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French & Indian War: Field Marshal Jeffery Amherst

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French & Indian War: Field Marshal Jeffery Amherst

General Jeffrey Amherst

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Jeffery Amherst - Early Life & Career:

Jeffery Amherst was born January 29, 1717, in Sevenoaks, England. The son of lawyer Jeffery Amherst and his wife Elizabeth, he went on to become a page in the household of the Duke of Dorset at age 12. Some sources indicate that his military career began in November 1735 when he was made an ensign in the 1st Foot Guards. Others suggest that his career began as a cornet in Major General John Ligonier's Regiment of Horse in Ireland that same year. Regardless, in 1740, Ligonier recommended Amherst for promotion to lieutenant.

Jeffery Amherst - War of the Austrian Succession:

Through the early years of his career, Amherst enjoyed the patronage of both Dorset and Ligonier. Learning from the gifted Ligonier, Amherst was referred to as his "dear pupil." Appointed to the general's staff, he served during the War of the Austrian Succession and saw action at Dettingen and Fontenoy. In December 1745, he was made a captain in the 1st Foot Guards and given a commission as a lieutenant colonel at large in the army. As with many of the British troops on the Continent he returned to Britain that year to aid in putting down the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.

In 1747, the Duke of Cumberland took overall command of British forces in Europe and selected Amherst to serve as one of his aides-de-camp. Acting in this role, he saw further service at the Battle of Lauffeld. With the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, Amherst moved into peacetime service with his regiment. With the outbreak of the Seven Years' War in 1756, Amherst was appointed to be the commissariat for the Hessian forces that had been gathered to defend Hanover. During this time, he was promoted to colonel of the 15th Foot but remained with the Hessians.

Jeffery Amherst - The Seven Years' War:

Largely fulfilling an administrative role, Amherst came to England with the Hessians during an invasion scare in May 1756. Once this abated, he returned to Germany the following spring and served in the Duke of Cumberland's Army of Observation. On July 26, 1757, he took part in Cumberland's defeat at the Battle of Hastenbeck. Retreating, Cumberland concluded the Convention of Klosterzeven which removed Hanover from the war. As Amherst moved to disband his Hessians, word came that the convention had been repudiated and the army was re-formed under Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick.

Jeffery Amherst - Assignment to North America:

As he prepared his men for the coming campaign, Amherst was recalled to Britain. In October 1757, Ligonier was made overall commander-in-chief of British forces. Disheartened by Lord Loudon's failure to seize the French fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in 1757, Ligonier made its capture a priority for 1758. To oversee the operation, he chose his former pupil. This was a stunning move as Amherst was relatively junior in the service and had never commanded troops in battle. Trusting Ligonier, King George II approved the selection and Amherst was given the temporary rank of "major general in America."

Jeffery Amherst - Siege of Louisbourg:

Departing Britain on March 16, 1758, Amherst endured a long, slow Atlantic crossing. Having issued detailed orders for the mission, William Pitt and Ligonier ensured that the expedition sailed from Halifax before the end of May. Led by Admiral Edward Boscawen, the British fleet sailed for Louisbourg. Arriving off the French base, it encountered Amherst's arriving ship. Reconnoitering the shores of Gabarus Bay, his men, led by Brigadier General James Wolfe, fought their away ashore on June 8. Advancing on Louisbourg, Amherst laid siege to the town. After series of fights, it surrendered on July 26.

In the wake of his victory, Amherst considered a move against Quebec, but the lateness of the season and news of Major General James Abercrombie's defeat at the Battle of Carillon led him to decide against an attack. Instead, he ordered Wolfe to raid French settlements around the Gulf of St. Lawrence while he moved to join Abercrombie. Landing in Boston, Amherst marched overland to Albany and then north to Lake George. On November 9, he learned that Abercrombie had been recalled and that he had been named commander-in-chief in North America.

Jeffery Amherst - Conquering Canada:

For the coming year, Amherst planned multiple strikes against Canada. While Wolfe, now a major general, was to attack up the St. Lawrence and take Quebec, Amherst intended to move up Lake Champlain, capture Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) and then move against either Montreal or Quebec. To support these operations, Brigadier General John Prideaux was dispatched west against Fort Niagara. Pushing forward, Amherst succeeded in taking the fort on June 27 and occupied Fort Saint-Frédéric (Crown Point) in early August. Learning of French ships at the northern end of the lake, he paused to build a squadron of his own.

Resuming his advance in October, he learned of Wolfe's victory at the Battle of Quebec and of the city's capture. Concerned that the entirety of the French army in Canada would be concentrated at Montreal, he declined to advance further and returned to Crown Point for the winter. For the 1760 campaign, Amherst intended to mount a three-pronged attack against Montreal. While troops advanced up the river from Quebec, a column led by Brigadier General William Haviland would push north over Lake Champlain. The main force, led by Amherst, would move to Oswego then cross Lake Ontario and attack the city from the west.

Logistical issues delayed the campaign and Amherst did not depart Oswego until August 10, 1760. Successfully overcoming French resistance, he arrived outside of Montreal on September 5. Outnumbered and short on supplies, the French opened surrender negotiations during which he stated, "I have come to take Canada and I will take nothing less." After brief talks, Montreal surrendered on September 8 along with all of New France. Though Canada had been taken, the war continued. Returning to New York, he organized expeditions against Dominica and Martinique in 1761 and Havana in 1762. He was also forced to send troops to expel the French from Newfoundland.

Jeffery Amherst - Later Career

Though the war with France ended in 1763, Amherst immediately faced a new threat in the form of a Native American uprising known as Pontiac's Rebellion. Responding, he directed British operations against the rebelling tribes and approved a plan to introduce smallpox among them through the use of infected blankets. That November, after five years in North America, he embarked for Britain. For his successes, Amherst was promoted to major general (1759) and lieutenant general (1761), as well as accumulated a variety of honorary ranks and titles. Knighted in 1761, he built a new country home, Montreal, at Sevenoaks.

Though he turned down command of British forces in Ireland, he accepted the position of governor of Guernsey (1770) and lieutenant-general of the Ordnance (1772). With tensions rising in the colonies, King George III asked Amherst to return to North America in 1775. He declined this offer and the following year was raised to the peerage as Baron Amherst of Holmesdale. With the American Revolution raging, he was again considered for command in North America to replace William Howe. He again refused this offer and instead served as commander-in-chief with the rank of general. Dismissed in 1782 when the government changed, he was recalled in 1793 when war with France was imminent. He retired in 1795 and was promoted to field marshal the following year. Amherst died August 3, 1797, and was buried at Sevenoaks.

Selected Sources

  • Canadian Biography: General Jeffrey Amherst
  • Jeffrey Amherst Biography

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