"If we find Quebec is not likely to fall into our hands...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."
-General James Wolfe, in a letter to Jeffrey Amherst
General James Wolfe, a hero of Canadian history, is best known for his victory over the French at the Plains of Abraham. Despite being a revered figure for millions of Canadians, General Wolfe was known for his recklessness, and could be easily categorised as mentally unstable. Like Kaiser Wilhelm after him, Wolfe had been a sickly child, and as an adult he was erratic, aloof, and extremely eager to compensate for his shortcomings. After displaying tremendous courage and effectiveness in the British siege of Louisbourg, the 32-year old Wolfe was put in charge of 13,500 British soldiers for an assault on Quebec during the Seven Years' War. His first independent command, although successful, would also turn out to be his last.
When General Wolfe's troops captured the heights across from Quebec City in early June of 1759, their first action was to aim their guns and cannons at the inhabitants. Day and night, the British cannons rained fire and bombs, killing civilians and generally wreaking havoc in the city. This served to no military purpose, and was done for the sole reason of terrorising the French Canadians. As Francois Bigot put it, "M. Wolfe est cruel."
As Wolfe continued his onslaught against Quebec City, his anger reached unstable proportions. His nemesis, the French General Montcalm, knew that to defeat the British they only had to hang on for about a year or so. Because of this, Montcalm never attacked the British, and with the aid of his troops, preferred to simply defend his own territory. This enraged Wolfe, who became even more erratic and reckless. He became obsessive, would often contradict his own orders, and would commonly send soldiers out in the middle of crossfires. It was around this time that one of his officers began drawing caricatures of General Wolfe, taunting him behind his back, and gathering evidence for the court martialing he was sure Wolfe would receive when he returned to Britain.
In turn, Wolfe became more infuriated, and continued to take his anger out on the French Canadians. He unleashed his vicious American Rangers on them, who went about spitefully burning homes, taking scalps, and slaughtering livestock. As autumn approached, Wolfe prepared his troops for their famous trek across l'Anse au fouton, preceding the battle of the Plains of Abraham. It was at the end of this battle when Wolfe met his death at the end of a gun. He was hit once in the wrist, and again in the stomach, before a third shot split his chest right open. As Wolfe lay dying, the French troops lost their nerve and ran away, thus losing the battle.
Before his departure for Canada, Wolfe's girlfriend had given him a copy of Thomas Gray's poem entitled Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Before going into his final battle on the Plains of Abraham, legend has it that Wolfe read his troops the following excerpt:
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power
And all that beauty, all that weather e'er gave
Awaits alike the inevitable hour
The paths of glory lead but to the grave
Having finished, he turned to his troops and announced to them that he'd rather had written those lines himself than taken Quebec. While a number of historians have refuted his recitation of these prophetic lines ("The paths of glory lead but to the grave") as a myth, Wolfe nonetheless had his copy of the poem onhand during the battle, with the preceding lines underlined by his own hand. Wolfe's leather-bound edition of the poem is currently held at the University of Toronto.