It happened today - June 12, 2016

Speaking of sacks, which I was in yesterday’s item, June 12 is the date when General James Wolfe successfully attacked a vital French position at… Lighthouse Point. Oh. What a dull name.

He is of course famous for successfully attacking a vital French position at Quebec City, dying in victory in what the oil paintings suggest was a singularly languid manner. His contribution at the Plains of Abraham to the triumph of British liberty under law in the future Canada didn’t just make him a huge embarrassment to the politically correct. It also tends to obscure the fact that he was a person, not just a name on a plaque, an officer of courage, determination and boldness whose military career lasted longer than one battle and a lucky musket shot.

He was present at Culloden Moor in 1746, where his refusal to shoot a wounded Fraser clan helped earn him the respect of the Highlanders he would command at the Plains of Abraham. And he was there when the British attached Louisburg, which commanded the entrance to the St. Lawrence, with the rank of brigadier, under the dreaded Jeffrey Amherst (yes, he of the smallpox blankets). William Pitt the Elder was in the process of saving Britain’s bacon in the Seven Years’ War and this was a pivotal strategic thrust in North America, opening the way to Quebec City.

The Royal Navy managed to blockade and defeat the French fleet in the Mediterranean so they could not defend Louisburg from the water as they had in 1757. And the British mounted a significant operation especially for those days, sending 150 transports and 40 men-of-war carrying almost 14,000 mostly regular force soldiers.

Bad weather delayed the amphibious landing until June 8, and the French nearly pushed it back except a boatload of Wolfe’s light infantry established a sheltered beachhead and he redirected the rest of his division in behind it. On June 12 Wolfe followed up by leading 1200 picked men to seize vital Lighthouse Point, an unoriginal name for a point predictably commanding the harbor entrance, and Louisburg was doomed.

It took weeks to grind the fortress down, including a key raid on the last remaining French warships in which the future explorer James Cook was involved. The French threw in the towel on July 26. And with it in British hands, though it was too late to attack Quebec itself, the British were able to mop up various French positions in the future Atlantic Canada. And indeed the next year Louisbourg was the key staging point for Wolfe’s attack on Quebec. Meanwhile, just in case the politicians gave it back to France again, the British went about blowing the massive fortress up bit by bit, which took until 1760.

Nowadays of course we wish they hadn’t. It’s much better to have things in authentic historical condition. Including perhaps our appreciation of Wolfe, who might have been carried to great heights by the same qualities that carried him ashore at Louisburg, to Lighthouse Point, and finally up the heights to Quebec City where he lost his life at age 32.