The thirteenth of September 1759. 08:30 hours. Montcalm rode a black horse onto the field, his hastily deployed army spreading out as it moved across the Plains of Abraham toward the thin line of redcoats visible in the middle distance. Already, to both flanks, scattered gunfire could be heard, and from amidst the trees, white-grey powder smoke bloomed upward as skirmishers on both sides exchanged shots.
It seemed incredible that so many English troops had made the crossing of the St. Lawrence already, and it was imperative to engage as quickly as possible, to drive them back before they began to entrench themselves or bring up heavier artillery. The old cavalryman's maxim of meeting the enemy head on at your best speed rose in the Marquis' breast, and he encouraged his men forward.
As the distance to the enemy began to decrease however, it became clear that both the terrain and the hasty march up onto the heights had caused some disruption.
A copse in the centre of the approach forced the marching battalions to divide, and whilst the centre remained in column, the flanking units were shaking out into line in order to cover the width of the field. Perhaps too, the natural inclination of the Canadian Militia to seek cover was already drawing them toward the flanking treeline; the advance was beginning to look ragged and unco-ordinated, and the artillery was falling behind, unable to deploy with a clear line of sight.
The centre columns were moving too swiftly for the Regiment of Royal-Roussilon to their left, and the whole left wing began to fall behind, a yawning gap opening in the centre of the field. Before much could be done to despatch orders to re-organise, however, a series of volleys rang out from the French.
"Too early!" thought Montcalm, spurring his horse forward to remonstrate with the nearest Lieutenant-Colonel, but by then the various battalions had fallen into further disorder as they began to reload.
One blessing was as yet from the English side there was no reply, apart from the regular pop-boom of a pair of small artillery pieces firing from either end of their line.
Indeed, the English seemed to be waiting with an almost un-natural calm, well disciplined as they were, a single conforming line, like a wall across the Plains. Their flanks were refused however, and this kept the Irregulars and Natives from making much headway in attempting to outflank it.
To their rear, further detachments of troops were visible, forming a strong reserve.
Finally, as the French battalions came within charging distance, the redcoats opened up an ordered round of firing by platoons, and at this close distance, casualties could be seen falling on both sides.
As the space between the two armies came down to less than thirty yards, the English paused, marched a few paces forward to clear the smoke of their own firing, and then a single volley erupted across the face of the line, crashing out, a rolling wave of sound, that seemed momentarily to shock the entire French front.
At this decisive moment, the individual dramas and tragedys of men in battle were played out, as left and right men fell wounded or dead; Montcalm fell from his horse, shot through in both stomach and thigh, Wolfe, already wounded, was struck to the floor by bullets in both his chest and just below his navel. The French commanders, Senezergue, de Fontbrune, and their English counterparts Monckton and Carleton all became casualties.
For a moment, the French line was silenced and stunned, a few cruel yards short of their enemy, and then began to dissolve and disperse, routing back toward the walls of Quebec. Away from the centre of the open plain, small groups and individual units rallied and stood against the oncoming English, inflicting casualties in particular amongst the 78th Highlanders, but the tide of defeat was too strong, the battle lost...
General Wolfe lay, after refusing to see a surgeon, in the wake of the advancing Louisbourg Grenadiers, when one of their number cried out "They run, see how they run!" "Who runs?" demanded Wolfe, earnestly trying to prop himself up for a better view; "The Enemy sir, they give way everywhere...." came the reply. Satisfied, he gave orders to bring up the reserve, then turning on his side, spoke for the last time: "Now God be praised, I will die in peace."
Montcalm was brought back into the City of Quebec, and suffered an agonising night, under the ministrations of the surgeon, Arnoux, who told him that he would not live beyond the next morning. "Good," the Marquis replied, "I will not see the English in Quebec..."
For both of these men, and for so many others on this day, 'the Paths of Glory.......led only to the Grave..'