Seven Years War (1756–1763)

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Seven Years War (1756–1763)

Major Figures

Frederick the Great

Also known as Frederick II, Frederick the Great (1712–1786) had an impressive reign as king of Prussia. Under his rule, Prussia doubled in size, and the nation became both a military power and a center of learning.

Early Life

Frederick was born on January 24, 1712 to the Hohenzollern family, rulers of two Germanic states: Prussia, on the Baltic Sea, and Brandenburg, which surrounded its capital, Berlin. His mother, Sophia Dorothea, was the daughter of George I of Hanover (another German state) and England.

By all accounts, Frederick’s father, Frederick William I, made the young prince’s life miserable, humiliating him at every opportunity. The father dismissed any tutors who taught art, literature, or philosophy, as he considered those disciplines unnecessary. In response to his own father (Frederick I, who had been extravagant), Frederick William was extremely frugal, suspicious, and cruel. When Frederick was in his late teens, he made plans with friends to escape from his father and live in England. The plot was discovered, and Frederick was forced to watch the beheading of one of the conspirators, who had been his dear friend.

Frederick had little to do with Elizabeth Christina, the German princess his father selected as a bride for the prince. His closest confident throughout his life was his sister Wilhemina, and his favorite companions were his Italian greyhound dogs. His training for the throne was rigorous at this time, but his letters to Wilhemina reveal that he considered suicide.

Frederick Becomes King

Frederick William died in 1740, and his son became King Frederick II. In spite of his father’s strictures, Frederick had acquired learning and ruled as an “Enlightened Despot”—meaning that he held absolute power while promoting reforms. He rewrote the legal code and granted religious freedom to his subjects. Frederick also corresponded with intellectuals like Voltaire, brought ballet and the arts to his realm, and wrote poetry and music himself. Frederick’s governing policies were spelled out clearly in an idealistic book he wrote, L’Antimachiavel, which Voltaire managed to get published just before Frederick became king.

While transforming Prussia into a cultural center, Frederick also built up its military, eventually increasing the size of its army to several times that of other states. To assert his power and lessen that of Prussia’s rivals, Frederick invaded Silesia, waging two wars between 1740 and 1745 in order to annex that state.

The Seven Years War

Frederick invaded another of Maria Theresa’s possessions in 1756: Saxony. He offered to withdraw from Saxony if she agreed not to form an alliance with Russia. However, Frederick misjudged both leaders and states. Austria and France declared war against Prussia and its ally, England. In the next year Russia joined the fray, forcing Frederick to face enemies on two fronts, east and west.

Early in the conflict, Frederick exhibited brilliant strategic skills. In two key fights, the Battle of Rossbach and the Battle of Leuthen, he defeated armies that vastly outnumbered his. England, Prussia’s lone ally, concentrated all its military efforts in America. France occupied Berlin, briefly, but Russia pulled out of its alliance with Austria in 1762 when Peter III—who admired Frederick—became Czar. Frederick emerged as one of the victors in the Seven Years War, although he did return Saxony to Austrian rule.

Partition of Poland and Later Years

In 1772, Frederick found another means to increase the size of his state. He joined with the other European powers in carving up Poland, a largely Catholic country, on the excuse that Poland did not protect the rights of its Protestant minorities. Frederick acquired the “Polish Corridor,” which connected Brandenburg and Prussia, significantly changing the shape of Frederick’s empire.

Frederick sought out and introduced new methods of farming and manufacturing in his country, managed many reforms, and continued his patronage of the arts. Whenever he could, throughout his long reign, he lived at his favorite residence, the Rococo-style palace and park Sanssouci (“Carefree”). After he died there peacefully, on August 17, 1786, his nephew and designated heir (Frederick William II) had Frederick buried next to his father at Potsdam, the city surrounding Sanssouci. Both bodies were moved frequently during the twentieth century, mostly to protect them during times of war. In 1991, Frederick’s remains were brought to Sanssouci and interred, in accordance with his will.

Edward Braddock

Major General Edward Braddock (1695–1755) commanded the largest British force to date in America and marched it to the Battle of the Monongahela River in 1755. He was shot during the fight and died. The battle was a humiliating loss for the British and began the French and Indian War, the North American prelude to the Seven Years War.

Marching in his Father’s Footsteps

History first mentions Edward Braddock in 1710, when he purchased an ensign’s commission in the Coldstream Guards, an elite infantry unit of the British Army. His father had also been in this regiment. Six years later, the younger Braddock rose to lieutenant of the grenadiers, and through steady promotions Braddock attained the rank of colonel in 1745. That same year he helped suppress the Jacobite Rebellion and caught the attention of the Duke of Cumberland.

When Britain decided to send regiments to America to halt French aggression, the Duke of Cumberland pressed for Braddock to be made commander not only of the fresh troops being sent, but of all British soldiers in North America. He was also to administer a defense fund established by the colonial governors. Braddock was promoted to major general and arrived in Virginia in early 1755.

Braddock Takes Control

Reportedly, Braddock’s men loved him because he was blunt, strict, and reliable. However, this soldierly manner did not endear him to civilians in England or in the colonies. Braddock demanded that colonial governors meet him in a conference in Virginia and issued unpopular orders to ensure provisions and housing for his men.

Braddock informed the governors that he would lead his men to take Fort Duquesne (at present-day Pittsburgh) from the French as soon as possible. He outlined three other simultaneous expeditions to take other forts as far north as Nova Scotia. The plans, formulated in London, were impossible to implement due to the logistical realities of the New World, but Braddock would not listen to the colonial governors when they tried to advise him.

Preparations for the March

Braddock prepared to march to Fort Duquesne with 1,400 British soldiers, a thousand local troops, and five hundred men to handle his supplies and wagons. Roughly 150 wagons with horses were provided by Pennsylvania—courtesy of Benjamin Franklin—in an effort to smooth out the ill feeling Braddock had created. George Washington, a Virginia aristocrat and surveyor who knew the Ohio area well, came along as Braddock’s aide-de-camp.

Before leaving, a meeting was arranged with representatives and chiefs from the Delaware, Shawnee, Mingo, and Oneida tribes. Blunt to a fault, Braddock made it clear that England wished to take their land, thereby promptly extinguishing any chance of building alliances. The general, sure that he did not need Native American help, set out from Wills Creek at the end of May. His wagons hauled howitzers and other impractical weaponry into the wilderness, and progress was slow. In most places, a road had to be cleared and constructed for the wagons.

The March

Fort Duquesne sat 110 miles away. After covering thirty-five miles, Braddock divided his force into a “flying column” (that, unencumbered, made good time) and a slower supply and baggage column. The faster troops covered between three and eight miles a day, and soon up to sixty miles separated the two segments.

On July 9, 1755, the faster column came to within ten miles of Fort Duquesne. In front were three hundred light infantry and grenadiers; after them came 250 local men who widened the road while guarded by a company of New York volunteers. A mile-long column of supply wagons, guards, laborers, troops, officers, artillery, women, and cattle followed.

Braddock’s Death

After fording the river, the British encountered a force of about six hundred Native American warriors from many tribes and three hundred French troops. The Battle of the Monongahela River commenced about one o’clock in the afternoon. Concealed behind trees and other objects that provided cover, the French and Native Americans shot at the British troops, who remained closely packed together in formation on the open road. For three hours, the British force held together while suffering terrible losses. Braddock moved to the front to lead his men, but they had little room to maneuver on the road.

Neither Braddock nor his officers had experience or training in the type of fighting typical in the New World, where a dispersed enemy took shots from places that provided cover. Bravely, they refused to retreat, but their tactics of firing together often sent musketballs into each other, instead of striking an enemy. After three hours, Braddock was hit in the back and unhorsed. Only then did his men break formation and retreat.

After two days of unnecessary flight (the British were not pursued, but did not know that), the remains of the army paused. Braddock was mortally wounded, the musketball still in his chest. He died on July 13, and was buried in the road. As they feared his body would be desecrated, his men tramped over the grave to obscure it from sight. Men noted that the site was about a mile west of Fort Necessity, or Great Meadows.

In 1804, remains believed to be Braddock’s were found in the road and were reburied. A marble monument now stands over his new grave, very near the old.

Edward Hawke

Admiral Edward Hawke (1705–1781) commanded the British Mediterranean fleet in the Battle of Quiberon Bay. His innovative tactics not only won the fight, but ended French sea power in the Atlantic.

Early Career

Edward Hawke’s father was a lawyer, but he died when Hawke was thirteen years old. The young Hawke was mentored by an uncle on his mother’s side, Martin Bladen, who had served in the military and in parliament. Hawke entered the navy at age fifteen and served on the Seahorse for five years, sailing to America and the West Indies.

By the time Hawke became captain of his own ship in 1734, he had seen peacetime service along the coasts of Africa, the Mediterranean, North America, and the Caribbean. When England went to war with Spain in 1739, Hawke was sent back to the Caribbean, in charge of an antiquated fifty-gun vessel patrolling the Leeward Islands, protecting and escorting merchant ships.

In 1742, during the War of the Austrian Succession, Hawke was given a new, seventy-gun ship (the Berwick) and sent to join a fleet in the Mediterranean. In a badly led and ill-fought naval battle off Toulon, which pitted English against French and Spanish ships in February 1744, Hawke distinguished himself by disabling two Spanish ships and capturing one. While other officers were court-martialed for their performance (or lack thereof), Hawke was praised.

Building A Reputation

King George II of England insisted that Hawke be made a rear admiral in 1747. The Navy itself wished to retire Hawke, for reasons not known. Once at sea, Hawke assumed command of the Western fleet due to the illness of the admiral, Sir Peter Warren. Tasked with intercepting French convoys, Hawke succeeded brilliantly. In a naval battle near Cape Finisterre, France, he captured six ships. For this, he was awarded the Cross of the Bath by the King—who now considered Hawke his admiral.

Admiral Warren retired before the Seven Years War broke out, meaning Hawke was officially in charge of the Western fleet. His continuing task was to interdict French naval squadrons. Hawke replaced Sir John Byng as commander in the Mediterranean after the poor performance of Byng resulted in an embarrassing loss for the British.

Hawke During the War

Now in command of the Mediterranean fleet, Admiral Hawke pushed his superiors in London to order an attack on the French naval arsenal and docks at Rochefort, but this was not allowed. Frustrated that a lack of ships and feeble responses from British politicians in Britain prevented him from waging more effective warfare, Hawke was also sick for several months in 1758 and 1759. This forced him to recuperate ashore in England.

In 1759 Hawke returned to his fleet, successfully blockaded the French, and then fought the Battle of Quiberon Bay, winning great acclaim for this decisive victory. He stayed with his fleet off the French coast until 1760, when he returned to England. When Hawke retired from active duty, he was awarded two pensions of 1,500 pounds annually: one for his service and one for the victory at Quiberon Bay.

Later Years

Promotions followed; by 1766 Hawke was First Lord of the Admiralty, holding that office for five years. By nature, he was not a clever politician and often found himself at odds with government officials. A peerage was awarded to Hawke in 1776, and he became the first Baron Hawke. He retired to live at Sunbury-on-Thames in Middlesex and died there on October 17, 1781. His son Martin Bladen Hawke inherited the peerage from him.

Louis Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm

Louis Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm-Gozon de Saint-Véran (1712–1759), was the general in charge of French forces in the Battle of Quebec. Montcalm was fatally wounded at this fight on the Plains of Abraham, and his army was defeated.

The Professional Soldier

Born in Southern France, Montcalm was commissioned as an ensign at age nine; in his twenties, he fought in the War of the Polish Succession as a captain. He married well and inherited the title of marquis on his father’s death. During the Battle of Piacenza in the War of the Austrian Succession, Montcalm was wounded five times and taken prisoner. Upon his release, the French rewarded his bravery by promoting him to general.

By most accounts a charming and witty man, Montcalm served in eleven campaigns. While home, he fathered ten children. At age forty-four, in May 1756, he came to New France (America) as a major general to take command of troops in the field. He arrived just in time to support the governor-general Marquis de Vaudreuil in the siege of Fort Oswego, a new British fort on Lake Ontario.

Montcalm in America

From the start, Montcalm and Vaudreuil disagreed on almost everything, but unfortunately for the Old World general, Vaudreuil outranked Montcalm. Like many European commanders, Montcalm had no tolerance for Native American or frontier warfare. Montcalm, in fact, denied war honors to the British at Oswego when he accepted their surrender because he was disgusted that they gave up so easily. However, when a force of 250 Native American allies swarmed Oswego’s hospital, killing and taking prisoners after the surrender, Montcalm was horrified. He ransomed the British prisoners from the Native Americans at great expense.

In August 1757, Montcalm led four thousand French troops and a thousand Native American allies to take Fort William Henry. Montcalm insisted on conducting the siege in the classic, European style, digging trenches and inching forward with heavy guns. This time, Montcalm extended honorable surrender terms to the British commander, George Monro. However, Montcalm’s Native American allies were outraged at being denied their right to take prisoners and booty, and attacked the British soldiers. Once again, Montcalm felt he had to ransom hundreds of men. (Author James Fennimore Cooper memorialized this battle in the novel Last of the Mohicans).

Montcalm won a stunning victory the next year when he defended Fort Carillon, later called Fort Ticonderoga. The attacking British force, five times the size of Montcalm’s garrison, was commanded by the incompetent James Abercrombie. Montcalm prepared defenses and fortifications to meet the unorganized frontal assault and drove off the British.

Quebec and the Death of Montcalm

The British sent reinforcements under James Wolfe, and a series of British victories in 1759 led to the siege of Quebec. Initially, Montcalm would not be lured out of the fortress to engage the enemy, as he concentrated his attention on defense. However, after Wolfe’s surprise landing and ascent of the cliffs leading to the Plains of Abraham, Montcalm opted to take to the field.

Unable to wait for reinforcements, Montcalm led a charge into the British line. His force included few of the disciplined troops he favored; most of the men were from local militias. They broke ranks and sought cover in the furious, short battle that followed. In the retreat, Montcalm was hit with grapeshot from a six-pound British gun. The wounds, in his stomach and leg, were fatal and he died early the next morning, on September 14. He was buried in a shell crater in Quebec.

In retrospect, the defeat was decisive and broke French power in the area. At the time, however, Governor Vaudreuil and his commanders thought they could retake Quebec and wrote to France for reinforcements. Vaudreuil and Montcalm had come to loath each other; in his letters, Vaudreuil blamed the marquis for the loss of Quebec.

Lost in the Forests of the New World

A criticism often leveled at Montcalm is that he was too European. He could not adjust to the fighting style that won battles in America; in fact, he hated it as dishonorable. He disdained alliances with Native Americans because—in his perception—they were savage and unreliable. His opinion of the Canadians was almost as low. His favored tactics, learned during the course of his many European conflicts, were not suited to the American wilderness.

The Marquis de Montcalm was a courageous, well-liked leader who excelled in some areas, but because he was not able to change, he wasted many opportunities.

James Wolfe

General James Wolfe (1727–1759) commanded the British forces in the Battle of Quebec, winning a major victory over French forces.

A Quick Rise Through the Ranks

Born in Kent, England, Wolfe followed his father into the army at age thirteen. He started as a volunteer in his father’s regiment and received a commission at age fifteen. Within a year, he saw combat at the Battle of Dettingen; at eighteen, he served as a brigade major in the Jacobite rebellion. His performance at Lanfoldt was noted by the powerful Duke of Cumberland and resulted in Wolfe’s appointment as a regimental commander and promotion to lieutenant colonel by the age of twenty-three.

Wolfe was known to be emotional and critical of his superiors and capable of bold and impetuous acts. He spent several years in Scotland before being sent to America as acting brigadier to Jeffery Amherst in 1758. Amherst was to lead the assault on Fortress Louisbourg.


The French Fortress Louisbourg in Nova Scotia could block any attempt by the British to sail down the St. Lawrence River to Quebec. Britain deployed nearly fourteen thousand men in 190 ships to take it. Wolfe led a third of these ships. In spite of numerical superiority, though, Louisbourg was well defended, with thirty cannons ready to blast enemy ships that approached its rocky shore.

On June 8, 1758, Wolfe looked desperately for a route to shore. On impulse, he followed three errant ships to a stretch of beach, landed his men, and launched a bayonet charge that overwhelmed the defenders. Once ashore, Amherst launched a five-week siege. The English brought seventy artillery guns to batter Louisbourg, and fires destroyed part of the French fleet and buildings. On July 27, the French were forced to surrender. Most of their fifty-seven hundred defenders were shipped to England as prisoners of war, and civilians were deported to France.

Wolfe detested his superior officer Amherst and returned to England on leave rather than continue to serve under him. As a war hero, he had influence and managed to secure an independent command from Prime Minister William Pitt. He returned to Nova Scotia to help take Quebec in the spring of 1759, with eight thousand troops at his command.

Fight at Quebec

Wolfe sailed the St. Lawrence River without Native American assistance, using rangers as scouts. He led the largest squadron of British ships to date towards Quebec, including forty-nine men-of-war ships, some carrying ninety guns. He landed below the city on June 28.

On that day, Wolfe sent a manifesto to the city, offering clemency to its citizens—unless they took up arms. In that case, he promised to destroy the houses, churches, and food supplies of Quebec and let people starve. In July, Wolfe began shelling the city. In August, he attacked the farms and churches as he had promised, turning his soldiers lose to pillage, burn, and terrorize.

Death of Wolfe

Wolfe’s health, never good, deteriorated during the siege of Quebec. He spent the end of August in a fever and collapsed again in September. He rallied, and on September 5 rode with his men and other officers up the St. Lawrence. A week later he surprised even his own men by moving his fleet downriver at ebb tide to disembark in secret. His forces then scaled difficult but lightly defended cliffs to secure a landing spot for troops at the Plains of Abraham. The landed, well-disciplined British forces then met the French on September 13.

The battle turned into a total defeat for the French. As their ranks broke and retreated and the British pursued, Wolfe—shot in the chest—bled to death. He was remembered as a hero, and his death was immortalized in statues and paintings, the most famous done by Benjamin West and titled The Death of General Wolfe.


Pontiac (c. 1720–1769) was an Ottawa war leader who led the first attack of the uprising known as Pontiac’s Rebellion. While the British identified him as a powerful leader able to negotiate peace, his authority was limited and his influence declined during the rebellion.

Scanty Background

The Ottawa tribe lived near Lake Huron. Like most Great Lakes tribes, they traded furs with the French for generations; in fact, their name means “traders.” When the Seven Years War began in America as the French and Indian War, the Ottawa supported the French.

Other than the fact that he was of the Ottawa tribe, little is known of Pontiac’s early life. One source reports that Pontiac was born in 1720 and that his mother was Ojibwe. The source, a frontiersman-turned-author named Robert Rogers, also places Pontiac at the Battle of the Monongahela River in 1755, and credits Pontiac with aiding the British takeover of Fort Detroit in 1760. This information may or may not be true.

Pontiac Begins a Siege

On April 27, 1763, Pontiac used the pronouncements and prophecies of the Delaware prophet Neolin to incite support for an attack on the British. Neolin advised separation from Europeans and predicted a war in the West. Pontiac convinced at least four hundred warriors from Ottawa, Pottawatomie, and Wyandot villages to follow him, and a Chippewa band joined later. They set siege to Fort Detroit on May 9.

At the end of July, a convoy led by British captain James Dalyell managed to bring supplies to Fort Detroit. Dalyell then led an assault on Pontiac’s camp and was killed. Dalyell’s head was displayed on a pole and his heart was cut out; over twenty other Englishmen died. The site became known as Bloody Run.

While the siege ultimately lasted an unprecedented six months, Pontiac’s efforts to take Fort Detroit failed. That long length of time impressed and angered the British, but his own followers were disappointed. In the complex political realm of the Great Lakes tribes, Pontiac lost influence and prestige.

In 1764, Pontiac traveled from village to village, trying to rouse warriors to continue the fight. He was no longer seen as a powerful leader among the tribes. To the British, however, who thought that Native American leadership must parallel European hierarchies, Pontiac was still perceived as a high chief who must be dealt with.

The Peace Process

Pontiac did not attend the Peace Conference in July 1764; he may have already lost too much influence among his own people to be invited. Still, the British thought Pontiac too important to ignore. Several officers were sent out to make peace with other tribes, and most watched specifically for Pontiac. Later that year, a British major destroyed the wampum belt (a symbol of diplomacy) sent by Pontiac to a meeting in Detroit. This sacrilege, which sabotaged the negotiations, ironically may have restored credibility to Pontiac as a war leader.

In 1765, Pontiac gathered warriors and claimed to speak for several tribes, asking for peace with the British. Neither side was honest with the other, but Pontiac agreed to the treaty proposed by Sir William Johnson.

The British promised more than they delivered, and after the treaty was signed, Pontiac lost so much status that he left his own people to live with his wife’s relatives. Little more is heard of him until his death three years later, on April 20, 1769. Before a trading post in Cahokia, Illinois, Pontiac died when Black Dog, of the Peoria tribe, clubbed him in the head and then stabbed him to death. None of his relatives attempted to avenge his murder, an indication that he no longer commanded any respect.

Robert Clive

Robert Clive (1725–1774) started out as a clerk of the British East India Company, but became a dashing military hero to the British. His victory at the Battle of Plassey laid the foundation for British colonial rule in India.

Unpromising Beginnings

Robert Clive was born in Shropshire, England on September 29, 1725. He was considered lazy by his teachers and brawled with other boys. His parents set him up as a clerk with the East India Company, and he was sent to Madras, India, at age eighteen. The sea journey, always hazardous, took fifteen months as the ship was stuck in Brazil for nine months. Once in Madras, Clive—who struggled with bouts of depression his whole life—found the work (the checking and copying of receipts) dull to the extent that he may have attempted suicide.

Military Action

Clive’s boredom ended in 1746 when the French governor of Pondicherry (a station of the French East India Company) conspired with the local nawab (provincial governor) to shell Madras and drive the English out. Clive was one of several prisoners taken. Monsoon rains drove the French fleet away and Clive escaped to aid in the successful defense of another English station, Cuddalore.

Clive was appointed captain of the commissary, in charge of supplying military troops. The position made him wealthy, but he could not resist a call to action. In 1751, Clive led five hundred men, both British and Indian, to seize Arcot, the administrative seat of the nawab who had driven him from Madras. This was a diversionary move, and it drew ten thousand of the nawab’s troops from another battle to besiege Clive and his men. The British-led group held out for fifty-one days before reinforcements arrived at Arcot, a feat that cemented Clive’s reputation as a leader and hero.

Clive married and returned to Britain. While there his health improved; he paid off family debts, and then ran for parliament. He was not elected, and in 1755 he returned to India both as a lieutenant colonel and as governor of Fort St. David, a company station across the river from Cuddalore.

Glory in India

After the nawab Siraj-ad-daula took Calcutta from the English in June 1756, Clive—who was both a military officer and a company agent—was asked to lead an expedition to reconquer Calcutta. A career army officer refused to let Clive take his artillery on the expedition, causing delays, so Clive’s forces and an accompanying naval fleet did not get underway until late in the year. Even so, Clive was successful in recapturing the company fort. He then defeated an army twenty times the size of his at the Battle of Plassey.

Nawab Siraj was replaced by Mir Jafar after the battle. Mir Jafar took his orders from Clive and the company, which meant that the British now controlled not only Calcutta, but the entire Bengal province. Confirmation of the new nawab by the Mughal emperor of India included confirmation of Clive as a nobleman with many titles.

Clive was made company governor of Bengal in 1758. That same year, the French took Fort St. David again. While earlier actions comprised a local power struggle, the 1758 conquest was part of Europe’s continuing Seven Years War. Four thousand French troops were ready to fight in India. However, their commander, the comte de Lally, knew nothing about India, and his arrogance caused his own men to hate him. Clive dispatched troops from Bengal to beat the French at Condore, while an English fleet arrived to drive them from Madras.

Last Years

Subject to depressions, Clive’s health declined. He returned to England in 1860 and was knighted and awarded an Irish peerage and a seat in parliament. In his absence, though, agents of the British East India Company indulged in blatant plunder and extortion of Bengal, enriching themselves without restraint. The company faced disaster. Clive was asked to return as governor of Calcutta and restore order in 1765.

The Mughal emperor granted him imperial authority, and Clive imposed strict new rules to stop the abuses, limited the company’s scope, and reorganized the army. By the time Clive left two years later, his actions had stabilized not just the British company, but the lives of many Indians as well. Corruption grew again after Clive left, and his political enemies blamed him for the damages. This was not the first time Clive had been called a profiteer, but the charge stung. Exhausted and depressed, Robert Clive died on November 22, 1774. It was known that he took opium, and some accounts state that he committed suicide. It remains a debatable question.

Major Battles

Plassey, June 23, 1757

With this victory, Great Britain—previously simply a commercial trading partner in India—set the stage for a political takeover.

The Situation in India

The subcontinent of India had been ruled by the Muslim Mughal Empire since 1526. Mughal rulers, originally from Turkey, collaborated with local Hindu princes but did not integrate into their society. By 1757, the empire had been weakened by a recent civil war, an invasion of Afghan tribes, and decades of guerilla warfare with the Marathas, a coalition of Hindu warriors and clans vying for power.

Relations with European powers revolved around trade. The British East India Company and the French East India Company competed in an increasingly hostile way and occasionally interfered in local politics. During the War of the Austrian Succession in the 1740s, both countries sent naval fleets to India to protect their trade and harass each other.

By the time of the Seven Years War, agents of the British company, especially those headquartered in Calcutta, Bengal, chaffed at the constant bribes and fees they had to pay to local officials. The Mughal governors and Hindu elites, for their part, distrusted the British and felt they were constantly being cheated of rightful tariffs.

The Black Hole of Calcutta

In June 1756, the nawab (provincial governor) of Bengal marched on Calcutta, a major station of the British company. The Nawab Siraj-ad-daula had warned the British against fortifying the city, but he had been ignored. Therefore, he brought an army of fifty thousand, including five hundred elephants, to run the British out. After conquering Fort William (the English enclave), Indian soldiers forced British prisoners into a small cell that later became known as the “black hole.” In the stifling summer heat, all but twenty-three of the prisoners died within hours.

John Holwell, a company agent left to command the remnants of the garrison at Fort William, wrote an eyewitness account of the tragedy, claiming that 144 men and two women had been shoved into the hole. Over the next year, his story inspired an outcry of rage in England. Editorials, poems, and books were devoted to memorializing the event and calling for revenge. Today, some historians doubt whether the incident occurred; others think the numbers of victims were certainly exaggerated.

Preparations for Battle

To retake Calcutta, Robert Clive of the British East India Company led a land force of about 2,500 men, while Admiral Charles Watson commanded naval forces. The company fort was reclaimed in January 1757. To further undermine Nawab Siraj, Clive signed a secret contract with an elderly rival, Mir Jafar, promising him the position of nawab if he allowed the real authority to rest with the company.

Siraj moved his massive army, 35,000 undisciplined infantry troops and 15,000 trained cavalry soldiers, to the village of Plassey on the Hugli River. His three main divisions were all commanded by treasonous generals, Mir Jafar among them. Clive marched till midnight through flooded fields and stopped within three miles of an enemy camp. He had no cavalry and only a dozen artillery pieces. In spite of personal misgivings about the outcome, he went into battle on the morning of June 23, 1757.

Clive’s Victory

Since he commanded a force one-twentieth that of the nawab, Clive was careful with his men and ammunition. At midday, an hour-long downpour stopped the fighting. The British covered their guns and powder with tarpaulins; the nawab’s forces did not. When the rain let up, Clive enticed the enemy back onto the field in large numbers. The Indians assumed that the British cannons, like theirs, were disabled., and therefore suffered heavy casualties from Clive’s artillery.

Unhelpfully, Mir Jafar and others advised the Nawab to retreat. By this time Siraj knew of their treason and that his own army was beaten. When Clive advanced again, Siraj fled by camel. His army was in chaos; Clive captured their camp and artillery and pursued the nawab’s men—those that had not already defected to the British side—for six miles.

The British suffered fewer than twenty casualties; the Nawab’s army lost five hundred killed and wounded. Siraj himself could find no support in his capital of Murshidabad and escaped with his wives and as much wealth as he could, while Mir Jafar was installed as the new nawab. Siraj was captured a week later and shortly thereafter hacked to death by an associate of Mir Jafar.

The victory gave British agents free reign in Bengal. Their military and commercial presence soon coalesced into an empire, replacing that of the Mughal and controlling the destiny of India for many decades.

Rossbach, November 5, 1757

At this site, Frederick II of Prussia proved himself a master of strategy, and his troops stunned the enemy—a combined force of French and Austrian soldiers—with their quickness and discipline.

The War Begins

When Frederick the Great of Prussia invaded Saxony on August 29, 1756, he started what became the Seven Years War. The Saxon army was trapped, and Austrian forces rode to their aid. The war’s first land battle—at Lobositz on the Elbe River in what is now the Czech Republic—resulted in equal losses for each side. The Austrian army was forced to retreat, though, and the Saxon army of about sixteen thousand men surrendered.

Once Russia and Sweden joined the fighting in 1757, Prussia found its forces and resources outnumbered frequently. Frederick won victories in Bohemia in April and May, 1757, but his forces were weakened; as a consequence, he stopped short of attacking Prague, the capital. Prussia then suffered a costly defeat at Kolin in June. During that battle, Colonel F.W. von Seydlitz led a cavalry charge that stopped the Austrian attempt at pursuit. Seydlitz was promoted to major-general and would play an important role in later battles.

Prelude to the Battle

The village of Rossbach sat in a swampy valley in Saxony. By November, Frederick had pursued the combined French and Austrian armies to this area. His 22,000–25,000 men had been driven hard since leaving Dresden in August. The allied armies of France and the Austrian Empire numbered at least 42,000 men, and they held the high ground. Their commanders, the Prince Rohan du Soubise and the Duke of Saxe-Hildburghausen, decided to march around the Prussian left flank to the south and attack. Since the Prince initially opposed this plan, the allied troops did not begin to move until after eleven in the morning of November 5, 1757.

Frederick had watched his enemies from the upper story of a house and guessed their intent. Frederick is said to have addressed his troops, reminding them that there was “no fatigue, no hunger, no cold, no watching, no danger,” that he had not shared with his men. “And you now see me ready to sacrifice my life with you and for you.” He then announced that from that day forward their pay would be doubled.

In the afternoon, the disciplined Prussian army broke camp and prepared an attack. The French and Austrian troops were less coordinated, strung out, and vulnerable. They misinterpreted the movement of the Prussians, assuming their enemies were retreating. In fact, Frederick’s troops moved east, using hills to hide the fact that they assembled for battle.

Seydlitz Charges Once More

That morning, Frederick had placed the dashing Seydlitz in charge of all his cavalry. As Frederick unleashed a battery of cannon and howitzer fire, Seydlitz led thirty-eight squadrons over a ridge to attack the disorganized French and Austrian forces. The cavalry was followed by infantry that wheeled in a well-practiced maneuver, hitting the enemy like a gate swinging shut. All this happened within a quarter-hour.

Seydlitz brought his squadrons even further south and charged again, wreaking devastation on the French and Austrian troops. Five thousand were killed or wounded, compared to 550 Prussian casualties. An additional five thousand French and Austrian troops were taken prisoner. The decisive victory, which was soon followed by another at the Battle of Leuthen, established Frederick as a brilliant commander and master strategist.

Leuthen, December 5, 1757

In this battle, Frederick II of Prussia outwitted and destroyed an Austrian force twice his size, enabling him to hold onto the state of Silesia (which had been nearly lost to the Holy Roman Empire during the previous months).

Preparation for Battle

In spite of a stunning victory in early November at the Battle of Rossbach, the Prussian army suffered sporadic losses to the Austrian forces—or, as they were known, the Imperial army of the Holy Roman Empire. Throughout late 1757, Prussian forces under generals Winterfeldt and Bevern were forced into retreat. Winterfeldt was killed in September, and Bevern was captured as the city of Breslau in Silesia (now called Wroclaw, and in Poland) fell to the Imperial army in late November.

Frederick the Great led his troops toward Breslau and joined up with the retreating Prussian force, now under General Hans von Zieten. When he arrived at a town about twenty miles from Breslau in early December, Frederick commanded 35,000 men. Knowing that he faced an enemy nearly double that number, King Frederick—Old Fritz to his men—announced that any cavalry unit that failed to crash straight into the enemy when ordered would be unhorsed and demoted to infantry immediately. Any infantry battalion that wavered would lose its colors and swords. The speech brought an emotional outpouring of loyalty from his men.

The Day of Fighting

The Austrian army, under Prince Charles of Lorraine, was camped near the village of Leuthen (now called Lutynia) and advanced on the morning of December 5 into battle formation. Their lines spread out over four miles, north and south of the village. Frederick, arriving from the west, made a show of deploying two columns of cavalry troops in battle order. This convinced the Austrian generals that their right wing was threatened, so they moved reinforcements north to support the right wing.

Frederick, however, knew the area well. He sent the bulk of his infantry far to the south so that he could attack from that direction. Fog and a ridge of hills hid Frederick’s men from view as they rode south, while the regiments that formed the diversion realigned themselves. As the hours passed and no army joined the initial cavalry, the Austrians assumed Frederick had decided against a confrontation that day.

A Magnificent Attack

In the afternoon, Frederick arranged six battalions of infantry to start the attack. The Austrian left flank was weak and unprotected, because all available Austrian cavalry had been sent north to protect the right wing. Behind the infantry, much of Frederick’s cavalry stood ready to charge under General von Zieten.

Frederick waited. When only four hours of daylight remained, the king gave the order. Musicians played as if the army were on parade, and the charge commenced.

The Prussians first encountered fourteen battalions of Wurttembergers and Bavarians who, as Protestants, felt more kinship with the Prussians than the Austrians. They broke ranks and ran early. The village of Leuthen was soon overwhelmed by a mob of retreating Austrian soldiers. The Prussian army moved north, accompanied by their heavy artillery.

The Austrian commanders sent their cavalry south to confront the Prussians, but they were too late. Heavy fighting at Leuthen’s walled churchyard represented the Austrians’s most heroic effort, but Prussian forces prevailed and broke down the churchyard gates. The battle moved north of the village.

Evening Falls

Before five o’clock, seventy squadrons of Austrian cavalry assembled to attack a vulnerable left flank of Prussian infantry. A Prussian commander saw them and led thirty-five squadrons of cavalry to successfully deflect the Austrian attack. Other Prussian squadrons joined in, and the Austrian line broke again.

Frederick continued to press his advantage, as he wanted to ensure that the Austrians could not regroup and attack another day. Therefore, he led three battalions of assault troops (grenadiers) north to seize the bridge at Lissa. By the time they arrived, it was seven in the evening and snow was falling. The Prussians ejected the Austrian soldiers who held the bridge and set up their own headquarters there.

The Battle’s Results

The Battle of Leuthen represented Frederick’s greatest triumph. Through careful planning, he completely surprised his enemy and saved Silesia from being overrun by the Holy Roman Empire. The “oblique attack,” a model of warfare that Frederick perfected, is still studied for its strategic brilliance and value.

The Austrians suffered ten thousand casualties and another twelve thousand men were taken prisoner. Prince Charles of Lorraine, a brother-in-law of Empress Maria Theresa, further humiliated himself in defeat. Racing for the mountains, he left an army of seventeen thousand men stranded at Breslau; this army surrendered to the Prussians two weeks later. Understandably, the prince was forced to resign as a military commander.

Minden, August 1, 1759

Nearly one hundred thousand men fought at the Battle of Minden. A combined force of Prussian, British, Hanoverian, and Hessian armies defeated two French and Saxon armies and captured a strategic location in North Germany.

Previous Action Near Minden

In the spring of 1759, Prince Ferdinand—Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, commander of the army of Hanover and protegé of Frederick the Great—fought the French at Bergen, a village on the outskirts of Frankfurt am Main. Ferdinand’s army suffered over 2,500 casualties during its demoralizing defeat. The French, led by the Duc de Broglie, took Minden, Ferdinand’s base, and pushed Ferdinand’s army from the German state of Hesse.

By July, French general Marquis de Contades had captured several towns in Hanover, and he camped his Rhine Army on the west bank of the Weser River, just south of Minden. Another French army, that of the Duc de Broglie, camped on the east side of the Weser.

Prince Ferdinand approached from the northwest. His force included British troops, as well as those of Hanover, Hesse, and Prussia. In sum, Ferdinand commanded about 41,000 men, while the French force (which included Saxons) totaled 51,000.

Battle Plans

Ferdinand had left troops with General Wangenheim a few miles north of Minden. To Contades, Wangenheim’s men looked like they were cut off and vulnerable. In order to attack in force, Contades formed eight bridges of boats across the boggy river Bastau, which ran north of Contades’ camp. Contades must have been aware that Ferdinand watched his army closely, but he was under pressure to deliver a quick victory.

On the night of July 31, 1759, both French armies moved. Contades sent his men across the bridges made of boats while Broglie ordered his troops across the Weser and through Minden itself. The plan was for Broglie to attack Wangenheim’s corps at daybreak, drive them into retreat, and return to the south. The combined French army would then attack Ferdinand’s large force west of Minden.

Battle Commences

Moving such large numbers of soldiers could not be hidden. Ferdinand saw for himself that the French army was preparing to deploy north—as he hoped they would. He ordered his own men to be ready for action an hour after midnight. They moved forward in eight columns, and three of those columns carried artillery. Only Ferdinand’s far right column of cavalry, under Lord Sackville, failed to arrive on time. Other troops were forced to improvise and capture the village that Sackville was supposed to take.

Early on, British infantry regiments were moved into position and told to advance on the beat of the drum. The order was given mistakenly to advance to the beat of the drum, and the infantry obeyed. The fast, courageous march of “Waldegrave’s Brigade” was joined by other troops and became a legend.

The French troops lacked the discipline and drilled obedience of the Prussians; their night maneuvers took longer than expected and were chaotic. Even so, the French artillery fired at Waldegrave’s Brigade and their supporters, then mounted cavalry attacks against the British and Germans.

Ferdinand rode with his men near the front, directing the fight. He ordered Sackville to attack several times, but his orders were ignored by the general, who later faced a court martial for his dishonorable inaction. In spite of this, Ferdinand was victorious. His infantry forced the French cavalry—and indeed, the entire French army—to retreat back across the bridges they had formed of their boats.

In the end, nearly five thousand French soldiers died and another six to seven thousand were wounded or captured. Contades lost all of his territorial gains of the previous months and retreated to Cassel.

Ferdinand, whose casualties were roughly the same as in the Battle of Bergen in the spring, was awarded the Order of the Garter by King George II of Britain. Many other honors followed, and Prince Ferdinand lived a long and honorable life, dying at home in 1792.

Quebec, September 13, 1759

A turning point in the Seven Years War—and North American history—was the siege of Quebec, for future events showed that the French defeat at Quebec signaled the end of France’s power in North America.

The French Position

In 1759, Quebec City was the capital of New France and a town of eight thousand residents, surrounded by farms and settlements. Two years of poor harvests created food shortages, but in May 1759, ships arrived with supplies. New France’s governor Marquis de Vaudreuil and military commander, the Marquis de Montcalm, both anticipated a British attack using the St. Lawrence River.

Montcalm readied defenses and repaired fortifications. He had defeated a British siege at Fort Carillon the previous summer and was confident he could do so again. In fact, he was elated that circumstances forced a conventional defense; for once, he did not have to bow to Vaudreuil’s desire to rely on Native American warriors and local militia. Instead, Montcalm planned to let the British exhaust themselves with attacks on well-fortified positions until winter.

First British Moves

British general James Wolfe led his troops southwest on the St. Lawrence River from Louisbourg, the fortress he helped capture from the French in the previous year. On June 28 Wolfe landed his 22,000 men (only 8,500 of whom were actually trained “redcoats”) below the city of Quebec, at the Ile d’Orléans.

Terrorist Warfare

Wolfe began a ruthless campaign against Quebec that can well be described as terrorism. He did not attack military targets or defenses; instead, starting on July 12 and continuing for sixty-eight days, he shelled the homes, shops, and churches of Quebec’s civilians. Montcalm did not try to stop him. At the end of July, Wolfe launched a frontal assault at Beauport, north of the city, but Montcalm would not be lured out.

Wolfe waged war against the people in the countryside, burning and destroying 1,400 farmhouses over the month of August. In one incident, British soldiers massacred and scalped thirty French prisoners. Montcalm and his army, however, did not emerge from their well-defended city to engage the enemy.

The Plains of Abraham

In September 1759, while other ships diverted Montcalm’s attention, Wolfe secretly sailed to a landing spot two miles from Quebec City. In three stages, using the ebbing tide, and with incredible luck, Wolfe deployed his forces in the pre-dawn hours. Three companies scaled the bluffs above the landing site to eliminate the small French force guarding the road.

In the early morning, Montcalm got word that the British were assembling on the Plains of Abraham. He thought the bluffs protected Quebec and expected to find another diversion. To his shock, six British battalions crossed the plain in a double line. Montcalm’s best troops were three hours away. Montcalm made the fatal decision that he could not wait for them and led his force of four thousand militiamen into battle that morning.

Wolfe had a slightly larger force and held his fire until the enemy was at close range. The first volley was deadly; the second sparked chaos. The French fired back, but then scattered and dropped to reload as they would in a forest, not as organized troops. The British charged with fixed bayonets as the French retreated.

Both generals suffered mortal wounds in the quarter hour of fighting, and Wolfe bled to death on the battlefield. In his place, Brigadier George Townshend rallied two battalions to deflect the arrival of the French reinforcements, two thousand strong—these were the men Montcalm had not waited for. Their commander, confused, did not attack but led his men into the woods.

Montcalm died the next day. Governor Vaudreuil evacuated his men and headed toward Montreal. They joined General de Lévis, a competent commander who made immediate plans to retake Quebec, but the city had already surrendered. The British now held its defenses and artillery.

Lévis tried again to recapture Quebec the following spring and was nearly successful. Because of the French naval defeat at the Battle of Quiberon Bay, however, he could not procure needed reinforcements and supplies for a siege, so he had to withdraw.

Quiberon Bay, November 20, 1759

In this naval engagement off the west coast of Brittany, France, the unconventional maneuvers of the British fleet dealt a crippling blow to French naval ability. The subsequent overwhelming English naval superiority helped the British across the Atlantic in North America as well.

The Blockade

Admiral Edward Hawke, British Commander of the Mediterranean, managed to stop most French shipping in 1758 by moving his fleet across the English Channel to blockade French ports in Brittany. In April 1758, near La Rochelle, Hawke interdicted a French supply convoy bound for Louisbourg in North America—a fort then under siege by Major General James Wolfe and his British troops. Hawke successfully maintained his blockade through 1759 by rotating his ships, sending only a few at a time to home ports for maintenance and supplies.

On November 7, 1759, a storm forced Hawke’s fleet to seek shelter along the English coast. French admiral Herbert de Brienne, comte de Conflans, took advantage of this storm to lead his ships from Brest, at the point of the Breton peninsula, south to Quiberon Bay. He hoped to collect a large enough convoy to cross the channel and attack weak points along the coast of Ireland or Scotland.

Before Conflans could move, however, Hawke led twenty-three ships back into French territory. British and French forces converged on Quiberon Bay, sighting each other on November 20, 1759. Quiberon Bay, protected by a long peninsula, islands, and reefs, was a treacherous area; Conflans did not expect to be attacked. Another storm threatened, but when Conflans led his troops into the bay, Hawke followed.

The Battle

The fighting instructions of the British Royal Navy—as well as standard, accepted naval battle tactics—required both fleets to form a line parallel to each other. The ships were then to fire at the enemy broadside, while slowly advancing. Conflans ordered his fleet, twenty-one ships strong, into this formation. However, increasing winds made conventional battle impossible.

In early afternoon, Hawke discarded conventional naval tactics and signaled his ships to pursue and attack French vessels at will. The English ships hoisted all sails, in spite of the gale force winds, and gave chase. The French, unable to form their defensive line, could not coordinate any sort of defense or counterattack. Throughout the afternoon, under fire, the French ships ran aground or into rocks, and even collided.

Darkness fell suddenly and both sides separated. Only two French ships escaped south to a safe harbor at Rochefort. The following day was still stormy, but eventually the French loss became clear. Three ships were sunk, one captured, and one beached. In addition, Conflans’s flagship ran aground while trying to escape; the ship was abandoned and burned. Twelve ships managed to escape up the Vilaine River over the next day. They were not safe, however, because the Vilaine was shallow. Only three ships ever made it out of the river; the other nine were finally abandoned, stuck in the mud.

Aftermath of the Battle

Hawke lost two ships that ran aground after the battle. He raided a few towns along the Brittany coast, then went back to enforcing his blockade of French shipping.

The French loss, including up to 2,500 men killed, delivered a crushing blow. First, British victory at Quiberon Bay ensured the safety of the British Isles from the French Navy. Second, it eliminated France’s hopes of resupplying its forts in North America. French forces in North America were able to regroup after the Battle of Quebec, but without supplies, they could not sustain a siege of the British-held city. The Battle of Quiberon Bay was a decisive victory with long-term implications, though it is doubtful that anyone fully realized it at the time.

Pontiac’s Rebellion, 1763–1766

A pan-Native American alliance known as Pontiac’s Rebellion arose in North America to fight the British and force them from their forts in 1763. Mishandling by British generals prolonged the conflict and increased the hatred between all parties: Native Americans, settlers, and the military.

War in America

The Seven Years War was ending as Pontiac’s Rebellion began; in fact, the rebellion started as word of France’s defeat spread. The tribes heard of the European settlement but did not accept that their lands would be handed over to the British. Pontiac and other leaders expected the French to return to fight with them.

For his part, General Jeffery Amherst, commander in chief of British forces in America and Governor of Canada and Virginia, wished to cut costs and get back to England. His wife was ill and he was tired. His troops were weakened by recent battle in Cuba.

Ethnocentric Views Fuel Conflict

Major cultural differences separated the British and Native Americans, keeping them in a state of mutual contempt for each other. A few examples show this clearly.

The British were indignant that the Native Americans killed captive soldiers. They felt this was a sure sign of barbarity. “Civilized” men did not kill captives; they exchanged them during a truce. To the tribes, however, the treatment of prisoners was accompanied by very specific rituals that all “civilized” men recognized. A worthy enemy went to his death singing his personal song and displaying his courage. The Europeans, to the Native Americans, were clearly ignorant cowards.

Another conflict of ideas was in gift giving. The French followed this old tradition and gave gifts to tribal leaders, who distributed them among their followers. The leaders were thus confirmed and their authority supported. The right to distribute resources was the source and symbol of a leader’s power. The British saw gift giving as bribery and refused to participate.

In matters of ethics, hygiene, housing, warfare, religion, manners—in almost every facet of daily life—the British and Native Americans misinterpreted and misunderstood each other, with tragic consequences.

The Rebellion Begins

As the British expelled the French from British North America, they refused to distribute gifts to the tribes and stopped providing them with gunpowder and ammunition. Native Americans suspected they were being disarmed and abused. Religious leaders and prophecies inflamed worries and led to a new development: alliances between different tribes to fight a common enemy.

On May 9, 1763, an Ottawa war leader named Pontiac attacked the British at Fort Detroit. Pontiac led a group over five hundred strong that included Ottawa, Wyandot, Pottawatomie, and Chippewa warriors. The British suffered twenty casualties during the first week. The Native Americans then overwhelmed two supply convoys headed for Fort Detroit, capturing or killing over seventy men.

As word spread, other tribes rose against the British outposts, all of which were lightly manned. Throughout May and June, eight British forts and several way stations were captured in the Great Lakes region. The pan-Native American attackers included warriors from the Seneca, Mingo, Delaware, Shawnee, Miami, Kickapoo, Mascouten, and Wea tribes. In addition, Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt remained under siege.

Battles of 1763

Days after an ill-fated attack on Pontiac’s camp (in which Amherst’s own aide-de-camp, Captain James Dalyell, was killed), another battle took place at Bushy Run Creek, twenty-five miles from Fort Pitt. There, British commander Henry Bouquet unexpectedly engaged a force composed of several tribes. Bouquet lost a quarter of his four hundred men and many horses. Supplies had to be abandoned so that the remaining horses could carry the wounded back to Fort Pitt. An even more costly loss followed in September, when a supply convoy to Fort Niagara was massacred along with the troops sent to rescue them.

The siege of Fort Detroit lasted six months, but on October 31, Pontiac sent word to the commander that he was breaking it off. The Native Americans stopped their siege of Fort Pitt as well; they needed to hunt. This vital activity may be the only reason that the inhabitants of the forts and of Pittsburgh survived the winter. General Amherst was recalled to England in disgrace for his mishandling of the rebellion.

The final events of 1763 involved Paxton, Pennsylvania, where a mob of fifty “Paxton Boys” rioted and murdered twenty Native Americans who lived in a peaceful settlement at Conestoga Creek. A second attack killed fourteen more Native Americans, and the growing mob wanted more blood. Benjamin Franklin was one of several leaders who intercepted the Paxton Boys and defused the situation.

The Rebellion Ends

General Thomas Gage replaced Amherst as commander in chief in America, but policies remained the same. After confrontations in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and other areas, Sir William Johnson convened a Peace Congress in July 1764, promising and delivering extravagant gifts—including rum and guns. Two thousand warriors attended, representing nineteen tribes, but subsequent efforts to keep the peace fell apart.

Throughout the next year, many Native American groups and British officers made pacts and promises that could not be kept. The fighting was sporadic, but continued. The British sought peace with Pontiac, elevating his importance as a leader. In truth, he was but one of many chiefs. A treaty with Pontiac did not take place until the summer of 1766.

By that time, most tribes wanted to restore trade with the Europeans. The custom of gift-giving had been reinstated. Earlier agreements negotiated with other tribes resulted in the return of British hostages, most of whom had been well treated. Britain promised that European settlement would not be allowed beyond the Appalachians—a promise made and broken frequently. What was said orally to the tribes cannot be known, but it likely differed from what was written on the treaty they eventually signed in Oswego, New York, in July 1766.

Elements of Warcraft

Improved Firearms

The weapons of the Seven Years War—muskets, bayonets, and carbines—were based on earlier arms, with upgrades and technical advancements added over several decades.

The Musket

Muskets were muzzle-loaded long guns held at the shoulder, firing balls about three-quarter inches in diameter. They differed from rifles, a nineteenth century gun, in that the barrel wall of a musket was smoothbored. A rifle took its name from the rifling carved into the gun barrel wall, which spun the ball as it was fired. Unsurprisingly, soldiers who used muskets were called “musketeers.”

A musket’s range was rarely greater than one hundred yards and often was only about half that (fifty yards). Since muskets were notorious for their poor aim, troops were arranged in long lines, two or three deep. This would increase their effectiveness against an enemy. At a signal, the first line would fire a volley, then drop behind and reload as the next line fired. Well-drilled and disciplined troops like those of Frederick the Great held a field advantage because they could reload quickly, sometimes firing up to three rounds per minute.

A classic musket, like the British-made Brown Bess, was built with either a forty-six-inch barrel (the Long Land Pattern) or a forty-two-inch barrel (the Short Land Pattern, and later models for light infantry and marine troops). Earlier guns had painted black stocks, but the Brown Bess used walnut wood with a red stain for the stock, which explains part of its name. The Brown Bess set the standard from around 1720 to 1830; an arrow with a crown, marked on the stock or lockplate, indicated British government ownership.

French muskets were called Charlevilles, after the site of a major manufacturer that supplied the royal government. Prussian muskets were acknowledged as the worst in Europe—in spite of innovations developed for the Prussian army that continued into the 1780s, such as double-sided ramrods. Prussian guns featured heavy stocks and were often of poor quality.

Firing Mechanisms

Matchlocks and flintlocks referred to the self-igniting firing mechanism of guns. Matchlock guns were invented in the fifteenth century and mechanized the firing process. When the gun’s trigger was pulled, a smoldering match lowered to touch the primer, or gunpowder charge. The ignited primer sent a flash through a small “touch hole,” which in turn set off the main gunpowder charge.

Matchlocks remained popular with European armies till 1720. Wheel-lock guns, which generated sparks by rotating a wheel against pyrite, were favored by Prussian gunsmiths until 1750. The adherence to the obsolete wheel-lock is one reason that Prussian guns were considered less efficient and second rate.

Flintlocks, lighter and more efficient, eventually replaced the matchlock. A flintlock ignited the primer by striking flint against a steel plate. A flintlock musket could be fired twice as fast as earlier guns.

Improvements to Muskets

A Prussian manufacturer produced iron ramrods to fit the army muskets by 1720, allowing soldiers to fire on the move. This created an entirely new battle tactic. By 1738, prepackaged cartridges with measured gunpowder charges were available to European armies. Around the same time, older matchlocks were often converted to the more popular flintlock mechanism. The Netherlands produced a combination long gun, with matchlock firing induced by the trigger, and flintlock firing when the trigger guard was pulled.


The first bayonets were plugs that fitted into the gun barrel of a musket. These had to be removed before the gun could be fired, and so they were not popular. In 1669, the socket bayonet, which fitted around the muzzle instead of plugging it up, was invented. Within twenty years, this style of bayonet had become standard issue for the French infantry, and it replaced the pike in most armies.

In a standard European, set-piece battle of the eighteenth century, after rows of infantry had fired on each other, the advancing side would charge the enemy with fixed bayonets.


By the time of the Seven Years War, British dragoons (which were cavalry troops armed with swords) all carried flintlock carbines, strapped in a bucket from their saddles. Once off the horse, a dragoon wore the carbine belted to his left shoulder (his sword was on his right). The guns were versions of the popular “Brown Bess.” The carbine featured a shorter barrel, between 28 to 37 inches long, and smaller caliber bullets.

Because of the shorter barrel and sight plane, carbines were less accurate and could not shoot as far as muskets. At eight to twelve pounds, they weighed half as much as a musket, though, making them a practical weapon to carry and use on horseback.

Impact of the Seven Years War

The course of multiple European nations, the Americas, and the Indian subcontinent were all profoundly changed by the Seven Years War. The war pitted France against Britain on three continents. Maria Theresa’s Austro-Hungarian empire allied with Russia against Prussia, England, and several German states. Spain and Sweden jumped in, too. By 1763, most countries, even victorious Britain, were drained financially, if not ruined. Some estimates put war deaths at well over a million.

Britain emerged from the war in possession of vastly increased territory, land taken from France and Spain in India, the Americas, and even Africa. France, in addition to its colonial losses, was forced to withdraw from the German states allied with Great Britain. These embarrassing setbacks influenced France’s foreign and military policies for the next twenty years.

After the war, Great Britain was the unchallenged European power in North America and held several plantation-rich Caribbean islands, as well as Florida (a territory much larger than today’s state). This entrenched Britain deeply into the slave trade and slave-dependent enterprises. Further north, Britain claimed all formerly French lands west of the Mississippi River, putting French settlements in today’s United States and Canada under British rule.

Maps were redrawn, but British attitudes had changed during the war as well. Before 1754, Britain (like France) had intervened little in colonial affairs. American settlements were treated as trading partners, and local governments enjoyed control over their own affairs. After the war, its territories enhanced, Britain faced a choice. As noted historian Fred Anderson points out in Crucible of War, Britain could have returned to its pre-war attitude. If it had, the American Revolution might not have occurred at all. In that case, the French Revolution would probably not have taken place. The last two hundred and thirty years of history would be written differently, in Europe and America.

Britain, however, chose to treat the colonist as subjects, rather than partners. Parliament, across the Atlantic Ocean, issued laws circumscribing liberties, and this created anger and resentment in the colonies—which, in turn, fueled talk of revolution. The successful American Revolution inspired not only the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century, but many Caribbean, Central American, and South American revolts as well.

Spain still retained vast holdings in America, and its lack of success in the war led it to make reforms. Spain improved its military defenses and passed measures to bind the colonies closer to Spain.

In India, the successes of Robert Clive made Britain the dominant power in Bengal through its East India Company, and British political influence soon spread to other provinces. A century would pass before the British government officially declared itself ruler of India, but by ejecting the French and placing puppet rulers on provincial thrones, the groundwork for takeover was laid during the Seven Years War.

Between the disciplined troops of Prussia, the innovative techniques of leaders like Edward Hawke, and the geographical challenges of the American wilderness, standard methods of military combat changed during the Seven Years War. Brutal disasters like the Battle of the Monongahela showed that success in war did not depend on perfecting certain maneuvers and repeating them regardless of external conditions. Armies were forced to adapt, to change time-honored formations, and trust in new practices to succeed.

Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Duffy, Christopher. The Army of Frederick the Great. NY: Hippocrene Books, 1974.

Snyder, Louis L. Frederick the Great. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971.

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Seven Years War (1756–1763)

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