Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Live-blogging the siege of Quebec+250: Comments from the siege militia

Stephen Michael MacLean:
Your updates were enjoyed more fully after reading two books by William Wood — The Passing of New France and now The Winning of Canada — that, no matter how frowned upon by historians, at least gave me an overall perspective on what Montcalm and Wolfe achieved in 1759 (I’ve gone back to look at the DCB to see if Vaudreuil and Bigot were the scoundrels of Wood’s retelling).
I’ve also looked at the National Battlefield Commission site (as well as Parks Canada for information on the Fortress of Louisbourg) and I can’t say they were very helpful — especially Louisbourg. One would have hoped that even the barest narrative of events (with pictures of uniforms and armaments and user-friendly maps of the terrain) would have been available for the curious (such as school children, for instance) and in my exercise, at least, I came up empty.
A benefit of quotidian reviews is their ability to convey the particulars of events. Last night, walking our Jack Russell terrier to a local pond to watch a pair of beavers hard at work, and with a cool chill in the air, I had a sense of the impending winter that despaired the British and gave false hope to the French 250 years ago.
Brian Busby:
Fine series. Yes, please do consider "trying again".
Larry Marshall:
I've followed your siege of Quebec series and found it fascinating. I'm an American living in Quebec City and while I know the basic history of the events, you allowed me to understand this part of Quebec history.
I'll certainly continue following your blog and hope very much that you do another live-blogging series.
Anita and Bill Stewart:
I thoroughly enjoyed the series, especially as I visited Quebec this summer and walked the various locations. I thought the day by day approach gave a new perspective to the development of the siege that is missing from the various historical accounts. One of the inevitable consequences of the histories is that time is compressed during periods when not much is happening. However, for the participants time does not compress, so we can better understand the experience of the besiegers and the besieged. One of the challenges of traditional narrative history is that we read the course of events in hours when the event may take days or weeks and this distorts to some extent our understanding of the event. A poor analogy may be viewing the highlights of a hockey game on TV gives a different and weaker appreciation of the game versus watching the game live.
Mark Reynolds:
Loved the live blogging, and I hope you find another similar topic worthy of the considerable effort you take with it.

I must say, I was a little disappointed with how you ended it: I had grown rather attached to the Supply Clerk, and wanted to know what happened to him. Could you do a wrap up post?
Quite right. The supply clerk ended his siege diary with a brief undated entry covering the few days immediately after the battle. The last lines:
Reading this diary, one will see with shame the gross errors made during this campaign. It is as if we worked alongside the enemy to learn ways for them to take us with ease. Nothing proves this better than the battle of the 13th and the surrender of the town on the 18th. These will always give testimony against the arms of France. I no longer see a way to get back to ourselves. Only a good and happy peace can procure us that sweet and agreeable tranquility. I hope for it with all my heart, should that be the holy will of God. Amen.
Aegidius Fautoux, the cleric and historian who first edited and published the supply clerk's diary early in the twentieth century added this final annotation:
So ends on this prayer the diary of a brave man who clearly loved his country and who suffered in his soul to see it so afflicted.
This is so perfect that I have wondered if Fauteux composed the whole thing himself, but scholarly opinion seems united on its authenticity. (Shame on me for my cynicism, but one needs to be careful.) Fauteux's edition of the diary is available here at Nos Racines if you read French. The identity of the supply clerk remains unknown.
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