1758 - British expedition against the fortress of Louisbourg
The campaign lasted from February to July 1758
Description of Events
Preparation for the British expedition
In 1757, the primary focus of the British campaign in North America was the capture of Louisbourg. In a race between the navies, three French squadrons reached Louisbourg first. The British expedition was then aborted. Regrettably, the squadron from the West Indies carried a variety of tropical diseases (malaria, yellow fever, but particularly typhus — typhus is a bacterial disease carried by lice and fleas). Disease then spread throughout the French squadrons anchored at Louisbourg. By September, some 400 sailors were dead and another 1,200 men were sick. On the fleet's return to Brest, the typhus spread to the local population, more than 5,000 civilians died. By March 1758, nearly 6,000 sailors sent to Louisbourg the previous year were dead, just under half the complement. Looking at the entire French Navy, the loss in 1757 was some 8,500 men, the overwhelming majority to disease. This represents a full 25% of the sailors in the French Navy, a loss that cannot be replaced. Throughout 1758, typhus would continue to plague the French Navy.
For the coming campaign, the French reinforcement and resupply of Canada and Louisbourg required many, but not all, warships to sail "en flûte". The below deck cannon would be stripped from the gun ports and packed into the hold; the gun decks were then used for cargo or often to transport troops — in this case, French regulars or colonial marines. After reaching their destination and unloading men and cargo, the guns could then be returned to the gun decks. As the number of mounted cannon could be reduced, there was an additional option of reducing the complement of sailors, freeing even more space for cargo or transporting soldiers. The transport need and the volume of cargo determined the extent of the disarming involved. Mounted cannon could be reduced to as little as 25% of the normal number. Under the convoy system, some warships sailed with fully mounted cannon, some "en flûte". After breaking out of port and moving beyond the enemy's patrol zones, any individual merchantmen would then make best speed and the formation would typically fall apart.
To conduct this supply, De Moras (Minister of La Marine) utilized a wide variety of resources — ships from the West Indies, the Mediterranean (Toulon), as well as the French Atlantic ports (principally Brest, Rochefort, Bordeaux, and Lorient), and even ships under the control of the East India Company. But with typhus striking Brest hard in the winter of 1757-1758, crewing all the ships in the fleet proved impossible.
On December 30, 1757, a convoy of 4 merchantmen loaded with provisions and 2 frigates (Héroïne (24) and Friponne (24)) sailed from Rochefort for Louisbourg. It was initially escorted by the Prudent (74) and Capricieux (64) until it was considered outside the reach of British cruisers. The 2 ships of the line then returned to France.
On January 3, the Dunkirk (60) captured another merchantman belonging to the French convoy.
Meanwhile, a British fleet was preparing in Portsmouth for some time. It was placed under the command of Admiral Edward Boscawen who was assisted by Rear-Admiral Charles Hardy and Commodore Philip Durell. This fleet would escort the army. The chief engineer of the army was Colonel Bastide while Colonel Williamson commanded the train of artillery.
On January 24, the Prudent (74) returned to Rochefort.
On January 29, the frigate Blonde (32) escorted 113 provision ships from Bordeaux to Brest, escaping British squadrons.
In January, 17 merchantmen sailed from Bordeaux towards Nouvelle-France.
On January 21, Hardy sailed for Halifax in the Captain (64), accompanied by the Boreas (28), to assume charge of the small squadron which had wintered there. Pitt had instructed this squadron to make sail for the waters off Louisbourg as early in the season as possible. Lord Colville had been responsible for preparing this squadron, which consisted of 8 ships of the line:
- Terrible (74), Captain Richard Collins
- Northumberland (70), Captain Lord Colville
- Orford (70), Captain Richard Spry
- Somerset (64), Captain Edward Hughes
- Kingston (60), Captain William Parry
- Defiance (60), Captain Patrick Baird
- Sutherland (50), Captain John Rous
- unidentified ship of the line, maybe the Arc-en-Ciel (50), Captain Edward Falkingham
On February 1, a first convoy (Magnifique (74) under de Villéon, Amphion (50) under de La Monneraye, Sirène (30) and 4 other vessels (including 3 armed “en flûte”) sailed from Brest for Louisbourg, but a tempest soon dispersed the convoy.
Early in February, Durell followed Hardy to Halifax in the Diana (32) to make the necessary local preparations.
In mid-February, Lord Colville sent Lieutenant Phillip Cosby with the provincial schooner Monckton (6) to reconnoitre the waters of Louisbourg.
On February 19, before the end of winter, Admiral Boscawen sailed from Spithead with part of his fleet for North America, escorting a convoy of transports (4 coys of the 4th Foot and 4 coys of the 24th Foot had been assigned as marines to Boscawen's Fleet). Boscawen 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) which, missing stays, ran on a shoal east of St. Hellen's and became a total loss.
In March, 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.
French attempts to reinforce Canada
By March, nearly 6,000 French sailors previously sent to Louisbourg had died, just under half the complement. The shortage of experienced sailors in the French Navy had severe consequences. Crew manifests needed to be re-filled, but this took time. Instead of sailing as squadrons, ships were sent out singly or in small groups, often weeks behind schedule. Throughout the year, at least 5 badly needed ships of the line would remain in port because of the lack of crews — Glorieux (74), Dauphin Royal (74), Inflexible (64), Saint-Michel (64), and Warwick (60).
The British knew the broad outline of the French plans: besides the fleet destined for Louisbourg, the British sent squadrons to patrol off the French Atlantic ports. They also put to sea a second fleet under Admiral Osborn. This latter fleet was charged with operations in the Mediterranean, mainly 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. None of the Mediterranean ships slipped passed Gibraltar.
The British squadrons sailing off Brest, forced whole convoys to turn back and make for port. Merchantmen losses were considerable. Though confusing and lacking details, it appears that 40 additional privateers were then hired by the Naval Ministry to transport goods to Nouvelle France. For 1758, records suggest some 61 merchantmen/privateers were hired to transport provisions to Louisbourg and another 56 merchantmen/privateers for provisions to Quebec .
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 9, a convoy sailed from Rochefort for Louisbourg under de Gouttes with provisions, money, troops and mortars. It consisted of:
- Prudent (74)
- Raisonnable (64)
- Diane (24)
- Fidèle (24)
- Mutine (24)
- Messager unidentified vessel armed “en flûte”
- Chèvre (22) armed “en flûte”
- 12 merchantmen
On March 11, Hawke sailed from Spithead with 7 ships of the line and 3 frigates to intercept the French convoy assembling at Rochefort.
On March 13, the Apollon (56), armed “en flûte” and carrying supplies, sailed from Rochefort for Louisbourg.
In mid-March, the British sloop Hawk (10) joined the Monckton off Louisbourg.
On March 18, the Raisonnable (64), who had collided with the Messager off Cape Ortegal, was forced to return to Port-Louis.
On March 19
- Hardy arrived at Halifax aboard the Captain (64).
- The Messager, who was in danger of sinking, was burned. The same day,
On March 20, Lord Colville reported to Pitt from Halifax that he already had 3 ships at sea.
On March 30, the Magnifique (74) arrived off Louisbourg. The harbor would not be opened for at least another week. Unable to break through the ice, Captain de Villéon decided to sail back towards Europe, after losing 120 men from hypothermia.
On the night of April 2 to 3, a convoy left Brest for Louisbourg under Beaussier, transporting cargo and the 800 men of the II./Volontaires Étrangers under Lieutenant-Colonel Henri-Valentin-Jacques d’Anthonay. The convoy consisted of:
- Entreprenant (74)
- Bienfaisant (64)
- Capricieux (64) armed “en flûte”
- Célèbre (64) armed “en flûte”
- Comète (30) armed “en flûte”
- 4 large provision ships
On the night of April 3, Hawke’s squadron arrived off Isle d'Aix.
On April 4
- British raid off Isle d’Aix
- At 3:00 a.m., Hawke's squadron steered for Basque Road and at daylight sighted Beaussier’s convoy, 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 p.m., 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 p.m., the admiral signalled for a general chase.
- At 5:00 p.m. the French vessels began to slip or cut in great confusion and to run.
- At 6:00 p.m., 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.
- The Amphion (50), who had been part of a convoy sent to Louisbourg, returned to Brest in a very bad state, reporting that the convoy had been dispersed by gales.
- British raid off Isle d’Aix
- In the morning, nearly all the French flotilla were seen aground 7 km away, several being on their broadsides. With the rising tide, Admiral Hawke 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, , thereby, preventing any subsequent salvaging. The loss of the cannon was particularly hurtful as the French need for cannon had already greatly surpassed their limited supply.
- 150 Marines were put ashore on Isle d'Aix and, under Captain Ewer, and destroyed the works there and safely re-embarked.
- The harbour of Louisbourg was free of ice.
On April 6
- British raid off Isle d’Aix
- Hawke sailed from the vicinity of Rochefort, having delayed the despatch of part of the supplies to Nouvelle-France.
- Rear-Admiral Sir Charles Hardy with 7 ships of the line (Northumberland (70), Somerset (64), Terrible (74), Orford (70), Defiance (60), Captain (64), Kingston (60)) left Halifax to cruise off Louisbourg, joining the Sutherland (50) and the frigate Boreas (28), who were cruising since March 24. The weather was still brutally cold with rough winter seas. Aboard ships, much of the rigging was frozen. Crews suffered from scurvy. Sailing conditions were beyond miserable, but Hardy persisted. With the hard weather and poor visibility, Hardy was not able to completely seal-off Louisbourg.
On April 9, the Sutherland (50) captured the armed merchantman Faveur (14) off Louisbourg.
On April 10 in France, Captain Charles, Comte de Courbon-Blénac was appointed commander of naval and land forces at Louisbourg. He would sail from Brest on board the Formidable (80).
On April 11, Drucour, the governor of Louisbourg, sent Captain de Brie and Captain de Saint-Aigne with 100 men to the Island Battery.
On April 12, the French Colchester arrived at Louisbourg from Brest, carrying seedcorn.
On April 15 in the morning, the Apollon (56) entered the harbour of Louisbourg, carrying 70 recruits, gold coins, provisions and arms.
In mid-April, the 15th Amherst's Foot arrived at Halifax from Great Britain.
In mid-April, the Intrepid (64) intercepted a small convoy sailing from Dunkerque to Louisbourg.
On April 21, the Bizarre (64) (armed “en flûte”), Aréthuse (36) and Écho (26) sailed from Brest for Louisbourg, escaping the surveillance of Hawke’s frigates. The Bizarre was carrying Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu-Henri Marchant de La Houlière, who had been appointed to command the troops at Louisbourg.
On the same day (April 21), Drucour sent artillerymen to the Lighthouse Battery to interdict the harbour to British ships.
On April 26, the British Captain (64) captured the frigate Diane off Louisbourg and sent her to Halifax. However, the Mutine (24), belonging to de Gouttes’ convoy, managed to reach Louisbourg. The presence of Hardy off Louisbourg, forced the Fidèle (24) to avoid the harbour altogether and anchor at Port-Dauphin (present-day Englishtown/NS), 100 km to the west.
On the same day (April 26), part of Beaussier’s convoy (Entreprenant (74), Bienfaisant (64), Célèbre (64) armed “en flûte” and Comète (30) armed “en flûte”) arrived at Louisbourg. The 800 men of the II./Volontaires Étrangers of Lieutenant-Colonel Henri-Valentin-Jacques d’Anthonay immediately landed, and the flûtes remounted their guns.
During the month of April, Hardy's ships had captured at least 6 merchantmen, the Faveur (14) and a vessel arriving from Martinique. Hardy learned much from these merchantmen about the French plans and sailings.
However, owing to fog and gales, the Aigle (50) was able to slip in and then out of Louisbourg, returning to France.
On May 1, Captain de La Tour of Artois Infanterie assumed command of the Island Battery. Drucour and Franquet, the engineer charged with the defence of Louisbourg, inspected the coastal defences. Artois Infanterie was charged to defend the coves east of Louisbourg. The same day, the Juno (32) and the Trent (28), who had been separated from Boscawen’s fleet off Bermudas, arrived at Halifax.
On May 2, the Comte du Chaffault set off from Rochefort with 4 ships of the line and 1 frigate along with the 680 men of the II./Cambis Infanterie under Colonel Villepreast to reinforce Louisbourg. His squadron consisted of:
- Dragon (64), Captain Comte du Chaffault de Besné
- Belliqueux (64), Captain Comte de Martel armed in flûte with approx. 30 guns
- Sphynx (64), Captain de Veuve-Turgot armed in flûte with approx. 30 guns
- Hardi (64), Captain de Latouche-Tréville armed in flûte with approx. 30 guns
- Zéphir (30), Captain d’Arsac de Ternay
On May 3, Drucour sent the schooner Marguerite from Louisbourg to France to report the arrival of the relief forces.
On May 5, the Florissant (74), Bellone (32), Aigrette (32), Brillant (64), Rhinocéros (36) and 3 privateers sailed from Rochefort for Canada. The same day, the Magnifique (74) finally arrived in the harbour of La Coruña in Spain, after failing to reach Louisbourg.
On May 7, Captain François-Gabriel d’Angéac of the Troupes de la Marine arrived at Louisbourg with 12 Acadians and 11 Indians from Port-Toulouse (present-day St. Peter's/NS).
On May 8, the Capricieux (64) armed “en flûte” arrived at Louisbourg.
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 12 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. It consisted of:
- Namur (90), Captain Matthew Buckle, carrying the flag of Admiral Boscawen
- Princess Amelia (80), Captain John Bray
- Royal William (100), Captain Thomas Evans (only 84 guns during this expedition)
- Burford (70), Captain James Gambier
- Pembroke (60), Captain John Simcoe
- Lancaster (66), Captain George Edgcumbe
- Prince of Orange (60) (unidentified ship), Captain John Fergusson
- Bedford (64), Captain Thorpe Fowke
- Nottingham (60), Captain Samuel Marshall
- Shannon (28), Captain Charles Meadows
- Fireship Aetna (8), Commander George Balfour
- Fireship Tyloe (6) (unidentified ship), Commander David Pryce
- The 35th Otway's Foot, the 48th Dunbar's Foot and the Monckton’s Battalion of Royal Artillery arrived at Halifax from Philadelphia under escort of 20-gun ship.
- After a very long trip, Boscawen's fleet finally reached Halifax in Nova Scotia. It consisted of:
On May 10
On May 12, the Sutherland (50) returned to Halifax, reporting that Hardy had sighted 7 French ships in the harbour of Louisbourg.
On May 13
On May 14
- Major Gabriel Rousseau de Villejouin and 100 Acadians had gradually arrived at Louisbourg from Isle Saint-Jean (present-day Prince Edward Island); Captain de Joubert brought men from Port-Dauphin; and a missionary arrived with 18 Indians.
On May 15, Governor de Drucour held a council of war at Louisbourg. It was decided to bring isolated settlers into the fortress. De Gouttes was instructed to prepare fireships. Shore detachments were relieved.
On May 16
On May 17
- The York (60) and the 58th Anstruther's Foot arrived at Halifax from Ireland.
- The Centurion (60) arrived at Halifax from Plymouth. She belonged to Boscawen’s fleet but had been delayed at Plymouth for want of canvass. She brought the information that General Amherst had sailed aboard the Dublin (74) to join the expedition.
On May 19, the Ville de Saint-Malo, one of the 4 provision ships belonging to Beaussier’s squadron arrived at Port-Dauphin. Provisions and men would then be transported overland from Port-Dauphin to Louisbourg or moved by boat to Port Espagnol (present-day Sydney/NS), cutting the distance to Louisbourg by half.
On May 20
- The Saint-Joseph, one of the 4 provision ships belonging to Beaussier’s squadron arrived at Louisbourg.
On May 27, du Chaffault’s convoy (4 ships of the line, 1 frigate) arrived off Louisbourg but found the harbour blocked by a British squadron. Seeing, this du Chaffault sailed to Port-Dauphin. The same day, the Royal William (100) captured a French schooner sailing from Saint-Domingue towards Louisbourg.
On May 28, after waiting for Amherst's arrival at Halifax for nearly three 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 Namur (90) and immediately assumed command of the troops. The huge fleet, 167 sail of various kinds, then steered eastward towards Gabarus Bay near Louisbourg. The Arc en Ciel (50), whose masts had been taken to refit the Prince Frederick (64), was left at Halifax.
On May 29, the French Bizarre (64) under Captain Brumier, Aréthuse (36) under Captain Vauquelin and Écho (26) arrived off Louisbourg. The latter managed to enter into the harbour. On the same day, the Raisonnable (64), who was sailing for Louisbourg, was intercepted and captured in the Soundings by the Dorsetshire (70) and Achilles (60). Still the same day, du Chaffault’s convoy arrived at Port-Dauphin along with the Brillant (64), Captain de Saint-Médard. The convoy was transporting the 680 men of the II./Cambis Infanterie. A detachment of the bn landed and marched to Louisbourg.
De Gouttes ordered Du Chaffault's squadron to Louisbourg. Instead, du Chaffault rejected those orders. He argued that his crews being ravaged by disease would not be effective in a fight with the British. The French navy was now divided between two ports. Du Chaffault was at Port-Dauphin with 5 ships of the line and 2 frigates and M. de Gouttes was in the harbour of Louisbourg with 7 ships of the line, 6 frigates and 1 sloop. De Gouttes’ squadron consisted of:
|Ships of the line||Frigates|
|Prudent (74), Captain Marquis de Gouttes
Entreprenant (74), Captain Beaussier de l’Isle
|Aréthuse (36), Captain Jean Vauquelin|
By the end of May, Boscawen's Fleet consisted of 22 ships of the line, 19 frigates and fireships, and a fleet of transports, on board of which were 11,600 soldiers, all regulars, except 500 provincial rangers.
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 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. Boscawen’s fleet consisted of:
|Ships of the line||Frigates and other vessels|
|Namur (90), Captain Matthew Buckle, carrying the flag of Admiral Boscawen
Royal William (100), Captain Thomas Evans (only 84 guns during this expedition), carrying the flag of Rear-Admiral Hardy
|Juno (32), Captain John Vaughan|
Diana (32), Captain Alexander Schomberg
On June 2, the British expedition saw the rocky shore-line of Île Royale (present-day 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 (present-day Freshwater Cove), 6 km from the town, Pointe Platte (present-day Flat Point), and Pointe Blanche (present-day 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 Pointe Platte and Pointe Blanche, 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. Drucour inspected the detachments posted along the coast.
On June 6, there was fog, with rain in the morning and better weather towards noon, whereupon the signal was made and the British troops entered the boats; but the sea rose again, and they were ordered back to the ships. The same day, British cruisers sighted the Formidable (80), who had sailed from Brest with the overall fleet commander, de Courbon-Blénac, near Louisbourg and gave chase for several days. The Formidable was suffering badly from typhus and immediately set sail for Europe. By default, de Gouttes became commander of the French squadron assembled at Louisbourg. Still the same day, 10 coys of Cambis Infanterie reached Louisbourg.
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. The last coys of Cambis Infanterie reached Louisbourg the same day. The French forces were deployed as follows:
- Saint-Julien at La Cormorandière with 985 men and 13 guns (1 x 24 -pdrs, 4 x 6-pdrs, 2 x 4-pdrs, 6 x swivel guns)
- Marin at Pointe Platte with 710 men and 14 artillery pieces (2 x 18-pdrs, 4 x 6-pdrs, 6 x swivel guns, 2 mortars)
- d’Anthonay at Pointe Blanche with 250 men and 7 guns (1 x 24-pdrs, 6 x 6 pdrs)
- 75 men at Cap Noir with 2 guns (2 x 24 pdrs)
- 90 men at Gabarus Bay, including Villejouin’s Acadians
- 36 men at Miré
- 30 men at Port-Dauphin
- 30 men at Port-Toulouse
- 140 men at Lighthouse Point and Gauthier’s Cove with 7 guns (3 x 18-pdrs, 4 x 6-pdrs)
- 210 men at Grand Lorambec and Petit Lorambec with 3 guns (3 x 18-pdrs)
- 100 men at the Island Battery with 39 guns (8 x 36 pdrs, 30 x 24-pdrs, 1 x 12-pdrs)
- 70 men at Rochefort Point with 17 guns
- a Reserve of 360 men
Despite all inconveniences, the French had managed to send some 20 ships of the line and 25 other warships to Nouvelle France. As in 1757, a full 40 percent of the French Navy was committed. In the first half of the year, some 71 merchant ships had travelled in 19 separate convoys, escorted both by warships and privateers. However, many of the ships had been intercepted or failed to reach North America. Incidently, 3 ships of the line were captured en route and 3 more heavily damaged. Furthermore, 4 smaller warships were lost, and 35 of the merchantmen fell to the British. However, how the losses of merchantmen were distributed between ships bound for Louisbourg and those bound for Québec is not clear.
On June 8 at 2:00 a.m., 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):
- Right Wing under Brigadier Whitmore
- Left Wing under Brigadier-General Lawrence
- Left Attack under Brigadier Wolfe, seconded by Colonels Murray and Fletcher
- Converged Grenadier (4 coys) from the 15th, 22nd, 17th and 1st Foot
- Irregulars and Light Infantry
- 78th Fraser’s Highlanders
- Converged Grenadier (8 coys) from the 40th, 47th, 45th, 35th, 58th, II,/60th, III/60th and 48th Foot
N.B.: 28th Bragg's Foot was supposed to be part of the right wing but was mdetached to make a feint to the eastward
At daybreak (June 8) the frigates of the squadron anchored before each point of real or pretended attack: the Kennington (20) and Halifax (12) 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 Pointe Blanche, 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 willfully 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 three 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 Royale.
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 14, the frigate Écho (26), who had been sent to Québec for aid under cover of a fog, was chased and captured by the Juno (32). A day or two after, the French saw her pass the mouth of the harbour with a British flag at her mast-head.
On June 16, fearing to be blockaded in the harbour of Port-Dauphin, the Comte du Chaffault sailed for Québec with his squadron.
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 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. The siege of Louisbourg lasted till July 26 when the place surrendered.
On June 27, the Formidable (80) entered in the harbour of Brest, after her unsuccessful attempt to reinforce Louisbourg. Courbon-Blénac was later made port commander of Brest, a sign typical of censorship and demotion.
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. 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, 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 6 ships of the line, 2 frigates and 1 fireship, set out on an errand but little to his liking. More precisely, this squadron consisted of:
- Royal William (100)
- Vanguard (70)
- Devonshire (74)
- Lancaster (66)
- Bedford (64)
- Pembroke (60)
- Juno (32)
- Kennington (20)
- Fireship Aetna (8)
Wolfe 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.
On September 17, du Chaffault's squadron left Québec for Brest. He took the Belle Isle Straits, going north around Newfoundland.
Boscawen returns to Great Britain
Boscawen left the recently promoted Rear-Admiral Durell with a part of his squadron to winter in America:
- Princess Amelia (80)
- Vanguard (70)
- Devonshire (74)
- Captain (64)
- Prince Frederick (64)
- Pembroke (60)
- Prince of Orange (60) (unidentified ship)
- Bedford (64)
- Norwich (50)
- Sutherland (50)
- Hind (24)
- Squirrel (20)
- Kennington (20)
- Hunter (10)
Boscawen 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)
- Orford (70)
- Somerset (64)
- Lancaster (66)
- Bienfaisant (64), Captain George Balfour with only a few rounds of powder on board
- Boreas (28)
- Trent (28)
- Echo (26), Captain John Laforey
- Gramont (18)
- Fireship Aetna (8)
- Fireship Lightning (8) (unidentified ship)
Boscawen then sighted the French squadron returning from Québec under M. du Chaffault. The squadron was described as “five ships and some smaller vessels”. Best evidence suggests this squadron consisted of:
- Dragon (64)
- Hardi (64)
- Brillant (64)
- Sphynx (64)
- Belliqueux (64)
- 1 unidentified frigate
- Carnarvon, a captured British East Indian Merchant
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.
In November, the Magnifique (74) finally reached Brest after her unsuccessful attempt to reinforce Louisbourg. Some 342 men had died during this expedition, most from typhus and 120 men from hypothermia.
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
- McLennan, John Stewart: Louisbourg, from its foundation to its fall, 1713-1758, London: Macmillan, 1918, pp. 238-241, 250-251
- La Nicolière-Teijeiro, S. de: Louisbourg, le Canada in Revue Historique de l’Ouest, vol. 10, pp. 685-690
Boscawen, Hugh: The Capture of Louisbourg, 1758, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2011, pp. 72, 79-117, 381, Appendix B and C
Dull, J. R.: The French Navy and the Seven Years' War. (France Overseas: Studies in Empire and Decolonization.), Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005, pp. 80, 118
Kenneth P. Dunne for researching this campaign