Battling for a Claim in North America, The Battle of Quebec, 1759

The Battle of Quebec was one of the earliest conflicts in the American Revolutionary War. It heralded the first full scale defeat for the American forces in the battle against the British.

The Canadian Province of Quebec was held by the British. It was considered an important strategic stronghold. It was thought that if they could take control of Quebec they would seriously weaken the British army’s potential to launch an attack towards the Hudson River and block their path towards New York.

The attack on Quebec came from two sides. Benedict Arnold led a troop of 1,100 men from Cambridge Massachusetts and journeyed up through the wilderness land which now forms the state of Maine. The second prong of the attack was led by Richard Montgomery from Lake Champlain.

Both leaders had the incorrect assumption that as Quebec was only defended by 600 troops it would be an easy battle to win. They also wrongly thought that they had the overwhelming support of the Canadian people in Quebec.

In many ways the expedition was doomed from the start. Arnold’s troops were heavily depleted by the time they reached Quebec. The sea voyage had been ill advised and badly planned. The map of the sea route which Arnold was relying upon was inaccurate and missing many details. Many of the boats where badly constructed and began leaking. This lead to enormous problems including the destruction of supplies on the boats.

Not only was the sea voyage treacherous, the journey over land through Maine also proved to be extremely challenging. The boggy conditions, lack of food and inadequate maps severely depleted the health and the morale of the troops. 450 men turned back and abandoned the journey to Quebec.

Of the 1,100 troops who set out from Cambridge, only 600 reached Quebec. The journey had proved to be 350 miles, not the 180 that was originally estimated. The locals took pity on the troops and many helped by giving them food and shelter.

Arnold realized that he would have to wait until the Montgomery and his troops arrived before he could mount an attack.

The Americans hoped that their arrival would inspire the Canadians to surrender. This was a false hope. Instead the depleted and ill equipped soldiers faced a fortified city. They had seriously miscalculated the efforts required to take Quebec.

The combined American forces launched an attack on December 31 1775. They were met with relentless artillery fire from the British, and Montgomery was killed in the first attack. His men were forced to retreat.

Arnold’s part of the attack did not succeed either. They could not fight successfully against the heavily fortified British army. The Americans suffered heavy losses. More than one third of the 1,200 Americans who began the attack were either killed, injured or captured. British losses were light in comparison.

The defeated American troops retreated to outside the city, where they remained for several months. The soldiers withdrew completely when the British fleet arrived in May 1776.

Britain Announces its power to the World, the Battle of Blenheim, 1704

The Battle of Blenheim, which was fought on August 14 1704, was a huge turning point in the balance of power in Europe. It was also a significant message to the rest of the World that Britain was a powerful military force.

The death of Charles II of Spain in 1700 had created a crisis of succession as he died without male heirs. He was the last monarch of the Spanish branch of the hugely powerful House of Habsburg. Charles II had named the teenaged Duke of Anjou as the next King of Spain. This sent shock waves through the rest of Europe as the Duke was the grandson of Louis XIV of France. To have such a close alliance between the powers of France and Spain was a threat to the balance of power.

Tensions increased when France occupied Spanish territories in The Netherlands as it seemed that they were taking over even more control of Spain and exerting what could be, if left unchecked, an unstoppable expansionist policy.

The British formed an alliance with the Austrians and the Dutch. Their plan was that Archduke Charles should be King of Spain. Against this background, the Spanish War of Succession began.

Vienna was the capital of the Habsburg Empire and by 1704 the French were confident that it was only a matter of time before they gained control of this crucial territory. It was thought that when Vienna fell, the rest of Europe would follow suit. The Allies knew that it was crucial that they did not allow Vienna to fall into the hands of the French.

The Duke of Marlborough showed exceptional skill and courage in his leadership. When it became clear that the Dutch did not want to engage in battle in Vienna and showed little support for an Allied attack, Marlborough tricked them into thinking that he was repositioning his troops no further than Cologne.

In reality Marlborough always planned to take decisive action to stop French expansion into Austria. His men made the 250-mile march towards Blenheim and consolidated their position. The French did not expect them to attack – they wrongly assumed that their supply lines would fail, that they would be intimidated by the size and prowess of their army, and that the Allies would eventually retreat. Price Eugene of Savoy provided considerable reinforcements for the Allied forces, and it was decided to launch an attack on the heavily fortified Blenheim.

There is no agreement about the size of each of the armies, but it is clear that the Allies were outnumbered by the French. The Allies had approximately 56,000 men and the French 60,000. Losses were particularly severe on the French side and it is reputed that more than 30,000 men died.

The victory at the Battle of Blenheim halted the French expansion into Austria. The Spanish War of Succession did not end for some time, but the Battle of Blenheim marked a turning point in the balance of power in Europe. Marlborough and Price Eugene had reinforced the Habsburg Empire. Perhaps most significantly the Battle showed the rest of the World that Britain was now a military force to be reckoned with.

The End of the Jacobite Rebellion: Culloden, 1746

The Battle of Culloden not only marked the end of the Jacobite Rebellion, it was also the last battle ever to be fought on British soil.

Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie as he was called by his supporters, led the campaign to restore a Stuart King to the British throne. He had marched his army of 6,000 to London to try and gain support for his attempt to overthrow the Hanoverian King, George II. Unfortunately for the Young Pretender (as his enemies called him), his campaign met with little success and he gained no significant support.

Charles decided to retreat back to Inverness in Scotland. Most of his army were Roman Catholic Highlanders. They were poorly equipped for combat. Whilst some did have swords, many only had makeshift weapons.

The Duke of Cumberland was the leader of the King’s army of around 8,000 men. They marched towards Inverness with the intention of finally defeating the Jacobite Rebellion. They arrived and encamped in Nairn on April 14 1746. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s forces were depleted by this time and are estimated to have been around 5,400 in number.

The rebels moved towards Nairn. It was debated as to whether using guerilla tactics would bring them a better chance of victory over Cumberland, but Bonnie Prince Charlie rejected that idea.

Instead it was decided that the Jacobites would launch a night attack. The Duke of Cumberland’s birthday of April 15 was chosen for the night attack. This type of campaign had worked successfully for them before, but this time it was a failure which simply depleted the energy of the already exhausted Highlanders. They were very short on food and many simply did not have the strength to engage in battle.

The Duke of Cumberland gave the order to march to attack the Jacobites on April 16. The already exhausted Jacobites formed a wall of defense with ground troops on the front line, and soldiers on horseback forming the second line. Morale was low and many of the Jacobite troops were exhausted and hungry. To add to their woes, the weather conditions were poor, with wind blowing rain and sleet into their faces.

Cumberland’s forces subjected the enemy line to an artillery attack which lasted some 20 minutes. It is not known why Bonnie Prince Charlie delayed the order to charge. The terrain was boggy and unsuited to this type of combat, but he had little choice. The Highland clan leaders were angry that Charles had delayed giving the order to charge, and persuaded him that he needed to do so. Unfortunately, by this point support for his leadership was waning, and confusion was rife. The charge was uncoordinated, but many of the Highlanders did reach enemy lines.

They were no match for the King’s army. Losses on the Jacobite side were high with around 1,250 men losing their lives, many were wounded and 558 taken prisoner. The Duke of Cumberland’s army lost 52 with 259 injured. The Battle of Culloden lasted only an hour and the army of Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated, marking the end of the Jacobite rebellion.