Friday, August 21, 2009

Brumwell on Wolfe

Stephen Brumwell, British author of a recent biography of General Wolfe, makes a case for his military brilliance in a History Today article.

If you are following the live-blog of the siege, you may have grasped I'm less in awe of Wolfe's acumen. He still strikes me as the classic death-or-glory boy: make a frontal assault, engage the enemy as closely as possible, trust to superior training at the crunch. He used that tactic four times and had a fifty-fifty record (disasters at Rochefort 1757 and Montmorency July 1759, triumphs at Louisbourg July 1758 and Plains of Abraham September 1759). Not so great a percentage, and not acceptable for any commander who had to think about keeping an army in being for the long term. (Not so good for one's own life-expectancy, either; Wolfe certainly had the courage of his convictions.) Compare Jeffrey Amherst's careful hoarding of men and materials as he moves slowly to nearly inevitable victory against Wolfe's throw the dice style.

Brumwell's point about the excellent training and fire-discipline of Wolfe's British regiments is sound, but has been taken for granted in Canadian scholarship about the battle for a generation at least. And the crucial advantage was comparative: Montcalm's forces, an awkward mix of two professional armies and a mass of militia, continuously in the field for several years and continuously short of supplies and reinforcements, could hardly have matched the level of freshness, cohesiveness, and firepower of any newly arrived British force, whether or not its commander shared Wolfe's dedication to training.

Just sayin'. Story is still worth a look.

(h/t Stephen MacLean)
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