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Annihilation, 1760

The new garrison of Louisbourg hated it as thoroughly as any of their predecessors, French or British. They repaired the breaches, in a temporary way, and ran up shelters for the winter. Interest revived with the spring; for Wolfe was coming back again, this time to command an army of his own and take Quebec.

The great absorbing question was, Who's for the front and who for the base? Both fleet and army made their rendezvous at Louisbourg; a larger fleet and a smaller army than those of the year before. Two new toasts were going the rounds of the Service: 'Here's to the eye of a Hawke and the heart of a Wolfe!' and 'Here's to British colors on every French fort, port, and garrison in America!' Of course they were standing toasts. The men who drank them already felt the presage of Pitt's great Empire Year of 1759.

The last two weeks in May and the first in June were full of glamour in crowded, stirring Louisbourg. There was Wolfe's picked army of nine thousand men, with Saunders's mighty fleet of fifty men-of-war, mounting two thousand guns, comprising a quarter of the whole Royal Navy, and convoying more than two hundred transports and provision ships; all coming and going, landing, embarking, drilling, dividing, massing; every one expectant of glorious results and eager to begin. Who wouldn't be for the front at the climax of a war like this?

Then came the final orders issued in Louisbourg. '1st June, 1759. The Troops land no more. The flat-bottomed boats to be hoisted in, that the ships may be ready to sail at the first signal.' '2nd June, 1759. The Admiral purposes sailing the first fair wind.' On the 4th a hundred and forty-one sail weighed anchor together. All that day and the next they were assembling outside and making for the island of Scatari, just beyond the point of Cape Breton, which is only ten miles north of Louisbourg. By noon on the 6th the last speck of white had melted away from the Louisbourg horizon and the men for the front were definitely parted from those left behind at the base.

Great things were dared and done at the front that year, in Europe, Asia, and America. But nothing was done at dull little Louisbourg, except the wearisome routine of a disgustingly safe base. Rocks, bogs, fogs, sand, and scrubby bush ashore. Tantalizing news from the stirring outside world afloat. So the long, blank, summer days wore through.

The second winter proved a little more comfortable than the first had been. But there was less, far less, for the garrison to expect in the spring. In February 1760 the death-warrant of Louisbourg was signed in London by Pitt and King George II. In the following summer it was executed by Captain John Byron, R. N., the poet's grandfather. Sailors, sappers, and miners worked for months together, laying the pride of Louisbourg level with the dust. That they carried out their orders with grim determination any one can see to-day by visiting the grave in which they buried so many French ambitions.

All the rest of Ile Royale lost its French life in the same supreme catastrophe--the little forts and trading-posts, the fishing-villages and hamlets; even the farms along the Mira, which once were thought so like the promise of a second French Acadia.

Nothing remains of that dead past, anywhere inland, except a few gnarled, weather-beaten stumps of carefully transplanted plum and apple trees, with, here and there, a straggling little patch of pale, forlorn narcissus, now soothing the alien air in vain, round shapeless ruins, as absolute and lone as those of Louisbourg itself.


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Chronicles of Canada, The Great Fortress, A Chronicle of Louisbourg 1720-1760, 1915

 

Chronicles of Canada


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