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BOOK REVIEWS

QUEBEC, 1759: THE SIEGE AND THE BATTLE

by C.P. Stacey, and revised by Donald E. Graves Toronto: Robin Brass Studio, 270 pages, $27.95.

Reviewed by Captain Andrew B. Godefroy

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Originally published in 1959, Colonel Charles Stacey’s, Quebec, 1759: The Siege and the Battle, is the latest early-period military history to receive the attention of Donald Graves and the Robin Brass Studio. This team had previously produced an excellent edited version of J.M. Hitsman’s The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History, and this effort once again demonstrates the quality treatment given to this genre of publications by Robin Brass Studio. For students of military history who continuously fret over the usual lack of maps, illustrations, details about the orders of battle and the weights of ammunition – fear not. This publisher’s series provides considerable relief from your run-of-the-mill military history texts.

Quebec 1759: The Siege and the Battle examines the climactic engagement between Britain and France in their struggle for dominance in North America. In 1757, after the William Pitt-Duke of Newcastle coalition ministry came to power in London, Britain reopened its campaign against the French in Canada, subordinating all its other military operations against the French to that end. After achieving mixed results in 1758, a decision was made to launch an attack against Quebec City the following year and settle the matter once and for all. A young British general, James Wolfe, was given the honour of making a grab for the city. The French general opposing him was Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm.

Wolfe laid siege to Quebec early in 1759, but the undermanned, half-starved, and poorly defended fortress proved a difficult target to invest. After a summer of half-hearted attempts to take the fortress, Wolfe and his generals decided on a plan that eventually led to the battle – and to victory – on the heights (later known as the Plains of Abraham) just outside the city walls on 13 September. Though the engagement lasted only the better half of the morning, both opposing generals were killed in the fight and have since been enshrined in popular history as legends in an epic struggle. However, Stacey’s work has shown that both men were, in fact, far from being heroes; they were instead studious, courageous, and resourceful soldiers, one of whom was lucky and the other not. Their story involves one of the most exceptional and most studied battles of the period.

Of particular interest in this book is the attention paid to the naval and amphibious aspects of the siege and battle. While the siege of Quebec is often perceived primarily as a land battle, both Stacey and Graves have highlighted the invaluable service delivered by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, without which the British expedition against the town would surely have failed. The British naval commander, Vice Admiral Charles Saunders, was arguably the real hero at Quebec, but unlike Wolfe, he has been all but forgotten by history. Though Graves has sought to shed some light on his exploits, much work remains to be done on this officer’s military career.

Graves’ introduction does a superb job of providing the context for and a critique of Stacey’s original manuscript, leaving little obvious room for another contemporary review. Stacey’s work itself, though dated, has stood the test of time very well and remains one of the best books produced on the subject. Among the notable improvements over the original, this new edition has included in the appendices an article written by Stacey in 1966 for the Canadian Historical Review, which offered details of new documentation that came to light after the publication of the original manuscript. The article was insightful both for the new details it provided and the lessons it represented. Essentially, no matter how authoritative and complete a work may seem, history (and Stacey) has shown us that there will always be room for refinement. Donald Graves continued this work with his own academic improvements to the appendices, citations, and notes.

The academic attention is well deserved. The Battle for Quebec is perhaps one of the most important battlefield studies for Canadian military historians, and unlike most battlefields of interest to Canadians this one is practically in our back yard. A visit there makes an enjoyable and fulfilling battlefield tour. Strategy, logistics, tactics, amphibious operations, naval support, the fog of war, reconnaissance, medical issues, and even desertion can be brought out and discussed at length. Indeed, many have used Stacey’s original publication as a battlefield guide, but it was time for an updated reference with better illustrations and maps. Fortunately, Donald Graves and Robin Brass have delivered exactly that.

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Captain Andrew Godefroy is commander of the Canadian Forces Joint Space Team. He is also completing his doctorate in War Studies at Royal Military College.