Military history




Amherst plans a climactic, three-pronged invasion of Canada in the midst of a colonial world transformed by Pitt’s military policies and expenditures. Outside the walls of Québec, the chevalier de Lévis wins one last battle but finds that he cannot change the course of the war. Murray, Haviland, and Amherst converge on Montréal. An accounting for Britain’s victory, and an assessment of its costs. Pitt, at the zenith of his power, confronts a crucial challenge: the sudden death of George II.


War in Full Career


AMHERST RECEIVED Pitt’s directions on February 20, when he was already deep in preparations for the coming campaigns. Upon his arrival at New York in December he had settled arrangements with the contractors for supplying the expeditions. In January he had written to the governors, asking for the same numbers of troops their provinces had furnished in 1759, and he had applied to the New York Assembly for another loan to cover his operating expenses until money arrived from Britain. In February he had arranged with Sir William Johnson to procure as many warriors from the Six Nations as possible for the coming year. Throughout the winter, artisans working under contract with the army busily repaired arms and tents and boats, readying them for the next summer’s use; ranger and regular officers recruited men to replace those lost in the previous campaign; sergeants drilled their troops in both the conventional tactics of the line and the newer techniques of aimed fire and bush fighting. By the beginning of March, Amherst was looking forward with considerable confidence to completing the conquest of Canada.1

Since the capture of Niagara and the withdrawal of the French from their Allegheny forts had reduced activity in the west from an operational to an administrative level, Amherst gave over command of the provinces south of New York to Robert Monckton. With 400 Royal Americans and about 4,000 provincials (300 from North Carolina, 761 from Virginia, and 2,800 from Pennsylvania), he was to consolidate control at Fort Pitt, Niagara, and the old French posts on the Allegheny. Otherwise— apart from the 1,300 regulars he had had to send to South Carolina to help put down a Cherokee uprising—Amherst intended to use practically every redcoat in America, together with thousands of provincials from New England, New Jersey, and New York, in a great three-pronged attack on Canada. He would personally lead the main army of 12,000 men from Albany to Oswego, and then down the St. Lawrence to Montréal; if the Canadians and French were to try to escape westward, they would find their route blocked by overwhelming force. A second army, numbering about 3,500 redcoats and provincials, would advance under the command of Acting Brigadier General William Haviland along the Champlain corridor from Crown Point, taking Île-aux-Noix and the Richelieu River forts on its way to Montréal. The third force, under Brigadier General James Murray, would be made up of as many men as could be spared from the garrison of Québec, plus regular reinforcements sent up from Louisbourg; these would ascend the St. Lawrence by ship. All three forces were to converge, if possible simultaneously, on Montréal, where they would trap the last defenders of New France.2

AMHERST’S BOLD PLAN not only called for a degree of strategic coordination never before seen in America, but also for provincial troops essentially equal in number to those that had been raised in the two previous years. That in turn would require greater outlays, man for man, than ever before. Despite problems in enlistment that stemmed both from the extreme exertions of the previous years and from the effects of rumors that peace was at hand in Europe, the governments of the northern provinces did their best to meet the demand for recruits.

As usual, Massachusetts led the way. In January the General Court agreed to raise 5,000 volunteers for the campaign, notwithstanding the heroic expenditures that would be needed to accomplish it. The legislators had already voted to retain, over the winter of 1759–60, the 2,500 men who had been sent to garrison Louisbourg—the decision that had so distressed Gibson Clough.3 This unprecedented step had occasioned unanticipated expenses, for the province not only had to continue paying the troops’ wages so long as they remained in service, but also had to promise support for every “necessitous” soldier’s family and pledge an additional four-pound bonus upon completion of duty. In response to Amherst’s request for troops, the legislators agreed to pay a nine-pound bounty to any soldier at Louisbourg who would reenlist for the coming campaign and the same amount to as many more volunteers as would be needed to bring the province’s forces up to its 5,000-man quota. In the end, it proved necessary to add yet another three pounds to the bounty to raise the last 500 men. All in all, to reimburse a private soldier at Louisbourg— for example, Gibson Clough—for serving past the expiration of his previous enlistment and then reenlisting for 1760, the province had to lay out twenty-two pounds; and that did not include his wages for the coming campaign, which would cost nearly thirteen pounds more. This was an extraordinary sum to procure the services of a single common soldier, but nothing less would suffice. 4

As in the previous years, a high bounty offered in one province drove up the bounties in the neighboring ones, so overall costs were greater than in 1758 and 1759; yet the northern colonies responded without complaint, as if they had become accustomed to mobilizing men and resources for the war. Although recruiting went as slowly as usual, by the end of June they had placed nearly 14,500 provincials at Amherst’s disposal: 5,000 from Connecticut, 4,000 from Massachusetts, 2,680 from New York, 1,000 each from New Jersey and Rhode Island, and 800 from New Hampshire.5

The enthusiasm that lay behind these efforts was real enough, for if anything the prospect of ending the war had enhanced the patriotic spirit of the assemblies. But there was also great practicality in their cooperation. By now the provinces most heavily engaged in the fighting had contracted such massive public debts in proportion to their tax resources that they had become dependent upon Parliament’s reimbursements, even to meet current expenses. They were, therefore, no longer in a position to balk at the demands of Amherst and Pitt and risk bringing an end to transfer payments that totaled about £200,000 sterling per year.

Furthermore, throughout the northern colonies military service and such related civilian jobs as those for artificers, wagoners, and crewmen on privateering vessels were generating steady employment for tens of thousands of young men and pumping specie into circulation at a rate unparalleled in colonial history. Agriculture was becoming a steadily more commercialized activity, even in New England, where the purchases of military provision contractors drove commodity prices to extraordinary heights. Beef and pork, bellwethers for the effects of military demand because of their importance in soldiers’ rations, commanded prices that were on average half again higher at the beginning of 1760 than they had been at the outset of the war.6 What Thomas Hutchinson observed of Massachusetts at the beginning of 1760 might be said with equal force about any northern colony: “The generous compensations which had been every year made by parliament, not only alleviated the burden of taxes, which otherwise would have been heavy, but, by the importation of such large sums of specie, increased commerce; and it was the opinion of some, that the war added to the wealth of the province, though the compensation did not amount to one half the charges of government.” 7

Thus in British America the seventh and climactic year of the war began in an atmosphere of confidence, prosperity, and cooperation between colonies and metropole that no one could have predicted on the evidence of the conflict’s first years. The scale of the war itself had become almost inconceivably large: a conflict that had begun in an Allegheny glen with the massacre of thirteen Frenchmen had spread over two oceans and three continents—half a world—and had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. There had been nothing direct about the path, and certainly nothing inevitable about the events, that connected Washington’s wretched fort in the Great Meadows to the huge encampments of Anglo-American troops preparing for the war’s climactic campaign. And yet, even in the spring of 1760—as officers were beating up for recruits across the northern countryside and ships laden with munitions butted their way across the Atlantic, as John Stanwix was supervising the completion of Fort Pitt and Jeffrey Amherst put the finishing touches on his plans for the summer’s expeditions—even then, nothing was foreordained. At Montréal, the chevalier de Lévis had been making plans of his own. He needed only a few ships carrying men and munitions and Indian trade goods from France to make those plans succeed, and if he did, Canada might yet hold out until peace could be made in Europe. In that case, all Amherst’s meticulous preparations, all the manpower of the colonies, and all the military strength and logistical weight of Great Britain, would add up to nothing more than one more chapter of frustration to the long, fruitless history of Anglo-American attempts to conquer New France.

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