Siege of Louisbourg (1745)


Siege of Louisbourg (1745)

The Louisbourg seaport thrived; however, world geopolitical events continued to evolve with the eventual deterioration by 1740 leading to the War of the Austrian Succession. Military operations in North America between French and British forces were referred to as King George's War.

While the Fortress of Louisbourg's construction and layout was acknowledged as having superior seaward defences, its landward defences were vulnerable to siege batteries as they were overlooked by a series of low rises.

The declaration of war between France and Britain was seen as an opportunity by British colonists in New England who were increasingly wary of the threat Louisbourg posed to their fishing fleets working the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. The wariness bordered on an almost fanatical paranoia or a religious fervour, stirred by false accounts of the size and scale of Louisbourg's fortifications and the general anti-French sentiment shared among most British colonists at the time.

New Englanders' paranoia increased after a small French force sailed from Louisbourg in the summer of 1744 to the nearby British fishing port of Canso, attacking a small fort on Grassy Island and burning it to the ground. This port was used by the New England fishing fleet as it was the closest mainland North American British port to the fishing grounds, however the Canso Islands offshore (including Grassy Island) were contested by both Britain and France.

In 1745, the governor of Massachusetts William Shirley secured by a narrow margin the support of the Massachusetts legislature for an attack on the fortress. He and the New Hampshire governor Benning Wentworth sought the support of other colonies. Connecticut provided 500 troops, New Hampshire 450, Rhode Island a ship, New York ten cannon, and Pennsylvania and New Jersey funds. The force was under the command of William Pepperrell of Kittery (in what is now Maine) and Commodore Peter Warren was given command of the naval squadron. The Massachusetts expedition set sail from Boston in stages beginning in early March 1745 with 4,200 soldiers and sailors aboard a total of 90 ships.

The force, beginning to take on the air of a religious crusade, stopped at Canso to reprovision and were augmented by a small number of British army and Royal Navy regulars. In late March, the naval forces began to blockade Louisbourg, however the ice fields of the Gulf of St. Lawrence were being swept by winds off Louisbourg that spring, presenting a considerable hazard to wooden-hulled sailing ships. The poor weather and general state of disorganization of the New England naval forces saw numerous delays to the expedition, however, they kept themselves busy harassing French fishing and shipping in the waters surrounding "Île Royale", as well as destroying several coastal villages opposite from Canso.

With the ice fields gone by late April, the naval siege began in earnest on April 28 and Pepperell's land forces sailed in transports from Canso, landing 8 km west of Louisbourg at Fresh Water Cove in a flanking manoeuvre and proceeded overland with their cannon on sleds designed by Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Meserve of the New Hampshire Militia who was a shipwright by trade, to the series of low hills overlooking the west walls of the fortress.

Pepperell's land forces were aided by the fact that conditions for French soldiers inside Louisbourg were almost mutinous over lack of pay and poor provisions. The French were not helped by the fact that the government in Paris had forewarning of the New Englanders' intentions to attack, but the decision was made not to augment defences or send reinforcements. The French defenders were seriously outmanned, and French commanders kept their soldiers within the walls of the fortress, rather than confronting the British forces at the landing site, fearing that the French troops would defect. However the French defenders successfully defeated an attack on the strategic Island Battery, inflicting heavy losses on the New England troops. However the Island Battery was subsequently destroyed by New England batteries erected by the Louisbourg Lighthouse.

The New Englanders' landward siege joined their naval counterparts on May 1 and following 46 days (6 weeks) of siege and bombardment, French forces at Louisbourg capitulated on June 16, 1745. News of the victory reached Governor Shirley in Boston on July 3 and New Englanders celebrated as they controlled France's mighty fortress on the Atlantic.

Losses to the New England forces in battle had been modest, although the occupation garrision suffered many deaths from cold and disease over the winter of 1745-1746. A major French expedition led by Admiral Jean-Batiste, De Roye de la Rochefoucauld, Duc d'Enville was dispatched from France to retake Louisbourg and the rest of Nova Scotia in 1746. However it was destroyed by storms, disease and British naval attacks and never reached the fortress.

References

*"Louisbourg: From its Founding to its Fall" by J.S. McLennan, Macmillian and Co. Ltd London, UK 1918
*"The Taking of Louisburg 1745" by Samuel Adams Drake, Lee and Shepard Publishers Boston Mass. USA 1891 (reprinted by Kessinger Publishing ISBN 9780548622346)


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