Siege of Louisbourg June 8– July 26, 1758
William Pitt ( 1708 1778 )
British Secretary of State
during the French and Indian War .
Portrait done in 1754 by William Hoare .
After the defeats of 1755-6, the British government was in an uproar . By mid 1757, Pitt was able to form a united government and win the cooperation of the American colonies . Pitt recognized the importance of maintaining British colonies around the world and the value of the colonial militia. His leadership, and France's continued neglect of the North-American theater ( Montcalm received his last major reinforcements in 1757 ), eventually turned the tide in favor of the British. Pitt used much of the older plan to defeat the French in North America, but he was able to commit greater resources and troops . The plan was to take Louisbourg , cut off New France from Europe and sail up the St. Lawrence. Pitt wished to endeavor to deliver a final blow to French supremacy in northern America. He gave to Admiral Boscawen ( 1711 - 1761 ) a fleet and a formidable landing force for the reduction of Louisburg . He also planned the invasion of Continental New France. For this purpose, an army of about 16,000 men, comprising in its ranks nearly 10,000 militia and more than 6,000 regulars, under the command of Gen. James Abercrombie ( 1706 - 1781 ), were to march on Montreal by Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River, capturing on the way the two chief posts of defence of the Colony in that region, Carillon and the Fort Saint Frederic, both built on the shore of Lake Champlain. Moreover, Brigadier General John Forbes ( 1707 - March 11. 1759 ), with about 7,000 men, of whom nearly 2,000 were regulars, was to drive the French out of the Ohio Valley, after the reduction of Fort Duquesne, their most important post on that river.
To the 23,000 men the English were able to put in line on the Continent, the Governor of Canada, M. de Vaudreuil ( 1698 - 1778 ), could only oppose eight battalions of regulars, making 3,800 men; forty Free companies of marines, numbering a little more than 2,000 men; 3,000 or 4,000 Canadian militia recruits and some savages; altogether about 10,000 men. The regulars were under the command of Major General the Marquis de Montcalm ( 1712 - 1759 ), who entered the service in 1721 at the age of thirteen, with the rank of ensign in the regiment of Hainaut, of which his father was the Lieutenant Colonel.
Major Gen.Amherst ( 1717 - 1797 ) would command this expedition, with Lt. Colonel James Wolfe (1727 - 1759 ) as the battlefield commander. Wolfe was the son of a distinguished General, he received his first commission at a young age and saw extensive service on the European continent where he fought during the War of the Austrian Succession. His service in Flanders and in Scotland, where he took part in the suppression of the Jacobite Rebellion, brought him to the attention of his superiors. The advancement of his career was halted by the Peace Treaty of 1748 and he spent much of the next eight years in garrison duty in the Scottish Highlands. The outbreak of the Seven Years' War in 1756 offered Wolfe fresh opportunities for advancement. His part in the aborted attack on Rochefort in 1757 led William Pitt to appoint him second-in-command of an expedition to capture Louisbourg. Following the success of this operation he was made commander of a force designed to sail up the Saint Lawrence River to capture Quebec.
Wolfe's interview with William Pitt before the former's
departure for Canada in 1759 by John R. Chapin
free Librivox audiobook
Massive attacks would take Fort Carillon with Abercrombie in overall command and Brig. Gen Howe ( c.1725 - 1758 ) as battlefield commander. Afterwards, troops would march to Quebec and meet the British fleet and take the city . Colonel John Forbers would be sent to attack Fort Duquesne.
Campbell was replaced by James Abercrombie ( 1706 - 1781 ). Campbell had so antagonized the colonial assemblies that they were close to mutiny and some refused to raise needed troops. With Pitt came a change in the relationship with the provincials. The new commander, Abercrombie, would not have as much power as Braddock and Campbell over the colonists. The crown would reimburse them for expenses and patronage for contracts would encourage greater support. Provincial officers would only have to take orders from regular officers of their own rank. The colonials were treated as partners rather than subjects and the colonials responded with greater support, raising thousands more than the 7,000 Campbell demanded.
Siege of Louisbourg June 8– July 26, 1758
The reconstructed fortress of Louisbourg
The fortress was modeled after the plans of Vauban . The walls were constructed mainly between 1720 and 1740. By the mid-1740s Louisbourg was one of the most extensive (and expensive) European fortifications constructed in North America. Sea sand was used for the mortar, with most disastrous results.
Map of the siege of Louisbourg, 1758 .
Click here for a larger image .
William Wood 1920
Louisbourg cut off from France
The preliminary isolation of Louisbourg was a particularly effective stroke of naval strategy. Even before 1758 began the first French fleet that left for Louisbourg had been shadowed from Toulon and had been shut up in Cartagena. A second French fleet was then sent to help the first one out. But it was attacked on the way and totally defeated at the Battle of Cartagena in 1758 . In April the first fleet made another attempt to sail ; but it was chased into Rochefort by Edward Hawke and put out of action for the rest of the campaign. The third French fleet did manage to reach Louisbourg. But its admiral, du Chaffault, rightly fearing annihilation in the harbor there, and wishing to keep some touch between Old France and New, sailed for Quebec with most of his best ships.
Inside the fortress there were roughly 4,000 men: nearly 3000 effective regulars, with about 1000 militiamen and some 500 Indians and about 3,500 sailors and marines .The French had 17 mortars and over 200 cannon were mounted on the walls, as well as on the outworks at the Royal, Island, and Light house Batteries. There were 13 vessels in the fleet, mounting 590 guns, and carrying over 3500 men. They were commanded by Chevalier de Drucour ( 1703 - 1762 ), an able military commander . Against this the British assembled a force of 14,000 men, most of which were regulars and 39 ships .
The British assemble
The British forces assembled at Halifax, Nova Scotia where army and navy units spent most of May training together as the invasion fleet came together. On May 29 the Royal Navy fleet departed from Halifax for Louisbourg. The fleet consisted of 150 transport ships and 40 men-of-war.
The Landings on June 8, 1757
All three landing-places were threatened simultaneously, White Point, Flat Point, and Kennington Cove. These landing-places were, respectively, one, two, and four miles west of Louisbourg. The intervening ground mostly hid them from the ramparts, and they had to depend upon their own defenses. Drucour had sent out two thirds of his garrison to oppose the landing. Each point was protected by artillery and entrenchments. Eight guns were mounted and a thousand men stood guard over the quarter mile of beach which lay between the two little surf-lashed promontories of Kennington Cove. But Wolfe's brigade made straight for shore. The French held their fire until the leading boats were well within short musket shot. Then they began so furiously that Wolfe, whose tall, lank figure was most conspicuous as he stood up in the stern sheets, waved his cane to make the boats sheer off. three boatloads of light infantry pushed on against the inner point of the cove.
Perhaps their officers turned their blind eye on Wolfe's signal, as Nelson did on Parker's recall at Copenhagen. But, whatever the reason, these three boats went in smash against the rocks and put their men ashore, drenched to the skin. Major Scott, commanding the light infantry and rangers, followed them at once. Then Wolfe, seeing they had gained a foothold where the point afforded them a little cover, signaled the whole brigade to land there in succession. He pushed his own boat through, jumped in waist-deep, and waded ashore.
Wolfe landing at Louisbourg
William Wood 1920
This greatly disconcerted the French. They attacked Major Scott, who withstood them with a handful of men till reinforcements came clambering up the rocks behind him. With these reinforcements came Wolfe, who formed the men into line and carried the nearest battery with the bayonet. The remaining French, seeing that Wolfe had effected a lodgment on their inner flank, were so afraid of being cut off from Louisbourg that they ran back and round towards the next position at Flat Point. But before they reached it they saw its own defenders running back, because the British were also landing at White Point. Here too the defences were abandoned as soon as the little garrison found itself faced by greatly superior numbers afloat and deserted by its fellow-garrisons ashore. The retreating French kept up a sort of running fight till they got under the covering fire of Louisbourg
Considering the number of boats that were wrecked and the intensity of the first French fire, the British loss was remarkably small, only one hundred and nine killed, wounded, and drowned.
French forces retreat to the fortress, The British encircle, the Echo tries to escape
That night the glare of a big fire inside the harbour showed that Drucour felt too weak to hold the Royal Battery. He took away everything movable that could be turned to good account in Louisbourg ; and he left the works a useless ruin. The following day he destroyed and abandoned the battery at Light- house Point. Thus two fortifications were given up, before a single shot had been fired either from or against them.
Amherst pitched his camp in a crescent two miles long, facing Louisbourg two miles off. His left overlooked the French squadron in the south-west harbor next to Louisbourg at the distance of a mile. His right rested on Flat Point. Thus Louisbourg itself was entirely surrounded both by land and sea ; for the gaps left at the Royal Battery and Light- house Point were immediately seized by the British. Wolfe marched round the harbour on the 1 2th with 1300 infantry and a strong detachment of artillery.
Drucour had entrusted his wife and several other ladies to the captain of the Echo, who was to make a dash for Quebec with dispatches for the governor of Canada. This ship was captured by the British after a fight . Drucour's wife and the other ladies were allowed to return to Louisbourg fortress . This act of kindness was remembered later on, when a regular interlude of courtesies followed Drucour's offer to send his own particularly skillful surgeon to any wounded British officer who might need his services.
The Siege Begins
By June 26 Louisbourg had no defences left beyond its own walls, except the reduced French squadron huddled together in the south-west harbor. Amherst occupied Green Hill, directly opposite the citadel and only half a mile away. Yet Drucour, with dauntless resolution, resisted for another month. His object was not to save his own doomed fortress but Quebec.
He needed all his resolution. The British were pressing him on every side, determined to end the siege in time to transfer their force elsewhere. Louisbourg itself was visibly weakening. The walls were already crumb- ling under Amherst's converging fire, though the British attack had not yet begun in earnest. Surely, thoroughly, and with an irresistible zeal, the besiegers had built their road, dragged up their guns, and begun to worm their way forward, under skillfully constructed cover, towards the right land face of Louisbourg, next to the south-west harbour, where the ground was less boggy than on the left. The French ships fired on the British approaches
Jean Vauquelin (1728 - 1772 ), in command of the Arethuse ( a 30 gun frigate ) hampered the British left attack long enough to give Louisbourg a comparative respite for a few hasty repairs. Vauquelin had entered the port of Louisbourg on June 9, slipping past the Royal Navy's blockade commanded by Admiral Edward Boscawen. After assisting the defense of Louisbourg, Vauquelin slipped away under cover of night, evading the blockade a second time and reaching France after a rapid crossing of the Atlantic.
British officers watching the siege of Louisbourg
Nothing could now resist admiral Boscawen if the British should choose to run in past the demolished Island Battery and attack the French fleet, first from a distance, with the help of the Lighthouse and Royal Batteries, and then hand - to - hand. So the French admiral, des Gouttes, agreed to sink four of his largest vessels in the fairway. This, how ever, still left a gap ; so two more were sunk. The passage was then mistakenly reported to be safely closed. The crews, two thousand strong, were landed and camped along the streets.
Drucour had made several sorties against the British front, while Boishebert had attacked their rear with a few hundred Indians, Acadians, and Canadians. Boishebert 's attack was simply brushed aside by the rearguard of Amherst's overwhelming force.
Drucour's sorties, made by good French regulars, were much more serious than Boishebert's feeble, irregular attack. On the night of July 8, while Montcalm's Ticonderogan heroes were resting on their hard-won field a thousand miles inland, Drucour's best troops crept out unseen and charged the British right. Lord Dundonald and several of his men were killed, while the rest were driven back to the second approach, where desperate work was done with the bayonet in the dark. But Wolfe commanded that part of the line, and his supports were under arms in a moment. The French attack had broken up into a score of little rough-and-tumble fights bayonets, butts, and swords all at it ; friend and foe mixed up in wild confusion. So the first properly formed troops carried all before them. The knots of struggling combatants separated into French and British. The French fell back on their defences. Their friends inside fired on the British; and Wolfe, having regained his ground, retired in the same good order on his lines.
A week later Wolfe suddenly dashed for- ward on the British left and seized Gallows Hill, within a musket-shot of the French right bastion. Here his men dug hard all night long, in spite of the fierce fire kept up on them at point-blank range. In the morning reliefs marched in, and the digging still continued. Sappers, miners, and infantry reliefs, they never stopped till they had burrowed forward another hundred yards, and the last great breaching battery had opened its annihilating fire. By the 21st both sides saw that the end was near, so far as the walls were concerned.
The Prudent and the Bienfaisant
The Prudent and Bienfaisant
Richard Paton (1717-1791)
Bienfaisant and the 74-gun Prudent were the last remaining ships of the line of the French squadron in Louisbourg harbor. Prudent was aground and set on fire by the British but Bienfaisant was successfully cut out by men commanded by Commander George Balfour, of HMS Aetna. The action was decisive moment of the siege as the fortress surrendered the next day.
But it was not only the walls that were failing. For, that very afternoon of the 21st, a British seaman gunner's cleverly planted bomb found out a French ship's magazine, exploded it with shattering force, and set fire to the ships on either side. All three blazed furiously. The crews ran to quarters and did their best. But all to no purpose. Meanwhile the British batteries had turned every available gun on the conflagration, so as to prevent the French from saving anything. Between the roaring flames, the bursting shells, and the whizzing cannon balls, the three doomed vessels soon became an inferno too hot for men to stay in. The crews swarmed over the side and escaped ; not, however, without losing a good many of their number. Then the British concentrated on the only two remaining vessels, the Prudent and the Bienfaisant. But the French sailors, with admirable pluck and judgment, managed to haul them round to a safer berth.
At one o'clock in the morning of July 25 a rousing British cheer from the harbour had announced an attack on the Prudent and the Bienfaisant by six hundred bluejackets, who had stolen in, with muffled oars, just on the stroke of mid- night. Presently the sound of fighting died away, and all was still. At first the nearest gunners on the walls had lost their heads and begun blazing away at random. But they were soon stopped ; and neither side dared fire, not knowing whom the shots might kill. Then, as the escaping French came in to the walls, a bright glare told that the Prudent was on fire. She had cut her cable during the fight and was lying, hopelessly stranded, right under the inner walls of Louisbourg.
Bienfaisant, however, though now assailed by every gun the French could bring to bear, was towed off to a snug berth beside the Light- house Battery .
At daylight Drucour made a thorough inspection of the walls, while the only four serviceable cannon left fired slowly on, as if for the funeral of Louisbourg. The British looked stronger than ever, and so close in that their sharpshooters could pick off the French gunners from the foot of the glacis. The best of the French diarists made this despairing entry : ' Not a house in the whole place but has felt the force of their cannonade. Between yesterday morning and seven o'clock to-night from a thousand to twelve hundred shells have fallen inside the town, while at least forty cannon have been firing incessantly as well. The surgeons have to run at many a cry of 'Ware Shell! for fear lest they should share the patients' fate.'
Reduced to the last extremity, the French council of war decided to ask for terms. Boscawen and Amherst replied that the whole garrison must surrender in an hour. Drucour sent back to beg for better terms. But the second British answer was even sterner complete surrender, yes or no, in half an hour. Resentment still ran high against the French for the massacre at Fort William Henry the year before. The actual massacre had been the work of drunken Indians. The Canadians present had looked on. The French, headed by Montcalm, had risked their lives to save the prisoners. But such distinctions had been blotted out in the general rage among the British on both sides of the Atlantic ; and so Louisbourg was now made the scapegoat.
Drucour at once wrote back to say that he stood by his first proposal, which meant, of course, that he was ready to face the storming of his works and no quarter for his garrison. His flag of truce started off with this defiance. But Provost the intendant, with other civilians, now came forward, on behalf of the inhabitants, to beg for immediate surrender on any terms, rather than that they should all be exposed to the perils of assault. Drucour then gave way, and sent an officer running after the defiant flag of truce. As soon as this second messenger got outside the walls he called out, at the top of his voice, ' We accept ! We accept ! ' He then caught up to the bearer of the flag of truce, when both went straight on to British headquarters.
The garrison was to be sent to England as prisoners of war. The whole of Louisbourg, Cape Breton, and Isle St Jean (now Prince Edward Island) were to be surrendered immediately, with all the public property they contained. The West Gate was to be handed over to a British guard at eight the next morning ; and the French arms were to be laid down for good at noon. With this document the British commanders sent in the following note :
SIR, We have the honour to send Your Excellency the signed articles of Capitulation. Lieutenant Colonel d ' Anthony has spoken on behalf of the people in the town. We have no intention of molesting them ; but shall give them all the protection in our power. Your Excellency will kindly sign the duplicate of the terms and send it back to us. It only remains for us to assure Your Excellency that we shall seize every opportunity of convincing you that we are, with the most perfect consideration, Your Excellency's most Obedient Servants,
No terms were offered either to the Indians or to the armed Canadians, on account of Fort William Henry ; and it is certain that all these would have been put to the sword, to the very last man, had Drucour decided to stand an assault. To the relief of every one concerned the Indians paddled off quietly during the night, which luckily happened to be unusually dark and calm. The Canadians either followed them or mingled with the unarmed inhabitants. This awkward problem therefore solved itself.
Few went to bed that last French night in Louisbourg. All responsible officials were busy with duties, reports, and general superintend- ence. The townsfolk and soldiery were restless and inclined to drown their humiliation in the many little cabarets, which stood open all night. A very different place, the parish church, was also kept open, and for a very different purpose. Many hasty marriages were performed, partly from a wholly groundless fear of British licence, and partly because those who wished to remain in Cape Breton thought they would not be allowed to do so unless they were married.
The whole population thronged every point of vantage round the Esplanade to see the formal surrender at noon. All the British admirals and generals were present on parade as Drucour stepped forward, saluted, and handed his sword to Boscawen. His officers followed his example. Then the troops laid down their arms, in the ranks as they stood, many dashing down their muskets with a muttered curse.
The French naval, military, and civilian were soon embarked. The curse of Louisbourg followed most of them, in one form or another. The combatants were coldly received when they eventually returned to France, in spite of their gallant defence, and in spite of their having saved Quebec for that campaign. Several hundreds of the inhabitants were shipwrecked and drowned.
The fortress suffered heavy bombardment for seven weeks, and the French commander Chevalier de Dracour ( 1703 - 1762 ) was forced to surrender on July 27, 1758. The French hoped to obtain the ' honors of war' after their defense, but Amherst refused, perhaps remembering the fate of those that surrendered at Fort Henry . Ducour and his officers resolved to die fighting, but agreed to Amherst's demands to prevent further suffering for the civilian population .
The 1745 siege of Louisbourg
The French reported 102 killed and the British reported 172 killed . It was too late to start an expedition against Quebec and would have to wait till the next year . The British, remembering that the fortress was handed back to the French after the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, reduced the fortress to rubble after the surrender of Quebec .
The good news traveled fast. Within three weeks of the surrender the dispatches had reached England. Defeats, disasters, and exasperating fiascos had been common since the war began. But at last there was a genuine victory, British through and through, won by the Army and Navy together, and won over the greatest of all rivals, France. ' When we lost Minorca,' said the London Chronicle just a month after the surrender, ' a general panic fell upon the nation ; but now that Louisbourg is taken our streets echo with triumph and blaze with illuminations.'
The Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Park is the crown jewel of the Canadian Park Service and the largest historical reconstruction in Canada. Fortress Louisbourg was built to protect France's interests in the new world and to serve as the centre of its massive seasonal fishing industry.Its location near the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia enabled it to serve not only as the capital of the new colony of Ile Royale but also to act as the first line of defence for France in its 18th century struggle against Great Britain for colonial supremacy in North America.
Fortress Louisbourg was first captured in 1745 after a six week siege by New England troops with the support of the British navy. After three years under British governors, the Fortress of Louisbourg was returned to France by treaty in 1749 inspite of the protests of the American colonies. After almost a decade of increasing prosperity, the much stronger Fortress again fell again after another six week siege in 1758, this time to the largest assembled assault force in colonial Canadian history.The fortifications were blown up in 1760-61 and the British military presence withdrawn in 1768. The imported cut stone which was widely used in the original construction of the Fortress was re-used around the province, and is still found in buildings standing today at both Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia and along the eastern seaboard. The new town of Louisburg would be a community established first by English and Irish soldiers who served at the second siege of Louisbourg and at Quebec, to be joined soon afterwards by Loyalists and more Irish via Placentia. An initiative of the government of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker in 1961, the rebuilding over the next two decades of Fortress Louisbourg transformed the ruins from heaps of grass and stones to the impressive historical and interpretive site it is today.