Siege of Louisbourg (1758)


Siege of Louisbourg (1758)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Siege of Louisbourg
partof=the French and Indian War
date=June 8, 1758 – July 26, 1758
place=Louisbourg, Nova Scotia
result=British victory
combatant1=flagicon|United Kingdom|1606 Kingdom of Great Britain
flagicon|United Kingdom|1606 British Colonies
combatant2=
commander1=Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst
Edward Boscawen (naval commander)
commander2=Chevalier de Drucour
strength1=14,000 soldiers,12,000 sailors and marines, 150 transport vessels, 40 men-o-war
strength2=3,500 soldiers, 3,500 sailors and marines, 5 ships of the line (including 74-gun "L'Entreprenant" and "Prudent")
casualties1= ???
casualties2=400 KIA, 1300 sick & wounded KIA, remainder surrendered5 warships|
The Siege of Louisbourg was a pivotal battle of the French and Indian Wars and Seven Years War in 1758 which ended the French colonial era in Atlantic Canada and led directly to the loss of Quebec and French North America the following year. The British government realized that with the Fortress of Louisbourg under French control, there was no way that the Royal Navy could sail down the St. Lawrence River for an attack on Quebec unmolested. A large scale previous attempt in 1757 led by Lord Loudon had failed due to a strong French naval deployment. However the British under Prime Minister William Pitt resolved to try again with new commanders.

Pitt assigned the duty of capturing the fortress to Major General Jeffery Amherst. On this mission, Amherst's brigadiers would be Charles Lawrence, James Wolfe and Edward Whitmore. Naval Command was assigned to Edward Boscawen. The Chief Engineer was John Henry Bastide who had been present at the first siege of Louisbourg in 1745 and had been chief engineer at Fort St Philip, Minorca, in 1756 when the British had surrendered the fort and the island to the French after a long siege.

Order of Battle

British forces assembled at Halifax, Nova Scotia where army and navy units spent most of May training together and assembling a massive invasion fleet. On May 29th, 1758, the Royal Navy fleet departed from Halifax for Louisbourg. The fleet consisted of 150 transport ships and 40 men-of-war. Housed in these ships were almost 14,000 soldiers, almost all of whom were regulars (with the exception of four companies of American rangers). The force was to be divided into three divisions: "Red": commanded by James Wolfe, "Blue": commanded by Charles Lawrence and "White": commanded by Edward Whitmore. On June 2, 1758, the British force anchored in Gabarus Bay, three miles from Louisbourg.

The French commander Chevalier de Drucour (Governor of Isle Royale) had at his disposal some 3,500 regulars as well as approximately 3,500 marines and sailors from the French warships in the harbour. However, unlike the previous year, the French navy was unable to assemble in significant numbers, leaving the French squadron at Louisbourg outnumbered five to one by the British fleet. Drucour had ordered trenches to be prepared, along with other defences, such as an artillery battery, at Kennington Cove. 2,000 French troops manned the line of defences at the Cove.

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Amherst launched his assault using a flotilla of small boats, organized in 3 divisions, each commanded by one of his brigadiers. French defenses were initially successful and after heavy losses, Wolfe ordered a retreat. However at the last minute, a boatload of light infantry in Wolfe's division found a rocky inlet unprotected by French fire and secured a beach head. Wolfe redirected the rest of his division to follow. Outflanked, the French retreated rapidly back to their fortress.

Continuing heavy seas and the difficulty of moving siege equipment over the boggy terrain delayed the commencement of the formal siege. In the meantime Wolfe was sent with 1220 picked man around the harbour to seize Lighthouse point which dominated the harbour entrance. This he did on 12 June. After eleven days, on June 19, the British artillery batteries were in position and the orders were given to open fire on the French. The British battery consisted of seventy cannon and mortars of all sizes. Within hours, the guns had destroyed walls and damaged several buildings.

On July 21, 1758, a mortar round from a British gun on Light House Point struck a 74 gun French ship of the line, "L'Entreprenant", and set it ablaze. A stiff breeze fanned the fire, and shortly after the "L'Entreprenant" caught fire, two other French ships had caught fire. "L'Entreprenant" exploded later in the day, depriving the French of the largest ship in the Louisbourg fleet.

The next major blow to French morale came on the evening of July 23, at 10:00. At this hour, a British "hot shot" set the King's Bastion, which was inside the fort, on fire. The King's Bastion was the fortress headquarters and the largest building in North America in 1758. Its destruction eroded confidence in the French troops and their hopes to lift the British siege of their fortress. Morale plummeted.

July 25 is regarded by most historians as the "straw that broke the camel's back". Using a thick fog as cover, Admiral Edward Boscawen sent a cutting-out party to destroy the French ships in the harbour. The British raiders eliminated the last two French ships of the line, capturing the "Bienfaisant" and burning the "Prudent", thus clearing the way for the Royal Navy to seize the harbour.

Capitulation

On July 26, 1758, The French guns fell silent at Louisbourg for the last time. The French surrendered. Having fought a spirited defence, the French expected to be granted "honours of war" as given to the surrendering British at the Battle of Minorca. However, Amherst refused, memories of the atrocities committed by the French's native allies at the surrender of Fort Oswego and Fort William Henry probably being fresh in his mind. The defenders of Louisbourg were ordered to surrender all of their arms, equipment and flags. These actions outraged the French commander, Drucour. Yet he realized that the safety of the non-combatant inhabitants of Louisbourg depended upon him making the correct decision, thus he reluctantly accepted the terms of surrender.

The combination of receiving no "honours of war" and the orders stating that the regimental colours were to be handed over to the British caused defiance by the Cambis Regiment. This regiment refused to honour the terms of surrender, instead deciding to break their muskets and burn their regimental flags rather than hand them over to the British victors. (Fowler, 171)

In the following year, 1759, Louisbourg was used as the launch point for Wolfe's expedition to Quebec. Following the surrender of Quebec, British forces and engineers set about methodically destroying the fortress of Louisbourg with explosives, ensuring the fortress could not return to French possession a second time in the eventual peace treaty. By 1760, the entire fortress was left as mounds of rubble.

References

*Fowler, William M. "Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle For North America." Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 2005
*Warner, Oliver. "With Wolfe to Quebec". Toronto: William Collins Sons and Company Ltd., 1972 ISBN 0002119420
*"Louisbourg: From its Founding to its Fall" by J.S. McLennan, Macmillian and Co. Ltd London, UK 1918
*"Endgame 1758" A.J.B. Johnson, 2008


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