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Fortress Louisbourg
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Fortress Louisbourg

Fortress Louisbourg is a reconstruction of a French fortress located on Cape Breton Island in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. Originally established in 1713, Louisbourg was settled by the French to provide access to the nearby cod fishing grounds following the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). It became the capital of Île Royale (Cape Breton) in 1718.

The Seven Years' War (1756-1763), the European front in the French and Indian War The war involved all the major European powers, and did not go well for England until Pitt the elder came to power in 1756.

In 1755 at the outbreak of war both England and France were to make Nova Scotia there battle ground. The British settlers in North America, principally in Nova Scotia, were naturally disturbed by the interest of the French, so that by the first of April, the English cabinet was to authorize the sending of a naval squadron to America with instructions to "fall upon any French ships of war that shall be attempting to land troops in Nova Scotia or to go to Cape Breton or through the St. Lawrence to Quebec." In response the French deployed 43 ships.

On intelligence being received in England of the sailing of this fleet, Vice-Admiral Boscowen was ordered to the coast of North America with a fleet of fourteen ships and about three weeks after the departure of the main fleet, Vice-Admiral Francis Holburne was sent with seven more ships to reinforce Boscowen and both detachments had the good fortune to fall in off the banks of Newfoundland.

English intelligence revealed that the French intended to reinforce their military presence in America. The intention was to catch the French in a net of British war ships. Admiral Boscawen was put in charge of two fleets, these were to accomplish this assisted by the fleet under Admiral Holburne. The combined fleets amounted to 21 ships which sailed between Halifax and the southern coast of Newfoundland.

Amongst the first troop sent to the emergent American conflict was the 35th Regiment of Foot, embarking from Plymouth on the 11th April with the Black Watch (42nd Regiment). The fleet, commanded by Admiral Holburne arrived at New York in June, here both the 35th and 42nd disembarked and proceeded to Albany arriving there on 25th June, 1756.

On July the 23rd, 1756, Lord Loudoun arrived in America. Appointed Commander in chief of the English forces. He had been described as an unfortunate choice "a man with excellent connections (as a friend of the Lord Halifax, Minister for the Colonies), but not well qualified for this difficult and responsible post." By the 29th Loudoun was ready to assume command of the assembled army. Taking one division, consisting of regulars and massed militia some ten thousand strong he marched to Fort William Henry at the southern end of Lake George, approximately fifteen miles from Fort Edward, where he remained until the middle of November.

Almost immediately Pitt began to put into action his desire to take the war deeper into Canada preceded by "the reduction of Louisbourg in the early part of the season". Pitt ordered Loudoun to launch a campaign for an attack on Quebec. with additional plans for the capture of the three most important French forts in North America: Louisbourg, Carillon and Duquesne.

Loudoun had demonstrated his military prowess during the royalist uprising of 1745 when according to one historian he "had demonstrated his professionalism by marching undauntedly from one defeat to another." Described by Massachusetts Governor Shirley as "a pen and ink man whose greatest energies were put forth in getting ready to begin."

France was to send one of its best military commanders to take command of its troops in America, the Marquis de Montcalm. Loudoun's French counterpart was at Quebec about the same time Loudoun was in New York: July, 1756. The essential difference between them was that Montcalm was a capable military man who wasted no time: he immediately launched himself against the English.

Lord Howe had arrived at Halifax with a fleet and army prepared to attack Louisburg, but on the strength of his intelligence on the French fleet and army at that place, and with the season being so advanced Loudoun and Holborne made the decision on 4th August to postpone the assault until the following season.

It was a decision that would be fatal to Loudounís career in America. On August 16th, Holburne realised that the attack on Louisbourg would not happen. He determined to go on a little reconnoitring cruise which he did proceeding north, up the coast. The Vice-Admiral resolved to satisfy himself as to the enemy's force at Louisburg.

Holbourne took his fleet of 20 British men-of-war to see if he could get a shot in at the French ships which rode comfortably at their cables in Louisbourg Harbour. An engagement could not take place unless the French Rear Admiral, De la Motte (b 1683) took his men-of-war out of Louisbourg Harbour. By August 20th, Holburne's fleet of 20 British war ships were stationed of the mouth of Louisbourg Harbour.

The challenge came from the English "by firing a gun and hoisting the standard of England between the ensign staff and the mizzen shrouds. An English prisoner in the city watched this powerful British fleet in battle array off the harbour, he recorded that the commander of the French fleet, returned the challenge by hoisting the 'bloody flag' of France at the main top gallant masthead and firing one gun, but never stirred an anchor."

On the 24th of September, while Holburne was going back and forth off the coast of Cape Breton the squadron being 20 leagues south of Louisburg, on a Saturday evening, witnessed by Chevalier de Johnstone then at Louisbourg, there sprang up a gale from the east which, during the night, veered to the south and blew up into a hurricane.

In his report to the Admiralty, Holbourne wrote that: "of twenty ships, nine still had their masts standing: Windsor, Kingston (60 guns), Northumberland (68 guns), Newark (80 guns, Admiral Holburne), Orford (68 guns), Terrible (74 guns), Somerset, Bedford (64 guns), and Defiance (60 guns). The nine ships with masts still standing returned to Halifax. The others, as soon as they were able - in order to avoid marauders - made for England, or went firstly to Newfoundland."

The hurricane was to leave Holburne's fleet in a vulnerable condition; and, the fact that he got most of it, eventually, back to port, was, a highly creditable piece of seamanship on his part and on the part of his captains and their crews.

Holburne, was concerned for his fleet and for Halifax thinking it likely that the French navy would swoop down upon them. The opportunity that presented itself to the French navy by the damage caused to the English fleet in the storm may not have been apparent to the French, and the English were fortunate that the French Admiral De la Motte did not run down Holburne's weather beaten and broken up fleet.

After news of the aborted campaign reached London, Campbell, the Fourth Earl of Loudoun was recalled by Secretary of State, William Pitt. On December 30th, Major General James Abercromby was placed in charge of the English armies in North America.

Pitt was not totally enamoured with Abercromby leading the armies in North America, subsequently he appointed the commanders of individual campaigns himself, giving each commander freedom to make their own decisions. It was a policy that would change the course of the war in the favour of the British.

In 1758, Pitt chose Boscawen, at the same time seeing to his further promotion as Admiral of the Blue, to command the naval forces for the attack on Louisbourg.

The Treaty of Paris, signed by Great Britain, France, and Spain on February 10, 1763, ended the Seven Years' War and its American counterpart, the French and Indian War.

References: Peter Landry, Benson J. Lossing, and D. Macdonald, (1884).

Fortress Louisbourg has been designated a Canadian National Historic Site.

The placename is pronounced "Lewisberg" in spite of its French origins.

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