James Wolfe

James Wolfe

General James Wolfe (2 January, 1727 – 13 September, 1759) was a British Army officer, known for his training reforms but remembered chiefly for his victory over the French in Canada and establishing British rule there. Because of this he has been regarded as a hero by many Canadians.

Early life (1727-1740)

Wolfe was born in Westerham, Kent, England, the eldest son of Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Edward Wolfe and the former Henrietta Thompson (his childhood home in Westerham has been preserved in his memory under the name Quebec House). [ [http://theweald.org/N10.asp?NId=2198 The Weald - People history and genealogy ] ] Around 1738, the family moved to Greenwich, in London. From his earliest years Wolfe was destined for a military career, entering his father's 1st Marine regiment at the age of 13. Illness prevented him from taking part in an expedition against Spanish-held Cartagena in 1740. [ [http://www.militaryheritage.com/wolfe.htm Biography of General James Wolfe 1727-1759 ] ]

War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48)

European War

In 1740 the War of the Austrian Succession broke out. Wolfe, initially unable to travel to the continent with his regiment due to his illness, transferred to the 12th Regiment of Foot, a British Army infantry regiment, and set sail for Flanders some months later. Here, Wolfe was promoted to lieutenant and made adjutant of his battalion. In 1743, Wolfe fought at the Battle of Dettingen, where his activities came under the favourable notice of the Duke of Cumberland. A year later he became a captain of the 45th Regiment of Foot.

Jacobite Rising

In 1745, Wolfe's regiment was recalled to Britain to deal with the Jacobite rising. Wolfe served in Scotland in 1746 as aide-de-camp under General Henry Hawley in the campaign to defeat the Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart. In this capacity, Wolfe participated in the Battle of Falkirk and the Battle of Culloden. [ [http://www.badley.info/history/Wolfe-James-Great-Britain.biog.html History and chronology of James Wolfe in Great Britain ] ] At Culloden he refused to carry out an order of the Duke of Cumberland to shoot a wounded Highlander by stating that his honour was worth more than his commission. This act may have been a cause for his later popularity among the Royal Highland Fusiliers, whom he would later command.

Return to the Continent

Wolfe returned to Germany and the War of the Austrian Succession, serving under Sir John Mordaunt. He participated in the Battle of Lauffeld, where he was wounded and received an official commendation. In 1748, at just 21 years of age and with service in seven campaigns, Wolfe returned to Britain following the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle which ended the war.

Peacetime Service (1748-1756)

cottish garrison

Once home, he was posted to Scotland and garrison duty, and a year later was made a major, in which rank he assumed command of the 20th Regiment, stationed at Stirling. In 1750, Wolfe - then 22 - was confirmed as lieutenant colonel of the regiment. During the eight years Wolfe remained in Scotland, he wrote military pamphlets and became proficient in French, as a result of several trips to Paris.

even Years War (1756-59)


In 1756, with the outbreak of open hostilities with France, Wolfe was promoted to colonel and participated in the failed British amphibious assault on Rochefort, a seaport on the French Atlantic coast, a year later. Nonetheless, Wolfe was one of the few military leaders who had distinguished himself in the raid. As a result, Wolfe was brought to the notice of the prime minister, William Pitt, the Elder. Pitt had determined that the best gains in the war were to be made in North America. On 23 January, 1758 James Wolfe was appointed as a brigadier general, and sent with Major General Jeffrey Amherst to lay siege to Fortress of Louisbourg in New France (located in present-day Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia). Wolfe's distinguished himself in preparations for the assault, the initial landing and in the aggressive advance of siege batteries. The French capitulated in June of that year.


As Wolfe had comported himself admirably at Louisbourg, Pitt chose him to lead the British assault on Quebec City the following year, with the rank of major general. The British army laid siege to the city for three months. During that time, Wolfe issued a written document, known as Wolfe's Manifesto, to the French-Canadian (Québécois) civilians, as a part of his strategy of psychological intimidation. In March 1759, prior to arriving at Quebec, Wolfe had written to Amherst: "If, by accident in the river, by the enemy’s resistance, by sickness or slaughter in the army, or, from any other cause, we find that Quebec is not likely to fall into our hands (persevering however to the last moment), I propose to set the town on fire with shells, to destroy the harvest, houses and cattle, both above and below, to send off as many Canadians as possible to Europe and to leave famine and desolation behind me; but we must teach these scoundrels to make war in a more gentleman like manner."

After an extensive yet inconclusive bombardment of the city, Wolfe then led 200 ships with 9,000 soldiers and 18,000 sailors on a very bold and risky amphibious landing at the base of the cliffs west of Quebec along the St. Lawrence River. His army, with two small cannons, scaled the cliffs early on the morning of September 13, 1759, surprising the French under the command of the Marquis de Montcalm, who thought the cliffs would be unclimbable. It must be noted however that Wolfe himself favored an attack on the northern bank of Quebec, an attack that was doomed to failure by the superior concentration of French forces. He reluctantly agreed to an attack via the southern bank after his three brigadiers vehemently opposed the northern route. The French, faced with the possibility that the British would haul more cannons up the cliffs and knock down the city's remaining walls, fought the British on the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. The French were defeated, but Wolfe was shot in the chest and died just as the battle was won. He reportedly heard cries of "They run," and thus died content that the victory had been achieved.

Historian Francis Parkman describes the death of Wolfe:

They asked him [Wolfe] if he would have a surgeon;
but he shook his head, and answered that all
was over with him. His eyes closed with the
torpor of approaching death, and those around
sustained his fainting form. Yet they could not
withhold their gaze from the wild turmoil before
them, and the charging ranks of their sompanions
rushing though the line of sire and smoke.

"See how they run." one of the officers esclaimed,
as the French fled in confusion before the levelled

"Who run?" demanded Wolfs, opening his eyes like a man
aroused from sleep.

"The enemy,sire," was the reply; "they give way everywhere."

"Then," said the dying general, "tell Colonel
River, to cut off their retreat from the bridge.
Now, God be praised, I will die in peace," he murmured;
and, turning on his side, he calmly breathed
his last.

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham is notable for causing the deaths of the top military commander on each side: Montcalm died the next day from his wounds. Wolfe's victory at Quebec enabled an assault on the French at Montreal the following year. With the fall of that city, French rule in North America, outside of Louisiana and the tiny islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, came to an end.

Wolfe's body was returned to Britain and interred in the family vault in St Alfege Church, Greenwich alongside his father (died in March 1759)


Wolfe was renowned by his troops for being demanding on himself and on them. Although he was prone to illness, Wolfe was an active and restless figure. Amherst was to report that Wolfe seemed to be everywhere at once. There was a story that when someone in the British Court branded the young Brigadier mad, King George II retorted, "Mad, is he? Then I hope he will bite some of my other generals."


The inscription on the obelisk at Quebec City, erected to commemorate the battle on the Plains of Abraham once read: "Here Died Wolfe Victorious." Now it simply reads: "Here Died Wolfe." [http://www.thewhig.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=1210805 General James Wolfe] Wolfe's defeat of the French led to the British capture of the New France department of Canada, and his "hero's death" made him a legend in his homeland. The Wolfe legend led to the famous painting The Death of General Wolfe Wolfe" [http://www.dpnews.com/midimelodies/Brave%20Wolfe.MID] (sometimes known as "Bold Wolfe"), and the opening line of the patriotic Canadian anthem, "The Maple Leaf Forever."

The site where Wolfe purportedly fell is marked by a column surmounted by a helmet and sword. An inscription at its base reads, in French and English, "Here died Wolfe - September 13th, 1759." It replaces a large stone which had been placed there by British troops to mark the spot. There is a memorial to Wolfe in Westminster Abbey by Joseph Wilton and a statue of him overlooks the Royal Naval College in Greenwich. A statue also graces the green in his native Westerham, Kent, alongside one of that village's other famous resident, Sir Winston Churchill. At Stowe Landscape Gardens in Buckinghamshire there is an obelisk, known as Wolfe's obelisk, built by the family that owned Stowe as Wolfe spent his last night in England at the mansion. Wolfe is buried under the Church of St Alfege, Greenwich, where there are four memorials to him: A replica of his coffin plate in the floor; "The Death of Wolfe", a painting completed in 1762 by Edward Peary; a wall tablet; and a stained glass window in addition the local primary school is named after him.

In 1761, as a perpetual memorial to Wolfe, George Warde, a friend of Wolfe's from boyhood and the second son of John Warde Esq of Squerryes Court, Westerham, instituted the Wolfe Society, which to this day meets annually in Westerham for the Wolfe Dinner to his "Pious and Immortal Memory".

There are several institutions, localities, thoroughfares, and landforms named for him in Canada. Significant monuments to Wolfe in Canada exist on the Plains of Abraham where he fell, and near Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Ontario Governor John Graves Simcoe named Wolfe Island (Ontario) an island near the Royal Military College of Canada in General James Wolfe's honour in 1792. On Sept. 13, 2009, the Wolfe Island Historical Society will lead celebrations on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of James Wolfe's victory at Quebec. A life-size statue in Wolfe's likeness is to be sculpted. [http://www.thewhig.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=1210805 General James Wolfe]

A senior girls house at the Duke of York's Royal Military School is named after Wolfe, where all houses are named after prominent figures of the military.



* Unknown. " [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0008670 James Wolfe] ", in "The Canadian Encyclopedia". Historica Foundation, 2008
* Brumwell, Stephen (2007). "Paths of Glory: The Life and Death of General James Wolfe", Continuum International Publishing Group, 432 p. (ISBN 978-0-7735-3261-8) ( [http://books.google.ca/books?id=92CBkB0estkC preview] )
* Bélanger, Claude. " [http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/QuebecHistory/encyclopedia/JamesWolfeIndex.htm James Wolfe] ", in "L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia", Marianopolis College, 2005
* Carroll, Joy (2004). "Wolfe & Montcalm: Their Lives, their Times, and the Fate of a Continent", Richmond Hill: Firefly Books, 302 p. (ISBN 1-55297-905-9) ( [http://books.google.ca/books?id=-T6bAAAACAAJ preview] )
* Chartrand, René (2000). "Louisbourg 1758: Wolfe's First Siege", Oxford: Osprey Military, 96 p. ( [http://books.google.ca/books?id=gUoFde2kUS8C preview] )
* Stacey, C. P. " [http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=1720 Wolfe, James] ", in "Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online", University of Toronto and Université Laval, 2000
* Reid, Stuart (2000). "Wolfe: The Career of General James Wolfe from Culloden to Quebec", Rockville Centre (N.Y.): Sarpedon, 224 p.
* McNairn, Alan (1997). "Behold the Hero: General Wolfe and the Arts in the Eighteenth Century", Montreal: McGill-Queen's Press, 306 p. (ISBN 0773515399) ( [http://books.google.ca/books?id=JyiHlFiYdIQC preview] )
* Warner, Oliver (1972). "With Wolfe to Quebec: The Path to Glory", Toronto: Collins, 224 p.
* Reilly, Robin (1960). "Wolfe of Quebec", London: White Lion Publishers, 365 p.
* Casgrain, Henri-Raymond (1905). "Wolfe and Montcalm", Toronto: Morang & Co., 296 p. ( [http://www.archive.org/details/makersofcanada04scotiala online] )
* Parkman, Francis (1884). "Montcalm and Wolfe", Boston: Little, Brown and Company, (online: [http://books.google.ca/books?id=oLANAAAAQAAJ volume 1] , [http://books.google.ca/books?id=vbANAAAAQAAJ volume 2] )
* Wright, Robert (1864). "The Life of Major-General James Wolfe", London: Chapman and Hall, 626 p. ( [http://books.google.ca/books?id=tM4OAAAAYAAJ online] )

External links

* Unknown. " [http://www.badley.info/history/Wolfe-James-Great-Britain.biog.html History and Chronology of James Wolfe] ", in "World History Database"
* New Brunswick Museum. " [http://website.nbm-mnb.ca/Wolfe/WolfeIntro.htm A National Treasure in New Brunswick: James Barry's "Death of General Wolfe"] ", in "New Brunswick Museum" (Web site), 2003
* NBC. [http://www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca Plains of Abraham Web site] , Government of Canada. (National Battlefields Commission)
* NBC. [http://1759.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca 1759: From the Warpath to the Plains of Abraham] , Virtual Museum Canada, The National Battlefields Commission, 2005

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