Book Review: Backs to the Wall

Backs to the Wall: The Battle of Sainte-Foy and the Conquest of Canada

The dramatic battle of 1760 is a timely reminder of the fragile nature of Canadian history.

The 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham and subsequent capitulation of Quebec set the stage for an equally significant FrenchBritish engagement in the struggle for northeastern North America, the Battle of Sainte-Foy. That 1760 conflict—perhaps the hardestfought, most intense Canadian battle until Second Ypres in 1915 – came close to over-turning the previous year’s victory by the British.

In the spring of 1760, after having suffered a brutal winter, Quebec garrison Commander James Murray’s troops were vulnerable and reduced to an army of skeletal invalids due to malnutrition and scurvy. Trapped in hostile territory and lacking confidence in the fortifications of Quebec, Murray planned to confront French attackers outside the walls. Instead of waiting at Montreal for the British to attack, Montcalm’s successor, François-Gaston de Lévis, returned to the plains for a rematch accompanied by every combatant available–French regulars, Canadian militia and First Peoples warriors. The ensuing Battle of Sainte-Foy was less a battle for territory than a struggle for survival between two equally desperate adversaries. If the British lost the battle, they would lose Quebec. If the French lost the battle, they would very likely lose Canada–both the French and the British had their backs to the wall.

MacLeod presents this historical event in riveting detail, from the preparation and day-by-day actions during the engagement to the compelling siege of Quebec by land and ship. Backs to the Wall is an accessible and engaging account of an important episode in Canadian history.

is the pre-Confederation historian at the Canadian

War Museum, where he curated the permanent exhibits on the Seven Years’ War and The Battle of the Plains of Abraham. He is currently working as English language style editor for the Canadian History Hall at the Canadian War Museum’s partner institution, the Canadian Museum of History. His previous books include The Canadian Iroquois and the Seven Years’ War (Dundurn, 2012), and Northern Armageddon (Douglas & McIntyre, 2008). He lives in Ottawa, ON.


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