Battle of Sainte-Foy
The Battle of Sainte-Foy, sometimes called the Battle of Quebec, was fought on April 28, 1760 near the British-held town of Quebec in the French province of Canada during the Seven Years' War (called the French and Indian War in the United States). It was a victory for the French under the Chevalier de Lévis over the British army under General Murray. The battle was notably bloodier than the Battle of the Plains of Abraham of the previous September, with 833 French casualties to 1,124 British casualties. It was the last French victory of the French and Indian War.
At first the British had some success, but the advance masked their artillery, while the infantry became bogged down in the mud and melting snowdrifts of the late spring. The battle turned into a two-hour fight at close range; eventually, as more French soldiers joined the fray, the French turned the British flanks, forcing Murray to realize his mistake and to recall the British back to Quebec without their guns, which Lévis then turned on the city.
New France had suffered significant setbacks in the 1758 campaigns of the French and Indian War. Its fortress at Louisbourg was lost in a siege by British forces, and Fort Duquesne was abandoned to another advancing British army. The situation got worse in 1759 when Fort Carillon and Fort Niagara were taken, and the key citadel of Quebec fell after a prolonged siege and the Battle of the Plains of Abraham of September 13, 1759. The French army regrouped in Montreal under General Chevalier de Lévis. Meanwhile, the British army, left behind in Quebec after the fleet sailed at the end of October 1759, suffered from hunger, scurvy and the travails of living in a city that they had largely destroyed in the siege.
In April 1760, Lévis returned to Quebec with an army of over 7,000 men, including Canadien militia and First Nations warriors. He hoped to besiege Quebec and force its surrender in the spring, when he expected a French fleet to arrive.
General James Murray, left in command at Quebec, felt that his army was too small to adequately defend the walls of Quebec, which had not been improved since the British capture of the town. He therefore moved some 3,800 men into the field, all he could muster, along with over twenty cannon, to the same position that Montcalm had occupied for the 1759 battle. Rather than waiting for the French to advance, however, he took the gamble of going on the offensive.
Lévis commanded 6,910 soldiers, including 3,889 in eight regular battalions. Compagnies Franches de la Marine comprised two more battalions. The remainder of his army was made up of Canadien militia, plus a handful of native allies. Of this force, approximately 5,000 and only three cannons were present on the field of Sainte-Foy.
Murray's 3,886-man force consisted of ten regular battalions, a converged light infantry battalion, and two companies of rangers. In order to cover the entire plateau, the battalions were each drawn up in two ranks with three-foot gaps between files, instead of the normal elbow-to-elbow formation. There were 40-yard intervals between battalions. The light infantry covered the right flank. In order, from right to left, were the 48th Foot, 15th Foot, 58th Foot, 2nd battalion of the 60th Foot, 43rd Foot, 47th Foot, 78th Foot, and 28th Foot. The rangers and some volunteers covered the left flank. In reserve behind the right flank stood the 35th Foot, while the 3rd battalion of the 60th formed the left flank reserve. The infantry were supported by 20 cannons and two howitzers. One sergeant recorded that the British army was "a poor pitiful handful of half starved scorbutic skeletons."
Observing that the French army was still deploying, Murray resolved to strike his enemies before they were ready. As the British advanced, Lévis pulled his three formed right wing brigades back into the Sillery Woods. At this time, the French left wing had not yet deployed. The British light infantry drove some French grenadiers out of a windmill on the right flank. Pursuing, they soon ran into trouble. The French left wing troops aggressively attacked and scattered the light infantry. Murray committed the 35th Foot from his reserve and restored the right flank of the British line. However, a bitter struggle for possession of the windmill continued.
The British left flank troops captured some redoubts, but then Lévis launched a powerful counterattack with his right wing. Murray sent in his final reserve, the 3/60th to stop this attack. He also pulled out the 43rd Foot from his center, which Levis had mostly ignored, and moved it to support his left flank. However, the British left flank finally gave way after suffering heavy losses, and the line collapsed from left to right. Lévis later claimed that he tried to cut the British off from Quebec, but a mischance allowed his enemies to escape. Instead of attacking straight ahead, as ordered, one of his right wing brigades went astray, heading over to help the left wing.
At the beginning of the action the numerous British cannon kept the French attacks at bay. The French advance gained momentum when the guns began to run out of ammunition. When Murray ordered the line forward, their ammunition carts had become bogged in the snow. The British spiked and abandoned their guns in the retreat.
The British army suffered 292 killed, 837 wounded, and 53 captured, for a total of 1,182 casualties. The French lost 833 men, including 193 killed and 640 wounded. The 15th Foot lost 138 out of 386 soldiers of all ranks, or 34% casualties. Three-quarters of the officers of the Fraser Highlanders (78th) were killed or wounded. This makes the Battle of Sainte-Foy one of the bloodiest engagements ever fought on Canadian soil.
Lévis was, however, unable to retake Quebec. The British retreated behind the city's walls, and withstood Lévis' feeble siege until the arrival of naval reinforcements in May. The French fleet never arrived, because France's naval hopes were smashed at Quiberon Bay the previous fall and the few supply ships sent from France were lost in the Bay of Chaleur in the Battle of Restigouche. HMS Lowestoffe raised its flag as it neared Quebec followed by HMS Diana, and HMS Vanguard under Commodore Swanton which then destroyed Levis' support ships on the Saint Lawrence. He quickly raised the siege and retreated to Montreal, where he surrendered in September to overwhelming British forces that approached the city from three directions.
"The Monument des Braves," in Quebec in 1863, commemorated the Battle of Sainte-Foy. It began a wave of commemorations that took place across Canada between 1850 and 1930. They were designed to create positive memories, leave out the harshness of the British conquest, and bring Anglophones and Francophones closer together.
- Chartrand, Appendix D, p. 230. Lévis commanded around 5,910 officers, soldiers, and militia on his expedition from Montreal. By his estimates his army at Sainte-Foy numbered about 5,000, although he reported that more than 1,400 of these, including a regular brigade and his cavalry, did not participate in the action. His native allies, it seems, took no part in the fighting, although they reappeared at the end of the battle to reap their share of prisoners.
- The Fall of New France p.73
- Brumwell, p. 257
- Brumwell, p. 255
- Brumwell, pp. 256-257
- Brumwell, p. 153
- Brumwell, pp. 259-260
- Brumwell, p. 261
- Brumwell, p. 258
- Brumwell, p. 259
- Patrice Groulx, "La Commemoration de la Bataille de Sainte-Foy: du discours de la Loyaute a la 'Fusion des Races," ["Commemoration of the Battle of Sainte-Foy: from the discourse of loyalty to the "fusion of the races"] Revue d'histoire de L'Amerique francaise (2001) 55#1 pp 45-83.