Quebec City, Canada (1759 AD)
The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was the decisive engagement of the Seven Years War in North America (known locally as the French and Indian War). Although not the largest battle of the war, it led directly to the fall of Quebec, effectively putting an end to the French colony in Canada and consequently the complete domination of North America by the British Empire. The battle pitted two of the greatest military commanders of the day against each other, James Wolfe and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, both of whom perished during the short but deadly battle. The site of the engagement has been preserved at the Battlefields Park and is the most popular military site in Canada.
The Seven Years War was the greatest conflict between the colonial powerhouses of Britain and France. Fought in Europe, the Americas, Asia and India, this global conflict drew in many of the European and colonial powers and has been deemed by some historians to be history’s true first world war. In North America, where the fighting took largely took place between the British colonies of New England and New York and the French colony of New France, the conflict was known as the French and Indian War.
Fighting between the British and French had been going on in the Americas since the early- to mid-18th century. Hostilities began to heat up in 1754, and broke out into full-fledge open conflict in 1756. For several years the armies of the British and French (and their various colonial and native allies) fought their way along the major waterways. After initial French successes through 1757, the increasing preponderance of British naval and manpower began to take its toll.
In 1759, the British began a massive, three-pronged invasion under Wolfe designed to take Quebec, the largest military fortification in North America. The fortress, actually a walled city on a high cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River, was deemed impregnable. However, on the night of September 12, a small British force succeeded in scaling the cliff and defeated the small garrison guarding the road to the plateau. The next morning, the French awoke to find the entire British army formed up along Quebec’s least-defended side.
Rather than allow the British to dig in for a siege, the French army under Montcalm marched out to meet the British in open battle. The two sides were roughly equal in number, although the British had a slight advantage of numbers and better trained troops. This was enough. The armies engaged for bareyl fifteen minuted before both commanders were dead and the French were forced to withdraw. Out of necessity, Quebec City was abandoned, crippling the French war effort and ultimately dooming the loss of Canada to the British.
Although the battle took place just outside of city, the Plains of Abraham were subsequently preserved as a public park, and are largely in pristine condition. The battle sites are well marked, with artillery pieces on display. Also in the park are four towers, built in the early 19th century to protect Quebec City from a possible American attack. Also nearby are the well preserved fortifications of Quebec, still the largest walled city in North America.
The Battlefields Park is located immediately west of Quebec City, approximately 130 miles northeast of Montreal. It is an open site. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca (official website).
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