On September 10, 1759, General James Wolfe summoned a group of his subalterns to a small camp on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River called Gorham’s Post. Just below the mouth of the Etchemin River, Gorham’s Post offered good reconnaissance of the promontory of Québec. General Wolfe had spent all summer trying to get at the well-ensconced French on Cape Diamond and now, as fall approached, he peered across the river with his closest colleagues, searching for a point of access to the capital of New France.
Actually, most of the evidence suggests that Wolfe already suspected where that point of access was: Anse au Foulon. Straight north of Gorham’s Post, across the swift current of the St. Lawrence, there was a small patch of beach at the base of a steep, but climbable, draw. There were several tents at the top of the hill occupied by the small French detachment charged with defending the place. Wolfe believed he could climb this draw quickly and get his army on to the Plains of Abraham to force a fight. He pointed it out to his commanders that day, and would later express his commitment to the place in orders written the day before he died on the battlefield: “I have fix’d upon that spot, where we can act wh: most force, & are most likely to succeed, if I am mistaken, I am sorry for it; & must be answerable to his Majesty & the Publick for the consequences.”
When news of the British victory and the death of General Wolfe reached London, the Grand Magazine of Universal Intelligence published the map reproduced below. The Etchemin River takes on an exaggerated importance here, as if in acknowledgement that momentous decisions had been made there.
One can visit the mouth of the Etchemin River today and stand approximately where Gorham’s Post was. The small wooded patch there probably looks much like it did when Wolfe convened his pre-battle meeting. From this spot, however, Anse au Foulon does not look like much: it is distant and obscure, by no means an obvious choice.
(Map Credit: Grand Magazine of Universal Intelligence, October, 1759)