Marquis de Montcalm de Saint-Véran

The French general Louis Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm de Saint-Véran (1712-1759), commanded the French troops in Canada during the French and Indian War and died a hero on the battlefield of Quebec.

Born in Nîmes on Feb. 29, 1712, Louis Joseph Montcalm received a solid classical education. He entered the army at the age of 15 and fought bravely during the War of the Polish Succession. He reached the rank of colonel in the War of the Austrian Succession, and at the battle at Piacenza in 1746 he distinguished himself, was wounded five times, and was taken prisoner. In the following year he became a brigadier general.

Ten years later, as a major general, Montcalm was sent to be commander of the regular military forces in Canada. Specifically subordinated to the civilian governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, Montcalm was hampered by a lack of cooperation on the part of the civil authorities. Personal animosity and dissension between Montcalm and Vaudreuil marked their relationship. The dishonesty of certain members of the provincial administration, a general shortage of food throughout New France, and governmental apathy at home also handicapped Montcalm.

In August 1756 Montcalm crossed Lake Ontario, took the British fort at Oswego, destroyed the settlement, and restored French control to the area. In August 1757 he took and destroyed Ft. William Henry at the head of Lake George with a force of 4,000 French troops and 1,000 Indians. When the British garrison surrendered and marched out, Montcalm's Indian allies massacred many soldiers before Montcalm could stop them. In the following year he occupied Ticonderoga (Ft. Carillon) and held it with 3,600 men against a British attacking force of 15,000.

The British sent strong reinforcements to Canada in 1759 to take Quebec, a virtually impregnable fortress high above the St. Lawrence River. Coming from Louisbourg, Gen. James Wolfe landed at the Island of Orleans, just downstream from Quebec. Montcalm concentrated about 14,000 troops, plus some Indians, along the Montmorency River to oppose Wolfe's assault. The first British attack on July 31 was repulsed. But on September 13, through a stratagem—and there is evidence of bribery involved— Wolfe landed about 4,800 men above Quebec and mounted an unguarded path to the Plains of Abraham on the bluff above the river. Montcalm assembled about 4,500 men and attacked at once, but he lacked artillery, which was withheld by Vaudreuil. In the ensuing battle, both Wolfe and Montcalm led their forces personally. Both were fatally wounded, Montcalm dying the next morning, September 14, in Quebec. The French defeat was the major turning point that broke French power and led to the eventual British conquest of Canada.

Montcalm was a fastidious person who dressed fashionably in the dandified manner of the times. His fine appearance, his gentlemanly behavior, his charm and integrity, his personal bravery, and his concern for his troops made him immensely popular.

Further Reading on Marquis de Montcalm de Saint-Véran

The classic account of Montcalm is still Francis Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe (2 vols., 1884; with new introduction, 1962). See also William C. H. Wood, The Passing of New France: A Chronicle of Montcalm (1914), and Meriwether L. Lewis, Montcalm: The Marvelous Marquis (1961).

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