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French-Indian War

Battles of the 42nd, 77th and 78th Highland Regiments with Lists of the "Killed and Wounded"

Thanks goes to Deborah for this series of articles, which she generously donated to The Canadian Military Heritage Project and which is used here with consent.

After years of warlike activity with France, England officially declared war on May 18, 1756, beginning the Seven Year's War in Europe. But the focus of the war soon shifted away from the continent to the colonies. Echoeing the conflicts in Europe, the final struggle for the empire was to take place in North America and in the West Indies. British regulars and American militia joined forces against France and her Indian allies in a campaign commonly known as the French and Indian Wars. After suffering numerous defeats and disappointments, England and her colonies successfully reversed the course of events and conquered the Canadian and regular armies of France. Peace between Britain and France was proclaimed with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763; however, warfare against the Indians endured for sometime after.

The following accounts of the French-Indian Wars focus mainly on the involvement of the Highland Regiments in the battles and expeditions listed below. However, a list of other regiments involved, and the field officers in general command during these battles, have been noted in order to facilitate further research.

Battle on the Heights of Abraham, September 13, 1759

Source: "Sketches of the Character, Manners and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland; with details of The Military Service of The Highland Regiments", by Major-General David Stewart, Vol I & II, (1825), Edinburgh.

  • Highland Regiment: Fraser's Highlanders (78th)
  • Other Regiments: the 15th, 28th, 35th, 43rd, 47th 48th, 58th, the Rangers and Grenadiers of Louisbourg
  • Battle Under General Command of: Major-General Wolfe; Generals Monckton, Murray, and Townsend; Admirals Saunders and Holmes.

Abridged text: It seems somewhat extraordinary that, while General Amherst headed a force of 14,500 men, the division intended for the reduction of Quebec comprehended in all not more than 7000 effective men. But the spirit, intrepidity, and firmness of the officers and soldiers more than supplied the deficiency of numbers. This army, so small in comparison of the importance of the service expected, was fortunate in being placed under the command of Major-General Wolfe, who had borne so active a share in the conquest of Louisbourg.

The fleet with the transports reached the Island of Orleans in the end of June, when the troops were disembarked without opposition. The first attempt was to take possession of Point Levi, situated within cannon-shot of the city. The difficulties of the enterprise were at this time fully ascertained. Co-operation was not to be expected from General Amherst, of whose movements no intelligence had been received. The enemy, more numerous by many thousands, were commanded by the Marquis de Montcalm, an able, and hitherto fortunate leader, who posted his army on a piece of ground rendered strong by precipices, woods, and rivers, and defended by entrenchments where the ground appeared the weakest.

Perceiving the impossibility of reducing the place, unless he could erect his batteries on the north of the St. Lawrence, General Wolfe used many military manoeuvres and stratagems to draw his cautious adversary from his stronghold, and decide the contest by a battle. But Montcalm was not to be moved. Accordingly, six companies were ordered to cross the river, and land near the mouth of the Montmorency, while Generals Murray and Townshend were to land higher up. The possession of this place was likewise a desirable object, as it would enable the English General to obtain a full view of the French position. The Grenadiers, who first landed, had orders not to attack till the first brigade was sufficiently near to support them. The orders were, however, disregarded. Rushing forward with impetuosity to attack the enemy's entrenchments, they were received with so steady and well-directed a fire, that they were thrown into confusion, and sustained considerable loss before they retreated. They were again formed behind the brigades, which advanced under General Wolfe, who, seeing the plan of attack totally disconcerted, gave orders to repass the river, and return to the Isle of Orleans.

It was thought advisable, after this check, that in future, their efforts should be directed to a landing above the town. A plan was formed, among a "choice of difficulties", for conveying the troops farther down, and landing them at night, in the hopes of being able to ascend the Heights of Abraham, and so gain possession of the ground on the back of the city, where the fortifications were weakest. The heights rise abruptly from the banks of the river, and, in great measure, command the city from that quarter. The dangers and difficulties attending the execution of this design were particularly discouraging; but the season was considerably advanced, and it was necessary to attempt something, however desperate. The last check, though it had taught them caution, had in no degree dampened the courage, or shaken the firmness of the troops.

On the 12th of September, about an hour after midnight, four regiments of infantry, with the Highlanders and Grenadiers, were embarked in flat-bottomed boats, under the command of Brigadier-Generals Murray and Monckton. The rapidity of the stream carried some of the boats beyond the mark. Colonel Howe, who who was first on shore with the Light infantry and the Highlanders, ascended the woody precipices and dislodged a captain's guard, which defended a small entrenched narrow path, by which the rest of the forces could reach the summit. They then mounted without much farther molestation, and General Wolfe formed them as they arrived on the summit. Some time was necessarily occupied in the ascent, as the precipice was so steep, that the soldiers were obliged to scramble up by the aid of the rugged projections of the rocks, and the branches of the trees and shrubs growing on the clifts. By day-break the order of battle was formed. When Montcalm heard that the British were on the Heights of Abraham, he considered it merely as a feint to force him out of his stronghold. But he was soon convinced of the truth, and, comprehending the full force of the advantage gained, he saw that a battle was no longer to be avoided, and that upon the issue depended the fate of Quebec. He accordingly made the necessary preparations with judgement and promptitude; and quitting the camp at Montmorency, moved forward to attack the English.

The British front line was composed of the Grenadiers, 15th, 28th, 35th, Highlanders and 58th. The left of the line was covered by the Light infantry, and the 47th regiment formed the reserve. The irregular fire of the Canadians and Indians was extremely galling to the English line, and was particularly directed against the officers, whose dress and conspicuous exertions exposed them the more to the enemy. The troops were ordered to reserve their fire till the main body of the enemy were within forty yards. At that distance the whole line poured in a general discharge of musketry. This was repeated, and completely checked the enemy in front. Foiled in this attempt, they immediately directed an attack on the left of the British line, where they were as warmly received, and as effectively checked. Unable any longer to withstand the continued and well-directed fire poured in upon them, they began to give way. At this critical moment General Wolfe was mortally wounded, having before received two wounds, which he had concealed. Nearly at the same time the Marquis de Montcalm experienced the same fate. Soon afterwards the two seconds in command, Generals Monckton and Severergues, were respectively carried wounded from the field. Brigadier Murray briskly advanced with the troops under his command, and soon broke the centre of the enemy, "when the Highlanders, taking to their broadswords, fell in among them with irresistible impetuosity, and drove them back with great slaughter." General Townsend, on whom the command had now devolved, hastened to the centre, where he found some confusion from the rapid pursuit. Scarcely had he reformed the line, when Monsieur de Bougainyille appeared in rear, leading on 2000 fresh men from Cape Rouge. Two regiments were immediately ordered against this body, which retired on their approach. The victory was now complete. The enemy retired to Quebec and Point Levi. To conclude the events of this campaign, General Townshend entered Quebec, and soon afterwards embarked for England.

Of the enemy 1500 men were slain. Their most irreparable loss was that of their brave and able commander. When this gallant officer was informed that his wound was mortal; - "So much the better", said he, "I shall not live to see the surrender of Quebec." On the British the loss was also severe, not less from the number, than from the rank and character of those who fell. The death of the young commander was a national loss. As he lay on the field, he was told, "They fly." He opened his eyes, and asked, "Who are flying?" When answered it was the enemy, "Then," said he, "I die happy!" and he immediately expired.

The intelligence of this victory was received with great exultation in England; the more so, as previous accounts transmitted had given too much cause to doubt of the success of the enterprise. In a letter from a general officer, it is remarked that "the Highlanders seem particularly calculated for this country and species of warfare, requiring great personal exertion; their patience, sober habits, and hardihood, - their bravery, their agility, and their dress, contribute to adapt them to this climate, and render them formidable to the enemy."

An old Highland gentleman of seventy years of age, who had accompanied Fraser's regiment as a volunteer, was particularly noticed for the dexterity and force with which he used the broadsword, when his regiment charged the enemy. This old man's conduct particularly attracted the notice of General Townshend, who was so struck with the old man's magnanimity, that he took him along to England with him and introduced him to Mr. Pitt. The minister presented him to the King, who was graciously pleased to give him a commission, with leave to return home in full pay. This gentleman was Malcolm Macpherson of Phoiness, in the county of Inverness.

78th Highland Officers Killed (plus 1 sergeant, 1 drummer and 32 soldiers):

  • Captains: Thomas Ross of Culrossie (at Heights)
  • Lieutenants: Roderick Macneil of Barra; and Alexander Macdonell, son of Barrisdale (at Heights)
78th Highland Officers Wounded (plus 7 sergeants, and 216 soldiers):
  • Colonel: Simon Fraser (at Montmorency)
  • Captains: ? McPherson; and Simon Fraser (at Montmorency); John Macdonell of Lochgarry; and Simon Fraser of Inverallochy (at Heights)
  • Lieutenants: Ewan Cameron of Gleaves, ? McDonald (or Macdonnell?) and H. McDonald (at Montmorency); Ronald Macdonell, son of Keppoch; Archibald Campbell; Alexander Campbell, son of Barcaldine; John Douglas; and Alexander Fraser senior (at Heights)
  • Ensigns: James MacKenzie; Malcolm Fraser; and Alexander Gregorson (at Heights)

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