memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

The paths of glory

Major General James P. Wolfe (2 January 1727 – 13 September 1759) was a British Army officer, remembered chiefly for his victory over the French in Canada.

The outbreak of the Seven Years’ War in 1756 led the British Prime Minister William Pitt to appoint him second-in-command of an expedition to capture Louisbourg. Following the success of this operation he was made commander of a force designated to sail up the Saint Lawrence River to capture Quebec. After a lengthy naval siege Wolfe managed to take 3 divisions of British Infantry up the almost unscaleable cliffs of The Heights of Abraham during the night of the 12th September 1759 to confront a French force under general Louis-Joseph de Montcalm at dawn of the next day – three lines of red-coats in exact formation with their backs to the cliffs and nowhere to go but forwards.

The battle was brief and decisive and allowed the British forces to capture the city of Quebec. Wolfe was killed at the height of the battle due to injuries from three musket balls.

What (for a professional soldier at that time) a heroic and sublime death!

A perfect subject for an 11-year-old boy to read about two centuries later in the school library to activate his historical imagination:

LITHOGRAPH OF WOLFE’S DEATH AT QUEBEC

To complete the picture while waiting, anxiously pacing the deck of the flagship of the besieging squadron moored at the head of Saint Lawrence River, the young general was fond of quoting from a contemporary poet (Thomas Gray) Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard:

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,

And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,

Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour:-

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

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