10 Facts About Major-General James Wolfe

Cassie Pope

2 mins

27 Mar 2019

Major General James Wolfe was a British military hero of the 18th century who died shortly after his victory at the Battle of Quebec during the Seven Years’ War.

1. Wolfe was born in Westerham in Kent

His parents, Harriet and Edward Wolfe moved to Westerham from York and rented a house called Spiers, known today as Quebec House.

2. He joined the army at 14

He saw his first major action at 16 at the battle of Dettingen and soon began to rise through the ranks. He served in Scotland at the battle of Falkirk on 17 January 1746 and at Culloden on 16 April 1746.

3. A popular myth grew up around his actions at Culloden

Wolfe is credited with refusing to carry out an order from the Duke of Cumberland to kill a wounded Jacobite officer. However the original telling of this story does not identify the officer who defied Cumberland and the action was only later attributed to Wolfe.

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4. He introduced improvements to firing and bayonet techniques

His ideas were published after his death in Instructions to Young Officers.

5. At just 32, he was given command of the Quebec Expedition

Now with the rank of major-general, Wolfe took command of 5,000 men. The expedition formed part of the Seven Years’ War, a conflict fought between an alliance led by France, and an opposing alliance of Britain, Prussia and Hanover.

6. His health was poor throughout the Quebec expedition

Prior to leaving for Quebec, Wolfe noted in his diary:

“I am in a very bad condition, both with the gravel [bladder infection] & Rheumatism, but I had much rather die than decline any kind of service that offers.”

Map of the Quebec City area showing disposition of French and British forces. The Plains of Abraham are located to the left.

7. The plan to take Quebec began with a daring amphibious landing

Wolfe wanted to draw out the French forces, under their commander the marquis de Montcalm. When an initial assault ended in costly failure, Wolfe planned a landing further up the St Lawrence River.

He led 4,500 men in flat-bottomed landing craft up the treacherous river. Once landed, the troops had to scale cliffs in order to reach the Plains of Abraham, where Wolfe hoped to draw out the French forces for battle.

8. Musketry skills won the day for the British

Montcalm opted to attack swiftly. His men were equal in number to Wolfe’s forces but were mainly militia rather than regular soldiers. The French crossed the battlefield, firing as they went, but the British held fire until they were comfortably within range.

When they did open fire it was in devastating, coordinated volleys that soon sent the French into retreat.

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9. Wolfe was fatally wounded during the Battle of Quebec

He suffered multiple wounds during the battle but lived long enough to hear that the French had retreated back to the city and the battle was won. His last words were said to be “Now, God be praised, I will die in peace”

10. Artist Benjamin West captured the moment of Wolfe’s death in a famous 1770 painting

The oil painting, The Death of General Wolfe, can be seen on display at the National Gallery of Canada.