A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia.
Part 4, "First Siege of Louisbourg (1745)"
Chapter. 6, "Colonials on the Beaches."

The garrison at Louisbourg, at this time, had "only about 1350 militia and 560 regulars."1 They were under the command of the acting governor, Duchambon.2 Louisbourg, it's governor, and most of its men had never been tested in battle.3 The French, however, felt comfortable and reasonably confident behind their big stone walls.4

In 1734, in one of his reports to the authorities back in France, St. Ovide the French governor at the time predicted the events of 1745:

"... if England made an attack on Louisbourg it would be by New England militiamen, of whom he had not a high opinion; that they would be supported by English men-of-war, and that they would come very early in the year in order to prevent the fishermen from France, or vessels of force from entering Louisbourg; ... [and] that the landing would be made in Gabarus or Mire bays."5
Now, much of North America, in 1745, was a wilderness; there were no roads over which carts might be hauled. Interestingly enough, however, Cape Breton was ahead of the times: it did have roads. The French during the 1730s built them. Indeed, the locals were so busy building roads that the authorities in France expressed concern; mainly, because it tied up men who otherwise might be fishing. The two principal roads brought into being at this time was the one leading inland to the farming lands of the Mire, and the other up the coast to Havre de la baleine.6 The French were of the view that such roads were needed for communications; and, besides the road "will help to create some good settlements and will facilitate the carrying of lumber." The authorities back in France were concerned that the building of roads would -- should Louisbourg come under siege -- assist the besiegers. The local authority countered that the road to the Mire "is more than a league distant from gabory Baie, this being the way by which the enemy could come, and that this piece of land impassable."7 And they were right, too. These roads, as were in place at the time, in 1745 -- the one inland to the Mira and the other north up to Baleine -- did not assist the besiegers in getting ashore with their men, supplies and cannon. These roads, however, did assist in getting the English scouts back and forth to the far points where there was established outposts. It was thought these outposts were necessary to give the invaders ample notice if rescuing forces should come overland towards their back. This is something, incidently, which during the course of the siege both Pepperrell and Warren were continually concerned about.

And so we have the setting as the New Englanders scrambled over the sides of their anchored vessels and into smaller row boats. This is a rough coast and it is much to the credit of these New Englanders that they made their way ashore, there always being a swell on, no matter whether the wind is up or not. Through the surf and up and over the bouldery beaches came these enthusiastic men. They might have been amateur soldiers, but when it came to the handling of small boats, there was no group more expert. They came ashore in whale boats and dories; and within a period of eight to ten hours of their arrival, on the 30th of April, nearly 2,000 men gained the beach8 at the Anse de la Cormorandiere, which today we recognize as the beach at Kennington Cove,9 a position which is approximately three miles down shore of their objective.10

Behind the walls of Louisbourg there was much consternation: Governor Duchambon dawdled.

We now make mention of two French citizens of Louisbourg: Morpain and Boularderie.11 Captain Morpain was a pugnacious 59 year old, a successful privateer who for years had worked out of Louisbourg; he was known and feared in the shipping circles of New England, the dreaded "Morepang." Boularderie was of the French aristocracy who had considerable connections at the Court of Versailles. It is these two, once the magnitude of the English attack was realized, who urged Governor Duchambon to get out and fight the English on the beaches.

"De la Boularderie said that, under cover of the woods, a force could advance within half a pistol-shot of the beach; that half of the garrison should be sent out to fall on the enemy, who would be in that confusion which always attends landings; that they would be chilled from exposure, and that they were, moreover, but poor creatures ('miserables'). Morpain recounted his exploits in 1707 and appealed to Du Chambon to give him leave to go out with those of the townspeople who were willing. Du Chambon, who had taken the view that he had no men to spare, at last gave way. Fifty civilian volunteers and twenty-four soldiers, the latter under Mesillac Duchambon, the Governor's son, the youngest officer of the garrison, set forth from the town with vague instructions and under uncertain command."12
And along the shore at Kennington Cove (as we know it today) "a short but smart engagement" between the French and the English was to unfold. A Massachusetts man was to contemporaneously write up the event, I quote:
April 29th:
"The Fleet sail'd from Canso, with a fair Wind, and were off Chappearouge Point, about Eight of the Clock next Morning - Upon their Appearance, the Garrison made an Alarm to call in the Inhabitants from the Subburbs, and neighbouring Settlements - The Fleet anchored in Chappearouge Bay about 10 of the Clock, and the Signal was immediately given for landing the Troops - whilst the boats were getting ready - A party of the Enemy (about 200) shew'd themselves on the Shoar, marching towards the place where it was proposed to land our Troops. Upon which some Boats filled with men were order'd to make towards the Shoar, as tho they would land, about a mile below the place designd for landing, which diverted the Enemy from proceeding further till they saw the Boats put back and row up the Bay, and by this Means some of the Troops landed and drew up on the Beach before the Enemy got to the place of their Landing - When about 100 of our men were on the Shoar, part of them marchd towards the Enemy, and Scouts were orderd to search the neighbouring Thicketts - lest a large Body of the Enemy might have Sallied, and concealed themselves, in order to draw on our men too hastily - in the mean time the men continued landing with all the Dispatch possible, - The Enemy advancing along the Shoar were soon met by our Men and after several Vollies exchanged, the Enemy fled, and we took -- prisoners and killed -- more, without any Loss on our Side This Day, landed about 2000 Men during which time the Enemy burnt all the Houses without the Walls on the West part of the Town - and Sank the Vessells in the Harbour. The Enemy began also immediately to secure the low Wall at the South East part of the Town by adding on the Top of the Wall a plank with picketts about -- feet high and placing a range of pickets about feet within that Wall. and planted a great Number of Swivel Guns upon the Wall next to the Harbour --
Our Massachusetts soldier continued to write in his journal:
May 1st
Landed the remainder of the Troops and began to encamp - and to get on shoar some provisions and Stores. - NB - The landing of the provisions and Store (as well as the heavy Artillery) was attended with extreme Difficulty and Fatigue for want of a Harbour for the Vessalls, the Surff running very high on the Beach almost contenually, and oftentimes so that there was no landing - so that the Men were obliged to wade into the Water, to their Middles and often higher, for almost every thing they got on Shoar which would other wise have been spoild with the Salt water. - and were obliged when their Labour was over to lay on the Cold Ground in their Wet Choaths under no better Covering than some Boughs laid to gether - the nights exceeding cold and foggy - but no Signs of Discouragement or Complaint appeared in any of the Men who seemd resolved to surmount all Difficulties."
The French effort to stop the landing was a case of too little, too late.14 Certainly both Morpain and Boularderie made a good accounting of themselves, but to no good end. Boularderie was twice wounded and forced to surrender.15 Morpain was also wounded, but found cover and was assisted in his escape by Georges, his 13 year old black slave.16 After the passage of three days, Morpain and Georges found their way through the lines and back into Louisbourg.17 The superior numbers who came up against the brave followers of Morpain and Boularderie soon prevailed and the inadequate French force sent to the beaches was soon dispersed.18 Emboldened as they were with their preliminary success, the provincial troops advanced freely towards their objective. "In a few hours irregular groups of them emerged from the woods overlooking the town, in which their exultant cheering could be heard."19

Duchambon, in his report20 to the authorities, filed after the fall, let on that he had little advance knowledge. That, practically speaking, he had no knowledge at all until he saw a lot of ship activity off of the mouth of the harbour (April the 9th & 30th), and -- can you believe -- he wondered whether they might be French at the time? It was only when Duchambon saw a hundred sail in Gabarus Bay and the countryside infested with the enemy did he close the gates to the fort; but only after (claimed Duchambon, as if it were good tactics) did he give orders to desert the Grand Battery and the Lighthouse Battery (his only two strongholds outside of the main fort). Further, with the reality of the calamity having finally penetrated into his distracted mind, Duchambon gave further orders to sink the ships in the harbour and to burn everything outside the walls that could be burned. Louisbourg was under siege.

Outside the walls of Louisbourg, that evening, April 30th, 1745, there was "Singing and Great Rejoicing" and the New Englanders were to sleep "in the open air" with dreams of a great victory ahead.21

[NEXT: Pt. 4, Ch. 7 - Annapolis Royal Spared And A Spoiled Rescue Attempt.]

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