MacLeod (The Canadian Iroquois and the Seven Years’ War, 2012, etc.) uses diaries, letters, and other personal accounts to demonstrate the effects of the pivotal battle of the Seven Years' War, showing how it resounded throughout the Western world for years.
Thankfully, the author, a curator at the Canadian War Museum, includes an alphabetized, 10-page list of characters at the beginning of the book, which mostly helps readers avoid confusion. The main players were James Wolfe, in charge of the British forces, and Governor General Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, the French commander. Vaudreuil’s nemesis was Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, commander of the troupes de terre in Canada. Montcalm had little use for his superior’s orders and often ignored them. On the other side, Wolfe made no secret of his disdain for his generals and never consulted them. MacLeod explores the extent of Quebec’s insurmountable natural defenses and Wolfe’s inability to overcome them. The English navy, under Charles Saunders, could take Wolfe and his army anywhere on the St. Lawrence River, but a landing place was almost impossible to find. Wolfe felt he wouldn’t take Quebec and planned to retire to winter quarters. Weakened by illness, he accepted his brigadiers’ advice for an amphibious landing. As the British began to overcome the geographic obstacles and Montcalm deserted his excellent position, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham forever changed history. Both men lost their lives that day. Wolfe’s brigadiers got on better without him, and Vaudreuil tried to regroup without food, materiel, or reinforcements. While the geography and the movement of the armies are confusing, the author’s strong knowledge of every aspect of the fight prevails to produce an intricate, enlightening account. The witnessing voices of the French, Canadians, and Native Americans fighting and surviving through the siege and battle illuminate the horrors of that war.
Students of American history will appreciate the detail and the thoroughness of this account of what Churchill called the “first world war.”