1758 - British expedition against the fortress of Louisbourg
The campaign lasted from February to July 1758
Description of Events
Preparation for the British expedition
At the beginning of 1758, a British fleet was preparing in Portsmouth for some time. It consisted of 23 ships of the line and 18 frigates under the command of admiral Edward Boscawen who was assisted by rear-admiral Charles Hardy and commodore Philip Durel. More precisely the fleet consisted of the following vessels:
|Ships of the line||Frigates and other vessels|
|Namur (90), captain Matthew Buckle
Royal William (100), captain Thomas Evans (only 84 guns during this expedition)
Diana (32), captain Alexander Schomberg
This fleet would escort the army of major-general Amherst who was assisted by brigadier-generals Whitmore, Lawrence and Wolfe. The chief engineer of the army was colonel Bastide while colonel Williamson commanded the train of artillery.
In January, Hardy sailed for Halifax in the Captain (64) to assume charge of the ships already there. With this small squadron, he intended to blockade Louisbourg as soon as the season should permit.
Early in February, Durell followed Hardy to Halifax in the Diana (36) to make the necessary local preparations.
On February 19 1758, before the end of winter, admiral Boscawen sailed from Spithead with part of his fleet for North America, escorting a convoy of transports. It bore away for Halifax, the place of rendezvous. It had been Pitt's hope that the siege of Louisbourg should have been begun by April 20. At the very commencement of his voyage, Boscawen lost the Invincible (74), captain John Bentley, which, missing stays, ran on a shoal east of St. Hellen's and became a total loss.
In March 1758, colonel Jeffrey Amherst was recalled from the force destined to Germany to command the Louisbourg expedition. Amherst was made at one leap a major-general. Under him were three brigadiers, Whitmore, Lawrence and Wolfe.
On March 16, Amherst sailed with captain George Rodney in the Dublin (74) to join Boscawen at Halifax. This ship had been as quickly as possible substituted for the Invincible (74) by the Admiralty.
French attempts to reinforce Canada
Besides the fleet destined for Louisbourg, the British put to sea a second fleet under admiral Osborn. This latter fleet sailed for the Mediterranean to intercept the French fleet of admiral La Clue, who was about to sail from Toulon for America. Osborn, cruising between the coasts of Spain and Africa, barred the way to the straits of Gibraltar and kept his enemy imprisoned. La Clue made no attempt to force a passage. However, several combats of detached ships took place.
Furthermore, learning in the spring that the French were fitting out a considerable squadron to escort, from Isle d'Aix near Rochefort, a fleet of transports with troops for America, the British Admiralty ordered admiral sir Edward Hawke to endeavour to intercept it.
On March 11, Hawke sailed from Spithead with 7 ships of the line and 3 frigates to intercept the French squadron.
On the night of April 3, Hawke arrived off Isle d'Aix.
At 3:00 AM on April 4, Hawke's squadron steered for Basque Road and at daylight sighted a number of vessels, escorted by 3 frigates, some km to windward. Hawke gave chase but they got into Saint-Martin de Rhé, except one brig which was driven ashore and burnt by the Hussar (28), captain John Elliot. At about 4:00 PM, Hawke discovered, lying off Aix, the French men-of-war Florissant (74), Sphynx (64), Hardi (64), Dragon (64), and Warwick (60), besides 6 or 7 frigates and about 40 merchantmen, which had on board 3,000 troops. At 4:30 PM, the admiral signalled for a general chase and at 5:00 PM the enemy began to slip or cut in great confusion and to run. At 6:00 PM, the British headmost ships were little more than a gunshot from the rearmost of the French but, by that time, when many of the merchantmen were already aground on the mud, the pursuers were in very shoal water and, further pursuit being dangerous and night coming on, Hawke anchored abreast of the island.
On the morning of April 5, nearly all the French flotilla were seen aground 7 km away, several being on their broadsides. When the flood made the admiral sent in the Intrepid (64), captain Edward Pratten, and the Medway (60), captain Charles Proby, with his best pilots, as far as the water would serve. He ordered them to anchor there. They did so in about 5 fathoms, of which 3 fathoms were due to the rise of the tide. The French were very busy in lightening their ships and in hauling and towing such of them as could be moved towards the mouth of the river Charente. By evening some of the French men-of-war had been got thither. The British frigates had done what they could, by destroying the buoys which they had laid down over their jettisoned guns and gear, to prevent the ultimate salving of the merchant vessels. That day 150 Marines were put ashore on Isle d'Aix and, under captain Ewer, they destroyed the works there and safely re-embarked.
On April 6, Hawke sailed having effectually prevented the despatch of supplies to America and, it may be, so facilitated the conquest of Cape Breton and its dependencies.
As soon as the season permitted, rear-admiral sir Charles Hardy placed himself off Louisbourg. However, owing to fog and gales, he was unable to prevent the entry into the harbour of M. du Chaffault, who had taken out a strong squadron from Brest along with 1 battalion of Volontaires Étrangers. This French squadron was soon followed by 1 ship of the line and 3 frigates under the command of M. de Gouttes, transporting the 2nd battalion of Cambis Infanterie.
Du Chaffault, however, fearing to be blockaded, left there 6 ships of the line and some frigates under M. de Beaussier to assist in the defence, and himself went to Québec. Beaussier's squadron consisted of:
|Ships of the line||Frigates|
Hardy only succeeded in intercepting the Foudroyant (22) and a few other French craft bound up the Saint-Laurent river. The Foudroyant pluckily stood a short action with the Captain (64) then surrendered.
Boscawen reaches Louisbourg
There had been signs of the British from the first opening of spring. In the intervals of fog, rain, and snow-squalls, sails were seen hovering on the distant sea; and during the latter part of May a squadron of 9 ships cruised off the mouth of the harbour, appearing and disappearing, sometimes driven away by gales, sometimes lost in fogs, and sometimes approaching to within cannon-shot of the batteries. Their object was to blockade the port, in which they failed; for French ships had come in at intervals, till 13 of them lay safe anchored in the harbour, with more than a year's supply of provisions for the garrison.
On May 9, after a very long trip, Boscawen's fleet finally reached Halifax in Nova Scotia.
By the end of May, Boscawen's fleet consisted of 23 ships of the line, 18 frigates and fireships, and a fleet of transports, on board of which were 11,600 soldiers, all regulars, except 500 provincial rangers.
On May 28, after waiting for Amherst's arrival at Halifax for nearly 3 weeks, Boscawen in pursuance of his orders and to prevent loss of time, at last put to sea without him. Fortunately Boscawen met the Dublin (74) just outside the harbour. Being very sickly, the Dublin went on into port while Amherst transferred to the fleet and immediately assumed command of the troops. The huge fleet, 167 sail sail of various kinds, then steered eastward towards Gabarus Bay near Louisbourg.
On June 1, the British fleet could be seen from Louisbourg on the southeastern horizon which was white with a cloud of canvas. The long-expected crisis was come. Drucour, the governor, sent 2,000 regulars, with about 1,000 militia and Indians, to guard the various landing-places; and the rest, aided by the sailors, remained to hold the town.
On June 2, the British expedition saw the rocky shore-line of Île Royale (actual Cape Breton Island) and descried the masts of the French squadron in the harbour of Louisbourg. Boscawen sailed into Gabarus Bay. The sea was rough; but in the afternoon Amherst, Lawrence, and Wolfe, with a number of naval officers, reconnoitred the shore in boats, coasting it for km, and approaching it as near as the French batteries would permit. The rocks were white with surf, and every accessible point was strongly guarded. Boscawen saw little chance of success. He sent for his captains, and consulted them separately. They thought, like him, that it would be rash to attempt a landing, and proposed a council of war. One of them alone, an old sea officer named Ferguson advised his commander to take the responsibility himself, hold no council, and make the attempt at every risk. Boscawen took his advice, and declared that he would not leave Gabarus Bay till he had fulfilled his instructions and set the troops on shore.
The British land
West of Louisbourg there were three accessible places, La Cormorandière (actual Freshwater Cove), 6 km from the town, Flat Point, and White Point, which were nearer, the last being within 2 km of the fortifications. East of the town there was an inlet called Lorambec, also available for landing. In order to distract the attention of the enemy, it was resolved to threaten all these places, and to form the troops into three divisions, two of which, under Lawrence and Whitmore, were to advance towards Flat Point and White Point, while a detached regiment was to make a feint at Lorambec. Wolfe, with the third division, was to make the real attack and try to force a landing at La Cormorandière, which, as it proved, was the most strongly defended of all.
On June 3, the surf was so high that nothing could be attempted.
On June 4, there was a thick fog and a gale. The frigate Trent (28) struck on a rock, and some of the transports were near being stranded.
On June 5, there was another fog and a raging surf.
On June 6, there was fog, with rain in the morning and better weather towards noon, whereupon the signal was made and the troops entered the boats; but the sea rose again, and they were ordered back to the ships.
On June 7, more fog and more surf till night, when the sea grew calmer, and orders were given for another attempt. During the previous days, the French had much strengthened their entrenchments on the shore.
On June 8 at 2:00 am, the British troops were assembled in 3 divisions in the boats again. Their order of battle was as follows (regiment enumerated from right to left):
|Left Brigade under Lawrence||Centre Brigade under Wolfe||Right Brigade under Whitmore|
At daybreak (June 8) the frigates of the squadron anchored before each point of real or pretended attack: the Kennington (20) and Halifax (14) were stationed on the left, followed by the Gramont (18), Diana (32) and Shannon (28) in the centre and the Sutherland (50) and Squirrel (20) upon the right. They opened a fierce cannonade on the French entrenchments. When this fire had continued about 15 minutes, the boats upon the left rowed into shore under the command of brigadier-general Wolfe. The division on the right, under the command of brigadier-general Whitmore, rowed towards the White Point, as if intending to force a landing there. The centre division, under brigadier-general Lawrence, made at the same time a show of landing at the Freshwater Cove. These two last divisions which were only intended as feints, drew the attention of the French and prevented their troops, posted along the coast, from joining those on the right where the real landing was to be made. The targeted landing place was La Cormorandière. Here there was a crescent-shaped beach, 400 meters long, with rocks at each end. On the shore above, about 1,000 Frenchmen, under lieutenant-colonel de Saint-Julien, lay behind entrenchments covered in front by spruce and fir trees, felled and laid on the ground with the tops outward. There were breastworks at every probable place of landing. Furthermore, 8 guns and heavy swivels mounted on perpendicular stocks of wood were planted to sweep every part of the beach and its approaches, and these pieces were masked by young evergreens stuck in the ground before them. Redans mounted with guns had also been erected to prevent flanking movements.
The French acted very wisely and did not throw away a shot till the boats were near in shore. The British were thus allowed to come within close range unmolested. Then the French batteries opened, and a deadly storm of grape and musketry was poured upon the boats. It was clear in an instant that to advance farther would be destruction; and Wolfe waved his hand as a signal to sheer off. At some distance on the right, and little exposed to the fire, were 3 boats of light infantry under lieutenants Hopkins and Brown and ensign Grant; who, mistaking the signal or wilfully misinterpreting it, made directly for the shore before them. It was a few roads east of the beach; a craggy coast and a strand strewn with rocks and lashed with breakers, but sheltered from the cannon by a small projecting point. The 3 officers leaped ashore, followed by their men. Wolfe saw the movement, and hastened to support it. The boat of major Scott, who commanded the light infantry and rangers, next came up, and was stove in an instant; but Scott gained the shore, climbed the crags, and found himself with 10 men in front of some 70 French and Indians. Half his followers were killed and wounded, and three bullets were shot through his clothes; but with admirable gallantry he held his ground till others came to his aid. The remaining boats now reached the landing. Many were stove among the rocks, and others were overset; some of the men were dragged back by the surf and drowned; some lost their muskets, and were drenched to the skin: but the greater part got safe ashore. Among the foremost was seen the tall, attenuated form of brigadier Wolfe, armed with nothing but a cane, as he leaped into the surf and climbed the crags with his soldiers. As they reached the top they formed in compact order, and attacked and carried with the bayonet the nearest French battery, a few meters distant. The division of Lawrence soon came up; and as the attention of the enemy was now distracted, they made their landing with little opposition at the farther end of the beach whither they were followed by Amherst himself. The French, attacked on right and left, and fearing, with good reason, that they would be cut off from the town, abandoned all their cannon and fled into the woods. About 70 French were captured and 50 killed. The British lost 109 killed, wounded and drowned.
The rest of the French force, circling among the hills and around the marshes, made its way to Louisbourg, and those at the intermediate posts joined their flight. The British followed through a matted growth of firs till they reached the cleared ground; when the guns, opening on them from the ramparts, stopped the pursuit. The British had succeeded in securing a bridgehead on the Île Royal.
Almost immediately after the landing, the wind arose, and communication between the British fleet and the troops was cut off for several days.
Preparation for the siege
When the siege began, 2,900 French regulars were able to bear arms.
Amherst traced out his camp just beyond range of the French cannon, and Flat Point Cove was chosen as the landing-place of guns and stores. Clearing the ground, making roads, and pitching tents filled the rest of the day. At night there was a glare of flames from the direction of the town. The French had abandoned the Grand Battery after setting fire to the buildings in it and to the houses and fish-stages along the shore of the harbour. During the following days, the British landed stores as fast as the surf would permit: but the task was so difficult that from first to last more than 100 boats were stove in accomplishing it.
A few days after the landing, the French garrison set fire to the barracks and out-buildings. They left nothing standing within 3 km of the town walls. However, a French battery on the island in the harbour along with the French ships and frigates anchored in the same harbour were in a position allowing them to bring all their guns to bear upon the approaches of the British. Accordingly, Amherst sent Wolfe with 1,200 men round the north-east harbour to the Lighthouse Point with instructions to silence the enemy fire from the harbour.
On June 12, Wolfe’s detachment took possession of all French posts on the Lighthouse Point which the French had abandoned. Wolfe then established batteries of guns and mortars to fire upon the Island Battery that guarded the entrance of the harbour. Other guns were placed at different points along the shore, and soon opened on the French ships. The ships and battery replied. The artillery fight raged night and day.
On June 13, preparations for the siege were begun. The troops being at first much annoyed by the fire of the French ships in the harbour. Admiral Boscawen landed his marines to assist.
On June 18, the British finally managed to get their siege-guns ashore. Until then the violence of the wave had prevented this operation.
The British camp extended 3 km along a stream that flowed down to the Cove among the low, woody hills that curved around the town and harbour. Redoubts were made to protect its front, and blockhouses to guard its left and rear from the bands of Acadians known to be hovering in the woods.
While Wolfe was trying to silence artillery fire coming from the harbour, Amherst had reconnoitred the ground and chosen a hillock at the edge of the marsh, less than 800 meters from the ramparts, as the point for opening his trenches. A road with an epaulement to protect it must first be made to the spot; and as the way was over a tract of deep mud covered with water-weeds and moss, the labour was prodigious. About 1,000 men worked at it day and night under the fire of the town and ships.
When the French looked landward from their ramparts they could see scarcely a sign of the impending storm. Behind them Wolfe's cannon were playing busily from Lighthouse Point and the heights around the harbour; but, before them, the broad flat marsh and the low hills seemed almost a solitude. Some 3 km away, they could descry some of the British tents; but the greater part were hidden by the inequalities of the ground. On the right, a prolongation of the harbour reached nearly 800 meters beyond the town, ending in a small lagoon formed by a projecting sandbar, and known as the Barachois. Near this bar lay moored the little frigate Aréthuse (36), under a gallant officer named Vauquelin. Her position was a perilous one; but so long as she could maintain it she could sweep with her fire the ground before the works, and seriously impede the British operations. The other naval captains were less adventurous; and when the British landed, they wanted to leave the harbour and save their ships. Drucour insisted that they should stay to aid the defence, and they complied; but soon left their moorings and anchored as close as possible under the guns of the town, in order to escape the fire of Wolfe's batteries. Hence there was great murmuring among the military officers, who would have had them engage the hostile guns at short range. The frigate Écho (26), under cover of a fog, had been sent to Quebec for aid; but she was chased and captured by the Juno (32); and, a day or two after, the French saw her pass the mouth of the harbour with a British flag at her mast-head.
The siege of Louisbourg
On June 25, the Island Battery in the harbour was finally silenced. However, the French ships still continued to bear upon Wolfe’s position. The same day, the British opened the trenches on June 25. The siege of Louisbourg lasted till July 26.
On July 27 in the morning, 3 companies of grenadiers, under the command of major Farquhar, took possession of the Dauphin's Gate. General Amherst then sent in brigadier Whitmore to see the garrison lay down their arms and to post guards in the town. The garrison, drawn up on the esplanade, flung down their muskets and marched from the ground with tears of rage; the cross of St. George floated over the shattered rampart; and Louisbourg, with the two great islands that depended on it, passed to the British Crown. Guards were posted, a stern discipline was enforced, and perfect order maintained.
Some 5,637 officers, soldiers, and sailors were prisoners in the hands of the victors. Furthermore, 18 mortars and 221 cannon were found in the town, along with a great quantity of arms, munitions, and stores. The British had lost about 500 killed and wounded of all ranks.
Boscawen sent home captain George Edgcumbe with the naval dispatches. The colours which were captured were placed in St. Paul's Cathedral.
At the middle of August such of the prisoners as were not disabled by wounds or sickness were embarked for Great Britain, and the merchants and inhabitants were sent to France. Brigadier Whitmore, as governor of Louisbourg, remained with 4 regiments (the 22nd, 28th, 40th and 45th), to hold guard over the desolation they had made.
Amherst proceeded to complete his conquest by the subjection of all the adjacent possessions of France. Major Dalling was sent to occupy Port Espagnol (actual Sydney, Nova Scotia). Colonel Monckton was despatched to the Bay of Fundy and the River St. John with an order "to destroy the vermin who are settled there," as Amherst wrote in his order. Lord Rollo, with the 35th Foot and two battalions of the 60th Foot, received the submission of Isle Saint-Jean (actual Prince Edward Island), and tried to remove the inhabitants, with small success; for out of more than 4,000 he could catch but 700.
Amherst, with such speed as his deliberate nature would permit, sailed with 5 regiments (the 1st, 17th, 47th, 48th, 78th Fraser’s Highlanders) for Boston, escorted by the Captain (64), to reinforce Abercromby at Lake George.
Meanwhile Wolfe, along with rear-admiral sir Charles Hardy and 7 ships of the line, set out on an errand but little to his liking. He had orders to proceed to Gaspé, Miramichi, and other settlements on the Gulf of Saint-Laurent, destroy them, and disperse their inhabitants; a measure of needless and unpardonable rigour, which, while detesting it, he executed with characteristic thoroughness. "Sir Charles Hardy and I," he wrote to his father, "are preparing to rob the fishermen of their nets and burn their huts. When that great exploit is at an end, I return to Louisbourg, and thence to England." Having finished the work, he wrote to Amherst: "Your orders were carried into execution. We have done a great deal of mischief, and spread the terror of His Majesty's arms through the Gulf, but have added nothing to the reputation of them."
On September 14, Amherst's force arrived at Boston. It was received with immense though rather inconvenient enthusiasm by the inhabitants.
Boscawen returns to Great Britain
Boscawen left the recently promoted rear-admiral Durell with a part of his squadron to winter in America and himself sailed for Great Britain. On his passage, his squadron became separated.
On October 27, Boscawen entered the Soundings with part of his squadron:
- Namur (90), Boscawen's flagship
- Royal William (100)
- Somerset (64)
- Bienfaisant (64) captain George Balfour with only a few rounds of powder on board
- Boreas (28)
- Trent (28)
- Echo (26) under captain John Laforey
- 2 fireships
Boscawen then sighted the French squadron returning from Québec under M. du Chaffault. This squadron consisted of:
- Tonnant (80)
- Intrépide (74)
- Hermès (74)
- Protée (64)
- Belliqueux (64)
- 1 unidentified frigate
- Carnarvon, a captured British East Indiaman
The French squadron being on the contrary tack, passed the British squadron, very near to leeward. In passing, it discharged his broadsides. Some of the British ships returned the fire but, the wind blowing hard, most of the vessels could not open their lower ports. In this partial action, very little damage was done. Boscawen, in spite of the superiority of the French, changed his course and stood after them. The night was very stormy.
On the morning of October 28, the French squadron was again discovered, though his force then consisted of only 4 ships of the line and a frigate, one ship of the line having evidently lost company in the darkness. Boscawen also had lost sight of all his frigates. He nevertheless renewed the chase. Yet, although there was at first no great distance between the squadrons, the British did not gain ground. The only prize made was the Carnarvon. The rest of the French ships got away. One of them, the Belliqueux (64), was afterwards taken off Ilfracombe by the Antelope (54).
On November 1, Boscawen arrived at Spithead.
This article is mostly an abridged and adapted version of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Parkman, Francis, Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 332-350
- Anonymous, A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 273-282
- 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. 173, 182-185, 191
- Fortescue J. W., A History of the British Army, Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 316-322
- Lévis, chevalier de, Journal des campagnes du chevalier de Lévis en Canada de 1756 à 1760, Montréal, Beauchemin, 1889, p. 146