Friday, July 10, 2009

Live-blogging the siege of Quebec +250 #8

July 10: More than a week after the British have established themselves on the south shore, the Ile d'Orleans, and the north shore north-east of Montmorency, the siege of Quebec is still a long-distance confrontation for most citizens and even for the troops. The anonymous Journal du Siège reports:
At seven in the morning, an English deserter crossed the river toward the town in a leaky canoe. As soon as he was seen, our people went to get him. His report: they have 6000 men landed at Ange-Gardien and at least 2000 at Pointe à Lévy; that is all their troops. They had stationed at Pointe de Lévy a regiment made up of all nations that never wanted to serve. They had to re-embark them and put Royal Marines ashore to replace them….

At 7.30 in the evening, a seaman was killed at the Dauphine battery by a mortar bomb that exploded as it came out of the mortar. This was the first casualty in the city.
A note on histories of the siege of Quebec: Three books stand out.

The first is C.P. Stacey's Quebec 1759: The Siege and the Battle, first published fifty years ago in 1959. Stacey wrote this more or less in his spare time while shepherding to publication the official history of the Canadian Army in the Second World War. What a good historian he was -- I once heard him called the best of his generation in his technical skills. He seems to have been superbly organized, judicious, plain-spoken, and surely a prodigious worker. Donald Graves edited a new edition of Stacey's Quebec 1759 a couple of years ago.

Second is Fred Anderson's Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-66, published in 2000. I first found this a bit Americano-centric, and he is looking for the roots of the American Revolution. But Anderson is very good at carrying readers away from thinking it is just Amherst/Wolfe versus Montcalm/Vaudreuil; this is the best book on the big sweep of the conflict, interested in frontier alliances and British politics as well as the armies on the St. Lawrence. He's actually quite succinct on the siege of Quebec, but this is the one for the bigger context.

The principal new work for the 250th anniversary is Peter MacLeod's Northern Armageddon, published last year. Not easy to go up against Stacey's classic, but MacLeod has new material and a social-history sense that is fresh.

Finally, the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume III, back in 1974, included essays on "The French Forces in North America during the Seven Years' War " by W.J. Eccles and "The British Forces in North America during the Seven Years' War" by Stacey, that remain terrifically useful. The online DBC has biographies of all the principal figures, but does not include the background essays, like these two, that appeared in its early print volumes.
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