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French & Indian War: Siege of Louisbourg (1758)

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French & Indian War: Siege of Louisbourg (1758)

General Jeffrey Amherst

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Conflict & Dates:

The Siege of Louisbourg lasted from June 8 to July 26, 1758, and was part of the French & Indian War (1754-1763).

Armies & Commanders:

British

French

  • Chevalier de Drucour
  • 3,500 men, 3,500 sailors/marines
  • 5 warships

Siege of Louisbourg Overview:

Situated on Cape Breton Island, the fortress town of Louisbourg had been captured from the French by American colonial forces in 1745 during the War of the Austrian Succession. Returned by treaty after the conflict, it blocked British ambitions in Canada during the French & Indian War. Mounting a second expedition to recapture the town, a fleet led by Admiral Edward Boscawen sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia in late May 1758. Sailing up the coast, it met an arriving ship carrying Major Geneal Jeffery Amherst. The two planned to land the invasion force along the shores of Gabarus Bay.

Aware of British intentions, the French commander at Louisbourg, Chevalier de Drucour, made preparations to repel the British landing and resist a siege. Along the shores of Gabarus Bay, entrenchments and gun emplacements were built, while five ships of the line were positioned to defend the harbor approaches. Arriving off Gabarus Bay, the British were delayed in landing by unfavorable weather. Finally on June 8, the landing force set out under the command of Brigadier General James Wolfe and supported by the guns of Boscawen's fleet.

Meeting heavy resistance from the French defenses near the beach, Wolfe's boats were forced to fall back. As they retreated, several drifted to the east and spotted a small landing area protected by large rocks. Going ashore, British troops secured a small beachhead which allowed for the landing of the remainder of Wolfe's men. Attacking, his men hit the French line from the flank and rear forcing them to retreat back to Louisbourg. Largely in control of the country around the town, Amherst's men landed their supplies and guns before advancing against the town.

As the British siege train moved towards Louisbourg and lines were constructed opposite its defenses, Wolfe was ordered to move around the harbor and capture Lighthouse Point. Marching with 1,220 picked men, he succeeded in his objective on June 12. Constructing a battery on the point, Wolfe was in prime position to bombard the harbor and the water side of the town. On June 19, British guns opened fire on Louisbourg. Hammering the town's walls, the bombardment from Amherst's artillery was met by fire from 218 French guns.

As the days passed, French fire began to slacken as their guns became disabled and the town's walls were reduced. While Drucour was determined to hold out, fortunes quickly turned against him on July 21. As the bombardment continued, a mortar shell from the battery on Lighthouse Point struck L'Entreprenant in the harbor causing an explosion and setting the ship on fire. Fanned by a strong wind, the fire grew and soon consumed the two adjacent ships, Capriciense and Superbe. In a single stroke, Drucour had lost sixty percent of his naval strength.

The French position worsened further two days later when heated British shot set the King's Bastion on fire. Situated inside the fortress, the loss of this, quickly followed by the burning of the Queen's Bastion, crippled French morale. On July 25, Boscawen dispatched a cutting out party to capture or destroy the two remaining French warships. Slipping into the harbor, they captured Bienfaisant and burned Prudent. Bienfaisant was sailed out of the harbor and joined the British fleet. Realizing that all was lost, Drucour surrendered the town the following day.

Aftermath:

The siege of Louisbourg cost Amherst 172 killed and 355 wounded, while the French suffered 102 killed, 303 wounded, and the remainder taken prisoner. In addition, four French warships were burned and one captured. The victory at Louisbourg opened the way for the British to campaign up the St. Lawrence River with the goal of taking Quebec. Following that city's surrender in 1759, British engineers began the systematic reduction of Louisbourg's defenses to prevent it being returned to the French by any future peace treaty.

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