Louis-Joseph de Montcalm

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Louis-Joseph de Montcalm-Gozon
Marquis de Saint-Veran
Louis-Joseph de Montcalm cph.3g09407.jpg
Portrait by Antoine-François Sergent-Marceau
Born (1712-02-28)February 28, 1712
Chateau de Candiac, near Nîmes, France
Died September 14, 1759(1759-09-14) (aged 47)
Plains of Abraham, Quebec City, Quebec
Place of burial Plains of Abraham, Quebec City, Quebec
Allegiance  Kingdom of France
Service/branch French Army
Years of service 1721–1759 
Rank Lieutenant General
Commands held Regiment d'Auxerrois
Regiment de Montcalm
Commander-in-chief, New France

War of the Polish Succession

War of the Austrian Succession

Seven Years' War

Awards Order of Saint Louis
Signature Montcalm Signature.svg

Louis-Joseph de Montcalm-Gozon, Marquis de Saint-Veran (February 28, 1712 [O.S. February 17, 1712] – September 14, 1759) was a French soldier best known as the commander of the forces in North America during the Seven Years' War (whose North American theatre is called the French and Indian War in the United States).

Montcalm was born near Nîmes in France to a noble family, and entered military service early in life. He saw service in the War of the Polish Succession and the War of the Austrian Succession, where his distinguished service led to promotion to brigadier general. In 1756 King Louis XV sent him and his aide-de-camp Chevalier de Levis to New France to lead its defence against the British in the Seven Years' War. Montcalm met with notable successes in 1756, 1757 and 1758, but British mobilisation of large numbers of troops against New France led to military setbacks in 1758 and 1759 (when, in January, he was promoted to lieutenant general), culminating in Montcalm's death at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

Montcalm's service in New France was marked by conflict between himself and the Governor General of the colony, Pierre de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial. These men were the leaders of the war effort in New France during the Seven Years' War.

Montcalm is a controversial figure among military historians, some of whom have strongly criticized his decisions at Quebec. But he has also been much memorialized, especially in France, Quebec and parts of New York.

Early life[edit]

Louis-Joseph was the son of Marie-Thérèse de Pierre and Louis-Daniel de Montcalm, of the House of Montcalm, a family of the 'Noblesse de Robe' of Nîmes, at the family residence, the Chateau de Candiac, near Nîmes in southern France. He joined the French Army in 1721 as an ensign in the Régiment d'Hainault. On the death of his father in 1735, he became the Marquis de Saint-Veran, inheriting the honours, rights, and debts of that position. His finances improved soon after by his marriage to Angelique Louise Talon du Boulay. Despite a marriage arranged for money and influence, they were a devoted couple. They made their home at Candiac and had a large number of children of whom five survived to adulthood.[Note 1]

His father purchased a captaincy for him in 1729 and he served in the War of Polish Succession, seeing action at the 1733 Siege of Kehl and the 1734 Siege of Philippsburg.[2] When the War of the Austrian Succession broke out in 1740 his regiment was stationed in France, so Montcalm, seeking action, took a position as an aide-de-camp to Philippe Charles, Marquis de La Fare. Montcalm and the Chevalier de Lévis (who later served under him in New France) were both in the Siege of Prague. He was promoted to Colonel of the Régiment d'Auxerrois in 1743. He took part in Marshal de Maillebois' Italian campaigns, where he was awarded the Order of Saint Louis in 1744[3] and taken prisoner in the 1746 Battle of Piacenza after receiving five sabre wounds while rallying his men. He was released on parole after several months' imprisonment, and promoted to Brigadier for his actions during the 1746 campaign. After prisoner exchanges made possible his return to active service, he joined the Italian campaign again in 1747. He was wounded again by a musket ball in the Battle of Assietta, and assisted in raising the Siege of Ventimiglia in October. When Marshal Belle-Isle retired that winter, his army was left under the command of its brigadiers, including Montcalm. The war came to an end in 1748 with the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.[4] In 1749 he was awarded a rare opportunity to raise a new regiment in peacetime; the Regiment de Montcalm was a cavalry regiment that Montcalm occasionally inspected.[5]

Defence of New France[edit]

Battle of Fort Oswego[edit]

Upon Montcalm’s arrival in Montreal, he was immediately apprised of the situation along the American border. Concerned by the number of British troops amassing near the border, Montcalm left to visit Fort Carillon to inspect the defenses while the governor general, Pierre de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial, began to prepare troops at Fort Frontenac for a potential assault on Oswego, a British fort across Lake Ontario.[6] Montcalm’s assemblage of troops at Fort Carillon distracted the attention of the British, and upon receiving positive reports from scouts, Vaudreuil and Montcalm decided to make an approach and try to take the fort. When Montcalm arrived back at Fort Frontenac, he found a force of 3500 men assembled, being regular French troops, Canadian militia, and Native Americans.[7] On August 9, the forces crossed the lake and rapidly besieged the English fort. By the morning of August 13, the French had set up nine cannons and began to fire towards the fort while reinforcements surrounded the opposite side. The English commander was killed during the offensive, and the fort was quickly surrendered soon thereafter.[7] 1700 prisoners were taken, including 80 officers, as well as money, military correspondence, food provisions, guns, and boats, and the fort burnt and razed to the ground.[8] Montcalm’s first victory in North America came relatively quickly and easily, and signified to the British that the French now had a capable general heading their army. Despite the victory, Montcalm held reservations concerning the offensive strategy employed by Vaudreuil, and questioned the military value of the Canadian militias. This marked the beginning of the increasingly antagonistic relationship between Vaudreuil and Montcalm.

Battle of Fort William Henry[edit]

Montcalm trying to stop Native Americans from attacking British soldiers and civilians as they leave Fort William Henry.

The following year, Montcalm achieved his greatest military success to date with the taking of Fort William Henry. Vaudreuil drew up plans for Montcalm that ordered him to march south and take the English bases south of Lake Champlain, Fort William Henry and Fort Edward a few miles further south. From Fort Carillon, Montcalm and a force of 6200 regulars and milita, along with 1800 natives set upon Fort William Henry on August 3, 1757.[6] The fort was sieged for three days before surrender. Under the terms of the surrender, the garrison was to be escorted by the back to Fort Edward, where they would be barred from serving against the French for 18 months, and all English prisoners were to be returned to the French, who also kept all the stores and ammunition. However, as the garrison left Fort William Henry, they were attacked by natives, and nearly 200 of the 2000 prisoners were either taken or killed, breaching the terms of surrender.[9] Montcalm decided not to advance on to Fort Edward despite the demoralization of the British forces and the proximity of the fort, claiming the road was too bad for his heavy guns and that the garrison would be reinforced before they arrived. This decision infuriated Vaudreuil, furthering the deterioration of their relationship.[6]

Battle of Carillon[edit]

The Victory of Montcalm's Troops at Carillon by Henry Alexander Ogden.

In July 1758, Vaudreuil sent Montcalm to block a British push near Fort Carillon, on Lake Champlain. The British force gathering under Major-General James Abercrombie was much larger than expected, with 6000 British regulars and 9000 provincial militiamen. On July 5, the British began to set upon the fort, but the killing of the British second-in-command held them up long enough for Canadian reinforcements to arrive and bring Montcalm’s total force to over 3600.[6] Despite the relative insecurity of this particular fort and the overwhelming number of enemy troops, the French were able to hold the garrison due a serious of costly errors by the British general Abercrombie. By not waiting to bring up his heavy guns to blast the weak wooden defenses and failing to capitalize on a major flaw in the French lines, which would have allowed the British troops to easily outflank the garrison, Abercrombie enabled the French to sustain steady musket fire and hold off the attack.[6] The battle was a major success for the French and a major setback for the English, and greatly added to the reputation of Montcalm, who boasted of his victory and often exaggerated his claims in writings back to France while disparaging the efforts of the Canadian and native fighters. Montcalm also accused Vaudreuil of purposely sending his troops, and Montcalm specifically, into a slaughter based on the size of the respective sources, a claim quickly refuted by Vaudreuil, who subsequently requested that Montcalm be recalled to France and that the Chevalier de Lévis be appointed to succeed him.[6]


Montcalm leading his troops at Quebec.

In the second half of 1758, the British began to take the upper hand in North America, due on one part to the massive resources they organized against the French and on the other part to the lack of reinforcements and supplies from France to support its colony, which was already on the brink of starvation following a catastrophic harvest.[10] Louis XV therefore ordered the colony to reduce its defensive perimeter to the valley of the Saint Lawrence River, evacuating all forts in Ohio along with those around Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain. The French Minister of War nonetheless expressed his full support to Montcalm, confident that despite the odds, he would find a way to frustrate the enemy’s plans, as he had done at Fort Carillon.[11] This news, along with the threat of impending attack by the British, crushed Montcalm’s spirit, who had lost all hope of holding the city in case of a siege.[12]

Wolfe’s forces reached Quebec in late June, 1759, and taking position on the opposite shore, started bombarding the city on July 12, reducing the city to rubble over the course of two months.[13] Montcalm, on many occasions, managed to repel attempted landings by the British forces, most notably at the Battle of Beauport, on July 31, 1759. After spending the month of August ravaging the countryside,[13] the British would once again attempt a landing on September 13, this time at l’Anse au Foulons, catching the French off guard. Before Montcalm could react, Wolfe’s forces had already reached the plains outside the city, and were ready for battle.[14]

In a decision largely considered to be Montcalm’s greatest mistake, the general decided to attack the British with what forces he had rather than wait for the forces garrisoned along the shore to come and bolster his numbers.[15] The marquis believed that if he allowed the British to fortify their position, he would not be able to defeat them, and the attack therefore could not wait.[16] In the ensuing Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the French forces were defeated, but managed to repel the enemy at the gates of Quebec. The British won a partial victory, failing to capture the city and to disable the French army.[17]


While riding back towards the city, General Montcalm was hit in the back by musket shot. Assisted by three soldiers, he regained the city where he was taken before a surgeon, who announced Montcalm would not live through the night. During the afternoon, the general drew on his last reserves of strength and signed his last official act as commander of the French army in Canada.[18] In a letter addressed to General Wolfe, who unbeknownst to him had also fallen in battle, Montcalm attempted to surrender the city, despite the fact he did not hold the authority to do so. He died around 5:00 am on September 14, 1759. At 8:00 am, he was buried in a shell hole under the choir of the Ursuline church.[18]

Conflict: Montcalm and Vaudreuil[edit]

Montcalm’s service in New France was marked by conflict between himself and the Governor General of the colony, Pierre de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial. The sources of this conflict were twofold.

Personal Conflict[edit]

First, Montcalm and Vaudreuil represented distinct martial services. Montcalm was a soldier in the army (troupes de terres), while Vaudreuil was a marine in the navy (compagnies franches de la marine). This meant that the former reported to the Ministry of War, while the latter reported to the Naval Ministry.[19] According to historian Christian Crouch, “Separate ministries meant separate career networks, separate routes to power, and separate patrons…Jealously protective of their spheres of influence, the leaders of the war effort…were soon at odds.”[19] This led Montcalm to consistently write to the minister of war, the Comte d’Argenson, to complain about Vaudreuil’s relative inexperience as a military strategist, among other things, in the hope of replacing him as chief strategist.[19] Similarly, Vaudreuil would consistently write to the minister of the navy to complain about Montcalm’s insubordination in the hope of having him replaced, the latter having been made subordinate to the former by the royal council in the hope of avoiding any disagreements over strategy, despite otherwise holding equivalent ranks.[20] Thus, the first source of conflict between Montcalm and Vaudreuil was very much personal.

Societal Conflict Personified[edit]

However, historian Guy Frégault, on the conflict between Montcalm and Vaudreuil, has said that, “The conflict has been the subject of much debate. But the division that split the high command was more than a personal quarrel. It involved societies – and what it is that causes societies to arm themselves to endure.”[21] Thus, the second source of conflict between Montcalm and Vaudreuil was that they represented distinct societies and martial cultures. Montcalm represented the culture of the French metropolitan officer, while Vaudreuil represented that of the Canadian colonial officer. The culture of the French metropolitan officer led Montcalm, and others like him, to see the Seven Years’ War in terms of a defence of their own and their kingdom’s honour, regardless of what that meant for New France.[20] Conversely, the culture of the Canadian colonial officer led Vaudreuil, and others like him, to interpret the war in terms of a defence of the territorial integrity of New France, and thus its very existence.[22]

These differences in interpretation led to differences in opinion about how the war should be waged. Montcalm was of the opinion that “colonial methods had had their day, and now war was established ‘on a European footing, with planned campaigns, armies, artillery, sieges, battles…’”[23] Waging the war in this way would ensure the preservation and extension of French military honour, which was of particular importance to the king and his government after the loss of Fort Beauséjour at the outset of the war.[24] Conversely, Vaudreuil was of the opinion that the war should be waged as based on established “colonial methods.” This meant extending fortifications; consistently repelling English incursions, “defending the soil of our frontiers foot by foot against the enemy;” fighting defensively; raiding extensively; and, most importantly, securing and relying heavily on Native participation.[25][26] Montcalm was particularly disparaging of this last method, since he thought it would diminish French honour. Some French metropolitan officers saw Native military methods as boundlessly cruel, and scalping as particularly revolting.[24] After his victory at Carillon, he even went as far as saying to a delegation of Native leaders, “You have come at a time when I have no more need of you. Have you only come to see dead bodies? Go behind the fort and you will find them. I do not need you to defeat the English.”[27]

The conflict between Montcalm and Vaudreuil would be largely solved, or at least rendered irrelevant, when, in 1758, the former was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general, thus outranking the latter, and acquiring a virtually free hand in the determination of military strategy.[28]


Louis-Joseph de Montcalm (1712-1759) by Théophile Hamel

Four vessels of the French Navy have been named in his honour:

Many sites and landmarks were named to honour Montcalm. They include:

Montcalm close Orewa Auckland New Zealand

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The total number of children is usually said to be either ten or twelve; some sources indicate that six children survived.[1]


  1. ^ Casgrain (1905), p. 5
  2. ^ Casgrain (1905), p. 4
  3. ^ Chartrand (2000), p. 19
  4. ^ Sommervogel (1872), p. 40
  5. ^ Chartrand (2000), p. 20
  6. ^ a b c d e f Eccles (1974)
  7. ^ a b Casgrain (1964), p. 34
  8. ^ Nester (2000), p. 22
  9. ^ Nester (2000), p. 60
  10. ^ Frégault (1955), p. 292
  11. ^ Frégault (1955), p. 319
  12. ^ Frégault (1955), p. 340
  13. ^ a b Frégault (1955), p. 341
  14. ^ MacLeod (2008), p. 176
  15. ^ MacLeod (2008), p. 177
  16. ^ Casgrain (1895), p. 617
  17. ^ Frégault (1955), p. 349
  18. ^ a b MacLeod (2008), p. 197
  19. ^ a b c Crouch (2014), p. 69
  20. ^ a b Crouch (2014), p. 68
  21. ^ Frégault (1969), p. 123
  22. ^ Crouch (2014), p. 66
  23. ^ Montcalm quoted in Frégault (1969), p. 63
  24. ^ a b Crouch (2014), p. 67
  25. ^ Crouch (2014), p. 65
  26. ^ Vaudreuil quoted in Frégault (1969), p. 228
  27. ^ Montcalm quoted in MacLeod (2008), p. 99
  28. ^ Crouch (2014), p. 120


  • Anderson, Fred (2005). The War that Made America. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-03454-1. 
  • Casgrain, Henri-Raymond (1891). Montcalm et Levis. Québec: Imprimerie de L.-J. Demers & Frère. 
  • Casgrain, Henri-Raymond, ed. (1895). Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, Journal du Marquis de Montcalm: Durant ses Campagnes en Canada de 1756-1759. Québec: L.-J. Demers & Frère. 
  • Casgrain, Henri-Raymond (1905). Wolfe and Montcalm. Morang. OCLC 192112046. 
  • Casgrain, Henri-Raymond (1964) [1884]. Wolfe and Montcalm. Toronto: University of Toronto. 
  • Chartrand, René (2000). Ticonderoga 1758: Montcalm's Victory Against All Odds. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-093-5. 
  • Crouch, Christian A. (2014). Nobility Lost: French and Canadian Martial Cultures, Indians, and the End of New France. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 
  • Eccles, W. J. (1974). Montcalm, Louis-Joseph de, Marquis de Montcalm. Dictionary of Canadian Biography 3 (Toronto: University of Toronto). 
  • Frégault, Guy (1955). La Guerre de la Conquête. Montréal: Fides. 
  • Frégault, Guy (1969). Canada: the war of the conquest. Toronto: Oxford University Press. 
  • MacLeod, D. Peter (2008). Northern Armageddon: the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Vancouver: Douglas & MacIntyre. 
  • Nester, William R. (2000). The First Global War: Britain, France, and the Fate of North America, 1756–1775. Westport, CT: Praeger. 
  • Sommervogel, Carlos (1872). Comme on servait autrefois: le marquis de Montcalm, le maréchal de Bellefonds (in French). J. Albanel. OCLC 25446420. 

External links[edit]