French and Indian War
Delice Bette | August 20, 2022
The War of the Conquest (1754 – 1760) is the name given in Quebec to the North American military theater before and during the Seven Years” War. In the United States, this conflict is often referred to as the French and Indian War. It saw the French, their New France militia and their Native American allies on one side, and the British, their American militia and their Iroquois allies on the other, fighting for colonial domination of North America. Hostilities began in 1754, two years before the outbreak of the Seven Years” War in Europe, during skirmishes in the Ohio Valley.
Since the end of the 17th century, the French and the English have been expanding their North American possessions at each other”s expense and have been confronted, through these maritime, colonial, territorial and commercial rivalries, by several military conflicts in America that have been superimposed on the European wars of the time. Faced with the resistance of New France to enemy attacks, which had so far only been able to take away Acadia from the French, the thirteen British colonies, in the middle of the eighteenth century, were still encircled to the west and north by a vast but ultimately weak French empire, relying more on alliances with the Amerindians and the combativeness of its colonists than on real support from the metropolis. When, after 1749 and the third inter-colonial war, Franco-British rivalries were rekindled with force, crystallized by the desire of both sides to expand into the Ohio Valley, a new conflict seemed inevitable. It broke out in 1754.
Initially punctuated by a series of French successes during its first three years, the conflict soon took on an unexpected magnitude due to the intensification of operations in Europe and the British desire to reduce the French presence in North America. It was then marked by the sending of a large British contingent to the colonies in 1758, the lack of food and supplies caused by poor local management, which led to the famine of 1757-1758 (combining poor harvests in 1757, embezzlement by merchants, an increase in consumers and a decrease in producers, the latter also being mobilized in the summer), the blockade imposed by the Royal Navy (which gradually became the master of the seas) on the French ports, and an intensification of military operations by France in Europe: for all these causes, the war eventually turned to the advantage of the British, who could invade New France in 1759.
The most impressive siege was that of its capital, Quebec, in the same year. The capture of Montreal in 1760 put an end to the war in America and consecrated the crushing victory of the British Empire over its most threatening competitor until then. The French territory was given to the British in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris, except for the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, near Newfoundland.
The geographical situation around 1750
At that time, France owned the vast majority of the explored area of the new continent, over half of North America. It included part of present-day Quebec (Hudson Bay and Newfoundland had not been under French control since 1713) plus much of the present-day central United States. Its boundary extended north from the edge of present-day Labrador, parabolas under James Bay around Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg in central Manitoba, and down to the Gulf of Mexico, following the Mississippi River further west. These immense territories formed a scarf about 4,000 kilometers long and 600 to 2,000 kilometers wide.
British America was reduced to a strip of 300 to 500 kilometers wide that stretched from north to south of the Atlantic coast for about 2,000 kilometers. It corresponded to the territory of the thirteen British colonies in America. It began with the four New England colonies (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut) located at the contact of the Laurentian countries, then it was the four colonies included between the foothills of the Appalachians and the Ocean (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware), where the principal ports were located, finally the five southern colonies (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, see the attached map).
The weight of French and British settlement around 1750
New France and Louisiana had a population of about 90,000 people, whose root families came from western France. Since the 1700s, the flow of emigration has been limited essentially to soldiers and sailors. The demographic growth of the French colony (from 2,000 inhabitants in 1660 to 16,000 around 1700) was due to an exceptional birth rate of about 65 per 1,000 (the LeMoyne d”Iberville family bears witness to this). The government did not encourage the French to settle in New France and Louisiana, or it took restrictive measures such as forbidding Protestants to settle in Canada. The interminable Canadian winter also put off many potential emigrants. In 1755, a quarter of the Canadian population lived in the cities of Québec (7 to 8,000 inhabitants), Montréal (4,000) and Trois-Rivières (1,000). An effort was also made to speed up the settlement of Detroit, the keystone of the Great Lakes. Louisiana, an almost marginal colony, had barely 4,000 inhabitants of French origin.
The thirteen British colonies, grouped on a narrower coastal strip, have 1.5 (there were 4,700 around 1630). The demographic growth is due to the emigration – voluntary and especially forced – of Protestant religious minorities (Puritans, Quakers …) who came to find their promised land on the other side of the Atlantic. This religious identity was very marked: the Anglo-American colonists hated the Canadian “papists” (Catholics), who were very grateful to them: “New France wore its Catholic unity like a banner” (Edmond Dziembowski). To the “Anglo-Saxon” base (English, Scots, Irish) which constituted the most important part of the arrivals, was added immigration from central and northern Europe as well as the African contribution feeding the servile workforce of the median and southern colonies. As in New France, the majority of settlers lived in the countryside, but the port cities (Philadelphia, New York, Boston) were growing rapidly.
The two Americas also differed in their forms of government. Religious tolerance (between Protestant churches) and the practice of self-government (many governors were elected and there were local assemblies) favoured the economic development of the British colonies, even though they were closely monitored by London and were not free to invest their profits in industrial enterprises because the metropolis feared their competition. Canada was governed by administrative and seigniorial absolutism, which did not exclude the spirit of enterprise, such as that of the merchants of Montreal, nor the idea that it was also a land of freedom: no gabelle, no pruning, and the possibility of roaming the vast forests of North America in the summer, without limit, while spawning with the Amerindians to find furs.
On both sides, the pioneers willy-nilly established commercial and political relations with the Indians, links formalized by treaties in order to obtain their warlike support. In this area, the balance was clearly in favor of the French, who showed much more curiosity and respect for the way of life of the Amerindian nations than the British, who generally despised them, refused to mix with them and saw them only as auxiliaries against the French. On the eve of the war, the overwhelming majority of Amerindians in the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi River basin claimed to be allies of “Onontio Goa” (Louis XV).
The French were allied with almost every Native American nation in North America. The Amerindians were an important force in the defense of New France. Like the militia, they were effective in ambush warfare. Although each Amerindian nation had its own rites and traditions, it is possible to observe a constant in the war tactics and strategies adopted by the Amerindians who took part in the conflict. First, they never fought in the open; rather, ambush and camouflage tactics were typical of these allies. In fact, the surprise attack was their strongest asset. It took European soldiers, who were used to fighting in line, by surprise and consequently caused a lot of damage. As for the war preparations, despite some variations from one group to another, there were certain common elements: long discussions before departure, accompanied by the pipe of war and dances. Premonitory dreams were also very popular for predicting the outcome of a war or whether it would be dangerous for an individual or an entire nation. The weapons used by the Native Americans were usually knives, axes and guns.
In Canada, as in British America, most of the colonists had weapons. “The men were rough, violent, ready to use gunpowder to defend their property” (André Zysberg). Many of them served in militia regiments.
The diversity of French forces
A true military ethic marks Canada, whose society, in order to survive, spontaneously took on a military character, almost from its foundation. In 1669, to compensate for the absence of regular troops in Canada, Louis XIV decreed the establishment of a militia in the colony. It consisted of all men between the ages of 16 and 60. In case of war, they were obliged to take up arms. Everyone had to serve: bourgeois, merchants, inhabitants or servants. In addition to members of the clergy, certain exemptions were granted: the infirm, officers with commissions, patents or letters of service from the king, including officers of the sword, justice and administration, and bailiffs of the Superior Council and the courts.
Each of the militias belonged to one of the three regional governments: Quebec City, Trois-Rivières or Montreal. The organization of the militia was based on a simple structure. The militiamen gathered by company, once a month, to perform military exercises under the command of captains, lieutenants and ensigns. Once or twice a year, all the companies in a region were brought together for large-scale exercises. The militiamen trained without any remuneration other than their daily ration. The governor of New France commanded all the militias in the colony. At the head of the Montreal government, a colonel, majors and assistant-majors supervised the activities. Most of the militia colonels were prominent Montreal merchants. Responsibility for militia raising fell to the subdelegate of the intendant and the city”s militia captains. In the coasts, the intendant appointed a commissioner who could read and write, who drew up the militia rolls, called the exercises and served as an intermediary between the administration and the civilian population.
During major military campaigns, the intendant ordered a mass levy. The militiamen had to arm themselves and have a good supply of lead, powder and wick. The intendant provided a rifle to those who did not have one, but they had to return it after each expedition. Since the militia did not have a uniform, the men received a portion of their clothing (shirt, cap, brayette, mitasses) for each campaign. The militiamen fed themselves with what they found in the woods. When they ran out of game, they ate a little pemmican (dried meat with fat) or a kind of gruel (soup) that the French soldiers called “glue”.
On the eve of the Seven Years” War, the New France militia represented a formidable fighting force, very useful in the art of ambush warfare in the woods (the “little war”) and in fighting against enemy Amerindian peoples. It was not, however, trained for European-style warfare, i.e., open line fighting, which required solid training to withstand salvo fire. The militia under the government of Montreal was reputed to be the most active and effective because it was composed of many “voyageurs” who traded furs, which earned its men the nickname “White Wolves” from the other districts and from the Amerindians. In 1750, New France had 165 militia companies, 724 officers, 498 sergeants and 11,687 militiamen. In 1755, there were an estimated 15,000 militiamen in New France. In 1759, it was the North American colony with the largest proportion of its population under arms.
The Canadian militia, despite their effectiveness, could not meet all the military needs of the colony. Since 1683, the French authorities have maintained permanent companies of a detachment of naval troops. These troops were created in 1674 by the Department of the Navy in order to defend the French ships and colonies. The pay of these soldiers comes from the Navy. They are commonly referred to as “compagnies franches de la marine” and are to be distinguished from the “troupes de la marine” serving on ships and in ports, which were also under the jurisdiction of the same ministry. In the documents, the former are often referred to as “Canadian troops”, “Île Royale troops”, “troops of the detachment of the naval infantry” or simply “troops of the colonies”.
In 1750, there were 30 Compagnies franches de la Marine in North America, made up of independent companies, not organized into regiments, each headed by a captain. The direction of the different companies was the responsibility of the Governor General of New France. Since 1750, each captain recruited 50 soldiers who signed up for a period of 6 years. After this time, the soldiers could return to France or remain in the country. In reality, depending on the circumstances, leaves of absence were not automatically granted. Each company was composed of 43 soldiers (including a cadet soldier), 2 sergeants, 3 corporals, 1 cadet at the aiguillette and 1 drummer with 1 captain, 1 lieutenant in foot and 1 second lieutenant. Since 1750, these numbers have been supplemented by a company of gunners and bombardiers, consisting of 50 artillerymen and 4 officers, who were mainly stationed in Québec. Detachments, however, were sent to Montreal and the forts.
Like the Canadian militia, the free companies of the navy adopted the techniques of “small war. According to one of its officers, the best troop for the war was composed of Canadian officers who knew the country well, a few elite soldiers, several militiamen accustomed to the climate, a few canoeists and a few allied Amerindians. The latter served in the field of logistics and could also frighten the American settlers that were to be encountered. On the eve of the War of the Conquest, there were 2,400 soldiers of the Compagnies franches de la marine in New France and 1,100 in Louisbourg.
In the British colonies of the New World, the concept of militia appeared very early to ensure the survival of the young settlements during the conflicts against the Amerindians. The first militia was formed in Virginia in 1632. It was based on local recruitment and short periods of active service during emergencies. Any man capable of carrying a weapon had to bring it to church and practice after church service. In 1682, the Lieutenant Governor of New York received orders to create a militia to repel any attempt to invade the colony by arming and enlisting its inhabitants.
From the mid-seventeenth century onward, the colonial militias grew in size and became an essential institution in the formation of society, adopting a local color while retaining their main lines. Until 1700, the entire adult male population was subject to the militia, and then large segments of society were excluded: allied Native Americans, mulattoes and free blacks, white servants, apprentices and itinerants. In some colonies, militiamen selected the officers, while in others the governor made the appointments. Regardless of the type of selection, officers were generally from the ruling class. The structure of the provincial troops followed that of the regular army with its regiments, battalions and companies.
In the event of war, militia operations followed a very regular cycle. At the end of the winter, the governor appointed several colonels to command the troops for the spring campaign and provided them with a series of blank officers” commissions to be used at their discretion. To obtain his commission, the captain recruited 50 men, the lieutenant 25 and the ensign 15. Since the appointment of officers and the enlistment of militiamen did not exceed a period of nine months, it was necessary to start over every year. This process undermined the continuity of the officer corps.
The Massachusetts militiamen who went to serve with British troops were generally distinguished from British soldiers who came from the proletariat. These active militiamen were often temporarily unemployed individuals available for military service. They were only waiting for the economy to pick up again to find a job. On the other hand, faced with a labor shortage, Virginia forcibly enlisted vagrants to fill the quotas of its militia battalions. As a result, the militiamen enlisted during these shortages resembled British soldiers more socially than Virginia colonists.
To protect the American settlers in the Thirteen Colonies from Franco-Indian attacks and raids, a special unit, the Rangers, is formed. They became an important weapon in American tactics and were incorporated into the regular army. In fact, in 1755, Lord Loudoun realized that the ambushes practiced by these Rangers, combined with the new tactics and units of the British regular troops, could prove to be a powerful asset. Thus, from that moment on, Rangers could be found on all fronts.
In addition to the Rangers, the Colonial Pioneers were among the American forces within the British forces. The latter are made up of American ground troops. These soldiers were trained for about eight months a year by their provincial legislatures and were paid and equipped by their respective colonies. Massachusetts, the most populous colony, had the largest number of Colonial Pioneers: 6,800 in 1759. According to surviving records of the conflict, these soldiers did not participate directly in the fighting and were instead used to build and maintain British fortifications, batteries and encampments.
The British officers who landed in the New World formed a very poor opinion of the American forces. They denounced the unreliability of the militia, the smell of their camp that could be spotted from miles away, and the web of personal and contractual loyalties that ran through them. To the astonishment of British officers, American militia officers openly fraternized with their militiamen.
Scottish Brigadier General John Forbes wrote of the population and army he found in Pennsylvania that they were “a poor collection of ruined tavern-keepers, schemers, and Indian merchants … scum of the worst kind. General Wolfe is even more severe: “The Americans are generally the most cowardly and contemptible dogs imaginable. They cannot be trusted in battle. They drop dead in their filth and desert by whole battalions, with their officers and all. Such scoundrels are more of a hindrance than a real strength to an army. These words were spoken in 1758, when the war was already in its third year…
The expedition that left Boston in 1745 during the previous conflict to attack Louisbourg victoriously with a troop composed essentially of militiamen shows that these judgments made by officers of European origin and aristocratic culture are excessive. The American forces suffered from their dispersion over an immense area, from the difficulty, for the often penniless colonies, of financing them and from the absence of a centralized command, unlike in Canada. This difficulty was further compounded by the lack of patriotism and the rivalries, even detestation, that the British colonies had for each other.
The peace of 1748 gave back to France the island of Cape Breton with the fortress of Louisbourg. This return to the status quo ante displeased the Anglo-Americans at a time when the struggle for control of the great spaces of the American West was beginning.
The French strategy
It was ambitious and was defined as early as September 1748, in the report to the king by Governor La Galissonière. This document emphasizes the importance of the American West for French long-term interests, insofar as the Franco-British conflict was now a major factor in world politics.
The country of the Illinois, Amerindian tribes allied with France, was of little economic value. The posts maintained there were even, for a long time, a heavy financial burden for the colony: all the equipment and supplies for the garrisons had to be brought from Canada, sometimes even from the metropolis. The goods offered to the Indians had to be sold at a loss in order to fight British competition. However, these posts were essential for the future of the colony because they represented a barrier to British expansion and allowed French domination over the Amerindians as far as Louisiana.
Canada was not particularly prosperous. Its declining trade was limited to a turnover of 150,000 pounds per year, and the British, better placed, provided better products at a lower cost. While waiting to make it a possible settlement by developing its agricultural spaces, New France has a great strategic value because the British attach such an importance to their thirteen American colonies that they are ready to distract important forces, to defend them, force which they will not be able to employ in Europe.
But if the Ohio Valley, which links the Great Lakes to the Mississippi, is abandoned, the Canadian trade is lost, Louisiana is threatened and Mexico, which belongs to the Spanish ally, is also threatened. It was therefore necessary to surround the Thirteen Colonies to worry the government in London, which would immobilize the fleet and the army. We could save French trade with the West Indies and put an end to British expansion without even having a navy to fight on equal terms with the Royal Navy…
By building forts in Ohio, one could very well do without the fleet that would normally correspond to the importance of the economic and colonial interests of the metropolis. This particularly audacious reasoning corresponds to the needs of the time (the great naval inferiority of the French navy) and prefigures the strategy of Napoleon, who, with the continental blockade, believed he could defeat the United Kingdom after Trafalgar without having a war fleet capable of defeating the Royal Navy. That this strategic thinking came from a man who was a member of the Royal Navy – almost all of Canada”s governors came from it – was no accident.
The rise of tensions (1748 – 1754)
In 1749, the French and British resumed their march forward in North America. In order to keep an eye on Louisbourg and to have a port where its squadrons could winter, London decided to settle 3,000 Protestant colonists in Chibouctou Bay and founded the port of Halifax. General Cornwallis settled there as governor of Nova Scotia. That same year, the Anglo-Americans decided to seize the Ohio River from Virginia because they needed new land. They created the Ohio Company, endowed with a royal charter, whose purpose was the distribution and development of 500,000 acres of “virgin” land, i.e. taken from the Amerindians. This deal received the full support of speculators, militias and the wealthiest planters (the young George Washington had an interest in the business).
In application of the program defined by La Galissonière, the French decided to block their way and to establish themselves militarily in Ohio. In 1749, the French governor sent 230 men, consisting of an amalgam of Canadian militiamen, marine troops and Abenaki Amerindians. Their mission was to describe, reconnoiter, map and plant the arms of France. Céloron de Bienville, a major from Detroit who commanded the expedition, buried lead plates to record the French takeover. He noted that the British were already well established in the region and that France”s influence over the Amerindians was declining. In 1752, the first French offensive was launched: Langlade, a Franco-Amerindian half-breed at the head of a troop of Chippewas and Ottawas, swept away all the British settlements in the region during a terror raid. He destroyed Pickawillany, their most advanced base among the Miamis, killed one of their pro-British chiefs and regained control of the tribes.
La Jonquière, La Galissonière”s successor in 1749, tried to be less threatening, more persuasive, but in 1752, he was succeeded by Duquesne de Menneville, who ruthlessly repeated La Galissonière”s policy and decided to move on to the next step: the establishment of permanently occupied forts. The 1753 campaign, launched with a strong troop of 2,200 men commanded by Paul Marin de la Malgue, a veteran of the marine troops (300 soldiers, 200 Amerindians, 1,700 militiamen), was a semi-failure. It suffered heavy losses due to natural conditions and Paul Marin, who literally killed himself, died of exhaustion after trying to lead the construction of three forts.
On the other hand, the campaign of 1754, which completed the work begun by Paul Marin de la Malgue, was a complete success. According to Amerindian tradition, it began in February and resulted in the installation of 100 men at Fort Le Boeuf, on a tributary of the Allegheny River, and 100 men at Presqu”île, on the south shore of Lake Erie, while Le Gardeur de Saint-Pierre established Fort Venango on the Allegheny River. The construction of these three forts in little more than a year was a real feat, but one that posed formidable problems given the distances involved in supplying them, since for every 500 garrison men established in the West, 1,500 were needed to provide logistical support.
It was therefore necessary to increase the number of personnel. The Minister of the Navy agreed to this, which also shows that La Galissonière”s expansionist policy defined in 1748-49 had been approved by the king. In April 1750, Louis XV had decided to increase the number of free companies of the navy present in the St. Lawrence Valley from 28 to 30 and to increase the number of men in each. He also created a company of canonniers-bombardiers. By sending 1,000 recruits in 1750, the number of men increased from 787 to 1,500, while those who were no longer fit to serve were dismissed.
The Langlade commando operation caused consternation among the British. The deployment the following year of the large contingent of the Marin expedition made the governors of the provinces directly concerned, James Hamilton (en) for Pennsylvania and Robert Dinwiddie for Virginia, which held shares in the Ohio Company, fear the worst. His complaints were echoed in London, which on August 21, 1753, asked its governors to do everything “even by force” to prevent French incursions. Dinwiddie had a militia of superior quality to that of New England. He decided to use it by putting at the head of a small column a young man of 21 years old carrying a missive, George Washington, without experience in diplomatic matters. On December 11, 1753, he arrived at Fort Le Boeuf. He was politely welcomed by the commandant of the place, Jacques Le Gardeur de Saint-Pierre, who promised to transmit his letter to Governor Duquesne de Menneville, but also warned him that the rights of the King of France, his master, were “unquestionable” over the Ohio.
During the winter of 1753-1754, Dinwiddie, who knew that Duquesne was going to resume his advance in the spring, decided to take him by storm. He ordered Captain Trent to go to the forks of the Ohio with a detachment to build a military post as quickly as possible, which was done in mid-February. On the French side, as Dinwiddie had foreseen, Duquesne did not remain inactive. He commissioned Claude-Pierre Pécaudy de Contrecoeur to complete the line of three forts begun in 1753 by building a significant structure on the same position chosen by Dinwiddie. On April 16, Recœur and his men arrived at the fort built by the Virginians. The fifty or so men occupying it surrendered without a fight and evacuated the place. Contrecoeur had the fort demolished and built Fort Duquesne. The work was considerable: along with Fort Niagara and Fort Detroit, it was the most imposing military structure built by the French on the American continent. Fort Duquesne (today Pittsburgh), a highly strategic place, was to play a crucial role in securing the route to Louisiana.
At the end of May, while the construction of the fort was going well, Contrecoeur learned of the arrival of a new Virginian force in the area. It was the 200 men of George Washington, promoted to lieutenant-colonel of the militia, and charged by Dinwiddie to reinforce the small garrison that the French had just dislodged. Along the way, he was joined by Chief Tanaghrisson”s group of Iroquois allies. Contrecœur asked Ensign Coulon de Jumonville to meet him with a small detachment to summon him to leave the region. He was shot under obscure circumstances while trying to parley (for a long time, the responsibilities of Washington and his Amerindian allies in the shooting were not clarified) and his companions were captured. Pursued by Jumonville”s brother, Washington locked himself in Fort Necessity (a small wooden fort hastily built a short distance from Fort Duquesne) where he found himself surrounded. Fearing massacre, he was forced to surrender on July 3, 1754 and to admit in writing that there had been “assassination” and was then released on parole. He later retracted his statement, claiming that the interpreter had deceived him… In any case, “he is the only president of the United States to have surrendered to an enemy” (Luc Lépine) at the end of an operation that was more “amateurish” (Fred Anderson) than a real military operation. More or less discredited, he was the object of ridicule and criticism as far away as London.
The diplomatic and military choices of 1755
The French success of 1754 had three consequences.
First, the French, after two campaigns, dominated the Ohio Valley. On the ground, the American militias proved to be mediocre, which reinforced the Canadians” contempt for their adversary and left Governor Duquesne de Menneville optimistic, writing in 1754: “I am convinced that we will always beat these troops, which are so poorly organized that they are not at all operational. In the euphoria of victory, the Canadians tended to underestimate their opponents. Taking advantage of his success, Duquesne de Menneville secured the support of the Iroquois at a council held in October.
Second consequence: the intervention of Great Britain. The French advances first inflamed public opinion in the thirteen colonies. Even before the conclusion of these successes, a congress met in June 1754 in Albany. Benjamin Franklin, the delegate from Pennsylvania, stirred up the assembly against Canada and asked for troops from London. He also proposed the union of the Thirteen Colonies in order to coordinate the fight against the French, but this proposal, considered later as prophetic, was not accepted. In reality, not all the states participated in this meeting (Virginia was absent) and the delegates were divided. The New Yorkers, who traded with Canada, were in favour of peace, while the fur traders, who had connections with the Iroquois, argued for armed intervention. The Albany congress finally decided nothing.
It is from London, where the opinion is more and more upset against France that comes the military intervention, even if the British government, dominated by the chancellor of the Exchequer Henry Pelham and his brother the duke of Newcastle, was for a long time partisan of the appeasement. Since November 1749, a special Franco-British commission had been meeting in Paris to settle the American problems. Until July 1755, the delegates of the two countries conducted a real dialogue of the deaf in an attempt to draw a clear border between the two Americas. But the positions were too divergent and the maps not precise enough to see clearly. In 1754 (or 1755) Benjamin Franklin came to London to support the cause of the American colonists and declared that there was “no rest to be expected for our thirteen colonies as long as the French are masters of Canada. More and more people were of this opinion, encouraged by the gazettes that campaigned against France.
In March 1754, with the death of Henry Pelham, the British government could no longer resist the warmongering wave that dominated the House of Commons. The aspirations of the colonial lobby were ardently supported by William Pitt, the ultra-nationalist tenor who dominated Parliament. At the end of 1754, the Duke of Newcastle endorsed a plan of action against New France and secured a vote of one million pounds to “safeguard the just rights and possessions of the Crown in America. With this money, it was decided to raise two regiments of “regulars” (the equivalent of the free companies of the navy), and above all, to send two regiments of line infantry. These four regiments were placed under the command of General Braddock. His mission, with the help of the Virginia militia, was to seize the Ohio Valley while another operation was being prepared in Acadia.
Third consequence: France”s military support for its colony of Canada. When Jumonville”s death became known in France, the reaction of public opinion was just as strong as in Britain. Several odes were composed to celebrate his memory and to scourge his killers. The French ambassador, Mirepoix, protested, but not to the point of breaking off. Louis XV, who wanted to avoid war, maintained negotiations and relieved Governor Duquesne de Menneville of his command, who was considered too bellicose. But the king also wanted to ensure the security of Canada. When information about the Braddock expedition reached him, he immediately decided to confront it by sending an equivalent force of 3 to 4,000 soldiers.
For the first time since 1665 (Carignan-Salières Regiment), France sent army troops to Canada. Eight battalions were drawn from six different regiments. Placed under the command of Baron de Dieskau, a veteran general officer of the German wars, they were to reinforce the garrisons of Louisbourg, Québec and Montréal. Their mission was strictly defensive; while the metropolitan infantry defended the fortified cities, the troops of the colony had to be able to carry out offensive actions in the West. At the outset, there was no question of the line troops waging a European-style war with such limited resources.
This contingent embarked at Brest in April 1755, in a squadron of fourteen ships under the command of Lieutenant General Dubois de La Motte. It was composed mainly of vessels armed as flutes (eleven), that is, lightly armed carriers. The sending of this reinforcement, perceived as intolerable by London, immediately provoked a military escalation. Edward Boscawen, who commanded the American squadron in Halifax, was ordered to intercept it at the entrance to the St. Lawrence by capturing or sinking all the French ships without warning. On June 8, 1755, off the coast of Newfoundland, two isolated French vessels were captured after a violent cannonade (see the naval war below). War between France and the United Kingdom had not yet been declared (it would not be officially declared until June 1756). However, it has just begun, after years of rising tensions in America.
Resistance (1755 – 1757)
On the naval level, the war was very delicate for France from the start. After the losses of the War of the Austrian Succession, Louis XV made a real effort to modernize his fleet. The oldest units were scrapped and forty-three ships were launched between 1748 and 1755. In spite of this, the French found themselves roughly at one against two: sixty ships and about thirty frigates against one hundred and twenty ships and seventy-five frigates for the Royal Navy. In addition to Canada, it was also necessary to supply and defend the French West Indies, the trading posts on the coasts of Africa and those in India. “On the French side, everything depended on the sea, even if the Canadian colonists and their Indian allies delayed the deadline” (Patrick Villiers).
Throughout 1754 tensions continued to rise, but London and Versailles remained officially at peace. In the spring of 1755, hostilities began without a declaration of war when the Royal Navy attempted to intercept a large convoy of fourteen ships off the coast of Newfoundland carrying 3 to 4 thousand soldiers bound for the garrisons in Canada (see also above). It was a semi-failure: only two ships were captured (an escort and a carrier), but in the autumn, the British Navy succeeded in a huge raid by seizing three hundred merchant ships in the Atlantic. It captured more than 6,000 sailors, whom it refused to release in order to weaken the fragile human reservoir of only 50,000 sailors available to France.
In spite of this, thanks to the quality of its leaders (Beaussier de L”Isle, Dubois de La Motte), the French navy still managed to supply Canada in 1756 and 1757. In 1756, three ships and three frigates left Brest to transport Montcalm and 1,500 men who landed without a hitch in Quebec despite British patrols. In 1757, efforts were concentrated on the defense of Louisbourg, which blocked access to the St. Lawrence. Three French divisions, which had left separately from January to May, joined forces there, with eighteen ships and five frigates. They remained there until the fall. This naval concentration imposed respect on the British, who had equivalent forces (nineteen ships, thirteen frigates or corvettes) and a landing force. They did not dare to attack and were swept from the vicinity of Île Royale by a storm. This was the last victorious operation of the French Navy in this war.
Collapse (1758 – 1762)
1758 is the pivotal year of the conflict. The squadron returning from Louisbourg was plagued by typhus. It contaminated the city of Brest and its surroundings, killing more than 10,000 people. This health catastrophe completely disorganized the Breton armament industry, while the Royal Navy continued its relentless raids on civilian ships (fishing, coastal shipping, trade) to dry up the recruitment of military crews. The difficulties were also financial: in Toulon, sailors who had not been paid for a year deserted en masse. Six ships managed to be armed for the West Indies and Canada, but they were unable to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, which was blocked by very large forces (the eighteen ships of Saunders and Osborn). They took refuge in a Spanish port to wait for reinforcements (some of which were captured) and finally had to return to Toulon.
The ships that left from the Atlantic (Brest, Rochefort) that managed to break through the blockade were now insufficient to prevent the British from attacking Louisbourg. They did so with even larger forces than the previous year: twenty to twenty-two ships, fifteen to eighteen frigates, one hundred to one hundred and fifty cargo ships carrying an army of 12 to 14,000 men. Louisbourg, defended by 3,000 men, had to capitulate during the summer. The six ships and frigates that had brought reinforcements and that were not allowed to leave while it was still possible were destroyed or captured. Only one ship managed to escape: a privateer frigate which went – in vain – to Bayonne to ask for help. A lone ship that arrived late preferred to turn back at the sight of the British device… The defeat of Louisbourg was partly masked by Montcalm”s success on land at Fort Carillon. However, it opened the door to the St. Lawrence to the British fleet.
In the fall of 1758, Bougainville, deceiving the blockade on a small privateer ship, came to ask for reinforcements and painted a very bleak picture of the situation in Quebec. He left in March 1759 with a small convoy of supplies and 400 soldiers, just in time to take part in the defense of the city, which was attacked in June 1759 by 22 ships, 22 frigates and 70 cargo ships carrying an army of 10,000 men. Fire ships were launched against the British ships. All in vain. Quebec surrendered on September 18, after a long siege and a memorable battle (see below).
Did the government of Louis XV “abandon” Quebec when it knew that the city would be the target of 1759 in North America? The unfortunate words of the Minister of the Navy to Bougainville – “one does not try to save the stables when the house is on fire” – may lead one to believe so. In fact, the fate of Canada was also decided in European waters: in 1759, Versailles tried to concentrate the Toulon and Brest squadrons in order to land a powerful army in Great Britain to seal the fate of the war. The success of this plan would have forced the United Kingdom to surrender at home and would have saved Canada in the process. But the French squadrons were swept away at the battles of Lagos and Cardinals, leaving the Royal Navy in control of the seas and precipitating the fall of most of the French empire.
In April 1760, a symbolic reinforcement of five merchant ships carrying food and ammunition and 400 soldiers escorted by a frigate tried to force the passage. All were captured or destroyed, but this did not change the fate of Montreal, which capitulated in September of that year. In 1762, in a last ditch effort, the French tried to seize Newfoundland. A small force of two ships, a frigate and two flutes carrying 570 men succeeded in landing at St. John”s (June) and destroying hundreds of fishing vessels. However, this success was short-lived, as the small expeditionary force was defeated at the Battle of Signal Hill and the Royal Navy, which had many more ships, remained in control of the region. This isolated battle marked the end of the conflict in North America and the definitive loss of French Canada.
The campaign of 1755
It is not certain that sending Dieskau”s expeditionary corps was such a good choice for the defence of Canada. Indeed, the army troops were poorly adapted to colonial warfare: the long marches, the rigours of the Canadian climate and the abandonment of the classic tactic of line combat for skirmisher combat greatly diminished their operational capabilities. Added to this was the duality of command, which was to prove detrimental to the smooth running of operations, since neither Dieskau (nor his successor Montcalm) were to be true subordinates of the Marquis de Vaudreuil, the new governor of Canada, in spite of the king”s formal instructions. Dieskau conceived war only in the European way, that is, according to the “rules”, and despised the “small war” which had nevertheless proved very effective up to that point. However, he did not really have the means to do so, but did not understand the specificity of the “American style” of warfare, linked to space, to the difficulties of supply, to the necessary collaboration with the Amerindians. These errors in conception were to cost the expeditionary force dearly. However, the British officers shared the same prejudices and the campaign of 1755 proved to be beneficial to the French on the whole.
Transported by Commodore Keppel”s squadron, General Edward Braddock landed in America on February 16, 1755. He took up his post as commander-in-chief and prepared the main attack against New France. He was optimistic and planned to easily seize Fort Duquesne and then take the other French posts up to Fort Niagara. George Washington served as his volunteer aide-de-camp. He tried to recruit Amerindians from tribes that were not allied with the French, but without success. Many Amerindians in the region, such as the Delaware chief Shingas, remained neutral. The fault lay exclusively with Braddock, who had been particularly arrogant with the Amerindians, despite attempts at conciliation by Governor Shirley and Superintendent of Indian Affairs Johnson. Less than a dozen Amerindians participated in the expedition.
Braddock left Maryland on May 29, 1755. While he had meticulously prepared his army, he made the tactical mistake of launching himself through the woods with a column of 2,200 men, weighed down by artillery and baggage, exactly as if he were campaigning in Flanders or Germany. He was poorly supported by the American colonists, who were not consulted on operational choices. Only Benjamin Franklin, then postmaster of Pennsylvania, fulfilled his commitment to provide one hundred and fifty wagons. The heavy column moved slowly through the woods, laying out a route for the artillery to pass, giving the scouts time to spot it. Opposite, Charles de Langlade, Liénard de Beaujeu and Jean-Daniel Dumas assembled a Franco-Amerindian troop of 850 men detached from Fort Duquesne, who fought according to the “small war” tactic. On July 9, they surprised the Anglo-Americans on the banks of the Monongahela and routed them after a furious battle. Braddock was killed, 1,500 of his men were put out of action (wounded or killed), while all his baggage (including his archives), all his artillery and 400 horses fell into the hands of the Franco-Americans, whose losses were low. The Amerindians played an essential role in this battle.
On the other hand, Baron de Dieskau suffered a serious setback because he wanted to apply European tactics, i.e. the same methods as Braddock. The documents collected at the battle of the Monongahela show that the New Yorkers wanted to invade Canada through Lake Champlain. Vaudreuil entrusted 1,500 men to Dieskau, who marched down the Richelieu River to confront the colonial militia of Colonel William Johnson. Dieskau attacked Fort Edward on the Hudson River, was ambushed, wounded and taken prisoner on September 8, 1755. The British took advantage of this to build Fort William Henry, south of Lake George. To neutralize this new position, the French immediately built Fort Carillon between Lake Champlain and Lake George. These two establishments reinforced the “military frontier” that separated the two Americas.
In the spring of 1755, another military failure had preceded Dieskau”s at Lake George: the Anglo-Americans had succeeded in their offensive on northern Acadia. In June, the Boston militia (about 2,000 men aboard some 30 ships), commanded by Colonel Monkton, had captured, after a brief siege, forts Beauséjour and Gaspareaux. These isolated settlements, defended by weak garrisons, were the key to the Chignectou Isthmus, which linked Nova Scotia to the remaining French Acadia. Following this coup tomorrow (facilitated by a long espionage operation) the British army invaded Acadia north of the Bay of Fundy. This occupation opened the door to a real ethnic cleansing operation: the “great disturbance”, which had just begun in British Acadia.
The deportation of the Acadians
The deportation of the Acadians in 1755 is part of the events that historians classify as part of the period known as the “Grand Dérangement” and that stretches until the end of the 18th century. The term refers to the mass expropriation and deportation of the Acadians, a French-speaking people of America, when the British took possession of part of the French colonies in America.
After the annexation of 1713, 10,000 French peasants had remained in Acadia. With the guarantees granted by the Treaty of Utrecht, they had come under the control of British authority. Considered “French neutrals” since 1730, they had remained quiet during the War of the Austrian Succession, despite Canadian solicitations, but this did not prevent the British governors from fearing them and increasing their surveillance measures. The Catholic clergy was particularly targeted because it played a central role in the leadership of the Acadian communities.
In 1750 – 1754 the Acadians numbered about 17,000, 13,000 of whom lived in Nova Scotia, with the remainder living in Cape Breton, Saint John Island (now Prince Edward Island) and the peninsula (now New Brunswick). Contrary to the stipulations of the Treaty of Utrecht, the British administration interfered with the practice of Catholicism and then tried to force them to swear allegiance to the British Crown in June 1755. The Acadians refused, mainly for fear of military service. Urged on by French agents and the Catholic clergy, they rose up against the British Crown.
The British response was brutal: Governor Charles Lawrence decided to deport 8,000 Acadians, whom he accused of providing intelligence to the authorities at Louisbourg and of inciting the Micmac and Abenaki Amerindians to attack British settlements, while missionaries like Father Le Loutre preached resistance to the British. With the fall of Fort Beauséjour and Gaspareaux, the ethnic cleansing operation spilled over into Acadia, which remained French in 1713. In July, the Halifax Council decided to deport the 6,000 Acadians who remained under British control.
The Acadians were treated ruthlessly by Colonel Monkton, who travelled the country destroying villages and churches and rounding up the population before their transfer. Scenes worthy of 20th century conflicts occurred: families were dispersed before their deportation to other British colonies (where they were very badly received) or to Louisiana. 4,000 Acadians died as a result of the mistreatment. 1,200 people were hidden by the Micmacs in the woods, but many died of cold and hunger while others were hunted down by the British as rebels and outlaws. Some returned to France (Belle-Ile or Poitou). About 20% of the population of Acadia managed to escape to Quebec. With the arrival of British settlers on land taken from the Acadians, the settlement of the region was disrupted.
The campaign of 1756
The two battles of the summer of 1755 extended their tactical effects the following year. The British debacle on the Monongahela had had a considerable impact on the Amerindian tribes of the West, who massively sided with France. Braddock had despised them, and they learned that a detachment had defeated his army, which was three times superior and equipped with artillery. The Amerindians saw this as striking proof of Onontio”s superiority in warfare. Similarly, the Battle of Lake George, where Dieskau was defeated and captured, appears to be a Pyrrhic victory for the British. The French were certainly repulsed, but the victors suffered greater losses than the vanquished, and, more seriously, the Iroquois allies paid a heavy human toll, including an influential chief. These losses kept them away from the British for a long time. This is why, at the beginning of 1756, the French had a virtual monopoly on Amerindian alliances and saw hundreds of warriors arrive in the western forts ready to launch raids against British settlements.
As a good follower of small wars, Vaudreuil took advantage of the situation to order the dispatch of a considerable number of parties while it was still winter. The most famous of these was the one against Fort Bull. The expedition, led by Chaussegros de Léry with a little more than 350 men, left Montreal on February 25 and infiltrated the dense forests thanks to Amerindian guides. Surprised, the 60 men who made up the fort”s garrison put up only limited resistance and capitulated on March 27, 1756. The booty was substantial. The seizure of ammunition and provisions led to the cancellation of the spring offensive planned by the British. More seriously for the British, the fall of this intermediate post exposed Fort Oswego, which was relatively isolated, to a French attack.
A few weeks later, three ships and three frigates arrived in Quebec with a reinforcement of 1,500 men and Dieskau”s successor: the Marquis de Montcalm (accompanied by his aide-de-camp, the Count de Bougainville). The judgment of historians has varied greatly on this military leader. Like Dieskau (or Braddock), his military concepts were “European”: trained to fight in line with large numbers of troops on open plains, he despised the “small war” of the Canadian style. Following Dieskau”s failure at Lake George, Vaudreuil would have gladly done without a military commander for the French ground troops. As in the case of Dieskau, Montcalm”s commission and accompanying instructions specified that the governor general, Vaudreuil, had command of all the colony”s armed forces and that Montcalm was subordinate to him in everything. Furthermore, he was firmly committed to remain in good intelligence with the governor general. These instructions were carefully drawn up and repeatedly revised to eliminate any source of conflict between the two military officers. The general idea was that Vaudreuil planned the military strategy while Montcalm chose the tactics to carry it out. In spite of this, the two men, who did not get along, gradually came into conflict over how to conduct operations. At first, this was of no consequence to the defence of Canada, for Montcalm, who was a fighter, fought successfully for two years, well supported by excellent assistants such as the Chevalier de Lévis and Colonel Bourlamaque.
The best defense being an attack, Montcalm assembled a troop of more than 3,000 men (French and Amerindians) at Fort Frontenac and then marched on Fort Oswego, to exploit Chaussegros de Léry”s victory at Fort Bull. Fort Oswego was the main British stronghold on the southeast shore of Lake Ontario. The British fleet on the lake was unable to stop it. On August 14, after a few days of siege, the place surrendered. Two smaller neighbouring forts were also destroyed. This resounding victory allowed Montcalm to take between 1,300 and 1,700 prisoners and to seize a large artillery and several ships. All of Lake Ontario came under French influence and several Amerindian tribes rallied. They went to harass the villages of New York State as far as Virginia. From Fort Duquesne, parties were sent towards Fort Cumberland. The result was a shift in the boundary of British possessions more than a hundred miles to the east. The tactical victory at Fort Bull (fought with the small war) led to a strategic victory at Fort Oswego (fought in the European style).
At the same time, General Loudoun, commander of the British forces (replacing the deceased Braddock), proved unable to take the offensive in the Ohio Valley. Better still, almost at the same time that Montcalm captured Fort Oswego, a small force from Fort Duquesne attacked Fort Granville, at the gateway to Pennsylvania. Composed of 22 Frenchmen and 32 “savage Wolves, Chaouanons and Illinois” it was commanded by François Coulon de Villiers who was still looking for an opportunity to avenge his brother Jumonville killed two years earlier by George Washington”s militiamen. The fort was taken and burned.
In London there is consternation. Stormy debates agitated the House of Commons. According to Horace Walpole, Fort Oswego was “ten times more important than Menorca”, referring to another defeat that had just mortified public opinion: the capture of the Menorca base in the Mediterranean, following a successful landing and a French naval victory. A scapegoat, the admiral commanding the Mediterranean squadron, paid the price, but that was not enough. The press, a real political power in Great Britain, also demanded a government capable of leading the kingdom to victory.
In November 1756, William Pitt was appointed first secretary of state. This formidable orator, a sworn enemy of France, was supported by the big cities, especially the port cities where the lobby of the great colonial trade was very active (they were the ones who orchestrated the opinion campaign in his favor). The man was not very popular with King George II and his son, the Duke of Cumberland, who obtained his dismissal for a few weeks, but in the spring of 1757 he finally imposed a cabinet of national unity, of which he became the real minister of war. Pitt dictated a strategy of global struggle against France in all maritime and colonial areas.
He reorganized the Admiralty by encouraging the appointment of new general officers, granted thirty-six ships and frigates to the North American theater and decided to send 20,000 regular soldiers there.) With the militia, the British command had a total of 50,000 men, with no difficulty of supply, with the Royal Navy cruising in the Atlantic as if it were in the English Channel, while Louis XV”s navy had to cross the blockade in front of its own ports and in front of the Saint Lawrence.
On the other hand, with the reinforcements that arrived in 1756, Vaudreuil and Montcalm had only 6,000 regular soldiers, 5,000 militiamen and, eventually, 15,000 men able to bear arms. This disproportion of forces was also reflected in the financial situation: the sums allocated by the British government to the assault on Canada were twenty-five times greater than the sums that France allocated to the defence of its colony.
The British strategy was relatively simple, considering the means used: to attack the St. Lawrence Valley from three sides at once: in the west, to seize the forts and control the Great Lakes region; in the center, to attack Montreal by going up the Hudson Valley; and finally, in the east, to realize the old dream of the New England colonists by seizing Quebec in a combined sea-land operation. However, the military value of the Canadian colonists was “extraordinary” (Patrick Villiers): it delayed the first significant British successes until 1758, and made it possible to resist for two more years after the maritime ties with France were broken.
The campaign of 1757
During the winter of 1756-1757 Vaudreuil continued his strategy of harassment against the British posts. He urged the commanders of the forts not to slacken their efforts in order to strike decisive blows. With his experience in Louisiana, he knew that any halt would be considered a weakness by the Amerindians and would allow the British to reconstitute their forces. This is why he insisted that the latter be permanently overwhelmed in order to demoralize them. He was very satisfied, for example, with the winter raid launched at the beginning of 1757, which resulted in the destruction of a dozen dwellings about ten leagues from Fort Cumberland. Sent by Le Marchand de Lignery from Fort Duquesne, the detachment had to march for 33 days, a good part of which was spent in the snow.
These raids, in a way, are a deception in that they focus the attention of the British far from the French positions. Montcalm was very dubious about this tactic, which consisted of travelling considerable distances to set up an ambush or conduct a skirmish, setting fire to farms, bringing back a few prisoners and “hair” for the Amerindians. Bougainville shares this opinion. However, this tactic had another advantage, essential for the defense of the colony: it allowed for intelligence gathering. On the return from his expedition, Lignery reported that there were only a few hundred men in the Fort Cumberland area. Montcalm immediately drew the conclusion that he would be able to focus his efforts in the summer of 1757 on the Lake Saint-Sacrement area without undue concern for the safety of Fort Duquesne.
Armed with this information, Montcalm set out on the campaign trail with a larger force than the previous year: 7,500 to 8,000 regular troops, militiamen and Amerindians, with some 30 artillery pieces. He came to lay siege to Fort William Henry, a place that locked the upper Hudson River. It was defended by a troop of 2,300 men under the command of George Monro. The continual harassment it had undergone in the spring had led to a near blindness on the part of its commander, who had made little effort to improve its defenses. Caught unprepared and unassisted by the nearby garrison at Fort Edward, Monro surrendered on August 9 with the honors of war after a few days of fighting. The Amerindians, who had participated in the siege in great numbers – they had provided more than 1,700 warriors – did not understand this act, which deprived them of booty and prisoners. Several groups, very discontented (and drunk), massacred some of the British during their retreat, despite all the commitments of the capitulation. Montcalm and his officers had to intervene and lecture their allies. This incident shocked the British, who felt that Montcalm had broken his word as a gentleman, and caused great resentment between the French and the Amerindians, who felt they had been unfairly treated. “Never again will New France have so many allies” (Laurent Nerich).
In the immediate term, the fall of Fort William Henry was a French success that allowed Vaudreuil to launch a raid southward against German Flatts. Leaving Montreal on October 20, the 300 men under Picoté de Balestre crossed the woods and rivers and took the position on November 12. The colonists, who had been warned of the approach of the French by the Onneiouts but had not believed them, were taken completely by surprise. The attackers left with many prisoners and a large haul of supplies. This raid, combined with the victory at Fort William Henry, exposed the city of Albany to a possible attack.
The other important operation took place on the Atlantic coast, on Île Royale, on British initiative. With the military means granted by Pitt, the objective was to break the lock of Louisbourg, which blocked access to the St. Lawrence and Quebec. The means were slowly assembled at the Halifax base during the summer: fifteen, then nineteen ships with frigates and carriers loaded with a landing force of 5,300 men. On August 19, this force, commanded by Admirals Hardy and Holburne, appeared in front of Louisbourg. It was to discover that the fortress, in addition to its garrison, was also defended by a French squadron of equivalent strength, which had gathered there with the separate arrival of three divisions.
Dubois de La Motte had embarked some of his ships to block the pass and the artillery batteries had been reinforced. The British leaders, impressed by this device, which they also had difficulty observing because of the persistent fog, circled around in front of Louisbourg until a storm on September 24 hit their squadron. A dozen ships were out of action, but Dubois de La Motte, who had strict defensive orders, did not take advantage of the situation to counterattack. The two naval concentrations did not produce anything spectacular, but it was nevertheless a clear French defensive victory, even if the alert had been hot. There was a great deal of concern in Québec.
Independently of these operations, reinforcements of troops embarked on civilian ships chartered by the king still managed to reach Québec and Louisbourg. From various civilian ports (Blaye, Saint-Malo, Dunkirk) and military ports (Rochefort, Brest), they disembarked from June to September with approximately 1,100 men who were integrated into the land and naval regiments.
At the end of 1757, the situation was such that some people in Great Britain were seriously considering peace: “a bad peace for us without any doubt, and yet better than the one we will have the year after”, wrote Lord Chesterfield who was a member of Parliament. But this was without counting on the determination of William Pitt, who, reassured by the victories of his ally Frederick II in Germany against the French and the Austrians, did not intend to slacken his efforts in America. On December 30, he issued a circular to the governors of the northern colonies ordering them to raise 20,000 men for an “invasion of Canada” in 1758. He undertook to finance this army and to equip it with large deliveries of arms and equipment.
The campaign of 1758
Drawing conclusions from the disappointing previous campaign, London changed the leaders and decided to leave for the campaign earlier. To attack Louisbourg, the main objective of the 1758 Atlantic campaign, Admirals Hardy and Holburne gave way to a much more determined officer: Edward Boscawen. A troop of 12,000 to 14,000 men (more than twice as many as in 1757) was entrusted to Major General Jeffery Amherst to invest the place. Embarked on more than one hundred cargo ships in Halifax, escorted by twenty to twenty-two ships of the line and fifteen to eighteen frigates, this force presented itself before Louisbourg on June 2, 1758. Including the sailors, the British force reached 27,000 men.
The fortress was defended by the 3,000 men of the Chevalier de Drucourt. It had just received some reinforcements brought by the small naval divisions of the Marquis Des Gouttes, Beaussier de l”Isle and Count De Breugnon, which had succeeded in breaking the blockade in front of Brest and Rochefort (six ships, several frigates and carriers). A new division, under the orders of Count Du Chaffault (five ships, three frigates, a flute, a senau) arrived at the same time as the British squadron with a reinforcement of 700 men and flour. Du Chaffault had them land in a nearby bay to reach the fortress by their own means, and then sailed to Québec. In dispersed order, Versailles thus succeeded in getting eleven ships of the line to Canada, but two-thirds of them were armed with carriers and served by meager reinforcements. Turned back or destroyed by bad luck at sea or in war, a dozen other ships were unable to cross the Atlantic. As for the six ships that left Toulon, they could not even get out of the Mediterranean. Blocked in Gibraltar by much larger forces, they took refuge for six months in a Spanish port before returning to their base without glory.
On June 8, the British began to land on Île Royale and on the 12th launched the first attacks. Louisbourg lacked weapons and ammunition, but it was well supplied with food and should be able to hold out until the autumn storms that forced the attackers to lift the siege and retreat to Halifax. However, it suffered from serious construction defects that undermined its strength. The fortress was gradually taken over by Amherst”s forces, who neutralized all the batteries one by one despite the efforts of the defenders. On June 28 and 29, Drucourt had the pass blocked by scuttling several ships, but this did not change the course of the siege. The perimeter of the square was gradually reduced and nothing escaped the British bombs. The ships that Drucourt did not let go, thinking to use them as floating batteries, were destroyed or captured.
On July 25, British artillery breached the fortress walls. The next day, exhausted and fearing a general assault that would result in a massacre, Drucourt was forced to surrender. The victors refused to accept the honours of war, took the combatants captive in England, rounded up the colonists of Île Royale and then those of Île Saint-Jean and forcibly shipped them to France. Louisbourg was surrendered in 45 days of siege. It was the first great British success against Canada. “Thus the efforts made over the past 40 years to compensate for the loss of Port-Royal
While the siege of Louisbourg raged, an army of 16,000 men, assembled north of Albany near the ruins of Fort William Henry, marched to Lake Champlain to attack Fort Carillon. Composed of 6,000 British regulars and 10,000 provincials, this force exceeded, on paper, the army that had landed on Île Royale. It was placed under the command of James Abercrombie, who, after two years of failure, had just relieved Lord Loudoun of his command. Fort Carillon locked the southern access to the St. Lawrence and to Montreal via the Richelieu River. To defend this strategic place, Montcalm and Lévis went there with 3,600 men from the army troops that had arrived as reinforcements in 1755, accompanied by 300 Abenaki.
Abercrombrie was just as mediocre a leader as his predecessor. The real leader of the campaign was in fact the young Brigadier General George Howe (32 years old) but he was killed on July 6 in a skirmish when the Anglo-Americans, who had just crossed Lake George, were a few miles from the French positions. Ill-informed (he thought Montcalm was waiting for reinforcements), Abercrombie ordered a general assault on the French entrenchments on July 8 without using his artillery. For several hours, the fire of the French artillerymen and infantrymen decimated the tightly packed ranks of the attackers, sometimes at close range. At the end of the afternoon, Abercrombie ordered the retreat, which took on the appearance of a rout. With 500 dead, 1,000 wounded and 20 missing, the British withdrew to Lake George, abandoning weapons, ammunition and wounded. The French only suffered a little over 100 dead and less than 300 wounded.
This victory can be attributed to good planning by Montcalm, who took advantage of the disorganization of the British troops. Demoralized, while his numbers were still far superior and he only needed to deploy his artillery to relaunch the campaign by conducting a full-scale siege, Abercrombie did not personally undertake anything more. He was relieved of his command in November and replaced by Jeffery Amherst, who returned victorious from Louisbourg with several battalions as reinforcements.
The British defeat at Fort Carillon did not prevent the Anglo-Americans (contrary to what had happened from 1755 to 1757) from continuing their offensives on the continent. Several factors explain this state of affairs. First of all, numerical superiority: with the funds made available by William Pitt, local recruitment was no longer a problem and the colonies raised troops by the thousands. Added to this were the battalions that landed from England. On the other side, with an increasingly effective blockade, only very few reinforcements managed to get through and the bulk of the French forces were grouped together on the Montreal-Quebec City axis. The western forts were only guarded by small or medium-sized garrisons, which were increasingly difficult to supply and depended for the most part on the alliance with the Amerindians. However, the latter were in the process of turning around.
The British blockade, now in its third year, plunged Canada into crisis and penury. The alliance with the Amerindians depended heavily on the fur trade and diplomatic gifts, which had been a tradition since the early days of New France. But sheets, weapons, manufactured goods, various tools, all the trading goods are now lacking in the posts. By the end of 1757, major unrest had broken out in the West: Fort des Prairies, also called Fort Saint-Louis (in present-day Saskatchewan), was taken by the Amerindians. The British merchants of the Hudson”s Bay Company made repeated incursions into the heart of the Pays-d”en-Haut to maintain the phenomenon, which only increased. The Amerindians, who conducted their politics independently, were increasingly cautious. If the British were to gain the upper hand over Onontio, it would seem crucial to them to get into their good graces.
Another factor working against the French was resentment over the previous year”s campaign to capture Fort William Henry. Many of the sachems were very unhappy with the little autonomy they had during the siege, which was logically conducted in the European style. On the other hand, the epidemics brought back by certain nations of the Pays-d”en-Haut for whom this siege was a first contact with the European world decimated many warriors. But it was the outcome of the siege that caused the greatest resentment. While they had hoped to bring back booty and prisoners as proof of their bravery, the Amerindians were disconcerted – the word is weak – to learn that the garrison enjoyed the honors of war. With some groups attacking the vanquished (the “William Henry Massacre”) and Montcalm interposing himself by lecturing them, trust was broken. Despite the victory, French and Amerindians parted on bad terms. Even the most charismatic officers from the Compagnies franches, such as Hertel, Langis and Langlade, who knew them and spoke their language, could no longer get as many warriors to march for New France as they had in the past.
From this point on, the allied contingents were mainly made up of “domiciled” soldiers as well as some particularly loyal groups. The consequences were significant in that the remote forts were now left to their own devices, both from a military and logistical point of view. On October 23, 1758, from Fort Duquesne, which had been abandoned by its former Amerindian allies, Lignery wrote to Vaudreuil that he found himself “in the saddest situation imaginable. Tactically, the weak garrisons of the outposts could only send a small number of parties to the guerrilla war against the British. Moreover, this consequent decrease in the number of parties no longer allowed them to fix the enemy troops and seriously threaten their supply lines. Even more seriously, some Amerindian groups began to offer their services to those who appeared to be the future victors. The Anglo-Americans, long blind in the woods, now received intelligence that allowed them to counter French initiatives.
The idea of attacking Fort Frontenac had been discussed at about the same time as the decision to march on Fort Carillon. After the defeat of July 8, the idea was revived by John Bradstreet, a Nova Scotia officer. Abercrombie agreed and entrusted him with a troop of 3,000 men, almost exclusively composed of colonial militiamen and some Iroquois. He also had artillery at his disposal.
The affair was carried out smoothly. By August 21, Bradstreet was on Lake Ontario and four days later he was in sight of the French positions. The fort, led by Lieutenant Pierre-Jacques Payen de Noyan, was defended by only a hundred men (barely half of whom were from the free companies). With so few resources, he was forced to capitulate on August 27. Bradstreet burned the place and everything in it, including a large stock of goods. The lake flotilla was also destroyed. It was the first French fort to fall on the Great Lakes, undermining the connections with Montreal and Fort Niagara, undermining the already shaky confidence of the Amerindians and isolating Fort Duquesne further south. This defeat showed that from then on, the small garrisons were no longer sufficient to effectively oppose the British attempts with large numbers of troops.
In Ohio, Fort Duquesne, from which parties continually emerged to ambush the Pennsylvania margins, appeared to be a priority objective. With the reinforcement of the Anglo-American forces, the place seemed to be a target. However, it is a real scarecrow. Information was lacking: no precise plan was available and the strength of the relatively large garrison was not really known. Its attack, in 1755, resulted in a bloody disaster that is still remembered. The route to get there through the woods and hills is long, and the risk of being ambushed and leaving your scalp behind is very high.
The expedition, prepared for months (even before those against Fort Carillon and Fort Frontenac), brought together almost 7,000 men (including 5,000 colonials) with artillery, three times the number available to Braddock three years earlier. It was placed under the command of the Scottish brigadier-general John Forbes. Extremely cautious, he decided to take a different route than Braddock and to advance by building a large number of forts while better protecting the logistical convoys, the French”s target of choice. This compact system repelled all the parties sent by Le Marchand de Lignery from Fort Duquesne.
On September 14, however, an advance guard of 800 men approaching the fort was ambushed, leaving more than 300 killed, wounded or captured. But the Amerindians, who had been fighting with Lignery until then, withdrew and concluded a treaty with the British. Forbes immediately resumed his march. On November 24, Lignery, who knew he could not hold a siege with the 600 men of his garrison, evacuated the fort, blew it up and withdrew to Fort Machault. Forbes entered the fort two days later, having marched 193 miles in five months. This victory freed Pennsylvania and Maryland from the French threat and placed the entire upper Ohio under British rule. In honor of William Pitt, the place was renamed Fort Pitt and gave birth to the city of Pittsburgh.
At the dawn of the siege, life in the city of Québec and in the entire colony had become very difficult. The inhabitants were exhausted by the war that had been going on for five years. Relations between Montcalm and Vaudreuil were also becoming increasingly strained. The inhabitants of Quebec live in famine, fear and uncertainty. While they saw their city being destroyed by the multiple British bombardments, they wondered why the French authorities did not retaliate and why the ammunition was being preserved. The incessant bombing, in addition to destroying much of the city, frightened the inhabitants, especially the children and women, who took refuge in prayer.
During the siege, Wolfe detached troops to the south and north shores of the river and used them to burn farms and wheat, as well as villages as far away as La Malbaie and Rivière-Ouelle. The British soldiers took advantage of their strength to steal the women, children and livestock that could not take refuge in time in the woods. In some villages, such as Saint-François-du-Lac, Portneuf and Saint-Joachim, massacres and scalps were also carried out by the troops.
The battle of the Plains of Abraham
During the movement of the army”s troops, and while they were positioning themselves on the battlefield, several militiamen and soldiers of the French troops harassed the British on their flanks. These skirmishes caused several casualties. In the meantime, Montcalm analyzed the situation and concluded that he should not give the enemy time to fortify himself. Otherwise, it would be impossible to dislodge them. It was therefore around 10 a.m. that the general ordered the attack. The troops were divided into three lines, the first consisting of regulars, the second of militiamen incorporated into the regiments, and the third also. Montcalm”s decision to incorporate a corps of militiamen into each regiment of the army proved to be disastrous. The line broke down within a few steps of the enemy, and the soldiers of the second line fired without being ordered to do so.
Both armies suffered similar losses: 658 on the British side and 644 on the French side. The bulk of the French losses occurred during the pitched battle, while the British suffered the bulk of their losses at the hands of militiamen and Amerindians who covered the retreat of the regular soldiers. The deaths of General Montcalm and General Wolfe occurred at about the same time. The battle of the Plains of Abraham lasted about two hours, if we take into account the events that followed from 10 a.m. onwards: the two charges of the pitched battle, the French and the British, and the shoot-out of about one and a half hours between the British and the franc-tireurs. Historian D. Peter McLeod estimates the duration of the battle at about eight hours, including all the military events of the day, from the attack on the Vergor outpost at 4:00 a.m. to the last cannon shots that forced the retreat of the British soldiers to the mouth of the St. Charles River at 12:00 p.m. After their defeat on the Plains of Abraham on September 13, 1759, the French and Canadian troops dispersed; Montcalm, mortally wounded, managed to retreat to Quebec with some of his companions. Bougainville, Lévis, and the troops retreated toward Montreal while the governor of New France, Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, abandoned the Beauport coast and headed west to join Lévis and Bougainville.
Vaudreuil sent a message to Ramezay advising of his withdrawal and instructing him to defend the city until “he ran out of provisions,” at which point he had to choose the most honorable way to propose his surrender. The British, now in control of the plains, brought heavy artillery, including twelve 24-pounders, large mortars and four-inch howitzers, to bombard the city. A battery on the opposite shore from Pointe de Lévis had already made it impossible for the city”s defenders to remain within its walls. Vice Admiral Saunders, who had hitherto kept his largest ships downstream, had now brought seven of his most powerful ships to join the frigates already in the basin. The British were very eager to settle matters quickly before the onset of winter, and this show of force was to facilitate a quick surrender.
After the battle, Ramezay had on September 14, 2,200 men, including 330 French and troops, 20 artillery men, 500 sailors and 1,300 militiamen. Ramezay had estimated that he had enough supplies for eight days. On September 15, he received a protest from some of the most important townspeople asking him to capitulate rather than risk the sacking of the city. Ramezay convened a council of war, giving everyone the opportunity to make their point. Only one, Louis-Thomas Jacau de Fiedmont, was against surrender. To sum up, Ramezay said: “Considering the instructions I received from the Marquis de Vaudreuil and the scarcity of dispositions, and proven by the returns of the researches I made, I conclude to strive to obtain from the enemy the most honorable capitulation”. In all, 24 notables of Quebec, including merchants, militia officers and civil servants, met in the partly destroyed residence of François Daine, Lieutenant General of the Provost of Quebec. The members of the assembly signed a petition asking Ramezay to negotiate the surrender of Québec. Daine delivered the request to him in person the same day.
The surrender of Quebec
After consulting the opinions of the notables of the city of Montreal, those of his staff, and according to the instructions of the headquarters of the Marquis de Vaudreuil, Jean-Baptiste Nicolas Roch de Ramezay (the king”s lieutenant who ensured the defense of the city) negotiated the surrender of the city with the representatives of the British crown: Charles Saunders and George Townshend.
The fall of Montreal (1760)
The Chevalier de Lévis, who had been in command of the French troops since the death of Montcalm, organized an offensive on Quebec. Thanks to his victory at the battle of Sainte-Foy (but the British offensive on Montreal and the presence of the British fleet in the St. Lawrence River forced the French forces to retreat. The capitulation of Montreal was signed by Governor General Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil and Major General Jeffrey Amherst, on behalf of the French and British crowns, on September 8, 1760.
The last battles and the peace treaties (1762 – 1763)
But the war was not completely over, especially in Newfoundland, with the Battle of Signal Hill on September 15, 1762, which resulted in a British victory and the fall of the city of St. John three days later (which the French had seized a few weeks earlier in a final naval effort).
By the treaty of Paris signed in 1763 between France and Great Britain, Great Britain obtained from France Île Royale, Isle Saint-Jean, Northern Acadia, Quebec, the Great Lakes basin, as well as all French territories located east of the Mississippi. But France also regained some territories in America, such as its territories in the West Indies, as well as Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon (which it had lost in 1713).
The loss of “a few acres of snow” for France?
With the cession of Louisiana to Spain (to compensate the latter for the loss of Florida), France almost completely ceased to be present in North America (only Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon remained). French intellectuals as well as the highest officials of the State, Étienne de Choiseul in the lead, considered the cession of Canada as a negligible event, the loss of these “few acres of snow” of which Voltaire is amused in Candide. For the French government, the main thing was to recover the islands of the West Indies, rich producers of sugar and coffee and whose economic value was considered much higher than that of New France.
It is not certain, however, that all French opinion shared “without remorse or regret” (André Zysberg) the liquidation of Canada. The Parisian bourgeois Edmond Barbier, for example, analyzed the situation lucidly in his Journal: “The English laid siege to the city of Quebec and finally made themselves masters of it. The capitulation, with the honors of war, is dated September 18. They are by this means in possession of all of Canada, the loss of which is considerable for us, and they will seize all our possessions in America, one after another, by this superiority of navy, and will finally do all the trade.”
Sources and bibliography
: document used as a source for the writing of this article.
- Guerre de la Conquête
- French and Indian War
- Gilles Archambault, « La question des vivres au Canada au cours de l’hiver 1757-1758 », Revue d”histoire de l”Amérique française, vol. 21, no 1, 1967 (ISSN 0035-2357 et 1492-1383, DOI 10.7202/302643ar, lire en ligne, consulté le 3 décembre 2017)
- a b et c Zysberg 2002, p. 239-240.
- 60 000 selon les estimations basses de Zysberg 2002, p. 240 et Bély 1992, p. 517 ; 70 000 selon Vergé-Franceschi 2002, p. 280-282, 90 000 selon les estimations hautes de Dziembowski 2018, p. 29.
- a b c d e f g h et i Zysberg 2002, p. 240.
- Brumwell, S. 24–25.
- Brumwell, S. 26–31.
- ^ Brumwell, pp. 26–31, documents the starting sizes of the expeditions against Louisbourg, Carillon, Duquesne, and West Indies.
- ^ Brumwell, pp. 24–25.
- ^ Québec, ville militaire (1608-2008), Montréal: Art Global, 2008, p. 140
- Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years” War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754—1766. — New York: Knopf, 2000. — ISBN 0-375-40642-5.
- Freeman1, 1948, p. 270—271.
- Freeman1, 1948, p. 271—273.