Michigan War Studies Review
Reviews, surveys, original essays, and commentary in the field of military studies.
2014-126
17 December 2014
Review by Michael P. Gabriel, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
All Canada in the Hands of the British: General Jeffrey Amherst and the 1760 Campaign to Conquer New France
By Douglas R. Cubbison
Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2014. Pp. xviii, 283. ISBN 978–0–8061–4427–6.
Descriptors: Volume 2014, 18th Century Print Version

Benjamin West's dramatic 1770 painting, The Death of General Wolfe, immortalized the September 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham. While this British victory is often associated with the conquest of Canada, it only secured Quebec. The rest of the province did not surrender until a year later, following a carefully orchestrated campaign that saw three British armies arrive at Montreal within days of each other from Quebec, Crown Point, and Oswego. Previously, those interested in this largely ignored final stage of the American phase of the Seven Years' War had to consult broader studies by Francis Parkman, Lawrence Henry Gipson, and, more recently, Fred Anderson.[1] Now, Douglas Cubbison (Wyoming Veterans' Memorial Museum) attempts to fill this historiographic gap with the first book-length study of the 1760 campaign—he succeeds admirably.

All Canada in the Hands of the British is a carefully crafted study of the operations of the British columns that converged on Montreal in summer 1760. Cubbison emphasizes Gen. Jeffrey Amherst's successful command and control of this three-pronged offensive, a remarkable achievement today, let alone in the eighteenth century. In fact, Amherst's comments on this feat first drew Cubbison to the topic: "I believe never three Armyes setting out from different & very distant Parts from each other, Joyned in the Center, as was intended, better than we did and it could not fail of having the effect of which I have just now seen the consequence" (xi).

Cubbison, who has written four previous books on the French and Indian War and American Revolution on the northern frontier,[2] begins with an overview of the strategic situation in North America. He argues that French Canada faced myriad problems as 1760 arrived. In the previous year, the critical victories of British forces at Fort Niagara, Lake Champlain, and Quebec had isolated Montreal from the upper Great Lakes, potentially closed the St. Lawrence River to reinforcements from France, and left the colony dangerously exposed to renewed attacks. Cubbison convincingly identifies the internal threats facing the French in Canada. Several years of poor harvests, coupled with a British blockade and almost continuous militia service, left Canadian agriculture on the brink of collapse. A lack of gold and silver specie exacerbated the dire economic situation by forcing inhabitants to use dubious paper money and even playing cards as currency. Still, Canada's situation was by no means hopeless.

By necessity, any British advance in 1760 would have to be segmented and traverse scores of miles of wilderness, constituting a logistical nightmare for the British commanders and officers. Lévis's small but highly effective French army could maneuver along interior lines of communications along the rivers and lakes of Canada. With the strong military fortifications constructed in 1759 and the natural defenses imposed by distance and terrain, the French leadership in Montreal knew that they faced a formidable challenge in 1760, but they were by no means entirely vulnerable. A resolute resistance had every prospect of permitting Canada to survive for another campaign season. (18)

Cubbison next turns to an in-depth examination of the final offensive against Canada, mainly from the British perspective. Throughout, he evaluates the performance of both British and French officers, consistently giving the former higher grades. Surprisingly, he bestows his highest praise on Gen. James Murray, dedicating three of the book's nine chapters to his accomplishments. Posted to the command of Quebec in fall 1759, Murray readied the city's garrison for the fast approaching winter, enabling his troops to survive harsh conditions, short rations, and widespread scurvy. He then fended off Gen. François de Lévis's attempt to recapture Quebec in spring 1760. Defeated at Sainte-Foy when he left strong defensive positions to attack the French—his only major mistake of the campaign according to Cubbison—Murray still countered Lévis's ineffective siege until British reinforcements arrived.

The author argues that Murray made his greatest contribution during his deliberate advance up the St. Lawrence toward Montreal later that summer. The river's great breadth allowed him simply to bypass French fortifications and methodically proceed toward the city. Unlike the other British columns, Murray was moving through the region where most French Canadians resided, but his shrewd carrot-and-stick "counterinsurgency operation" pacified the civilian population and kept them from assisting Lévis's regulars. Cubbison maintains that Murray's nearly bloodless march effectively doomed Montreal by neutralizing the militia. He quotes a French officer to bolster his assertion.

General Murray conducted himself as an officer of great understanding, knowledge, and capacity … and did us during his march more harm by his policy than by his army. He stopped often in the villages; spoke kindly to the inhabitants he found in their houses, … gave provisions to those unhappy creatures perishing from want of subsistence. He burned, in some cases, the houses of those who were absent from home and in the French army at Montreal, publishing everywhere an amnesty and good treatment to all Canadians who would return to their habitations and live there peacefully. In short—flattering some and frightening others—he succeeded so well, that at last there was no more possibility of keeping them at Montreal. (84)

Cubbison gives Amherst high marks as both an army and overall commander, disagreeing with previous historians who have labeled him "cautious." Amherst carefully organized and trained his mixed force of British regulars, provincial troops, and Native Americans at Oswego for an advance across Lake Ontario and down the St. Lawrence. Once underway, he moved rapidly and willingly took risks to achieve his objectives. Overcoming a French naval presence and tricky currents, he smothered his opponents at Fort Lévis, before joining the other British columns. He also dealt with the French Canadian inhabitants using tactics like those Murray had employed, further undercutting French resistance.

As overall commander, Amherst issued clear orders and maintained frequent communications with other military and political leaders, including Murray in faraway and isolated Quebec, and especially Col. William Haviland, advancing down Lake Champlain. He even synchronized the commencement of their movements. Though the simultaneous arrival of all three British columns at Montreal resulted, Cubbison admits, partly from "good fortune, it was good fortune that had been generated by meticulous planning, careful coordination, and good generalship. Successful military leadership creates its own luck" (211).

Cubbison's revisionist evaluation of Amherst continues in his discussion of the general's relations with Native Americans. He observes that the claims of many historians that Amherst despised Indians are based principally on his comments during Pontiac's Rebellion, three years after the 1760 campaign; during the latter, he relied heavily on the seven hundred warriors who accompanied him, employing them as scouts and couriers. Amherst also held repeated conferences with Native Americans, in both New York and Canada, visited an Oneida village, and wrote well of the people he met. In fact, Cubbison contends, Amherst's friendly dealings with the Native Americans kept them from assisting the French, just as Murray's counterinsurgency operations had ensured the cooperation of civilians. While this argument is not completely persuasive, it certainly bears consideration and opens a new perspective on Amherst.

If Amherst respected the Native Americans and dealt with the French Canadians benevolently, the same cannot be said for his treatment of the French regulars, who he believed had facilitated Indian atrocities, especially at Fort William Henry in 1757. Accordingly, he treated them harshly: for example, during surrender negotiations, he refused to grant Lévis's regulars the traditional honors of war, insisting on making them prisoners of war who would not serve again for the remainder of the conflict. These conditions prompted Lévis to contemplate fighting to the bitter end, but the governor of Canada, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, overruled him and accepted Amherst's terms.

Cubbison does not, however, praise all the officers. He believes the poor performance of Cdre. Joshua Loring in leading Amherst's flotilla on Lake Ontario appreciably hindered the British advance. He writes, too, that Lévis's abilities have been grossly overrated, calling his performance at Quebec in May 1760 "insipid, uninspired, and … entirely devoid of a determination to conquer" (64). Finally, Cubbison is decidedly unimpressed with Gen. Thomas Gage, Amherst's senior subordinate. After many incidents of incompetence, Amherst posted him to the rearguard and logistical units. "In the vernacular, Amherst assigned Gage to command the army's salt pork" (154).

Siege warfare is another major concern of the book. Cubbison describes in detail Lévis's besiegement of Quebec and Amherst's and Haviland's of Forts Lévis and Îsle aux Noix, respectively. Being located on islands, the latter two presented special obstacles for their attackers. Nonetheless, Murray (on the defensive) dominated Lévis with superior tactics and firepower, while Amherst and Haviland (on the offensive) quickly isolated their objectives and pummeled them into submission. The French surrendered Lévis after an eight-day bombardment, and Îsle aux Noix was evacuated, most of its garrison deserting on the retreat toward Montreal.

Cubbison, a former US Army artillery officer, carefully details the theory and practice of siege warfare, even specifying how to locate and construct batteries. In so doing, he touches on the growing professionalism of the European officer corps and the developing science of war, subjects that have increasingly preoccupied other historians as well.[3] The writings of scholars and military theorists like Marshal Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, Prof. John Muller, and Guillaume LeBlond helped guide the British generals during their respective sieges.[4]

Besides examining the final phase of the Seven Years' War in America, Cubbison hints at future developments. His discussion of British treatment of French Canadian civilians reveals the origins of the rationale for the Quebec Act and the province's integration into the empire. The author also considers the recurrent friction between American colonial troops and British regulars. The indispensable Americans, a large part of both Amherst's and Haviland's commands, provided sorely needed labor and logistical support. Still, British officers repeatedly complained about their reluctance to enlist, aversion to military discipline, and demands for higher pay.

Douglas Cubbison has produced a well written, deeply researched book[5] that deserves a wide readership for its many cogent new insights into the roles of Jeffrey Amherst and James Murray during an often overlooked campaign that delivered Canada into British hands.

[1] Respectively, Montcalm and Wolfe (NY: Collier Books, 1966), The British Empire before the American Revolution, vol. 7: The Great War for the Empire: The Victorious Years, 1758–1760 (NY: Knopf, 1965), and Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766 (NY: Knopf, 2000).

[2] The Artillery Never Gained More Honour: The British Artillery in the 1776 Valcour Island and 1777 Saratoga Campaigns (Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mtn Pr, 2007); The British Defeat of the French in Pennsylvania, 1758: A Military History of the Forbes Campaign against Fort Duquesne (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010); The American Northern Theater Army in 1776: The Ruin and Reconstruction of the Continental Force (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010); Burgoyne and the Saratoga Campaign: His Papers (Norman: U Okla Pr, 2012).

[3] See, e.g., Ira D. Gruber, Books and the British Army in the Age of the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: U North Carolina Pr, 2010).

[4] Cubbison includes an appendix with lengthy extracts from LeBlond's A Treatise on Artillery and a work of the same title by Muller.

[5] Its helpful maps and illustrations, some drawn from Cubbison's own collection, are valuable enhancements.

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