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“oh Amherst, Brave Amherst…
Lord Jeffery’s name is “known to fame,” but it was the five years he spent in America that rescued him from obscurity
December 1960 | Volume 12, Issue 1
So far, the conqueror of Louisbourg and Ticonderoga had gained military glory, but little else. In a day when successful—or even unsuccessful—generals felt entitled to enrich themselves with spoils, Amherst astonished everyone with his self-denying honesty. He did feel, however, that some recognition was due him from the Crown. After all, even an amateur soldier like Johnson was made a baronet for his relatively minor victory over Dieskau at Lake George. George II felt otherwise. He still looked coldly on Pitt’s protégé, and only the First Minister’s threat of resigning brought Amherst the modest reward of the governorship of Virginia. Even then Amherst hesitated. The catch was that he might be required to stay in America, and his permanent aim was still to return to Kent and his fretful wife. Only when he was promised that he would never have to go there did he accept the Virginia appointment.
Spring brought the familiar problem of raising money and men, and somehow Amherst managed it once more. Again he planned a three-way advance. Brigadier the Honorable James Murray, who had succeeded Wolfe, was to move up the river from Quebec. On Lake Champlain, Colonel William Haviland was to succeed to the command with the task of taking the fortified Isle aux Noix and breaking into the St. Lawrence Valley. In a surprise shift Amherst himself would replace the lethargic Gage and advance his main force of 11,000 men to La Galette, not this time for a holding operation but—and in this lay the brilliance of Amherst’s conception—to strike unexpectedly at Montreal by a quick thrust down the St. Lawrence.
For a moment Amherst’s plans hung in the balance when in April Murray’s inadequate and winterscourged garrison was besieged in the citadel of Quebec by the superior forces of the Chevalier de Lévis. Only the timely arrival of ships from England with supplies and reinforcements saved him from capitulation. It was not until late in July that Amherst was able to complete the organization of his expedition. Parked in bateaux, whaleboats, and canoes, and protected by gunboats, his water-borne army left Oswego for La Galette on August 10. The same day Haviland set out from Crown Point. Murray, following orders, had sailed from Quebec on July 15.
After two hundred years Amherst’s plan still seems an unexampled demonstration of co-ordinated staff work. As Parkman noted: “Three armies advancing from three different points hundreds of miles apart, by routes full of difficulty, and with no possibility of intercommunication, were to meet at the same place at the same time or, failing to do so, run the risk of being destroyed in detail.” And they met!
Murray’s slow passage up the river with 2,500 men was almost as uneventful as a cruise. Late in August his fleet dropped anchor just below Montreal.
Haviland with a force of 3,500 regulars and provincials that included Rogers’ Rangers found Nut Island easy to crack. The dispirited French defenders put up only token resistance, falling back to St. Johns and then to Chambly. Both military posts were soon overrun by the English. Haviland arrived at Lachine opposite the island of Montreal on the evening of September 6 and at once communicated with Murray.
It took Amherst five days of wandering through the intricate channels of the Thousand Islands before he reached La Galette, where his gunboats captured a French armed brig. Just below La Galette was the midstream island, Fort Lévis, which he reduced in three days. From there he came to the most perilous part of his voyage, the rapids of the St. Lawrence. At first the men were lucky in shooting the Galops, Point Iroquois, Point Cardinal, and Rapid Plat without accident, even though the water was unusually high that summer; but twenty soldiers were lost at the Long Sault, and three days later sixty-four more drowned in the swirl of the Cascades and Cedars rapids. From there on, though, it was a smooth journey to Lachine, where Amherst arrived the morning of September 6, almost simultaneously with Haviland. He brought his army across the river at once, and marched them the nine miles to the walls of Montreal, where they camped on the plain above the town.
The situation of Vaudreuil, encompassed within the town by three armies, was hopeless. His militia had deserted him; of his regulars there were only 2,400 left, and Montreal was paralyzed with refugees. Sending his aide, Bougainville, to discuss terms, he proposed a cease-fire until it could be determined if peace had been made in Europe. To the defeated French, Amherst would give no terms, not even the customary honors of war, because of the atrocities of their Indian allies. “I have come to take Canada, and I will take nothing less,” was the message that Amherst sent back to the French governor. Vaudreuil had no choice. On September 8, 1760, he ceded Canada unconditionally to the British Crown.
With Canada’s surrender, the control of its government devolved on Amherst, and here he showed himself as capable a statesman as he had been a general. Although his terms to the military had been harsh, he treated the French civilians with generous-minded consideration. As little as possible was done to change French-derived laws, customs, and property rights.