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Wolfe at Quebec

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Wolfe at Quebec: The Man Who Won the French and Indian War , By Christopher Hibbert. (Cooper Square Press; Reprint edition, 1999. Pg. 208.) ISBN: 0-8154-1016-6.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - Novemeber 11, 2001

Christopher Hibbert has a phenomenal knack for taking historical data and restructuring it into readable and entertaining fare. In Wolfe at Quebec, Hibbert once again proves his talents for writing entertaining, yet accurate, history books. In this short work, Hibbert chronicles Major-General James Wolfe's leadership at the battle for Quebec at the decisive engagement fought between the British and the French on the Plains of Abraham. When the battle ended, Quebec was to fall to English hands, and Wolfe, at the advanced age of 32, was destined to die from the wounds he received in the battle.

Wolfe is an intriguing character who has been virtually overlooked by history. Some books offer a romanticized version of the man, after all there is nothing more heroic than dying write after you commanded and won a decisive victory. But for the most part, if he is even mentioned at all, it is simply as a British commander who fought the French during the French and Indian Wars. Overall, our knowledge of Wolfe has also been colored by the lack of information that has been available about the man himself, as well as his military exploits. In writing Wolfe at Quebec, Hibbert has made use of many previously unstudied documents, including military records, diaries, letters, ship logs, and eyewitness reports to help reconstruct the man, and the battle. Hibbert was also granted unprecedented access to the material belonging to the Wolfe family.

One of the things that most distinguishes Wolfe is that he was, in essence, the antithesis of a hero. As Hibbert points out, "he was neurotic diseased, secretive and a military fanatic." He was also an egotistical blowhard that was barely on speaking terms with his own officers. He also suffered from fits of severe depression. It was in the hands of this mad General that the British crown placed command of its forces - fortunately, for the British, Wolfe, an able strategist, was up to the job. Although he did have some difficulty in getting some of his officers to follow his battle plans because of personal disagreements.

The decisive battle for Quebec took place on September 13, 1759. History tells us that the battle waged for no less than 10 minutes, but no more than 30. This short and bloody battle was the cumulation of Wolfe's bloody campaign to capture Quebec City. Wolfe laid siege to Quebec throughout the summer of 1759. He waged a nasty and underhanded battle against the inhabitants, destroying crops and every building that he came across. The French forces, under command of the Marquis de Montcalm, where holed up in the Fortress of Quebec, which overlooked the St. Lawrence River. Despite being outnumbered by Wolfe two to one, Montcalm could have held his position - if he had stayed put. Tired of the siege, Wolfe developed a plan whereas his forces would circle around Montcalm's forces, and attack from behind. To carry out this maneuver, it was necessary for many of Wolfe's men to climb a nearly vertical rock wall, but climb it they did. Montcalm took the bait and sent his forces out to meet Wolfe's, which were located on the Plains of Abraham. Had he stayed in the fortress or waited for reinforcement to arrive, the battle may have turned out very differently. At the time of the battle, the French reinforcements were only about 10 miles away from Quebec. Like Wolfe, Montcalm died of wounds he suffered during the battle.

Wolfe and the Battle of the Plains of Abraham are so interconnected, that it is impossible to tell one story, without telling the story of the other. Hibbert's choice to concentrate on Wolfe was a wise one. Not only did it move the battle out of the realm of statistics and bland military maneuvers, but it also introduced the world to the man who was Wolfe, and illustrated just how capricious fate can be. In this book, Hibbert chronicles the last year of Wolfe's life, but most of the book concentrates on the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. While describing Wolfe and the military engagements he orchestrated, Hibbert also provides intimate details of army life, ranging from what the soldiers ate to descriptions of the woman who accompanied the army - both wives and prostitutes. Historically, he puts this narrative in perspective of the French and Indian Wars, and he shows some of the after effects of the battle.

Hibbert's goal was to compose a book that would, "...entertains the general reader." He has succeeded admirably. This narrative is engaging and the prose is fluid. And most important, the man in question, Wolfe, is unbelievably fascinating. All in all, an excellent book, one which is sure to intrigue both the general reader and the historian looking for some light reading.

Related Reviews:

The White and the Gold: The French Regime in Canada, by Thomas B. Costain.
In this book, Costain explores the early history of French Regime in Canada up to the end of French and Indian War.

Cultures in Conflict: The Seven Years' War in North America, edited by Warren R. Hofstra.
A collection of seven essays that explore diverse aspects of the French and Indian War in North America, from various cultural perspectives.

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