Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Marquis de Montcalm

One of my heroes is Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm. Montcalm was born exactly 300 years ago, on February 29, 1712. When he was 12, he joined the French army and served in the War of the Polish Succession (1733-36). On October 3, 1736, Montcalm married Louise-Angelique Talon de Boulay. They had 10 children, but only 6 survived to adulthood. Throughout his life, Montcalm's heart was always with his family, even when he was absent.

Montcalm fought in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48). When the war was over, he was allowed to raise a cavalry regiment, the Regiment de Montcalm. In 1756, France and England declared war on each other, beginning the Seven Years' War. Montcalm was sent to New France (Canada) as commander of French regular troops. Montcalm besieged and took Fort Oswego (1756) and Fort William-Henry (1757). He also shattered a British army attacking Fort Carillon (1758).

But the British were not Montcalm's chief enemies. The French-Canadian leaders made life difficult for Montcalm. Governor Vaudreuil was a man with, it seems, little character and a big ego. He was not a bad man per se, but was surrounded by evil counsellors like Intendant Bigot and M. Pean. Bigot and Pean were bureaucrats who stole money from the King. They did not like Montcalm's candor in exposing their official stealing.

1759 saw Montcalm defending Quebec against James Wolfe. Both were killed in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

Montcalm held the line against not only the British, but also the corrupt Canadian bureaucrats. He held to principles of Biblical warfare. But a characteristic that is not often seen in other generals was his modesty. Louis XV awarded him the Cross of Saint-Louis. He wrote to his wife about this honour, adding, "But I think I am better pleased with what you tell me of the success of my oil-mill."

Montcalm's priorities were his family and his church, and he never forgot them, even in the heat of campaigning or the battles with the Canadian bureaucrats.

Recommended reading: The Passing of New France: A Chronicle of Montcalm by William C. H. Wood. This is an excellent study of Montcalm and the French & Indian War.

1 comment:

  1. Montcalm really was a classy character, and a highly religious one at that. He was also quite a gourmet when it came to good food and wine, just as much as his nemisis, Wolfe, was a gourmet when it came to fashion! I read a book called "Wolfe and Montcalm: Deciding the Fate of North America" by Joy Carroll which did an excellent job contrasting the two gentlemen.

    Also, there is a verse in the song "Brave Wolfe" which, interestingly enough, features a ficticious meeting between the opposing generals before the Battle of Quebec in 1759:

    "The French drew up their men, for death prepared,
    In one another's face, the armies stared,
    Whilst Wolfe and Montcalm together walked,
    Betwixt there armies they, like brothers, talked."

    Yes, I know, they could never have heard each other over the din of the bagpipes even if they had wanted to parley, but it's an interesting imaginary scenario, and it fits with some of the "noblesse oblige" displayed between enemies during the time period.