On 26 June 1759, a British fleet under the command of Admiral Charles Saunders landed 9,000 troops on the island of Orléans, just below the fortress of Quebec. Major-General James Wolfe commanded the British force. The French general, Montcalm, had 3,000 French regulars and 8,000 members of the Canadian militia at his disposal.
Montcalm took measures to guard against a British landing along the St. Lawrence upriver from Quebec and established a strong defensive position on the Beauport flats, north of the city. On 31 July 1759, Wolfe launched an attack on the French defences. The French regulars and militia inflicted heavy casualties on the British attackers, who quickly withdrew.
Throughout August the stalemate continued, although Wolfe did concentrate his forces at Point Lévis, directly across the river from Quebec. Montcalm took steps to guard against any attempted British landings along the shore south of Quebec. While 4,500 troops were garrisoned in Quebec, Montcalm sent a large force to Cap Rouge, 10 miles (16 kilometres) upriver under the command of Colonel de Bougainville. Bougainville's detachment included veteran French regulars.
Montcalm had also deployed units to guard against any British attempt to land along the banks of the St. Lawrence. At Anse au Foulon (Wolfe's Cove) 100 militia established a post under the command of Canadian militia captain Here de Vergor, who had surrendered Fort Beausejour to the British in 1755. De Vergor had given permission to 70 of the militia to return home to harvest their crops, leaving only 30 men to guard the position.
On the night of 12 September 1759, British ships sailed toward Cap Rouge laden with troops. Once darkness had settled, the small fleet doubled back. At Anse au Foulon, the British soldiers rowed ashore in longboats. Colonel William Howe led the troops as they scaled the narrow path to the heights. The large force quickly overwhelmed the small militia unit at the top. During the night, a steady stream of British soldiers continued to scale the heights. As the sun rose on 13 September, Wolfe deployed 4,800 troops on the Plains of Abraham.
Montcalm hurriedly summoned a council of war. Governor Vaudrueil wanted to recall Colonel Bougainville's force from Cap Rouge, then encircle and destroy the British force. Montcalm dispatched a message to Bougainville, who received it at 8:00 a.m. Montcalm, however, decided to confront Wolfe's force on the Plains of Abraham before Bougainville's contingent arrived. He quickly assembled 4,500 French regulars and Canadian militia. At 10:00 a.m., Montcalm deployed his men for battle.
Montcalm decided to use the militia the fill out the ranks of his regulars. He expected them to fight in the traditional European manner. As Montcalm's force approached the British line, the regulars began to deliver in massed volleys. The Canadian militia broke ranks, took cover, and began to fire. The French regulars were dismayed to see gaps appearing in their lines. At the same moment, the British infantry unleashed a torrent of lead. Concentrated volleys swept the ranks of the French regulars, and the demoralized French troops retreated. A British cannon ball tore into Montcalm's side, and he was mortally wounded. French fire had claimed the life of Wolfe at the beginning of the battle.
By the time that Bougainville's force reached the Plains of Abraham, the battle was over. Under the leadership of Brigadier-General Townsend George, Wolfe's successor, British troops entered the citadel of Quebec.