Connor joins the 78th Highlanders

I included an additional section at one point, and in it Connor returned from his role on the Pembroke and rejoined the British Army. This section follows the British (from Connor’s perspective) as they capture Fort Louisbourg from the French then continue towards Quebec.


  1. Connor joins the 78th Highlanders

In the spring of 1757 Great Britain and France were still at war.

Connor, however, was not. His last two years had been spent in Grand Pré, listening to stories about the various battles going on around him. Frustrated, he became a fixture in Captain Drury’s office, trying to convince the men in authority that a fighting man like himself should not be stuck in a place where he wasn’t needed. Since the captain did little but roll his eyes when the conversations began, Connor expected nothing when he was summoned to the church one day in June.

“Ah. Sergeant MacDonnell.” Captain Drury waved him in closer. His bland little face wore a rare expression of amusement. “Sit down, sergeant, if you will. I have news for you.”

The friendly tenor of the man’s voice held Connor’s attention. “Sir?”

Connor’s file lay open on the desk, and Drury tapped it with one pudgy finger. “You and I have had numerous discussions, and I am aware that you have been disappointed with my lack of progress in your case.”

Connor frowned, feigning polite objection, but Drury put up one hand, stopping him. “It should interest you to know that I did make inquiries on your behalf. It has been noted here that you expressed your displeasure at this assignment more than once.” To Connor’s great relief, it appeared the captain wasn’t upset. In fact, he seemed surprisingly empathetic. “Frankly, I can understand your disagreement, given your country of origin.”

Connor snapped his jaw closed. “Thank you, sir.”

“Yes. Well, I thought another assignment might appeal, since, as you say, the bulk of the work here has been completed.” He slid another paper on top of the file. “It appears a number of your countrymen have formed a battalion which has been seeing action up the coast. The 78th Highlanders, they’re called, and they’re stationed presently in the colony of Connecticut. I have suggested you transfer there.”

Was he imagining this? Connor swallowed hard, hoping his response would come out as more than a hoarse, incredulous whisper. “Sir, I would be truly grateful for that. I am well aware of the 78th and would be honoured to join them.”

“Excellent.” He closed the folder, appearing pleased. “We shall arrange paperwork and transport. Thank you for your service here.”

Connor stepped out of the office, unable to stop smiling. It was more than he could have hoped for.

His eyes passed over the bleak yet still beautiful landscape of Nova Scotia, remembering. At one time he had considered staying in this place. Here he had met Amélie, the girl who had stolen his heart. Unlike the last time he’d seen her, waving farewell through the fog, she had been happy here, and so full of life. He had witnessed first hand the destruction of her life. To his infinite shame, he had even participated in it. Despite the promise of the country, he felt slightly empty at the idea of living here without her. He was glad he was moving away.

He was also looking forward to joining the Highlanders, finally escaping the English and being with men who knew the history he knew. He thought he’d heard his cousin, Dougal, had been with them, too. Would they finally meet after all these years? In truth, he barely remembered Dougal from when they were all lads. Dougal and his brother Andrew were older than he, and they’d been grooms in his father’s stable. The prospect of seeing him was exciting. So was the idea of seeing actual battle.





Attack on Fort Louisbourg


January in Connecticut was no warmer than it had been in Acadia. The 78th Highlanders huddled in their plaids, muttering about the inferiority of the bannock, the need for more ale. It was with some degree of envy that Connor watched the English soldiers march by during training or other duties, their legs fully covered, but he kept quiet about it. Someone had suggested at one point that the Highlanders wear trews, but the very idea had practically started a rebellion. The Scots weren’t about to admit to any Englishmen that their knees and shins were as frozen as they appeared. So Connor burrowed deep into the woolen folds of his plaid and kept quiet along with the other clansmen.

He had laughed out loud at the irony of the uniform he was to wear. After Culloden, the Scots were forbidden to have anything to do with their heritage, including their traditional weapons, their tartans—even the Gaelic. But when the English realized they needed to engage tough, fearless Highland Scots to create a superior battalion, they offered something they knew the men would find irresistable despite the distasteful idea of fighting with the English instead of against them. In the end, the men were enticed with such treats as full belted plaids, basket-hilted broadswords, and Long Land Pattern muskets, and most had added a sgian dubh and a badger skin sporran. Over top they wore the detested red coat—the Scots’ one concession—but because of the bulk of the plaid, it was cut shorter than the ones worn by the English.

The whole thing seemed to Connor to be an awkward attempt at reparation to the Scots for having had their lands and lives stolen from them. Would the Acadians ever receive any kind of compensation? Connor doubted it. The Scottish warriors were a commodity the English had needed so badly they’d paid a questionable price. In exchange, the wild, fearless Highlanders would lead the charge against their enemies like so much colourfully dressed cannon fodder. But the Acadians? Well, the English had no such use for soft spoken farmers.

He had been disappointed to discover his cousin was not among the men in his unit, but he held out hope that they might eventually meet up. He was billeted in a comfortable house with a family along with three other Highlanders, and he was one of the fortunate ones. Many of the others lodged in lesser homes or in barns. Two of Connor’s roommates, brothers Angus and Jacob Baillie, stuck mostly to themselves. They were quiet, though Angus liked to sing when liquor softened his throat. Fortunately, he wasn’t half bad at it. The first time the group heard his voice, though, they had been surprised. One hour he was practically a mute, and the next he was a minstrel. Jacob nodded along with his brother’s songs, tapping his fingers quietly on the edge of the table, but their hosts didn’t appear to be impressed. They were generous enough, saying nothing if their guests chose to drink, but when Angus began to sing, they generally came up with chores to do elsewhere. Connor’s third roommate was Duncan MacKay, a fine man and a good friend from Annapolis.

Like other members of the battalion, the billeted Scots gave their seven rations to the masters of the house, who then doled out the weekly servings of seven pounds of beef or pork, seven pounds of hardtack or flour, six ounces of butter, three pints of peas, and half a pound of rice. When their hosts offered bowls of oatmeal in lieu of rice, the Scottish soldiers rejoiced.

In May, the regiment joined more British forces assembling in Halifax, and they trained together for a massive assault on Fort Louisbourg. The thousands of uniforms, the roll of drums, the cry of pipes, and the crackle of musket fire set Connor’s skin on fire, as did the precise, disciplined training. Each man was a part of the whole; Connor became a necessary part of a living, breathing organism. His senses sharpened daily, as did his impatience for battle.

At the end of that month, over 14,000 soldiers loaded onto almost two hundred ships, and they began the rainy voyage up the coast toward Louisbourg. Connor’s was one of over a thousand plaids providing colour in a sea of over ten thousand red coats. Among his countrymen he heard the predictable grumbles of jaded soldiers, but the lackadaisical attitude Connor had experienced in Grand Pré was gone, and he was glad of it. They were snapped to attention by their commanding officers, and Connor’s mind latched eagerly onto the orders. This was what he had craved all along: a reason for soldiering.

When they weren’t outside training or working, Duncan and Connor were lodged in crowded barracks at the Citadel, a situation not only uncomfortable, but disheartening. As much as he appreciated the comradery of his countrymen, many of them found excuses to complain about just about everything, from the food to the weather to the lumpy cots where they caught what sleep they could. Duncan could be dour at times, but Connor preferred his friend’s wry humour over the sullen griping of the others.

On June 2, the British forces anchored three miles from Louisbourg, in Gabarus Bay. The rain was relentless, churning the bay and soaking the men through, thickening the air in the ship with the reek of wet wool. Even from that distance Connor could make out the vague outline of the fortress and imagine the hive of activity within those stone walls. The French had been deeply entrenched in the fort for ten years, providing homes for hundreds of people, and throughout those years they had relied heavily on protection from their naval force. This time the English had foiled them by blockading French ships in the weeks leading up to the siege. Their hope was the French would be low on supplies, protection, and hope by the time the British troops reached the fort.

Because of the weather, it was almost a week before Major General Amherst was able to order the soldiers to disembark, then he hastily ordered an attack on the fort. The French easily defended themselves against their disorganized forces, so, after heavy losses, they quickly withdrew to launch a more coordinated effort. Eventually, a boatload of light infantry managed to secure a rocky inlet left unprotected, and the French retreated to the fortress. Now that they had a foothold, the great siege was in sight. Unfortunately for the invaders, the weather was disinclined to be helpful. The thick bog and constant rain restricted their movements, making it difficult to transport their seventy cannons and mortar to the shore.

Still, there was nothing to do but carry on carrying on. Wolfe eventually led over a thousand men on a successful attack against Lighthouse Point, at the mouth of the Louisbourg Harbour, but Connor was not among them. He watched sullenly from his floating home, envious of the roaring guns and cheering men. He knew there was death out there, knew some men would be torn to bits for the honour of blasting gunpowder and metal at other men, yet he craved the action. Soon, he assured himself. Soon they would be ready to bring the massive British army into play, and Connor would taste his first true battle.

When he finally joined the troops on Lighthouse Point, he was put to work alongside the others, positioning the artillery. Eleven days after their arrival, both the Royal Navy ships and the troops at Lighthouse Point opened fire on nearby French ships as well as on the fort. The cannon fire was deafening, the stink of gunpowder burned Connor’s eyes and congested his chest, but the thrill of the barrage was an intoxicant. He was amazed by it all, caught up in the thousands of soldiers, his eyes and throat burning with more firepower than he’d ever imagined. By the end of June, the French had stopped shooting. The once sturdy walls lay in rubble, forty of the French garrison’s fifty-two cannon were destroyed, and hardly a building was left whole. In an attempt to keep additional British out of the harbour, they created a blockade by sinking six of their own ships, but it was too late.

When they were permitted, Connor walked through the debris on the streets, the sun baking his shoulders and dust puffing in clouds under his boots. He longed quite suddenly for an ale, for something to quench a thirst he felt he’d had for years, but he would find no hospitality in these sealed buildings. He was greeted by furtive glances and the quick slam of shutters against his English curiosity, and any words spoken—other than English—were hushed and quick. Here was the blacksmith’s, here a tavern—but any cooking smells were days old.

The people hiding indoors need not worry over him; he wouldn’t go into the homes. He was glad to see there had been minimal damage done to the sod roofs, though fire had eaten through many of those buildings topped with split wood shakes. The stone walls and dark painted shutters of many of the houses had been battered and now barely held together, and yet the small vegetable gardens behind the houses flourished. Goats eyed him warily as he passed, and a colourful variety of chickens scratched and pecked, indifferent. Flowers grew between the houses.

War was a strange thing. Connor was unafraid of the fight. He accepted the blood and the violence, understood it to be the price of being a soldier. He even craved it in a way, since he’d never really experienced it up close. He’d never killed anyone.

And yet the thought of stepping beyond the threshold of any of the quiet, conquered homes or buildings, of setting his boots on their worn wooden floors, sent a wave of nausea through him. Four years had passed yet he knew exactly why he felt this way: Amélie.

It hadn’t been right. Amélie and the Acadians weren’t soldiers but people, merely living their lives in a contented simplicity. Now he walked among these homes, filled with the same kind of people. Worse still, he knew what his orders would be following this victory. Wolfe had no intention of letting the French remain strong here. Though some of the soldiers would be left here to repair and protect the new British place of power, he and the others would be assigned the job of ripping more helpless families from their homes.

Where would it end? Most of the Acadians along the Atlantic were gone, shipped off to God knew where, or they were dead, or thrown in a prison where they had probably been forgotten. The English forces, meanwhile, moved steadily towards Quebec. They would use the smoking remains of Louisbourg as a launching site, and based on this resounding victory, he thought Quebec would soon fall to the British as well.

What then? When all this was over, where would he go? He’d heard the army was parcelling off some of the Grand Pré land, and he was curious about that. At first he’d wanted no part of it. The very idea of taking what had once been hers was wrong. But over time he had come to think it might be exactly right. He could rebuild, maybe better than ever, and he’d do it in her name.

He turned his head, surprised by the soft chirp of a flute somewhere, playing a melody he assumed was French. The notes were sweet and high, unexpectedly cheerful in the midst of such charred destruction. It was the sound of hope.

Or perhaps it was merely a memory.




July 1759

Arrival at Quebec


“Wolfe plans to attack Montmorency again.”

A groan rolled through the stifling heat of the barracks. This was not the right move, and everyone knew it.

Their sound defeat by Montcalm and the French the month before had been terrible, and not one of the soldiers in the 15th Foot still held faith in Wolfe. The plan should have gone smoothly; the French were already running low on ammunition and food as a result of the British blockades, and all the people there were weary of the bombardments which had pummeled their homes for over five years.

In July, eleven thousand British troops—under the command of Wolfe and his brigadiers general, Robert Monckton, George Townshend, and Connor’s commander, James Murray—were sent to capture the French stronghold of Montmorency and attack Montcalm and Quebec from there. They’d landed at Beauport on the Montmorency River. Unfortunately, once they arrived everyone—including Wolfe—realized the redoubt was far deeper in French territory than anyone had thought. Even if they captured it, they probably wouldn’t be able to hold it. But Wolfe’s troops were restless. They had waited at least a month for this attack, and he hadn’t wanted to disappoint them. Despite the odds, he ordered the attack on July 31.

Coordination had been made difficult from the beginning. Monckton’s ships got held up by a shoal which appeared unexpectedly as the tide fell. By the time they navigated another route and landed, thirteen companies of grenadiers were attempting to climb a slope which was far steeper than anyone had imagined. Connor and the rest of the 78th had been ordered to stay in the established trench, and they watched helplessly as the late afternoon sky opened, turning the rocky dirt to thick, unforgiving mud. As the grenadiers climbed, French infantry fired down on them from the relative security of the woods, easily picking out the red coats. Those grenadiers who successfully reached the peak didn’t arrive until 7:00 at night, and there they discovered their powder was too wet to use. They had no choice but to retreat, but the tide was rising, almost cutting off their escape.

Connor clearly remembered the moment God had decided that day’s victory would go to the French. The victors had stood along the edge of the cliff, cheering the victory so loudly the British could hear the jeers from the ships’ decks.

And now they were to attack the same place again?

“A desperate plan by a desperate man,” one man said.

“I’ve anither name for’t,” Duncan MacKay muttered into his beard. He sighed, letting the air whistle through the space in his front teeth. “Whit a’d dae fur a dram richt the noo.”

“Will he at least speak with his advisors this time?” someone asked. “Perhaps they can talk sense into him.”

“Ignorant fool.”

“We’re the lot of us doomed this time. The French are dug in too deep.”

In fact, the French had been comfortably entrenched here for decades. The militia and their Indian guides knew the rivers and trees and rocks and valleys better than the British could ever boast. Wolfe’s plan to repeat his mistake did nothing for the man’s credibility.

“We’re fighting them the wrong way,” Connor murmured.

A couple of the men turned his way, eyeing him with suspicion. “What does that mean?”

Connor wasn’t usually what he’d consider to be a leader, and he rarely spoke out among men who had seen more battle than he, but he’d been thinking Wolfe’s plan over, and he needed to air his thoughts out loud.

“It means we’re fighting them the way they want us to fight them. There is another way. A better way.”

“Let’s hear it then.” The quiet voice of Lieutenant-Colonel James Murray hushed the room, and Connor became the reluctant focus of everyone’s scrutiny.

The answer had been building in Connor’s mind for a while, but he hadn’t said anything because he assumed he was wrong. If it was so clear to him, how could the experts be missing it?

“I’m only a soldier, sir. It’s hardly my place.”

“If ye side against your commander, ye’d best have a good reason for it,” Murray said, flaring his nostrils slightly, his lips tight with discipline. “I’ve no time for blather-skates in my company. What’s this ‘better way’ ye speak of?”

Connor blinked at Duncan, but his friend only shrugged. He dared himself to speak. “If you’ll pardon me for saying so, sir, we’re playing into their hands.” He shifted on his seat, sitting back a bit and readying himself for the reaction. There was bound to be one when he said one specific word. “You’ll recall Culloden, sir?”

“Uh oh,” Duncan said.

The group of men gathered around him was a mix of Scots and English, but the mention of that particular battle raised the hackles of all present. Indeed it should, for that had been the most inglorious, terrible hour the Scots had ever experienced. Many of the English still looked away in shame at the memory of all those atrocities. Some had been there, had been forced to follow Cumberland’s “no quarter” orders, slaughtering the injured, emptying the Highlands of its people.

“Is there a point to this, MacDonnell?” Murray was obviously not pleased the subject had been brought up. He was responsible for this battalion and for all of its members getting along. He couldn’t afford ill feelings between his men. Things were already bad enough.

Connor cleared his throat. “Aye, sir. If you’ll allow it, put yourself back in the Moor. A wide open, miserable field, was it not?”

He’d been too young to participate—thank God—but the stories had been told to him during his lifetime, and though he’d never seen the site of the massacre, the stories had been so vivid he sometimes felt as if he could feel the paralyzing hunger cramps and the freezing mist on his face as he waited in the weeds. So many of his clansmen had been there on that day, the last of so many battles. A few had survived, and some were even in his battalion today. It was a sensitive topic to be sure.

Murray had been there. “It was. What of it?”

“With respect, the Highlanders, sir, were not used to fighting in the open. They were starved and broken, and the English wanted them to come out from the trees to battle.”

Skepticism vanished in a blink from Murray’s blue eyes. Out of the corner of his eye, Connor saw Duncan’s beard twitch.

Murray nodded. “Go on, lad.”

“It’s like the French here, aye? They and their Indians are strongest on the places they know, in the forests. They are fortified and cocky, since we know nothing of this place.” He lowered his voice, reluctant to speak aloud the obvious truth. “We must be like the English were at Culloden, sir. We must starve them and draw them out. If we had a strong enough force, they’d never stand against us.”

No one spoke as they considered what Connor had said, then they began muttering among themselves. Murray walked to Connor’s side and clapped a hand on his shoulder.

“Ye’ve a good head on your shoulders, MacDonnell.”




Chapter 34


At least they had not attempted Montmorency again, but it was small comfort these days. A cold, solid downpour battered the ships, drumming ceaselessly onto the deck over the men’s heads. They had to yell over the noise to be heard, but few had much to say. Rain had been falling steadily for four days, and though it was only September, the chill was a reminder that time was running out. If they wanted to take Quebec, they would have to do it soon. No one wanted to battle through another Canadian winter.

The trouble was that Quebec was set atop of massive cliffs topped with sturdy stone walls and defended by a determined garrison. For two months they were limited to unproductive attacks from the sea, frustrating everyone on board. Connor prayed the rain would let up soon—at least by evening so they could sleep. Otherwise, someone was bound to go mad. He couldn’t stay below deck a moment longer. He needed air. Throwing a corner of his plaid over his head, he stood and walked toward the ladder.

“Whar ye aff tae?”

“Come with me up on deck, Duncan.”

“Are ye mad? Why wid ye dae that?”

He shrugged. “I can’t hear myself think down here.”

From Duncan’s disgusted grunt, Connor assumed he was on his own. Tucking his plaid more tightly around him, he stepped onto the slippery deck and breathed in the storm, relishing the sensation as the hot woolen stink of belowdecks washed off his body. The world around him was a wet silver, the drumming from the deck now a shushing lullaby as rain bounced off the water.

He’d always loved the rain. Sure, it was cold, but the clean fresh air woke him, brought him back to life. Drops fell from the hood of his plaid and he blinked more off his eyelashes, soothed. Folding his arms on the rail, he leaned over to watch the sea fold quietly away from the hull. A memory floated by, a glimpse of tall, shiny grass bowing down as he and his brothers tore through it, leaving their mother to shake her head and call out, “Ye’ll catch yer death!” How they’d laughed, chasing each other through the woods, slipping on mud, rolling down hills as little boys were wont to do.

Home, he thought. “An’ where’s that?” he asked the water. “At least I never did catch my death yet, Ma.”

The rain was slowing but still mesmerizing, and a sense of longing came upon him before he knew what it was he craved. All he knew was he was weary of the ship, of the men around him, of the heavy responsibilities on his shoulders. If he was not here, where would he go? Where was home?

Amélie’s steady gaze came to him then, as clear as it had the last time he’d seen her, over four years ago. This time he didn’t see her as the tortured, miserable girl on board the Pembroke. In his mind she was the carefree woman with whom he’d sat by the river before she’d been torn away from him. Her hands were small, he remembered, but they had seen work. How he had wanted to slide the shawl from her shoulders, to see the line of her neck without interference. He’d said something funny and she’d laughed, delight shining in those pretty eyes.

And it came to him: Amélie was his home.

Where was she? He prayed she still lived. Could she see the rain? Was the mist cool upon the delicate pink of her cheeks? Did she ever think of him?

“Smirr’s lettin’ up.”

Duncan’s voice startled him out of his thoughts. Sure enough, the clouds seemed finally to have moved on, and the land’s profile was becoming clear.

“Rained itself out, I imagine.”

“An’ ye’re fair drookit, man.”

“Perhaps, but I still smell better than you.”

They stood by the rail, watching the coastline emerge. The rocky escarpment, its peak prickly with trees, looked like any other coast he’d seen.

“Whar we?”

Connor shrugged.

“Major General Wolfe is seeking a better landing site,” they were informed. Neither had heard Lieutenant-Colonel James Murray join them.

“Naught but cliffs here,” Duncan said.

“We’ll have to climb them at some point.”

“Do you ken where we are, sir?” Connor asked, squinting at the shore. “It all looks the same to me.”

Murray grunted. “We’re down a bit from Cap-Rouge, not too far from Quebec. There’s a wee post nearby, in a place they call the Anse au Foulon. I reckon Wolfe plans to stop there.”

“Why there?”

“They’re not expecting us.”

Duncan let out a long suffering sigh. “Ah hate climbing cliffs.”



September 13, 1759



Hours before the sun rose, Wolfe and his army landed exactly where Murray had predicted, dropping anchor at the foot of the Anse au Foulon cliffs. While Connor and the others waited, hidden along the shore, a body of twenty-four infantry volunteers under Captain William Delaune cut a path up the steep cliff, needing to scout out the area and clear it of any French sentinels. Shortly after, Connor heard scattered musket fire and the crying out of men, but the sounds were relatively few. Could they possibly have left this spot so weakly guarded? Just to be sure, Wolfe had sent one ship back to Cap-Rouge the night before to act as a decoy. More ships floated quietly near Beauport to add another distraction. Eventually those boats would drift to where he now waited, allowing the British troops to attack in full force.

Orders were given, and Connor hooked his musket over his shoulder in preparation for the climb. At least the rain was done. Beside him, Duncan did the same, keeping his customary complaints to himself. Men on either side were readying themselves, their stockings and cuffs glowing an unearthly white in the darkness. They’d been told there was a field at the top of this impossible climb, and with Connor’s advice in mind they planned to draw the French out of hiding. There, they should be able to march upon the French with ease, finally taking the prize of Quebec. Connor wasn’t sure how much to believe. From what he’d gleaned from listening to Murray and others, he didn’t think Wolfe had ever been to this place before.

Still, Connor’s blood thrilled through his veins, impatient for the battle. This morning felt important. One way or the other, something was going to happen at the top of this hill, and he’d be a part of it.

“Aboot six hundred feet straecht up,” Duncan said, squinting toward the peak.

Connor glanced down the line of men, hearing muttered protests. “At least we’re no’ the poor fools carryin’ the cannon.”

As the man ahead of him began to climb, Connor grinned over at Duncan.

“See you at the top,” he said, then he dug his fingers into the dirt, seeking out roots and stones to support his weight and began to climb, flanked by thousands of other red coats.