French and Indian War: Louisbourg
French and Indian War: Louisbourg
Capture. After the disasters of 1755, 1756, and 1757 came the glory days for Britain. In 1757 the energetic and farsighted William Pitt became prime minister. His visionary eye saw opportunity in America. Subsidizing the Prussian king’s army to keep the French busy in Europe, Pitt began pouring reinforcements into North America and choosing talented officers to command them. The first fruit of his efforts was the capture of Louisbourg. In the summer of 1758 he sent Gen. Jeffrey Amherst with nine thousand British regulars and five hundred colonials to Nova Scotia. More than six thousand French soldiers and sailors, tweleve ships, and nearly eight hundred guns waited at Louisbourg. While Adm. Edward Boscawen kept the French fleet from intervening, Gen. James Wolfe, a young officer whose performance in Europe had caught Pitt’s eye, led assault troops in whaleboats toward the shore in the face of heavy artillery and musket fire from the dunes. He had already decided that the attack could not succeed when some boatloads of soldiers found a safe landing spot by accident. They drove the French back into the fort, and General Amherst began the siege. Days of bombardment by heavy artillery slowly destroyed the living quarters of both troops and civilians inside the fort. The French ships in the harbor were destroyed by raids from the British fleet, removing any hope of escape. At last the French civilians implored the commander to surrender before the walls were breached and they found themselves in the middle of a firefight inside the fort. On 27 July the French flag was lowered. This time the fort would not be returned to the French. After the war it was destroyed and the stone hauled away for building projects.
Setback at Ticonderoga. While the siege of Louisbourg was under way, Gen. James Abercrombie was at Fort Ticonderoga. Commanding a force of twelve thou-sand (half of them regulars) to the Marquis de Montcalm’s three thousand defenders, he failed to surround the fort to cut off the possibility of resupply or retreat or to find high ground from which to bombard the fort. In-stead, on 8 July he launched a full frontal assault by wave after wave of infantry, who were slaughtered while advancing slowly over trees the French had felled to create clear lines of fire. When Abercrombie finally called off the attack, there were more than a thousand corpses piled up for the French Indians to scalp. Two months later he was replaced by Amherst.
A Fort for Pitt. West of Ticonderoga, Lt. Col. John Bradstreet led an amphibious expedition up the Mohawk River to Lake Ontario to deal with Fort Frontenac. Avenging the loss of Fort Oswego, he blew up Frontenac on 27 August, seized the boats with which the French had patrolled Lake Ontario, and confiscated the year’s profits from the fur trade. Most important of all, he denied the French easy access by boat to the western terri-tories. Meanwhile Brig. John Forbes was leading a mixed force of British regulars and colonial militia in another attack on Fort Duquesne, his campaign planned in part by George Washington, who was returning to the scene of his earlier humiliations in command of a Virginia regiment. Though the way Forbes chose was easier than Braddock’s wilderness route, it was a long march for the troops. Forbes was sick much of the time and devoted what energy he had to fortifying a line of escape in case of failure. The army was bogged down in mud early in November when word reached it that the French were abandoning the fort. Deprived of supplies by the fall of Frontenac, the French commander had decided he could not hold, so he destroyed the fort on 24 November and carried off all his guns and supplies. The triumphant Forbes wrote to William Pitt, christening the place “Pittsburgh” as his tribute to the man whose vision and determination had made victory against the French possible. The last casualty of the campaign was Forbes, who died in March of the following year of illnesses he had contracted on the march.
Francis Jennings, Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies, and Tribes in the Seven Years War in America (New York: Norton, 1988);
Francis Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe, 2 volumes (Boston: Little, Brown, 1884).