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The Sea Link Lost, 1745

Rome would not rest till she had ruined Carthage. Britain would not rest till she had seen Dunkirk demolished. New England would not rest till she had taken Louisbourg.

Louisbourg was unique in all America, and that was its undoing. It was the one sentinel beside the gateway to New France; therefore it ought to be taken before Quebec and Canada were attacked. It was the one corsair lying in perpetual wait beside the British lines of seaborne trade; therefore it must be taken before British shipping could be safe. It was the one French sea link between the Old World and the New; therefore its breaking was of supreme importance. It was the one real fortress ever heard of in America, and it was in absolutely alien hands; therefore, so ran New England logic, it was most offensive to all true Britons, New Englanders, and Puritans; to all rivals in smuggling, trade, and privateering; and to all right-thinking people generally.

The weakness of Louisbourg was very welcome news to energetic Massachusetts. In 1744, when Frederick the Great had begun the War of the Austrian Succession and France had taken arms against Great Britain, du Quesnel, the governor of Louisbourg, who had received the intelligence of these events some weeks before the alert Bostonians, at once decided to win credit by striking the first blow. He was much disliked in Louisbourg. He drank hard, cursed his subordinates when in his cups, and set the whole place by the ears. Moreover, many of those under him wished to avoid giving the British Americans any provocation, in the hope that the war might be confined to Europe. But none dared to refuse a legal and positive order. So in May his expedition left for Canso, where there was a little home-made British fort on the strait between Cape Breton and the mainland of Nova Scotia. The eighty fishermen in Canso surrendered to du Vivier, the French commander, who sent them on to Boston, after burning their fort to the ground. Elated by this somewhat absurd success, and strengthened by nearly a hundred regulars and four hundred Indians, who raised his total force to at least a thousand men, du Vivier next proceeded against Annapolis on the west side of Nova Scotia. But Mascarene, the British commander there, stood fast on his defense, though his men were few and his means small. The Acadian French in the vicinity were afraid to join du Vivier openly. The siege dragged on. The British received a slight reinforcement. The French did not. And in September du Vivier suddenly retired without attempting an assault.

The burning of Canso and the attack on Annapolis stirred up the wrath of New England. A wild enthusiast, William Vaughan, urged Governor Shirley of Massachusetts to make an immediate counter-attack. Shirley was an English lawyer, good at his own work, but very anxious to become famous as a conqueror. He lent a willing ear to Vaughan, and astounded the General Court of Massachusetts on January 21, 1745, by first inducing the members to swear secrecy and then asking them to consider a plan for a colonial expedition against Louisbourg. He and they were on very good terms. But they were provincial, cautious, and naturally slow when it came to planning campaigns and pledging their credit for what was then an enormous sum of money. Nor could they be blamed. None of them knew much about armies and navies; most thought Louisbourg was a real transatlantic Dunkirk; and all knew that they were quite insolvent already. Their joint committee of the two Houses reported against the scheme; whereupon each House carried a secret adverse vote by a large majority.

But, just before these votes were taken, a Puritan member from a country district wrestled in what he thought confidential prayer with such loud ejaculations that an eavesdropper overheard him and passed the secret on. Of course the momentous news at once began to run like wildfire through the province. Still, the 'Noes had it,' both in the country and the House. Shirley was dejected and in doubt what to do next. But James Gibson, the merchant militiaman, suddenly hit on the idea of getting up a petition among the business community. The result surpassed every expectation. All the merchants were eager for attack. Louisbourg embodied everything they feared and hated: interference with seaborne commerce, rank popery, French domination, trouble with Acadia, and the chance of being themselves attacked. When the petition was presented to both Houses, the whole subject was again debated. Provincial insolvency and the absence of either a fleet or an army were urged by the Opposition. But the fighting party put forth all their strength and pleaded that delay meant reinforcements for Louisbourg and a good chance lost for ever. The vote would have been a tie if a member of the Opposition had not slipped and broken his leg as he was hurrying down to the House. Once the decision had been reached, however, all did their best to ensure success.

Shirley wrote to his brother governors. Vaughan galloped off post-haste to New Hampshire with the first official letter. Gibson led the merchants in local military zeal. The result was that Massachusetts, which then included Maine, raised over 3,000 men, while New Hampshire and Connecticut raised about 500 each. Rhode Island concurred, but ungraciously and ineffectually late. She nursed two grudges against Massachusetts, one about the undeniably harsh treatment meted out to her great founder, Roger Williams, the other about that most fruitful source of inter-provincial mischief-making, a disputed boundary. New York lent some guns, which proved very useful. The remaining colonies did nothing.

Shirley's choice of a commander-in-chief wisely fell on William Pepperrell. There was no military leader in the whole of New England. So the next most suitable man was the civilian who best combined the necessary qualities of good sense, sound knowledge of men and affairs, firmness, diplomacy, and popularity. Popularity was essential, because all the men were volunteers. Pepperrell, who answered every reasonable test, went through the campaign with flying colors and came out of it as the first and only baronet of Massachusetts. He was commissioned as major-general by all three contributing provinces, since none of them recognized any common authority except that of the crown. He was ably seconded by many leading men who, if not trained soldiers, were at least accustomed to the organization of public life; for in those days the word politician had not become a term of reproach in America, and the people were often represented by men of the highest character.

The financial difficulty was overcome by issuing letters of credit, which were afterwards redeemed by the Imperial government, at a total cost of nearly a quarter of a million sterling. There was no time and there were no means to change the militia into an army. But many compensating advantages helped to make up for its deficiencies. The men volunteered eagerly. They were all very keen to fight the French. Most of them understood the individual use of firearms. Many of them had been to sea and had learned to work together as a crew. Nearly all of them had the handiness then required for life in a new country. And, what with conviction and what with prejudice, they were also quite disposed to look upon the expedition as a sort of Crusade against idolatrous papists, and therefore as a very proper climax to the Great Awakening which had recently roused New England to the heights of religious zealotry under the leadership of the famous George Whitefield himself.

Strangely enough, neither Whitefield nor his friend Pepperrell was at all sure that the expedition was a wise or even a godly venture. Whitefield warned Pepperrell that he would be envied if he succeeded and abused if he failed. The Reverend Thomas Prince openly regretted the change of enemy. 'The Heavenly shower is over. From fighting the Devil they needs must turn to fighting the French.' But Parson Moody, most truculent of Puritans, had no doubts whatever. The French, the pope, and the Devil were all one to him; and when he embarked as senior chaplain he took a hatchet with which to break down the graven images of Louisbourg. In the end Whitefield warmed up enough to give the expedition its official motto: 'Nil desperandum Christo Duce.' The 'Never Despair' heartened the worldlings. The 'Christ our Commander' appealed to the 'Great Awakened.' And the whole saying committed him to nothing particular concerning the issue at stake.

The three militia contingents numbered 4,270 men. The three naval contingents had 13 vessels mounting 216 guns. In addition to both these forces there were the transports, which had considerable crews. But all these together, if caught on the open sea, would be no match for a few regular men-of-war. New England had no navy, though the New Englanders had enjoyed a good deal of experience in minor privateering against the Spaniards during the last few years, as well as a certain amount of downright piracy in time of peace, whenever a Frenchman or a Spaniard could be safely taken at a disadvantage. So Shirley asked Commodore Warren, commanding the North American station, to lend his aid. Warren had married an American and was very well disposed towards the colonists. But, having no orders from England, he at first felt obliged to refuse. Within a short time, however, he was given a free hand by the Imperial government, which authorized him to concert measures with Shirley 'for the annoyance of the enemy, and for his Majesty's Service in North America.'

Warren immediately sailed for Canso with three men-of-war and sent for another to join him. His wait for orders made him nearly three weeks later than the New Englanders in arriving at the rendezvous. But this delay, due to no fault of his own, was really an advantage to the New England militia, who thus had a chance of learning a little more drill and discipline. His four vessels carried 180 guns and 1,150 men at full strength. The thirteen Provincial armed vessels carried more than 1,000 men. No exact returns were ever made out for the transports. But as '68 lay at anchor' in Canso harbor, while others 'came dropping in from day to day,' as there were 4,270 militiamen on board, in addition to all the stores, and as the French counted '96 transports' making for Gabarus Bay, there could not have been less than 100, while the crews could hardly have mustered less than an average of 20 men each. The grand total, at the beginning of the expedition, could not, therefore, have been less than 8,000 men, of all sorts put together--over 4,000 American Provincial militia, over 1,000 men of the Royal Navy, quite 1,000 men aboard the Provincial fighting vessels, and at least 2,000 more as crews to work the transports.

May 1, the first Sunday the Provincials spent at Canso, was a day of great and multifarious activity, both sacred and profane. Parson Moody, the same who had taken the war-path with his iconoclastic hatchet, delivered a tremendous philippic from the text, 'Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power.' Luckily for his congregation he had the voice of a Stentor, as there were several mundane competitors in an adjoining field, each bawling the word of command at the full pitch of his lungs. A conscientious diarist, though full of sabbatarian zeal, was fain to admit that 'Severall sorts of Busnesses was a-Going on: Sum a-Exercising, Sum a-Hearing o' the Preaching.'

On May 5 Warren sailed into Canso. The Provincials thought the date of his arrival a very happy omen, as it fell on what was then, according to the Old Style calendar, St George's Day, April 23. After a conference with Pepperrell he hurried off to begin the blockade of Louisbourg. A week later, May 21, the transports joined him there, and landed their militiamen for one of the most eccentric sieges ever known.

While the British had been spending the first four months of 1745 in preparing 8,000 men, the French authorities in Louisbourg, whose force was less than 2,000, had been wasting the same precious time in ridiculous councils of war. It is a well-known saying that councils of war never fight. But these Louisbourg councils did not even prepare to fight. The news from Boston was not heeded. Worse yet, no attention was paid to the American scouting vessels, which had been hovering off the coast for more than a month. The bibulous du Quesnel had died in October. But his successor, du Chambon, was no better as a commandant. Perhaps the kindest thing to say of du Chambon is that he was the foolish father of a knavish son--of that du Chambon de Vergor who, in the next war, surrendered Fort Beausejour without a siege and left one sleepy sentry to watch Wolfe's Cove the night before the Battle of the Plains.

It is true that du Chambon had succeeded to a thoroughly bad command. He had no naval force whatever; and the military force had become worse instead of better. The mutiny in December had left the 560 regulars in a very sullen frame of mind. They knew that acquisitive government officials were cheating them out of their proper rations of bacon and beans. The officials knew that the soldiers knew. And so suspicion and resentment grew strong between them. The only other force was the militia, which, with certain exceptions, comprised every male inhabitant of Cape Breton who could stand on two legs and hold a musket with both hands. There were boys in their early teens and old men in their sixties. Nearly 1,800 ought to have been available. But four or five hundred that might have been brought in never received their marching orders. So the total combatants only amounted to some 1,900, of whom 1,350 were militia. The non-combatants numbered nearly as many. The cramped hundred acres of imprisoned Louisbourg thus contained almost 4,000 people--mutineers and militia, women and children, drones and other officials, all huddled up together.

No reinforcements arrived after the first appearance of the British fleet. Marin, a well-known guerilla leader, had been sent down from Quebec, through the bush, with six or seven hundred whites and Indians, to join the two thousand men whom the French government had promised du Vivier for a second, and this time a general, attack on Acadia. But these other two thousand were never sent; and Marin, having failed to take Annapolis by the first week in June, was too late and too weak to help Louisbourg afterwards. The same ill luck pursued the French by sea. On April 30 the Renommee, a very smart frigate bringing out dispatches, was chased off by the Provincial cruisers; while all subsequent arrivals from the outside world were intercepted by Warren.

The landing effected on May 12 was not managed according to Shirley's written instructions; nor was the siege. Shirley had been playing a little war game in his study, with all the inconvenient obstacles left out--the wind, the weather, the crashing surf in Gabarus Bay, the rocks and bogs of the surrounding country, the difficulties of entering a narrow-necked harbor under a combination of end-on and broadside fire, the terrible lee shore off the islands, reefs, and Lighthouse Point, the commonest vigilance of the most slovenly garrison, and even the offensive power of the guns on the walls of Louisbourg itself. Shirley's plan was that Pepperrell should arrive in the offing too late to be seen, land unobserved, and march on Louisbourg in four detachments while the garrison was wrapped in slumber. Two of these detachments were to march within striking distance and then 'halt and keep a profound silence.' The third was to march 'under cover of said hills' until it came opposite the Royal Battery, which it was to assault on a given signal; while the 'profound silence' men rushed the western gate. The fourth detachment was to race along the shore, scale a certain spot in the wall, 'and secure the windows of the Governor's Apartments.' All this was to be done by raw militia, on ground they had never reconnoitered, and in the dead of night.

Needless to say, Pepperrell tried something quite different. At daybreak of the 12th the whole fleet stood into Gabarus Bay, a large open roadstead running west from the little Louisbourg peninsula. The Provincials eyed the fortress eagerly. It looked mean, squat, and shrunken in the dim grey light of early dawn. But it looked hard enough, for all that. Its alarm bells began to ring. Its signal cannon fired. And all the people who had been living outside hurried in behind the walls.

The New Englanders were so keen to land that they ran some danger of falling into complete disorder. But Pepperrell managed very cleverly. Seeing that some Frenchmen were ready to resist a landing on Flat Point, two miles south-west of Louisbourg, he made a feint against it, drew their fire, and then raced his boats for Freshwater Cove, another two miles beyond. Having completely outdistanced the handful of panting Frenchmen, he landed in perfect safety and presently scattered them with a wild charge which cost them about twenty in killed, wounded, and prisoners. Before dark two thousand Provincials were ashore. The other two thousand landed at their leisure the following day.

The next event in this extraordinary siege is one of the curiosities of war. On May 14 the enthusiastic Vaughan took several hundreds of these newly landed men to the top of the nearest hillock and saluted the walls with three cheers. He then circled the whole harbor, keeping well inland, till he reached the undefended storehouses on the inner side of the North-East Harbor, a little beyond the Royal Battery. These he at once set on fire. The pitch, tar, wood, and other combustibles made a blinding smoke, which drifted over the Royal Battery and spread a stampeding panic among its garrison of four hundred men. Vaughan then retired for the night. On his return to the Royal Battery in the morning, with only thirteen men, he was astounded to see no sign of life there. Suspecting a ruse, he bribed an Indian with a flask of brandy to feign being drunk and reel up to the walls. The Indian reached the fort unchallenged, climbed into an embrasure, and found the whole place deserted. Vaughan followed at once; and a young volunteer, shinning up the flag-pole, made his own red coat fast to the top. This defiance was immediately answered by a random salvo from Louisbourg, less than a mile across the harbor.

Vaughan's next move was to write a dispatch to Pepperrell: 'May it please your Honor to be informed that by the Grace of God and the courage of 13 Men I entered the Royal Battery about 9 o' the clock and am waiting for a reinforcement and a flag.' He had hardly sent this off before he was attacked by four boats from Louisbourg. Quite undaunted, however, he stood out on the open beach with his thirteen men and kept them all at bay till the reinforcement and the flag arrived with Bradstreet, who was afterwards to win distinction as the captor of Fort Frontenac during the great campaign of 1759.

This disgraceful abandonment and this dramatic capture of the Royal Battery marked the first and most decisive turning-point in the fortunes of the siege. The French were dismayed, the British were elated; and both the dismay and the elation grew as time wore on, because everything seemed to conspire against the French and in favor of the British. Even the elements, as the anonymous Habitant de Louisbourg complains in his wonderfully candid diary, seemed to have taken sides. There had never been so fine a spring for naval operations. But this was the one thing which was entirely independent of French fault or British merit. All the other strokes of luck owed something to human causes. Wise-acres had shaken their heads over the crazy idea of taking British cannon balls solely to fit French cannon that were to be taken at the beginning of the siege: it was too much like selling the pelt before the trap was sprung. Yet these balls actually were used to load the forty-two pounders taken with the Royal Battery! Moreover, as if to cap the climax, ten other cannon were found buried in the North-East Harbor; and again spare British balls were found to fit exactly! The fact is that what we should now call the Intelligence Department had been doing good work the year before by spying out the land at Louisbourg and reporting to the proper men in Boston.

The Bostonians had always intended to take the Royal Battery at the earliest possible moment. But nobody had thought that the French would abandon it without a blow and leave it intact for their enemy, with all its armament complete. The French council of war apparently shrank from hurting the feelings of the engineer in charge, who had pleaded for its preservation! They then ran away without spiking the guns properly, and without making the slightest attempt either to burn the carriages or knock the trunnions off. The invaluable stores were left in their places. The only real destruction was caused by a barrel of powder, which some bunglers blew up by mistake. The inevitable consequence of all this French ineptitude was that the Royal Battery roared against Louisbourg the very next morning with tremendous effect, smashing the works most exposed to its fire, bringing down houses about the inhabitants' ears, and sending the terrified non-combatants scurrying off to underground cover.

Meanwhile the bulk of the New Englanders were establishing their camp along the brook which fell into Gabarus Bay beside Flat Point and within two miles of Louisbourg. Equipment of all kinds was very scarce. Tents were so few and bad that old sails stretched over ridge-poles had to be used instead. When sails ran short, brushwood shelters roofed in with overlapping spruce boughs were used as substitutes.

Landing the four thousand men had been comparatively easy work. But landing the stores was very hard indeed; while landing the guns was not only much harder still, but full of danger as well. Many a flat-boat was pounded into pulpwood while unloading the stores, though the men waded in waist-deep and carried all the heavy bundles on their heads and shoulders. When it came to the artillery, it meant a boat lost for every single piece of ordnance landed. Nor was even this the worst; for, strange as it may seem, there was, at first, more risk of foundering ashore than afloat. There were neither roads nor yet the means to make them. There were no horses, oxen, mules, or any other means of transport, except the brawny men themselves, who literally buckled to with anchor-cable drag-ropes--a hundred pair of straining men for each great, lumbering gun. Over the sand they went at a romp. Over the rocks they had to take care; and in the dense, obstructing scrub they had to haul through by main force. But this was child's play to what awaited them in the slimy, shifting, and boulder-strewn bog they had to pass before reaching the hillocks which commanded Louisbourg.

The first attempts here were disastrous. The guns sank out of sight in the engulfing bog; while the toiling men became regular human targets for shot and shell from Louisbourg. It was quite plain that the British batteries could never be built on the hillocks if the guns had nothing to keep them from a boggy grave, and if the men had no protection from the French artillery. But a ship-builder colonel, Meserve of New Hampshire, came to the rescue by designing a gun-sleigh, sixteen feet in length and five in the beam. Then the crews were told off again, two hundred men for each sleigh, and orders were given that the work should not be done except at night or under cover of the frequent fogs. After this, things went much better than before. But the labor was tremendous still; while the danger from random shells bursting among the boulders was not to be despised. Four hundred struggling feet, four hundred straining arms--each team hove on its long, taut cable through fog, rain, and the blackness of the night, till every gun had been towed into one of the batteries before the walls. The triumph was all the greater because the work grew, not easier, but harder as it progressed. The same route used twice became an impassable quagmire. So, when the last two hundred men had wallowed through, the whole ensnaring bog was seamed with a perfect maze of decoying death-trails snaking in and out of the forbidding scrub and boulders.

Pepperrell's dispatches could not exaggerate these 'almost incredible hardships.' Afloat and ashore, awake and asleep, the men were soaking wet for days together. At the end of the longest haul they had nothing but a choice of evils. They could either lie down where they were, on hard rock or oozing bog, exposed to the enemy's fire the moment it was light enough to see the British batteries, or they could plough their way back to camp. Here they were safe enough from shot and shell; but, in other respects, no better off than in the batteries. Most men's kits were of the very scantiest. Very few had even a single change of clothing. A good many went bare-foot. Nearly all were in rags before the siege was over.

When twenty-five pieces had been dragged up to Green Hill and its adjoining hillocks, the bombardment at last began. The opening salvo seemed to give the besiegers new life. No sooner was their first rough line of investment formed than they commenced gaining ground, with a disregard for cover which would have cost them dear if the French practice had not been quite as bad as their own. A really wonderful amount of ammunition was fired off on both sides without hitting anything in particular. Louisbourg itself was, of course, too big a target to be missed, as a rule; and the besiegers soon got so close that they simply had to be hit themselves now and then. But, generally speaking, it may be truthfully said that while, in an ordinary battle, it takes a man's own weight in cartridges to kill him, in this most extraordinary siege it took at least a horse's weight as well.

The approach to the walls defied all the usual precautions of regular war. But the circumstances justified its boldness. With only four thousand men at the start, with nearly half of this total on the sick list at one rather critical juncture, with very few trained gunners, and without any corps of engineers at all, the Provincials adapted themselves to the situation so defiantly that they puzzled, shook, and overawed the French, who thought them two or three times stronger than they really were. Recklessly defiant though they were, however, they did provide the breaching batteries with enough cover for the purpose in hand. This is amply proved both by the fewness of their casualties and by the evidence of Bastide, the British engineer at Annapolis, who inspected the lines of investment on his arrival, twelve days before the surrender, and reported them sufficiently protected.

Where the Provincials showed their 'prentice hands to genuine disadvantage was in their absurdly solemn and utterly futile councils of war. No schoolboys' debating club could well have done worse than the council held to consider du Chambon's stereotyped answer to the usual summons sent in at the beginning of a siege. The formula that 'his cannon would answer for him' provoked a tremendous storm in the council's teacup and immediately resulted in the following resolution: 'Advised, Unanimously, that the Towne of Louisbourg be Attacked this Night.' But, confronted with 'a great Dissatysfaction in many of the officers and Souldiers at the designed attack of the towne this Night,' it was 'Advised, Unanimously,' by a second council, called in great haste, 'that the Said Attack be deferred for the Present.' This 'Present' lasted during the rest of the siege.

Once the New Englanders had settled down, however, they wisely began to increase their weight of metal, as well as to decrease the range at which they used it. They set to work with a will to make a breach at the North-West Gate of Louisbourg, near where the inner angle of the walls abutted on the harbor; and they certainly needed all their indomitable perseverance when it came to arming their new 'North-Western' or 'Titcomb's Battery.' The twenty-two pounders had required two hundred men apiece. The forty-two pounders took three hundred. Two of these unwieldy guns were hauled a couple of miles round the harbor, in the dark, from that 'Royal Battery' which Vaughan had taken 'by the Grace of God and the courage of 13 Men,' and then successfully mounted at 'Titcomb's,' just where they could do the greatest damage to their former owners, the French.

Well-trained gunners were exceedingly scarce. Pepperrell could find only six among his four thousand men. But Warren lent him three more, whom he could ill spare, as no one knew when a fleet might come out from France. With these nine instructors to direct them Pepperrell's men closed in their line of fire till besieged and besiegers came within such easy musket-shot of one another that taunting challenges and invitations could be flung across the intervening space.

Each side claimed advantages and explained shortcomings to its own satisfaction. A New England diarist says: 'We began our fire with as much fury as possible, and the French returned it as warmly with Cannon, Mortars, and continual showers of musket balls; but by 11 o'clock we had beat them all from their guns.' A French diarist of the same day says that the fire from the walls was stopped on purpose, chiefly to save powder; while the same reason is assigned for the British order to cease fire exactly one hour later.

The practice continued to be exceedingly bad on both sides; so bad, indeed, that the New Englanders suffered more from the bursting of their own guns than from the enemy's fire. The nine instructors could not be everywhere; and all their good advice could not prevent the eager amateurs from grossly overloading the double-shotted pieces. 'Another 42-pound gun burst at the Grand Battery.' 'Captain Hale is dangerously hurt by the bursting of another gun. He was the mainstay of our gunnery since Captain Rhodes's misfortune'--a misfortune due to the same cause. But, in spite of all such drawbacks on the British side, Louisbourg got much the worst of it. The French had to fire from the centre outwards, at a semicircle of batteries that fired back convergingly at them. Besides, it was almost as hard to hit the thin, irregular line of British batteries as it was to miss the deep, wide target of overcrowded Louisbourg. The walls were continually being smashed from without and patched up from within. The streets were ploughed from end to end. Many houses were laid in ruins: only one remained intact when the siege was over. The non-combatants, who now exceeded the garrison effectives, were half buried in the smothering casemates underground; and though the fighting men had light, air, and food enough, and though they were losing very few in killed and wounded, they too began to feel that Louisbourg must fall if it was not soon relieved from outside.

The British, on the contrary, grew more and more confident, both afloat and ashore, though they had one quite alarming scare ashore. They knew their navy outmatched the French; and they saw that, while Warren was being strengthened, du Chambon was being left as devoid of naval force as ever. But their still greater confidence ashore was, for the time being, very rudely shaken when they heard that Marin, the same French guerilla leader who had been sent down from Quebec against Annapolis with six or seven hundred whites and Indians, had been joined by the promised reinforcements from France and was coming to take the camp in rear. The truth was that the reinforcements never arrived, that Marin had failed to take Annapolis, and that there was no real danger from his own dwindling force, even if it had tried to relieve Louisbourg in June. But the rumor ran quickly through the whole camp, probably not without Pepperrell's own encouragement, and at once produced, not a panic, but the most excellent effect. Discipline, never good, had been growing worse. Punishments were unknown. Officers and men were petitioning for leave to go home, quite regardless of the need for their services at the front. Demands for promotion, for extra allowances, and for increased pay were becoming a standing nuisance. Then, just as the leaders were at their wits' ends what to do, Marin's threatened attack came to their aid; and their brave armed mob once more began to wear the semblance of an army. Sentries, piquets, and outposts appeared as if by magic. Officers went their rounds with zeal. The camp suddenly ceased to be a disorderly playground for every one off duty. The breaching batteries redoubled their efforts against the walls.

The threat of danger once past, however, the men soon slipped back into their careless ways. A New England chronicler records that 'those who were on the spot have frequently, in my hearing, laughed at the recital of their own irregularities and expressed their admiration when they reflected on the almost miraculous preservation of the army from destruction.' Men off duty amused themselves with free-and-easy musketry, which would have been all very well if there had not been such a dearth of powder for the real thing. Races, wrestling, and quoits were better; while fishing was highly commendable, both in the way of diet as well as in the way of sport. Such entries as 'Thritty Lobbsters' and '6 Troutts' appear in several diaries.

Nor were other forms of gaiety forgotten. Even a Massachusetts Puritan could recommend a sermon for general distribution in the camp because 'It will please your whole army, as it shows them the way to gain by their gallantry the hearts and affections of the Ladys.' And even a city of the 'Great Awakening,' like Boston, could produce a letter like the following:

I hope this will find you at Louisbourg with a bowl of Punch, a Pipe, and a Pack of Cards, and whatever else you desire. (I had forgot to mention a Pretty French Madammoselle.) Your Friend Luke has lost several Beaver Hatts already concerning the Expedition. He is so very zealous about it that he has turned poor Boutier out of his house for saying he believed you wouldn't take the Place. Damn his Blood, says Luke, let him be an Englishman or a Frenchman and not pretend to be an Englishman when he is a Frenchman in his Heart. If Drinking to your Success would take Cape Britton you must be in possession of it now, for it's a Standing Toast.

The day this letter was written in Boston, May 6, Warren had already begun the regular blockade. Only a single ship eluded him, an ably handled Basque, which stood in and rounded to, under the walls of Louisbourg, after running the gauntlet of the Royal Battery, on which the French fired with all their might to keep its own fire down. A second vessel was forced aground. Her captain fought her to the last; but Warren's boat crews took her. Some men who escaped from her brought du Chambon the news that a third French ship, the Vigilant, was coming to the relief of Louisbourg with ammunition and other stores. This ship had five hundred and sixty men aboard, that is, as many as all the regulars in Louisbourg. On May 31 the garrison heard a tremendous cannonading out at sea. It grew in volume as Warren's squadron was seen to surround the stranger, who was evidently making a gallant fight against long odds. Presently it ceased; the clustered vessels parted; spread out; and took up their stations exactly as before, except that a new vessel was now flying the British flag. This was the Vigilant, which had been put in charge of a prize crew, while her much-needed stores had been sent in to the Provincial army.

The French in Louisbourg were naturally much discouraged to see one of their best frigates flying the Union Jack. But they still hoped she might not really be the anxiously expected Vigilant. Warren, knowing their anxiety, determined to take advantage of it at the first opportunity. He had not long to wait. A party of New Englanders, wandering too far inland, were ambushed by the French Indians, who promptly scalped all the prisoners. Warren immediately sent in a formal protest to du Chambon, with a covering letter from the captain of the Vigilant, who willingly testified to the good treatment he and his crew were receiving on board the British men-of-war. Warren's messenger spoke French perfectly, but he concealed his knowledge by communicating with du Chambon through an interpreter. This put the French off their guard and induced them to express their dismay without reserve when they read the news about the Vigilant. Everything they said was of course reported back to Warren, who immediately passed it on to Pepperrell.

Warren now thought the time had come to make a bold, decisive stroke. He had just been reinforced by two more frigates out from England. Titcomb's famous brace of forty-two's had just begun to hammer in the North-West Gate of Louisbourg. Pepperrell's lines of investment were quite complete. The chance was too tempting to let slip, especially as it was safe strategy to get into Louisbourg before the French could be relieved either by land or sea. Still, there was the Island Battery to reckon with. It was full of fight, and it flanked the narrow entrance in the most threatening way. Warren paused to consider the strength of this last outpost of the French defenses and called a council of war to help him. For once a council favored extreme measures; whereupon Warren sent in word to Pepperrell, asking for 1,500 Provincials, and proposing a combined assault immediately. The plan was that Warren should sail in, past the Island Battery, and attack the harbor face of Louisbourg with every soldier, sailor, and ship's gun at his disposal; while Pepperrell carried the landward face by assault. This plan might have succeeded, though at considerable loss, if Pepperrell's whole 4,000 had been effective. But as he then had 1,900 sick and wounded, and 600 guarding his rear against the rumoured advance of Marin from Annapolis, it was quite evident that if he gave Warren another 1,500 he would have to assault the landward face alone. Under these circumstances he very sensibly declined to co-operate in the way Warren had suggested. But he offered 600 men, both from his army and the transports, for the Vigilant, whose prize crew would thus be released for duty aboard their own vessels. Warren, who was just over forty, replied with some heat. But Pepperrell, who was just under fifty, kept his temper admirably and carried the day.

Warren, however, still urged Pepperrell to take some decisive step. Both fleet and army agreed that a night attack on the Island Battery was the best alternative to Warren's impracticable plan. Vaughan jumped at the idea, hoping to repeat in another way his success against the Royal Battery. He promised that, if he was given a free hand, he would send Pepperrell the French flag within forty-eight hours. But Vaughan was not to lead. The whole attack was entrusted to men who specially volunteered for it, and who were allowed to choose their own officers. A man called Brooks happened to be on the crest of the wave of camp popularity at the moment; so he was elected colonel for this great occasion. The volunteers soon began to assemble at the Royal Battery. But they came in by driblets, and most of them were drunk. The commandant of the battery felt far from easy. 'I doubt whether straggling fellows, three, four, or seven out of a company, ought to go on such service. They seem to be impatient for action. If there were a more regular appearance, it would give me greater satisfaction.' His misgivings were amply justified; for the men whom Pepperrell was just beginning to form into bodies with some kind of cohesion were once more being allowed to dissolve into the original armed mob.

The night of June 7 was dark and calm. A little before twelve three hundred men, wisely discarding oars, paddled out from the Royal Battery and met another hundred who came from Lighthouse Point. The paddles took them along in silence while they circled the island, looking for the narrow landing-place, where only three boats could go abreast between the destroying rocks on which the surf was breaking. Presently they found the tiny cove, and a hundred and fifty men landed without being discovered. But then, with incredible folly, they suddenly announced their presence by giving three cheers. The French commandant had cautioned his garrison to be alert, on account of the unusual darkness; and, at this very moment, he happened himself to be pacing up and down the rampart overlooking the spot where the volunteers were expressing their satisfaction at having surprised him so well.

His answer was instantaneous and effective. The battery 'blazed with cannon, swivels, and small-arms,' which fired point-blank at the men ashore and with true aim at the boats crowded together round the narrow landing-place. Undaunted though undisciplined, the men ashore rushed at the walls with their scaling-ladders and began the assault. The attempt was vain. The first men up the rungs were shot, stabbed, or cut down. The ladders were smashed or thrown aside. Not one attacker really got home. Meanwhile the leading boats in the little cove were being knocked into splinters by the storm of shot. The rest sheered off. None but the hundred and fifty men ashore were left to keep up the fight with the garrison. For once the odds were entirely with the French, who fired from under perfect cover, while the unfortunate Provincials fired back from the open rocks. This exchange of shots went on till daylight, when one hundred and nineteen Provincials surrendered at discretion. Their total loss was one hundred and eighty-nine, nearly half the force employed.

Despairing Louisbourg naturally made the most of this complete success. The bells were rung and the cannon were fired to show the public joy and to put the best face on the general situation. Du Chambon surpassed himself in gross exaggerations. He magnified the hundred and fifty men ashore into a thousand, and the two hundred and fifty afloat into eight hundred; while he bettered both these statements by reporting that the whole eighteen hundred had been destroyed except the hundred and nineteen who had been taken prisoners.

Du Chambon's triumph was short-lived. The indefatigable Provincials began a battery at Lighthouse Point, which commanded the island at less than half a mile. They had seized this position some time before and called it Gorham's Post, after the colonel whose regiment held it. Fourteen years later there was another and more famous Gorham's Post, on the south shore of the St Lawrence near Quebec, opposite Wolfe's Cove. The arming of this battery was a stupendous piece of work. The guns had to be taken round by sea, out of range of the Island Battery, hauled up low but very dangerous cliffs, and then dragged back overland another mile and a quarter. The directing officer was Colonel Gridley, who drew the official British maps and plans of Louisbourg in 1745, and who, thirty years later, traced the American defenses on the slopes of Bunker's Hill. Du Chambon had attempted to make an attack on Gorham's Post as soon as it was established. His idea was that his men should follow the same route as the British guns had followed--that is, that they should run the gauntlet between the British fleet and army, land well north of Gorham's Post, and take it by surprise from the rear. But his detachment, which was wholly inadequate, failed to strike its blow, and was itself very nearly cut off by Warren's guard-boats on its crest-fallen return to Louisbourg.

Gridley's Lighthouse Battery soon over-matched the Island Battery, where powder was getting dangerously scarce. Many of the French guns were knocked off their mountings, while the walls were breached. Finally, the British bombardment became so effective that Frenchmen were seen running into the water to escape the bursting shells. It was now past the middle of June, and the siege had lasted more than a month. The circle of fire was closing in on the beleaguered garrison. Their total effectives had sunk to only a thousand men. This thousand labored harder in its losing cause than might have been expected. Perhaps the mutineers hoped to be pardoned if they made a firm defense. Perhaps the militia thought they ought not to be outdone by mutineers and hireling foreigners. But, whatever the reason, great efforts were certainly made to build up by night what the British knocked down by day. Two could play at that game, however, and the British had the men and means to win. Their western batteries from the land were smashing the walls into ruins. Their Royal Battery wrecked the whole inner water-front of Louisbourg. Breaches were yawning elsewhere. British fascines were visible in large quantities, ready to fill up the ditch, which was already half full of debris. The French scouts reported hundreds of scaling-ladders on the reverse slopes of the nearest hillocks. Warren's squadron had just been again reinforced, and now numbered eleven sail, carrying 554 guns and 3,000 men. There was no sign of help, by land or sea, for shrunken, battered, and despairing Louisbourg. Food, ammunition, stores were all running out. Moreover, the British were evidently preparing a joint attack, which would result in putting the whole garrison to the sword if a formal surrender should not be made in time.

Now that the Island Battery had been silenced there was no reason why Warren's plan should not be crowned with complete success. Accordingly he arranged with Pepperrell to run in with the first fair wind, at the head of the whole fleet, which, with the Provincial armed vessels, now numbered twenty-four sail, carried 770 guns, and was manned by 4,000 sailors. Half these men could be landed to attack the inner water-front, while Pepperrell could send another 2,000 against the walls. The total odds against Louisbourg would thus be about four to one in men and over eight to one in guns actually engaged.

But this threatened assault was never made. In the early morning of June 27 the non-combatants in Louisbourg unanimously petitioned du Chambon to surrender forthwith. They crept out of their underground dungeons and gazed with mortal apprehension at the overwhelming forces that stood arrayed against their crumbling walls and dwindling garrison. Noon came, and their worst fears seemed about to be realized. But when the drums began beating, it was to a parley, not to arms. A sigh of ineffable relief went up from the whole of Louisbourg, and every eye followed the little white flutter of the flag of truce as it neared that terrible breaching battery opposite the West Gate. A Provincial officer came out to meet it. The French officer and he saluted. Then both moved into the British lines and beyond, to where Warren and Pepperrell were making their last arrangements on Green Hill.

After a short consultation the British leaders sent in a joint reply to say that du Chambon could have till eight the next morning to make his proposals. These proved to be so unacceptable that Pepperrell refused to consider them, and at once sent counter-proposals of his own. Du Chambon had now no choice between annihilation and acceptance, so he agreed to surrender Louisbourg the following day. He was obliged to guarantee that none of the garrison should bear arms against the British, in any part of the world, for a whole year. Every one in Louisbourg was of course promised full protection for both property and person. Du Chambon's one successful stipulation was that his troops should march out with the honors of war, drums beating, bayonets fixed, and colors flying. Warren and Pepperrell willingly accorded this on the 28th; and the formal transfer took place next day, exactly seven weeks since the first eager New Englanders had waded ashore through the thundering surf of Gabarus Bay.

The total losses in killed and wounded were never precisely determined. Each side minimized its own and maximized the enemy's. But as du Chambon admitted a loss of one hundred and forty-five, and as the Provincials claimed to have put three hundred out of action, the true number is probably about two hundred, or just over ten per cent of the whole garrison. The Provincials reported their own killed, quite correctly, at a hundred. The remaining deaths, on both sides, were due to disease. The Provincial wounded were never grouped together in any official returns. They amounted to about three hundred. This brings the total casualties in Pepperrell's army up to four hundred and gives the same percentage as the French. The highest proportion of casualties among all the different forces was the fifteen per cent lost by the French on board the Vigilant in less than five hours' fighting. The lowest was in Warren's squadron and the Provincial Marine--about five in each. The loss of material suffered by the French was, of course, on quite a different scale. Every fortification and other building in Louisbourg, with the remarkable exception of a single house, was at least partly demolished by the nine thousand cannon balls and six hundred shells that hit the target of a hundred acres peopled by four thousand souls.

On the 29th the French marched out with the honors of war, laid down their arms, and were put under guard as prisoners, pending their transport to France. Du Chambon handed the keys to Pepperrell at the South Gate. The victorious but disgusted Provincials marched in by the West Gate, and found themselves set to protect the very houses that they had hoped to plunder. Was it not high time to recoup themselves for serving as soldiers at sixpence a day? Great Babylon had fallen, and ought to be destroyed--of course, with due profit to the destroyers. There was a regular Louisbourg legend, current in New England, that stores of goods and money were to be found in the strong rooms of every house. So we can understand the indignation of men whose ideas were colored by personal contact with smuggling and privateering, and sometimes with downright piracy, when they were actually told off as sentries over these mythical hoards of wealth. One diarist made the following entry immediately after he had heard the news: 'Sabbath Day, ye 16th June [Old Style] they came to Termes for us to enter ye Sitty to morrow, and Poore Termes they Bee too.' Another added that there was 'a great Noys and hubbub a mongst ye Solders a bout ye Plunder: Som a Cursing, Som a Swarein.' Five days later a third indignant Provincial wrote: 'Ye French keep possession yet, and we are forced to stand at their Dores to gard them.' Another sympathetic chronicler, after pouring out the vials of his wrath on the clause which guaranteed the protection of French private property, lamented that 'by these means the poor soldiers lost all their hopes and just demerit [sic] of plunder promised them.'

While Parson Moody was preaching a great thanksgiving sermon, and all the senior officers were among his congregation, there was what responsible officials called 'excessive stealing in every part of the Towne.' Had this stealing really been very 'excessive' no doubt it would have allayed the grumbling in the camp. But, as a matter of fact, there was so little to steal that the looters began to suspect collusion between their leaders and the French. Another fancied wrong exasperated the Provincials at this critical time. A rumor ran through the camp that Warren had forestalled Pepperrell by receiving the keys himself. Warren was cursed, Pepperrell blamed; and a mutinous spirit arose. Then it was suddenly discovered that Pepperrell had put the keys in his pocket.

Meanwhile the fleet was making haul after haul. When Pepperrell marched through the battered West Gate, at the head of his motley army, Warren had led his squadron into the harbor; and both commanders had saluted the raising of the Union Jack which marked the change of ownership. But no sooner had the sound of guns and cheering died away than the Union Jack was lowered and the French flag was raised again, both over the citadel of Louisbourg and over the Island Battery. This stratagem succeeded beyond Warren's utmost expectations. Several French vessels were lured into Louisbourg and captured with stores and men enough to have kept the British out for some weeks longer. Their cargoes were worth about a million dollars. Then, just as the naval men were wondering whether their harvest was over or not, a fine French frigate made for the harbor quite unsuspectingly, and only discovered her fatal mistake too late to turn back. By the irony of circumstances she happened to be called Notre-Dame de la Delivrance. Among her passengers was the distinguished man of science, Don Antonio de Ulloa, on his way to Paris, with all the results of those explorations in South America which he afterwards embodied in a famous book of travel. Warren treated him with the greatest courtesy and promised that all his collections should be duly forwarded to the Royal Academy of Sciences. Once this exchange of international amenities had been ended, however, the usual systematic search began. The visible cargo was all cocoa. But hidden underneath were layers and layers of shining silver dollars from Peru; and, underneath this double million, another two million dollars' worth of ingots of silver and ingots of gold.

The contrast between the poverty of Louisbourg, where so much had been expected, and the rich hauls of prize-money made by the fleet, was gall and wormwood to the Provincials. But their resentment was somewhat tempered by Warren's genial manner towards them. Warren was at home with all sorts and conditions of men. His own brother-officers, statesmen and courtiers, distinguished strangers like Ulloa, and colonial merchants like Pepperrell, were equally loud in his praise. With the lesser and much more easily offended class of New Englanders found in the ranks he was no less popular. A rousing speech, in which he praised the magnificently stubborn work accomplished by 'my wife's fellow-countrymen,' a hearty generosity all round, and a special hogshead of the best Jamaica rum for the garrison of the Royal Battery, won him a great deal of goodwill, in spite of the fact that his 'Admiral's eighth' of the naval prize-money amounted to some sixty thousand pounds, while Pepperrell found himself ten thousand pounds out of pocket at the end of the siege.

Pepperrell, however, was a very rich man, for those colonial days; and he could well afford to celebrate the fall of Louisbourg by giving the chief naval and military officers a dinner, the fame of which will never fade away from some New England memories. Everything went off without a hitch. But, as the hour approached, there was a growing anxiety, on the part of both host and guests, as to whether or not the redoubtable Parson Moody would keep them listening to his grace till all the meats got cold. He was well known for the length, as well as for the strength, of his discourses. He had once denounced the Devil in a grace of forty minutes. So what was the surprised delight of his fellow-revelers when he hardly kept them standing longer than as many seconds. 'Good Lord!' he said, 'we have so much to thank Thee for, that Time will be too short. Therefore we must leave it for Eternity. Bless our food and fellowship on this joyful occasion, for the sake of Christ our Lord. Amen!'

News of the victory was sent at once to Boston. The vessel bearing it arrived in the middle of the night. But long before the summer sun was up the streets were filled with shouts of triumph, while the church bells rang in peals of exultation, and all the guns and muskets in the place were fired as fast as men could load them.

The mother country's joy was less exuberant. There were so many other things to think of nearer home; among them the British defeat at Fontenoy and the landing of the Young Pretender. Nor was the actual victory without alloy; for prescient people feared that a practically independent colonial army had been encouraged to become more independent still. And who can say the fear was groundless? Louisbourg really did serve to blood New Englanders for Bunker's Hill. But, in spite of this one drawback, the news was welcomed, partly because any victory was welcome at such a time, and partly because the fall of Louisbourg was a signal assertion of British sea-power on both sides of the Atlantic.

London naturally made overmuch of Warren's share, just as Boston made overmuch of Pepperrell's. But the Imperial government itself perfectly understood that the fleet and the army were each an indispensable half of one co-operating whole. Warren was promoted rear-admiral of the blue, the least that could be given him. Pepperrell received much higher honors. He was made a baronet and, like Shirley, was given the colonelcy of a regiment which was to bear his name. Such 'colonelcies' do not imply the actual command of men, but are honorary distinctions of which even kings and conquerors are proud. Nor was the Provincial Marine forgotten. Rous, of the Shirley, was sent to England with dispatches, and was there made a post-captain in the Royal Navy for his gallantry in action against the Vigilant. He afterwards enjoyed a distinguished career and died an admiral. It was in his ship, the Sutherland, that Wolfe wrote the final orders for the Battle of the Plains fourteen years after this first siege of Louisbourg.


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

 

Chronicles of Canada


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