Quebec, Battle of, September 13, 1759, the decisive battle of the French and Indian War. This British victory decided the outcome of the struggle between Britain and France for control of North America. The battle, climax of a three-month campaign, was fought on the Plains of Abraham west of the city of Quebec. The British were led by General James Wolfe; the French, by the Marquis Louis Joseph de Montcalm de Saint-Véran. Quebec surrendered five days after the battle. When Montreal fell in 1760, the end of France's colonial empire became inevitable.

The Campaign

The French had considered Quebec secure against capture because of its location on a steep promontory. The cliffs rising from the St. Lawrence River were believed to be unscalable. Montcalm's forces protected the beaches and low ground from any landings by British troops.

Wolfe commanded 9,200 soldiers when he sailed from Louisburg, Nova Scotia, on June 4, 1759, to begin the campaign. Montcalm had a force of 16,000, but Wolfe's men were better trained. Wolfe's army, convoyed by a fleet under Admiral Charles Saunders, landed on the Island of Orleans four miles (6 km) downstream from Quebec. From there and from Levis, just across the St. Lawrence from Quebec, Wolfe sent out raiding parties, which attempted to find weak places in Montcalm's defenses.

Wolfe finally established a camp east of the city. On July 31, Wolfe attempted a landing on the north bank of the St. Lawrence near the Montmorency River. His men were beaten back from the slippery slopes in a rainstorm.

The Battle

After a month of discouragement, Wolfe found a narrow footpath in the steep cliffs below the Plains of Abraham. Under cover of darkness, 5,000 men crossed the St. Lawrence and climbed the cliff. Montcalm had moved a force of nearly 4,000 men upstream, leaving the plain unguarded. When the British took up battle positions, he marched his remaining troops out to meet the attack. Wolfe waited until the French had advanced to within 40 yards (37 m) before ordering his men to fire. The first volley caused the French to break ranks. A second volley sent them into full retreat. The engagement was over in 20 minutes.

The battle claimed the lives of both commanders. Wolfe died on the field. "Now God be praised, I die happy," the 32-year-old general said when informed that the French were routed. Montcalm, who died the following day, said he was glad not to live to see the surrender of Quebec.

The Plains of Abraham was dedicated in 1908 as the Park of the Battlefields; it later became National Battlefields of Quebec.