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The Siege of Louisbourg, 1758
by Larry Ostola

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Landing at Louisbourg

In early June 1758, the British fleet under Admiral Boscawen arrived in Gabarus Bay a short distance down the coast from the Fortress of Louisbourg, and preparations were made for an immediate attack. The army was divided into three parts; the right wing under Brigadier Whitmore, the left wing under Brigadier-General Lawrence, and the left attack under Brigadier James Wolfe. Command of the expedition was given to General Jeffrey Amherst.

While the battalion companies of the 40th were placed with the left wing, the Grenadiers formed part of the left attack which was to lead the landing in the vicinity of "the fresh-water cove", which is today known as Kennington Cove and which forms part of the National Historic Site.

The surf in the area is quite rough, and on the heights overlooking the cove the stone fortifications which the French erected are still visible. Essentially, the British "plan" was to attempt a seaborne frontal assault against a well-defended position equipped with artillery.

On June 8th, the attempt was made and it seemed at first as if it was destined for failure, but a landing point was eventually discovered. In Amherst’s words

"...the enemy...acted very wisely, did not throw away a shot until the boats were close in shore and then directed the whole of their fire of cannon and musquetry upon them: the surf was so great that a place could hardly be found to get a boat on shore; notwithstanding the fire of the enemy and the violence of the surf, Brigadier Wolfe pursued his point, and landed just at their left of the cove, took post, attacked the enemy, and forced them to retreat. Many Boats overset, several broke to Pieces, and all the men jumped into the water to get on shore...It took a great deal of time to land the troops, the enemy’s retreat, or rather flight, was through the roughest and worst ground I ever saw, and the pursuit ended with a canonading from all the town which was so far of use, that it pointed out how near I could encamp to invest it, on which the Regiments marched to their ground, and lay on their Arms. The Wind increased, and we could not get anything on shore...".

While the landing had finally been made successfully, it took some time for the British to follow up on their success, with the weather causing some delay in landing supplies and the artillery.

The British Camp was on the site of that of 1745, and vestiges of the camp and the earthworks which surrounded it are still clearly visible.

Under cover of a thick fog on the 12th of June, Wolfe and roughly 1200 troops, including the Grenadiers of the 40th Regiment, marched around the harbour and took possession of Lighthouse Point, which had recently been abandoned by the French. From batteries on the point on June 19, Wolfe opened fire on the critical Island Battery defending the mouth of the Harbour.

By the 25th of June, the Island Battery was in ruins, and Wolfe’s siegeworks extended halfway around the harbour from Lighthouse Point drawing ever nearer the Fortress itself. During the siege, Wolfe, it seemed, was everywhere. In the words of one writer: ...he is very Alert, Lives as his soldiers and Acts with such vigour that it is expected by many that he will make a Breach at ye West Gate in a few days and Desire the Generals on ye Right to walk in."

On July 1, in the course of repulsing a French sally from the town, Wolfe took possession of some high ground overlooking the Dauphin Gate (in the area where the reenactment will be held) allowing the British to begin to destroy the town and the main defensive works.

A minor setback was suffered on July 9th, when a French sortie broke the British line and allowed the French to destroy some of the siegeworks (and take twenty-eight grenadiers -from the 22nd and 45th undoubtedly-prisoner). The damage was soon repaired, however, and the siege resumed with the British batteries on the far side of the Fortress finally opening fire on the town. By July 16th, there were British guns two hundred yards from the Dauphin Gate.

The next phase of the siege of Louisbourg focussed on the destruction of five French ships protecting the harbour. When the battery on Lighthouse Point opened fire, these vessels had moved in as close to the town as possible to avoid being shot to pieces. Three of the five were in water so shallow that they were actually aground. As the British guns moved closer to the Fortress, the ships began to suffer some damage, culminating in a disaster on July 21, when a shot set off some cartridges on board one of the ships. The resulting fire rapidly spread to two of the other ships, and the three burned to the waterline.

During the course of the bombardment, the soldiers and the inhabitants of the town suffered terribly. There was virtually no cover or rest to be had. As of July 22nd, 48 guns were firing on the town (not counting coehorns and royals); of these, 33 were twenty-four or thirty-two pounders.

On the night of July 25th, the British surprised and boarded the remaining two ships, destroying one and towing the other away further into the harbour. Following this action, the port lay open to the British. With the town in ruins, the garrison exhausted and the defences shattered, the only remaining option was capitulation. On July 27th, the Grenadier Companies of Hopson’s, the Royals and Amherst’s formally took possession of the town.

During the siege, the British lost 195 killed and 363 wounded. French losses were estimated at between 400 and 800.

"Whitehall, September, 1758

The King having been pleased to order the colours taken at Louisbourg, which were lately brought to the palace at Kensington, to be deposited in the cathedral church of St. Paul; proper detachments of horse and foot grenadiers were ordered to parade at Kensington at ten o’ clock and marched before his majesty in the following order:

A serjeant, and twelve horse grenadiers.
A field officer, and officers in proportion
A detachment of fourscore of the horse grenadier guards
Then eighty of the life guards, with officers in proportion, with their standard, kettle drums and trumpets.
Then a serjeant and twelve grenadiers of the foot guards.
Then eleven serjeants of the foot guards carrying the eleven French colours, advanced.
Then the four companies of Grenadiers of the foot guards closed the march.

In this manner, they proceeded from Kensington, through Hyde Park, the Green Park, into St. James’s Park, and through the stable yard St. James’s into Pall Mall, and so on to the west gate of St. Paul’s where the colours were received by the dean and chapter attended by the choir; about which time the guns at the Tower and in St. James’s Park were fired.

These colours are put up near the west door of the cathedral, as a lasting memorial of the success of his majesty’s arms, in the reduction of the important fortress of Louisbourg, the islands of Cape Breton and St. John. " -London Gazette

Copyright Larry Ostola 1999


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