Louis-Joseph de Montcalm-Grozon was born at Château de Candiac, France, the son of a nobleman. He entered the army at age 12 and later fought in the major European conflicts of the day. Montcalm won promotion to colonel in the defense of Prague in 1742 in the War of the Austrian Succession. He was later wounded, captured and eventually exchanged.
At the start of the Seven Years’ War, Montcalm was promoted to major-general and given the command of French forces in North America. He was forced to accede to the wishes of Vaudreuil de Cavagnal, the governor of New France, on non-military matters. The split authority was harmful to the French effort.
Nonetheless, Montcalm accomplished great military success in the early fighting. In 1756, his forces captured Fort Oswego, which assured French control of Lake Ontario. The following year, the French captured Fort William Henry and its 2,000 soldiers; Montcalm risked his life to prevent the slaughter of English captives by enraged Indian allies.
Montcalm’s brightest moment came at Fort Ticonderoga in July 1758. The French managed to hold their position despite the assault by vastly superior English forces under General James Abercromby. Montcalm was promoted to lieutenant-general.
In 1759, at Quebec, Montcalm prudently refused to be lured out of his defensive position facing the army of James Wolfe along the St. Lawrence River. However, in a masterstroke, Wolfe sailed around Montcalm, scaled the heights to the Plains of Abraham and had his army prepared for storming Quebec. Montcalm was forced to confront the English in a momentous battle that claimed the lives of both Montcalm and Wolfe. Following the fall of Montreal in 1760, the era of New France was ended.
Montcalm was a talented military leader, but his skills were insufficient to overcome the vast numerical superiority of the British.