13 September 2016

On this day

Today is the 257th anniversary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. The battle itself was brief, lasting perhaps fifteen minutes. The place of the battle, while it was a grand sounding name, was actually a cow pasture owned by a farmer of the name of Abraham. It was unusual, in that both Generals died in the battle, during an era when generals usually watched their armies battle at a distance.

It brought about the end of the French absolutist government in North America, and brought in British rule of law, and eventually parliamentary democracy. The nightmare of the French Revolution and its attendant Reign of Terror and the genocide of the Vendee never spread to North America because of the outcome of this brief battle. A stagnant government and economy was replaced by a more dynamic one, allowing for rapid economic growth. Despite being defeated, the French were offered generous terms of surrender, and were permitted to keep their language and religion, and to even vote, becoming the first place in the British Empire that allowed Catholics to vote. The Quebecois have been complaining about it ever since.

Wolfe, on the eve before his victory, as he dressed for battle, recited from memory lines from Thomas Grey's Elegy in a Country Churchyard.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave
Awaits alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Wolfe declared he would rather have been the one to have composed those lines than win Quebec on the morrow.

His path of glory did lead but to the grave. A monument once marked the spot on the battlefield where he fell, with the legend "Here died Wolfe victorious" carved into the stone. it was blown up by Quebec separatists. A new monument stands in its place with the words "Here died Wolfe". The burial place of the British soldiers who fell in the battle was long ago paved over.

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