A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia.TOC
Part 4, "First Siege of Louisbourg (1745)"TOC
Chapter. 13, "The Capitulation."

On the 14th of June, 1745, as we have seen, the matter of Louisbourg's situation was to come to an excruciating head for the French. All the English batteries, including the one at the Lighthouse Point, were ready. There was a lull on the surface of affairs immediately in and around Louisbourg; and, indeed, even the prowling men-of-war, who seem to be ever present at the mouth of the harbour since its investiture, had, ominously, disappeared; no where to be seen from the ramparts of Louisbourg. And the French could observe there were fewer men out in the clearings immediately around the fort. What was going on. Where are the ships and the men? What's next?

Warren's fleet, now consisting of numerous provincial vessels and eleven grand men-of-war, had not disappeared. They had come all together at anchor in Gabarus Bay in a position not to be seen from within the walls of the fortress. The crews were very busy, "clearing and barricading" their ships.1 A determination had been made that the men-of-war would force an entry into the harbour and simply just take the punishment which the cannon of the Island Battery would mete out as they ran by it, broadside. Unneeded fittings and material, such as spare booms, which would normally be found on the decks of such ships, would just get in the way and turn into flesh tearing splinters as the Island Battery cannon balls crashed on through. So, all of it, was being winched up and lowered over the sides and unto waiting tenders and then sent ashore or unto anchored barges.2 The sailors were also constructing landing platforms on their ships3 so that marines could be put off under fire onto the docks of Louisbourg, once in. On shore, men were busy, many out of sight, combing the woods for moss which would be barged out to the waiting ships and which would then be stuffed into sacks and piled up as barricades and thus to lessen the effect of small shot. Further, the men ashore were gathering dry brush and piling it together with dry wood on the tops of three hills near the town, "to act as beacons for Commodore Warren."4

And, so, by the 15th of June everything was ready for a combined assault on Louisbourg. An all out effort was to be made by sea and by land. The army was called together: the Commodore had come ashore to address them. One of the soldiers was to write in his journal, "The whole army is called together to whom the commodore made an excellent speech." Warren was to tell the men that he waits for nothing but a fair wind. If he were called upon he would lead the whole army to the walls and he would "cheerfully do it for he'd rather leave his body at Louisbourg than not take the city."5

Seth Pomeroy was to write in his diary:

"A fair pleasant day [15th of June, 1745]: Commodore Warren came on shore our regiment with other regiments in the camp mustered in regimental order Commodore Warren made a fine speech to the army and marched through together with the general and some other gentlemen and agreed with the general and publicly with the whole army that as soon as the wind and weather should favour; he with all his ships should go into the harbour engage the Island Battery and the city: we upon the land with all our forces at the same time should engage them with all our artillery and scaling ladders."
And, in a letter to his wife, Pomeroy was to further write:
"He [Warren] has been on shore this day, and our army was mustered in regimental order. The Commodore, with the General and the other officers, marched through our ranks to view them. He made a fine speech to us, and very much encouraged the soldiers to go on and storm the city by escalating the walls, while he would go in with all his ships and engage them to the utmost of his power. This is to be done the first fair wind that blows."6
On June the 16th, 1745 (o.s.), on the anniversary of the Accession of George II, resounding over the waters and lands near Louisbourg, from noon to nightfall, pounding cannon could be heard. Bombs and red-hot shot poured steadily into the city and preparations had been made for a general assault by land and sea. Pepperrell described the moment and the effect:
"The Grand Battery being in our possession, the Island Battery being so much annoyed by the Light House Battery, the North east battery so open to our Advanced battery, that it was not possible for the enemy to stand to their guns, all the guns in the [French] Circular Battery, except three, being dismounted, and the wall almost wholly broke down, the West Gate demolished, and a large breach in the wall adjoining, the west flank of the King's Bastion almost ruined, all the houses and other buildings almost tore to pieces, but one house in the town being left unhurt, and the enemy's stock of ammunition growing short."7
The conditions of the town were horrible.8 Not only was the will of the French fighting man running low, so was the gun powder, as Pepperrell had alluded, there being but left only "thirty-seven kegs of powder, each of one hundred pounds."9 As we have seen, the men-of-war were cleared for action and laying just off the shore ready to force the harbour and the land forces were ready to storm the breaches with scaling ladders and fascines.

The French gave in. Soon a flag of truce was seen raised above a small group of Frenchmen proceeding out of Louisbourg and up to the camp of the New England invaders.

We have a witness, the "First Anonymous Mass. Soldier":

"So about sunset there came out a flag - from the town they requested there might be a cessation of arms for a while that they might call a Council to agree upon some terms whereby they may surrender the city into our hands, for so long as we fire so smartly they can't do any such thing."10
The messengers were sent back; they had until eight o'clock the following morning. Our next witness is Joseph Sherburne, a fifty-one year old who was in charge of one of the English batteries, the appointed hour drew near:
"... stock of full cartridges, shot in place, gunners quartered denied -- matches lit ready but we hear their drums beat a parley and soon appeared a flag of truce which I receive half way between our battery and their walls which I conducted to the green hill and there delivered him to Colonel Richmond [and] so returned to my station at the advance battery."11
The citizens of Louisbourg, if not the soldiery, were thoroughly fed up. A people's petition had been presented to the French governor, Duchambon praying they should be relieved of the terrors of a full scale assault. The French sent their flag bearer back out into the field, they would surrender the place on the provision that the French should be allowed their personal property. All the English officers (even down to the ensigns) were consulted and it was determined to accept these terms. Our "First Soldier" noted that "the wind was fair so that Commodore Warren's plan might well have been executed."

The Terms of Capitulation12 included: that all the commissioned officers, their families and possessions would be let alone and left in their houses until "they can be conveniently transported to France," and that "if there be any persons in the town or garrison which shall desire may not be seen by us, shall be permitted to go off masked." There was one thing missing on which Duchambon had insisted and for which he intended to hold out: "Honours of War." The French wanted to march out of their fort "with arms, baggage, drums beating, and flags unfurled." Pepperrell and Warren consulted and they agreed, "the uncertainty of our affairs that depends so much on wind and weather make it necessary not to stick on trifles."13 As for the French, they thought they had struck a good deal.14

Thus we would have seen, on the afternoon of the 17th of June, 1745, General Pepperrell, at the head of his army, marching through the Dauphin gate into the town of Louisbourg. But I run a bit ahead of my story. For Pepperrell and his New Englanders were not the first to come in and take the keys from the French; it was Warren and his naval officers who first did that, and, who, in turn, went over to open the Gates for Pepperrell's waiting army.

We read from the log of the Superbe (Warren's flag ship) the entry of June the 17th, "Flag of truce came from Island Battery in order to capitulate. Sent Captain Durell ashore as hostage. At 5 A.M. sent marines and officers ashore to take possession of Island Battery. English colours hoisted." This is Philip Durrell, the captain of the Eltham, and the Eltham's log for the 17th reads, "Lost the longboat on the Island Battery. Ran into Louisbourg Harbour." Warren was to write up the hand over in his contemporaneous report to his superiors:

"The 17th, I landed with Capt. James Macdonald. [I] sent him with twelve officers and 400 marines to take possession of Louisbourg and place proper guards. The governor having delivered me the keys of the town, magazines of powder and other warlike stores, which were immediately opened on that land side, the general and his troops marched into the town, of which we now have quiet possession."15
Now, there was something going on here! Could it have been that the Royal navy thought it should have the honour of first going in; or, was it that the French military men were not prepared to deal with ragged colonials; or, was it simply a question of logistics in that it was necessary, at first, for the victors to come in by water and land on the harbour front of Louisbourg. One historian's guess is as good as the next; but, what is clear, is that Warren was in first and it was Warren who opened the land gate so to let in Pepperrell and his land forces. Is it not strange that Warren's officers were the first to take the keys and then for them to open up the gates? At any rate, it was only after this first little ceremony took place that we would have seen Pepperrell, at the head of his army, marching through the Dauphin gate into the town.16

M. Henry Baker, in an address given in the year of 1909, to the New Hampshire Society of Colonial Wars, was to say of the ceremony:

"The military etiquette of the occasion was punctiliously observed. Each army saluted the other. Then the French flag was saluted and lowered. As the lilies of France fluttered down the flag staff the cross of St. George arose over the citadel and was saluted by the guns of the army and navy and the cheers of the soldiers and sailors who had endured so much to secure the triumph and glory of the hour."17
Our "Fourth Anonymous Mass. Soldier" was to write: "Looks like rain: in the morning the French flag was taken down ..." All the English batteries fired in celebration. "About three o'clock the Commodore came to anchor in the harbour and all our ships and all our small craft." James Gibson, one of Boston's leading merchants, who had come to Louisbourg as a "gentleman volunteer" was to write of his observations of the hand over:
"Monday, 17. This day, the French flag was struck, and the English one hoisted up in its place at the island battery. We took possession early in the morning. We hoisted likewise the English flag at the Grand Battery, and our other new batteries; then fired our cannons and gave three huzzas. At two O'clock in the afternoon, Commodore Warren, with all the men-of-war, as also the prize man-of-war of sixty guns; (the Vigilant), our twenty guns ships; likewise our snows, brigantines, privateers and transports, came all into Louisbourg harbour, which made a beautiful appearance.18 When all were safely moored, they proceeded to fire on such a victorious and joyful occasion. About four o'clock in the afternoon, our land army marched to the south gate of the city, and entered the same, and so proceeded to the parade near the citadel; the French troops, at the same time, being all drawn up in a very regular order. Our army received the usual salutes from them, every part being performed with all the decency and decorum imaginable. And as the French were allowed to carry off their effects, so our guards took all the care they possibly could to prevent the common soldiers from pilfering and stealing, or otherwise giving them the least molestation."19
Those at Louisbourg at the time of its surrender, capable of bearing arms and who surrendered and were made prisoners, came to 2000. The French, according to the English, who were killed "within the walls" came to "about 300 besides numbers that died by being confined within the Casemates."20 As for the English, who had twice the number of men at the walls21: Shirley reported that during "the whole Siege, we had not more than 101 men killed by the enemy and all other accidents, and about 30 died of sickness."22

But, the New Englanders had had a hard time of it and it had been a long time since they left home in March; they had savoured, since they had first enlisted, the thought of filling their pockets; they wanted to take what they had come for: why should they be denied their "Spoils of War"? The terms of capitulation might have been satisfactory to the officers, but the question for the rank and file was, what was in it for them? History will show that stealing and molestation is the reward of the common soldier. The boys from New England had worked up quite a head of steam and allowing them to come into the walled city of Louisbourg was much the same as letting the fox loose in the chicken house. Not all the men could be kept under control. The French authorities complained and the English authorities agreed, but not much could be done about the problem.23 The troops had to be brought in behind the sheltering walls, no matter that the French residents would thus be exposed to their pillaging ways; it was still feared that French and Indian reinforcements might, at any moment, come at them from the surrounding forests, just as there was a continuing fear that a large fleet of French war ships might also, at any moment, appear on the sea horizon.24 The answer was to get the French citizenry out of the way; to get them transported as soon as possible, but that, as we shall see, was to take some time to arrange.

The day after Louisbourg's capitulation, on June 18, 1745, a schooner, under the command of Captain Bennet, got underway for Boston with a jubilant despatch for Governor Shirley.25 Bennet arrived in the middle of the night of July 3rd/4th26 and immediately sought out the governor to hand him Pepperrell's despatch.27 The watch let him pass by, but, in the process, the officers of the watch got the news before any other person at Boston. At about four in the morning the watch finally let go with their information not able to hold it in any more. They were to alarm the town

"by firing their guns and beating their drums, and before five, all the bells in the town began to ring, and continued ringing most of the day. ... the day was spent in firing of cannon, feasting and drinking of healths, and in preparing fireworks, etc. against the evening. ... in the evening the whole town appeared as it were in a blaze, almost every house being finely illuminated. In some of the principal streets were great variety of fire-works, and curious devices for the entertainment of the almost numberless spectators, and in the fields were several bonfires for the diversion of the less polite, besides a large one in the common, where was a tent erected, and plenty of good liquor for all that would drink. In a word, never before, upon any occasion, was observed so universal and unaffected a joy; nor was there ever so many persons of both sexes at one time walking about, as appeared that evening, the streets being as light as day, and the weather extremely pleasant."28
The news, of course had to be gotten to England as soon as possible and to that end Captain Montague in the 40 gun Mermaid was despatched by Warren. An interesting side note to this can now be made: A second copy of the despatch29 was placed in the hands of Capt. Geary. Geary was the Captain of the Chester. However, Warren did not want to lose the 50 gun ship Chester, so, he asked John Rous, Senior Provincial Naval officer, to do the honours and bring Capt. Geary to London in the Shirley (24 guns). That there was another vessel that was to race to London with the news was a development which bothered Capt. Montague, somewhat. (William Montague is described in history as having an "eccentric behaviour" such that it earned him the name "Mad Montague.") He was to make a special plea to Warren: "Sir, I am informed the schooner is to sail after me. I hope you will not do me so much injustice as to send her till at least ten days after my departure."30

London was to break out into celebrations:

"Salutes boomed from the batteries of the Tower; Cheapside and the Strand were brilliantly illuminated, and joy bells pealed. ... 'extraordinary rejoicings' loudly echoed the delight of the metropolis [to the countryside]; guns were fired from the finely illuminated church steeples, the house windows blazed with candles, the red glare of bonfires reddened the streets and shires, and barrels of beer were liberally distributed by the gentry to the shouting populace."31
The Reasons for the Fall of Louisbourg, 1745:
Such as is the case in the making of all great historical events, the results (winning or losing) come about because of the effects of many events occurring over a period of time all interacting with one another. Is is life -- is it not! Some events are small at the happening and large in the result; others large in the happening, small in the result. Some predictable, some unpredictable, some as a result of nature, some of a group's making or even that of an individual. The outcome of the siege of Louisbourg in 1745 is the result of many factors and one can weave their own tapestry of events both minor and major. I have dealt with a number of these events and they are spread throughout this work. The three principal events which brought about the capitulation, I believe, are: the cooperation that existed between William Pepperrell and Peter Warren, the weather and the early desertion of the Royal Battery.

Warren was plainly of the view that the conquest "could not have been acquired by the sea force without the land one, nor by the land one without the sea."33 The personalities of William Pepperrell and Peter Warren were such that an extraordinary cooperation is to be observed between the two very different forces which they commanded; not only different because one was a sea force and the other a land force, but different because one was militia scratched up from a "rude population" of farmers, fishermen and traders; the other being, well -- the British navy with all its successes and tradition, and its well known discipline. The fact of the matter is that land forces and naval forces, up to this time, had rarely only ever worked together in a common objective.34

The weather which plays so fateful a role in matters that require transport by sea, was clearly on the side of the New England raiders. It was such that not one single day was lost in the prosecution of the design. A resident of Louisbourg (Habitant de Louisbourg) a contemporary witness to the events was to write:

"The enemy appeared in March, a month usually extremely dangerous in a climate which seems to confound the seasons, for the spring, everywhere else so pleasant, there is frightful. The English, however, appeared to have enlisted Heaven in their interest. So long as the expedition lasted they enjoyed the most beautiful weather in the world, and this greatly favoured an enterprise against which were heavy odds that it would fail on account of the season. Contrary to what is usual there were no storms. Even the winds, so unrestrained in those dreadful seas in the months of March, April and May, were to them always favourable; the fogs so thick and frequent in these months that ships are in danger of running upon the land without seeing it, disappeared earlier than usual, and gave place to a clear and serene sky; in a word, the enemy had always beautiful weather, as fine as they could desire."35
The New Englanders, themselves, were to recognize the good weather factor. On June 26th the "First Anonymous Mass. Soldier" was to write:
"Clear & fair, this day, however, since the 18th it was foggy. Generally, in the 49 days of the siege, there was not so much as 24 hours of rain. A 'vast advantage' to the health of the besiegers and to using their artillery."
And, no sooner did the French give up, the weather changed. Seth Pomeroy:
"Continued foul weather. This is the fourth day sense it began and it is very remarkable that for the 47 days we have been on this island and in all this time not so much fowl weather by one half as there was now in one week which I look upon as a smile of Providence upon the army -- For if there had been fowl weather as commonly there used to be here at this time in the year it would have rendered it exceedingly difficult, if not wholly frustrated the design, scattered the fleet, and sickened our army. ... Very remarkable that the enemy should give it up at the time it did. If they had not we must have made a bold attempt by scaling the walls; it seems it would have been fatal. ... remarkable thing the very next day after we had taken possession, -- rain, fog, dark weather, eight or nine days together ..."
The taking of the Royal Battery by the New Englanders is something that I have dealt with in some detail. That it should have been given up before the New Englanders had even arrived at the walls, was, for the French, indeed, a tactical error. The French thought they had too few fighting men to defend both positions and thought it best to consolidate their numbers within the fort. It was further thought that the Island Battery alone would be enough to keep Warren's fleet out (and in this regard they may well have been right). But the French never gave enough thought to what these enterprising New Englanders would do with these heavy guns at the Royal Battery located as they were just opposite the town -- a clear shot to the very innards of the city. The New Englanders used these big 42 pound cannons to considerable advantage, not only as the French had mounted them at the Royal Battery but also as the New Englanders had mounted them at the fascine batteries which they had industrially constructed but yards away from the western gate of Louisbourg. If only the French had taken the time to make sure these canon were fully disabled. The work was too hurriedly carried out; and, while steel rods were driven into the touch holes, the anxious soldiers neglected to smash "either trunnions or carriages" and left "virtually all the stores behind in their flight into Louisbourg."

The 1745 siege of Louisbourg had worked as sieges ought to work: the place was strangled. This French fortress was choked off from receiving supplies and men, of which the French were in bad need, even at the first of it. William Pepperrell effectively had locked them up; and, those who would have given aid, Peter Warren shut out.36

[NEXT: Pt. 4, Ch. 14 - The English Garrison at Louisbourg.]

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