Military history

CHAPTER 42

Murray Ascends the St. Lawrence

JULY-AUGUST 1760

SUPPLY SHIPS and their escorts began arriving at Québec soon after the French retreated upriver. Within a few days six ships of the line and seven frigates lay anchored in the basin; by July 13, when Murray was ready to order the advance toward Montréal, he had at his disposal thirty-two armed vessels, nine floating batteries, and scores of barges and bateaux. Although the dispatches that arrived with the ships explained that Amherst intended to meet him and Haviland at Montréal, he expected that he would be the only one to reach the city before the end of the summer; therefore he was relieved to learn that two regiments from Louisbourg were ascending the river to join him. Murray had scraped 2,200 serviceable men out of the wreckage of the Québec garrison—not a reassuringly large force, even though it was in fact far superior to the 1,500 that Lévis had given the chevalier de Bourlamaque to guard the river below the rapids of Richelieu. This tricky stretch of water, with its narrow navigable channel defended by shore batteries, offered the best opportunity of stopping the British before Montréal, but by July 26 Murray’s force had passed the rapids without significant loss.1

Thereafter, French cannon on shore occasionally lobbed rounds at the passing flotilla, but only the current, contrary winds, and the weakening force of the tides slowed its progress. Frustrated, the defenders followed the ships, hoping to prevent them from landing forces on shore. In the event, they could not even do that; Murray stopped at most of the settlements he passed to proclaim their conquest and to receive the submission of their populations. The habitants proved tractable, for they were relieved to be spared further punishment and eager to trade poultry, garden crops, and other perishables for the salt that they desperately needed to preserve eels and fish against the coming winter.2

In the absence of effective opposition Murray’s advance became less an expedition into the heart of enemy territory than a kind of triumphal progress. When Captain John Knox of the 43rd Foot chronicled the army’s passage by the “garrison town” of Trois-Rivières on August 8, he might almost have been describing an unusually elaborate tableau vivant rather than the largest concentration of French soldiers below Montréal. “The [enemy] troops,” he wrote, apparently about two thousand, lined their different works, and were in general cloathed as regulars, except a very few Canadians and about fifty naked . . . savages, their bodies being painted of a reddish colour, their faces of different colours, which I plainly discerned with my glass; and otherwise whimsically disfigured, to strike terror into their enemies: their light cavalry, who paraded along the shore, seemed to be well appointed, cloathed in blue, faced with scarlet; but their officers had white uniforms; in fine, their troops, batteries, fair-looking houses, their situation on the banks of a delightful river, our fleet sailing triumphantly before them, with our float[ing batterie]s drawn up in line of battle, the country on both sides interspersed with neat settlements, together with the verdure of the fields and trees, afforded, with the addition of clear pleasant weather, as agreeable a prospect as the most lively imagination can conceive. 3

Simply by bypassing enemy opposition in this way, Murray was able to sustain a steady progress toward Montréal and to avoid almost all loss of life in doing so. August 23 found the British fleet in the basin called Lac St.-Pierre, where the Richelieu River emptied into the St. Lawrence; at this point they were less than forty miles below Montréal. There, at last, the two Louisbourg regiments that had all the while been trailing them up the river finally joined Murray’s battalions, bringing the expedition’s fighting strength up to about four thousand men.

On August 27, with French and Canadian troops watching impotently from either shore of the river, the fleet dropped anchor just below the island of Montréal. Against slight resistance, Murray landed troops on the south shore and on September 1 took possession of the parish of Varenne, just downriver from the town. Still he met no significant opposition; indeed, the most difficult task he faced was administering the oath of loyalty to the habitants and the deserting French and Canadian troops who flocked to his camp. Even so—perhaps because he remembered his last encounter with the chevalier de Lévis—he made no move to engage the enemy. Instead he contented himself with digging in and anticipating the arrival of Haviland and Amherst. James Murray was not a particularly patient man, but he would not have long to wait.4

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