1756 - French reinforcement of Canada
The campaign lasted from April to May 1756
Description of Events
On January 30 1756, Vice-Admiral d'Aubigny left Brest for Martinique with French reinforcements. The same day, Vice-Admiral Henry Osborn was sent to sea with a large British squadron of 13 ships of the line and 1 frigate to convoy outward-bound merchantmen. On his return, he reconnoitred Brest before sailing for Great Britain where he arrived on February 16. Although the French had 16 ships of the line in Brest and Rochefort, it was believed that these could not be ready before April. In the meanwhile, Great Britain had 8 ships of the line and 23 frigates quite ready, and 32 ships of the line and 5 frigates nearly ready for sea in the home ports.
Early in 1756 (no date specified), Commodore Charles Holmes, convoying some troops from Cork, was sent out with a squadron to reinforce Commodore Spry whom Boscawen had left behind at Halifax in Nova Scotia before returning to Great Britain the previous year.
On February 19, M. de Beaussier sailed on from Brest for Saint-Domingue (present-day Haïti) with French reinforcements.
Late in February, after the return of Osborn, Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hawke was sent with a squadron to cruise off Brest.
Upon his arrival in North America (no date specified), Holmes assumed command of Spry's squadron and of his own.
After the capture of Dieskau during the campaign of 1755, d'Argenson, the minister of war, had to appoint a new commander-in-chief for the French forces in Canada. For this charge, he chose Louis Joseph de Saint-Véran Marquis de Montcalm, an experienced French officer who had repeatedly shown his valour during the preceding war.
At the end of March 1756, Montcalm, with all his following, was ready to embark. Three ships of the line: the Léopard (62), the Héros (74), and the Illustre (64); had been fitted out as transports and were ready to receive the troops. Meanwhile, Montcalm and his second and third in command, Lévis and Bourlamaque, were to take passage in the frigates Licorne (32), Sauvage (32), and Sirène (30). Bougainville, as Montcalm's aide-de-camp, embarked with him aboard the Licorne while Lévis embarked aboard the Sauvage.
The troops destined for Canada were only two battalions, one belonging to La Sarre Infanterie and the other to Royal Roussillon Infanterie. They numbered some 1,200 men. These troops marched into Brest at early morning, breakfasted in the town and went at once on board the transports. Montcalm and Bougainville embarked in the Licorne and sailed on April 3, leaving Lévis and Bourlamaque to follow a few days after.
On April 6, Lévis left Brest aboard the frigate Sauvage.
Later in April, Hawke was reinforced off Brest by additional ships under Rear-Admiral Francis Holburne. But these precautions were taken too late, all French reinforcements destined for America had now left the harbour. Yet Hawke, made many valuable prizes before returning to Great Britain in May, leaving Holburne to cruise before Brest.
Montcalm's voyage was a rough one. The season was very early for such a hard voyage. Weather was good until Monday April 12. However, from this date till Saturday April 17, the fleet encountered rough weather with a gale that lasted 90 hours. Then, from April 27 to May 4, it had to sail through fog among icebergs.
In May, Holburne was joined off Brest by Vice-Admiral Edward Boscawen who assumed command of the united fleet of 18 ships of the line, 6 50-gun ships and 2 frigates. This demonstration induced the remaining French ships at Brest to keep within the harbour.
On May 11, the Licorne lay at anchor in the Saint-Laurent some 40 km downstream from Québec, stopped by ice from proceeding farther. Montcalm made his way to the town by land.
On May 13, Montcalm arrived at Québec and soon after learned with great satisfaction that the other ships were safe in the river below.
On May 22, Montcalm left Québec for Montréal.
On May 31, Lévis arrived at Québec.
On June 6 and 7, II./La Sarre Infanterie left Québec for Montréal.
On June 10 and 11, II./Royal-Roussillon Infanterie left Québec for Montréal. After organising the movements of the troops from Québec, the Chevalier de Lévis also left for Montréal.
In the evening of June 15, the Chevalier de Lévis arrived in Montréal.
In July, Holmes cruised off Louisbourg with the Grafton (70), Nottingham (60), Hornet (14) and Jamaica (14). He nearly succeeded in cutting off a small French force and on the following day he fought another French force, which, however, also got away.
In November, Boscawen sent the cutter Hunter (10) under Lieutenant Cockburn, to reconnoitre Brest. Cockburn ran close into the harbour's mouth and then, with five companions, got into a boat and rowed into the port in the dark. He reported that he had found there only 9 50-guns ships and 6 large merchantmen. Boscawen and Holburne then returned to Great Britain, leaving Rear-Admirals Savage Mostyn and Harry Norris before Brest, chiefly to intercept such of the French ships as might be coming home from abroad. The blockading force was afterwards entrusted to Vice-Admiral Charles Knowles.
In December, Knowles came back to port with most of its squadron. His departure was somewhat premature, in that it enabled M. de Kersaint to get out with a small force for the coast of Africa and M. de Beauffremont to escape with another small force bound for the West Indies. It also allowed some small cruising squadrons to proceed to sea in safety.
This article incorporates texts from the following book which is now in the public domain:
- Clowes, Wm. Laird: The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. III, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 145-146
- Lévis, chevalier de: Journal des campagnes du chevalier de Lévis en Canada de 1756 à 1760, Montréal, Beauchemin, 1889, p. 44
- Parkman, Francis: Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 211-212