidant of Pitt. He had informed the secretary that Martinique “has but one town of strength . . . ; all the inhabitants . . . have not victuals to support themselves and numerous slaves for one month, without a foreign supply. The Negroes and stock of that island are worth above four million sterling, and the conquest easy. . . . For God’s sake,” he concluded, “attempt it without delay.”19

To capture Martinique would confer both economic and strategic advantages: the island was roughly as valuable to France as Jamaica was to England (both islands exported over twenty thousand tons of sugar annually in the immediate prewar years) and it furnished a base from which French privateers preyed on Anglo-American merchantmen in the West Indies. But Martinique was worth more to Pitt than either commerce or strategy alone would indicate, for it represented a diplomatic counter valuable enough to be exchanged for Minorca. As Newcastle never failed to remind him, the nation could sustain Pitt’s monstrously expensive war only so long as the financiers in the City of London went on lending the government money. An irresolvable credit crisis—and one had threatened to become irresolvable as recently as August—would force the government to ask France for terms. Martinique would be Pitt’s ace in the hole.20

Pitt began planning the expedition in September. On November 12, six thousand troops, aboard sixty-four transports, together with eight ships of the line, a frigate, four bomb-ketches, and a hospital ship, sailed from Plymouth. To commit so many men and ships to the West Indies made Anson fret that England might be unable to stave off a French invasion, but Pitt was well past caution. When the House of Commons reconvened in November it proved as cooperative as he could have wished. Without objection the M.P.s approved the largest budget in British history, nearly thirteen million pounds sterling, for the coming year. Over half of this staggering sum was to be borrowed, and nearly half of the expected tax revenues were to be assigned to pay interest on the skyrocketing public debt. Nevertheless, Horace Walpole quipped, “you would as soon hear No from an old maid as from the House of Commons”; Pitt had become its “absolute master.” And Pitt’s plans for 1759, declared in general terms to the Commons at the beginning of their session and then dispatched in the form of orders to military officers and colonial governors, left no doubt that he intended to become the absolute master of more than just 558 compliant M.P.s.21

In Europe, Pitt proposed to stand by Prussia financially and to honor the commitment, now firmly in place, to support the army of Prince Ferdinand with troops as well as money. The subsidy treaty with Hesse, currently under negotiation, was to be renewed with increased payments that would continue for two years after the conclusion of the war. The navy, lately so successful in restraining the French fleet, would maintain its operations in the English Channel, the Bay of Biscay, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean; would put pressure on the shipping of neutrals like the Dutch and the Danes, who sustained what was left of France’s foreign trade; and would support the operations of the East India Company’s troops on the subcontinent by opposing France’s Indian Ocean squadron. These were all strategically defensive missions; there were of course also offensive operations under way against Goree on the West African coast and Martinique in the Caribbean. To sustain such massive maritime commitments, Anson’s shipbuilding program would continue to receive the highest priority. Already the Admiralty was pressing the very limits of British capacity for ship construction; various improvements were being introduced into the design of both frigates and line-of-battle ships; and every effort was being made to raise the number of seamen above the 71,000 currently in service—the largest number in the history of the Royal Navy. The army, with a current strength of 91,000 men, was to be increased by another 10,000 if it was possible to do so without taking the politically difficult step of impressment. At present the army was so heavily committed in America—and now in the West Indies and Germany, to boot—that barely 10,000 men would be available in early 1759 for the defense of the home isles. This in turn meant that the militia, which had been authorized in 1757 and funded in 1758 but never yet embodied, would have to take up the slack. Preparations for raising the territorial regiments were therefore to be stepped up in the spring. Pitt hoped the full force of 32,000 men that had been authorized would be raised and put into service by summer.22

These measures added up to the most extensive, expensive, and well-thought-out military preparations in British history. Yet all of them were subordinate to what was to be the year’s principal effort: the conquest of Canada. On December 9, Pitt wrote to the governors of the northern colonies requesting twenty thousand provincial troops for the coming campaign: “at least as large a Body of Men as . . . for the last Campaign, and even as many more, as the Number of . . . Inhabitants may allow.” As in the previous year, the king would provide the provincials with arms, ammunition, tents, and supplies, and Parliament would “grant a proper Compensation” for the colonies’ expenses, “according as the Active Vigour and strenuous Efforts of the respective Provinces shall justly appear to merit.” These troops were to be used “for invading Canada by the way of Crown Point, and carrying the War into the Heart of the Enemy’s Possessions.” To the governors of Pennsylvania and the southern provinces went a similar request for “several Thousand Men to join the King’s Forces in those Parts, for some Offensive Operations against the Enemy.”23

To Amherst, Pitt sent a series of more detailed orders directing him to invade Canada either by way of Lakes George and Champlain or by way of Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River; to refortify the south end of Lake George and the Forks of the Ohio; to reestablish an advanced post at the site of Fort Oswego, to mount an expedition against Fort Niagara, and (if possible) to proceed against French posts farther to the west. Pitt also informed Amherst that he had assigned James Wolfe to an independent command that would invade Canada from Louisbourg by way of the lower St. Lawrence. Amherst was to detach troops from his present command to rendezvous with Wolfe at Louisbourg so that the expedition would be able to depart “as early in the Year, as on or about, the 7th of May, if the season shall happen to permit.”24

There was nothing in all of these instructions that Amherst would have found surprising, except perhaps that last provision, for he had seen nothing and heard little of Wolfe in more than half a year. Yet this feature of Pitt’s plans for 1759 would have been instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the secretary’s habits as a decision maker. Wolfe had excused himself from his duties on Cape Breton in September and had taken ship for England, where he hoped both to recover his health (which was, in truth, atrocious) and to campaign for an independent command in America. Even while in America, Wolfe had maintained steady contact with his family and influential friends, writing vivid letters that magnified his personal role in the winning of Louisbourg and cast Amherst as an excessively cautious fuddy-duddy. Thanks to such thoughtful preparation, when Wolfe arrived in England he was already being lionized, in influential circles at least, as Louisbourg’s real conqueror.25

As soon as he was well settled at his London club Wolfe wrote to inform Pitt that he had come back to repair his constitution, but that he had “no objection to serving in America, and particularly in the river St. Lawrence, if any operations are to be carried on there.” Suggestible as ever—and seemingly drawn to this strange young officer, whose personality was as streaked by manic egotism as his own—Pitt altered his plans in late December, giving Wolfe command of the expedition against Québec, and even (with some difficulty) convincing the king to promote him to the temporary rank of major general.26

Wolfe’s appointment to the Québec expedition completed Britain’s strategic program for 1759. How it would play out remained to be decided by forces and fortunes uncontrollable by the will, and even the furious energy, of William Pitt.

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