Book Review: Montcalm’s Crushing Blow by René Chartrand.

British plans to break New France in 1755 by seizing the Ohio, securing Lake George and capturing Cape Breton Island ended unevenly.

The total defeat of General Braddock’s Ohio column was offset by the success of militia forces on the eastern seaboard in Acadia, while a stalemate along the Hudson valley balanced the scale.

To French minds delay meant defeat for the Anglo-Americans and so they could take heart from the start of the war. Their job was now to hang on to Canada until French forces in Europe could defeat the allied coalition.

Believing that attack was the best defence French planners in Canada began preparing strikes against the British frontier.

René Chartrand shines a spotlight on a neglected precourser to Montcalm’s capture of Fort William Henry in 1757, which allowed French forces to shift towards Crown Point and Ticonderoga.

The basis of which, for a moment, seemed to look set to create the platform upon which the French could climb to victory. 

The target was Oswego, a strong but isolated British fort on Lake Ontario and a ripe target for the sort of large scale raid the French excelled at, only this time the French field commander, the Marquis de Montcalm, would do it on a much larger scale. 

As the war became official an early influx of money and troops had come in from France, enhancing the military capacity of Canada. This allowed the French to bolster their defences and as a result, mount large scale operations into enemy territory.

In 1756 Montcalm took 3,000 men and artillery down the St Lawrence and across Lake Ontario to begin the process of pushing back the British Frontier.

Chartrand uses this campaign as an example of the largest and most dramatic instance of the Franco/Indian/Canadian raiding system.

A synthesis at its most extreme of the wilderness petit guerre mixed with European conventional scientific warfare. 

Within the confines of this book, which is a Raid title and so is constrained by space and theme the campaign and the clash of personality between Governor Vaudreuill and the Marquis de Montcalm is explained, as is the situation after the fall of Oswego.

Despite an initially gallant defence by the British, this proved an entirely successful operation and a convincing victory was gained.

This book with typical concise but remarkably detailed analysis widens the appreciation of how French strategy took a sudden and more offensive turn, trying to create a buffer zone within enemy territory that could be defended until victory was gained in Europe and delayed the final British Invasion of Canada by two years.


Book Review: Monongahela 1755 by René Chartrand.

In terms of subject chronology this Campaign Book, produced by the MilHist fans at Osprey Publishing back in 2004, begins René Chartrand’s examination of wilderness warfare as practiced by the European powers in the French and Indian War. 

Chartrand, one of the most scholarly and readable Osprey authors, has written a flock of books on this subject, establishing both a sequential series within a series and his firm belief that the Franco Canadians were the masters of warfare in America as it should be fought, all based on archival sources.

The book is insightful and at the same time sticks to an established narrative that is easy to follow, the author is the master of giving a relatable account spiced with the right sources at the right time to briefly support his thesis. 

Chartrand sets the scene with a sharp eyed appraisal of two European powers that dominated eastern North America, who for the last century and a quarter had been involved in official and unofficial political violence with each other, mostly over the resources of the land in question and often because of political events in Europe.

By 1755 an increasingly large and expanding Anglo American population was pressing across the Allegheny’s in search of new opportunities. The Ohio valley was important to France as the quickest conduit to Louisiana territory. Anglo American interference would threaten communications between north and south and even jeapordise native allies.

Chartrand believes the great strength of French colonial administration was its attitude to indigenous tribes. Although by the time of the ‘seven years war’ their mastery of native diplomacy was being challenged, the French (at higher levels) treated the tribes as allies and went to great pains to maintain friendly relations with them. 

The French entertained the greatest network of native alliances and dialogues of any of the European powers. The reason was largely because this allowed their trappers free access to the fur trade which was the life blood of the French overseas empire. 

The tribes, save the bulk of the Iroquois who had a long running feud with Onontio (the French Governor General,) for their part preferred the French system because unlike the agrarian minded Anglo American’s the Franco Canadians did not eat up land like a wildfire. They claimed land like all the other foreigners but didn’t occupy it in the same way.

As an extreme example of both this policy and the importance of the Ohio, Chartrand tells of when the Miami village at Pickawillany, feeling growing British influence in the area raised a Union Jack in 1759, and a Franco Canadian raiding party destroyed it that summer to show the allied tribes that they need not fear British expansion.

Few will be surprised to read how events led to conflict in the Ohio during the late 1740’s, as the French made expeditions to claim the area and then placed quickly constructed forts at key river forks and portages. These became the focus of outrage for the larger and more belligerent States along the eastern seaboard. 

With New England, New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania all determined to gain traction west of the Allegheny barrier. The rejection of a notice of eviction to the French in the Ohio was enough for Virginia Governor Dinwiddie to attempt to seize the Forks of the Ohio where the French had built Fort Duquesne.

In all his books Chartrand offers a Francophile standpoint without excluding the English sources. This is why this series of books is so valuable in a field so saturated with English viewpoints, the very name of the conflict, ‘the French and indian war’ is very telling if you choose to look into it.

The book separates the campaign into two sections, George Washington’s engagement at Fort Necessity and the action on the banks of the Monongahela. The book demonstrates just how dominant the French/Canadian/Indian mode of warfare was by this stage.

The engagement at Fort Necessity is seen as nothing short of disastrous for Washington. Almost nothing redeemable can be said about it. The French and Indians surrounded the pitiful fort, subdued the garrison with musketry and got the enemy to agree to capitulate, aknowedging French sovereignty over the Ohio and responsibility for Washington’s reprehensible ambush of a French emissary, which started the shooting war.

The main fight on 9 July 1755 was a typical wilderness ambush and battle in all respects, only on a larger scale than usual, it’s start seemed to show a lack of pre-planning but the response to an initial check saved the day, although the French didn’t have the men (many of their allies had gone home) to pursue, the battle cost the British some 800-1,000 men, their guns and allot of equipment.

Accompanied by good maps, interesting photographs and lively colour plates Chartrand illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the French synthesis of European and Indigenous modes of warfare which allowed them to stave off defeat time and time again. Readers will find it interesting to note just how dependent the French and Canadians (and indeed the British) were on their allies.

Monongahela also introduces a reader to many fascinating figures, both well known and obscure. The commanders in the French Ohio should read as a list of who’s who of frontier officer’s but few are well, if at all, known today. Most interesting is Charles Michel Langlade who Chartrand suggests was a driving force behind the victory. War chiefs like Pontiac might even have been present in the 1755 fight.

This book is a highly interesting and useful survey of early British strategy in the French and Indian War, giving an authentic and sensible appraisal of the forces engaged.


Book Review: Raiders from New France by René Chartrand.

  • Illustrator: Adam Hook
  • Short code: ELI 229
  • Publication Date: 28 Nov 2019
  • Number of Pages: 64

In this book Chartrand is allowed to flex his muscles on his pet subject, the hybrid tactical strategic form that allowed the French to maintain their dominance over the rich backwoods fur trade from the late 17th century to the mid 18th. 

Readers of Chartrand’s books will not be surprised to read of how the French governors hit on this stratagem, learning it as a result of fighting the Iroquois and then turning it on the American colonies. Though never formalised into a rigid doctrine these tactics were universally understood and maintained as a sort of living tradition, kept sharp because at its heart, it was practiced constantly by those engaged in the fur trade and the First Nation allies that they learned from.

Chartrand has written many books for Osprey, all rooted in archival research, and almost all have, with various levels of intensity, promoted the thesis of a conscious Franco-Canadian adoption of wilderness warfare to deflect large scale invasions and to control large swathes of largely uninhabited territory.

This book is the first that I have noticed by the author which is solely about this subject, rather than an example of it. He strives to explain the why and how of it by charting the evolution of the strategy from the raids on the Hudson Bay in the 17th century to the more well known raids and campaigns of the 18th.

At the same time, the illustrations, provided by fellow veteran Osprey contributor, Adam Hook, working in a format that suits his talents, give an idea of the look and equipment of the raiders mentioned in the text and the results are interesting to see.

Starting with the pioneers of the system and the first official raids in 1686 and 87 the book covers ‘King William’s War,’ the administration of Frontenac and the raids and counter raids between New France, the Iroquois and ‘New England’ that made up that conflict in the 1690s. Moving along to Queen Anne’s War which swiftly flared up in 1702, unwanted and barely a year after ‘peace,’ the famous raid on Deerfield is covered, alongside Haverhill and an interesting overview of the Fox Wars of 1712-1737. 

This great preponderance of early subjects is refreshing, being as so few of these subjects are widely covered. About four pages are given to the more well known events of the 1740’s and 50’s that he author has covered at length in other titles. The last ten or so pages cover the men, equipment and methods utilised during this very long period, which nevertheless saw little radical variation in either manpower, material or doctrine after the widespread adoption of long range raiding as a defensive strategy.

Raiders from New France offers a very interesting survey of the origins of New France’s territorial expansion and defence. 


Book Review: Talavera 1809 by Rene Chartrand.


Paperback: 96 pages Publisher: Osprey Publishing (20 Mar. 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1780961804
ISBN-13: 978-1780961804

“I have lost the Battle of Talavera”. Napoleon wrote to Marshal Clarke, as he realised that his generals and his brother Joseph had been lying to him. That the Emperor took it personally would then seem to be an understatement, despite not being even within 100 miles of Talavera de la Reyna when Marshal Jourdan and Victor engaged Sir Arthur Wellesley and General Cuesta’s Anglo Spanish army, Napoleon felt that he, not them, had lost the battle. He had expected his commanders to tell him the truth about what was going on in Spain, but had been given fantasies and childish fibs.

They never would be able to give him the whole truth. For Napoleon trying to command the war in the Iberian Peninsula from distant countries would be impossible, not only because his orders were outdated by the time they arrived but because he rarely got the truth from his generals until much later. The Battle of Talavera was the largest General Action a British army had participated in for decades, with over 100,000 men involved all told. It was the battle that won Wellesley the title Wellington, and was the start of the six year allied campaign to drive the French from the coast of Portugal to the foothills of the Pyrenees.

It is a battle that has been much mentioned in books about the war, and the Duke of Wellington and indeed the British army. Rarely however has it gotten star billing. As the first battles of the Peninsular War were fought at Rolica and Vimiero in 1808, Talavera is deceptively easy to describe. At first glance it appears like all the other battles fought by Wellington. The French attack, they get beaten back by Wellington’s masterly defensive tactics. But that is actually a much too simplistic appreciation.

Rene Chartrand, a veteran Osprey author of many of their best books, has written a highly detailed account of the campaign, which focuses not just on the British but their allies and enemies too. In terms of narrative it feels a little heavy now and again yet this book actually opens up many closed doors. The battle was fought over 2 days in searing Spanish summer heat as the Anglo Spanish attempted to converge on Madrid.

Of particular note is the description of the little known charge of the Spanish cavalry that essentially brought and end to the main part of the battle. Quite apart from the disastrous charge by the British cavalry which in one regiment incurred losses almost equal to that suffered by the entire Light Brigade at Balaclava.
Also we get to see another side to Wellington. Most people think he stepped ashore in Portugal in 1808 fully formed as the master tactician, however he hadn’t fought the French for many years. At Rolica a much smaller force kept him at bay, Vimiero was a stunning victory, as was the smaller Rolica sized action at Oporto. Talavera sees Wellington still finding his feet against the French, though famed for his lone command style in this battle he relies much more on subordinates and as a result got into a few perilous situations.

Chartrand illustrates Wellington as struggling to keep control over the enemy, his officers and at the same time cooperate with his allies. That he was able to win the battle shows his great skill, but in this battle, his recipe for success was still forming. From offensive campaigning to defensive, thus far it will be noted that two of his 4 Iberian battles saw him attacking, rather than defending. And if anything the experience of the subsequent abortive campaign taught him lessons that would influence the next two years of slow, methodical campaigning.

The rest of the book briefly examines the Battle of Los Baños were Ney beat up a detached Portuguese raiding force under Sir Robert Wilson, and Wellington’s retreat from Spain in the face of large French forces. A move that showed his lack of faith in the Spanish, and by return lost him the faith of many of Spanish General’s who saw his withdrawal as a betrayal and, remembered Moore had similarly ran away too. The British it seemed had no dedication to the Spanish cause, and would cut and run to save themselves at the expense of Spain.

It is a little sparce on the opposing forces, perhaps assuming readers will be more than familair with the makeup of the armies, dwelling somewhat on the poor opinion the French and British had of the Spanish, and therefore gives just the usual bare bones. However there is an excellent order of battle list, complete with the strenght of the individual divisions.

Illustrated by Graham Turner’s highly plausible and realistic full spread paintings it is also very well endowed with images and detailed 3D maps. All the images are actually photographed by the author, which must be a canny way of getting around licensing fees, but very time consuming to collect. Graham’s rendering of Wellington’s famous beak is curious, and the British and French in the Medellin painting appear to be from rival families, but he has properly depicted Wellington dressed for a field day, in his uniform, rather than his frock coat. They compliment the text excellently and the painting of the Regimento El Rey particularly gripping.

This is therefore an excellent addition to the Osprey Peninsular Catalogue, one I’ve been waiting to see for a long time, showing how Napoleon could have learned, early on, the difficulties of commanding at a distance, while also highlighting a more strategically vulnerable Wellington at a turning point in his career.