Volume 20

Amherst and the Conquest of Canada

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Jeffery Amherst was one of the most distinguished commanders of the British army during the eighteenth century. Under his leadership the tide of disaster, which greeted the British army at the start of the Seven Years War in America, was reversed as Amherst first reduced the key fortress of Louisbourg in 1758, before proceeding in 1759 and 1760 to dismantle much of the rest of the French empire in North America. Although James Wolfe’s capture of Quebec in 1759 may have been more heroic, it was Amherst's methodical advance that sealed the fate of the French empire in North America. First he secured the route to Canada by capturing in 1759 the key fortresses of Ticonderoga, Crown Point and Niagara, and then he completed the task by a three-pronged attack via the St Lawrence, Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario which resulted in the surrender of Montreal in September 1760. As Amherst observed in the privacy of his diary in the final surrender of the French: ‘I believe never three Armys setting out form different and very distant Parts from each other, joined [together] in the Center, as was intended, better than we did.’ It had been a masterly demonstration of logistical organisation which had resulted in the surrender of an empire. Equally important it was effected with minimal casualties. 

The documents in this volume show how Amherst, in conjunction with William Pitt, helped plan and execute this grand scheme, from his first appointment as Commander-in-Chief in September 1758 to his triumphant return to New York in December 1760, following the French defeat. They reveal that the key to Amherst’s success was his meticulous attention to detail, without which no army could have marched successfully through the American wilderness and arrived in a condition to fight.