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The Link Recovered, 1748

Louisbourg was the most thoroughly hated place in all America. The French government hated it as Napoleon hated the Peninsula, because it was a drain on their resources. The British government hated it because it cut into their oversea communications. The American colonists hated it because it was a standing menace to their ambitious future. And every one who had to live in it--no matter whether he was French or British, European or American, naval or military, private or official--hated it as only exiles can.

But perhaps even exiled Frenchmen detested it less heartily than the disgusted Provincials who formed its garrison from the summer of 1745 to the spring of the following year. Warren and Pepperrell were obliged to spend half their time in seeing court-martial justice done. The bluejackets fretted for some home port in which to enjoy their plentiful prize-money. The Provincials fretted for home at any cost. They were angry at being kept on duty at sixpence a day after the siege was over. They chafed against the rules about looting, as well as against what they thought the unjust difference between the million sterling that had been captured at sea, under full official sanction, and the ridiculous collection of odds and ends that could be stolen on land, at the risk of pains and penalties. Imagine the rage of the sullen Puritan, even if he had a sense of humor, when, after hearing a bluejacket discussing plans for spending a hundred golden guineas, he had to make such entries in his diary as these of Private Benjamin Crafts: 'Saturday. Recd a half-pint of Rum to Drinke ye King's Health. The Lord look upon Us and prepare us for His Holy Day. Sunday. Blessed be the Lord that has given us to enjoy another Sabbath. Monday. Last Night I was taken very Bad. The Lord be pleased to strengthen my Inner Man. May we all be Prepared for his Holy Will. Recd part of Plunder--9 Small tooth combs.'

No wonder there was trouble in plenty. The routine of a small and uncongenial station is part of a regular's second nature, though a very disagreeable part. But it maddens militiamen when the stir of active service is past and they think they are being kept on such duty overtime. The Massachusetts men had the worst pay and the best ringleaders, so they were the first to break out openly. One morning they fell in without their officers, marched on to the general parade, and threw their muskets down. This was a dramatic but ineffectual form of protest, because nearly all the muskets were the private property of the men themselves, who soon came back to take their favorite weapons up again. One of their most zealous chaplains, however, was able to enter in his diary, perhaps not without a qualm, but certainly not without a proper pride in New England spirit, the remark of a naval officer 'that he had thought the New England men were cowards--But that Now he thought that if they had a Pick ax and Spade they would digg ye way to Hell and storm it.'

The only relief from the deadly monotony and loneliness of Louisbourg was to be found in the bad bargains and worse entertainment offered by the camp-followers, who quickly gathered, like a flock of vultures, to pick the carcass to the bone. There were few pickings to be had, but these human parasites held on until the bones were bare. Of course, they gave an inordinate amount of trouble. They always do. But well-organized armies keep them in their place; while militiamen can not.

Between the camp-followers and the men Pepperrell was almost driven mad. He implored Shirley to come and see things for himself. Shirley came. He arrived at the end of August accompanied both by his own wife and by Warren's. He delivered a patriotic speech, in which he did not stint his praise of what had really been a great and notable achievement. His peroration called forth some genuine enthusiasm. It began with a promise to raise the pay of the Massachusetts contingent by fifteen shillings a month, and ended with free rum all round and three cheers for the king. The prospect thereupon brightened a little. The mutineers kept quiet for several days, and a few men even agreed to re-enlist until the following June. Shirley was very much pleased with the immediate result, and still more pleased with himself. His next dispatch assured the Duke of Newcastle that nobody else could have quelled the incipient mutiny so well. Nor was the boast, in one sense, vain, since nobody else had the authority to raise the men's pay.

But discontent again became rife when it began to dawn on the Provincials that they would have to garrison Louisbourg till the next open season. The unwelcome truth was that, except for a few raw recruits, no reliefs were forthcoming from any quarter. The promised regulars had left Gibraltar so late that they had to be sent to Virginia for the winter, lest the sudden change to cold and clammy Louisbourg should put them on the sick list. The two new regiments, Shirley's and Pepperrell's, which were to be recruited in the American colonies and form part of the Imperial Army, could not be raised in time. There even seemed to be some doubt as to whether they could be raised at all. The absence of Pepperrell from New England, the hatred of garrison duty in Louisbourg, and resentment at seeing some Englishmen commissioned to command Americans, were three great obstacles in the way. The only other resource was the colonial militia, whose waifs and strays alone could be induced to enlist.

Thus, once the ice began to form, the despairing Provincial garrison saw there could be no escape. The only discharge was death. What were then known as camp fevers had already broken out in August. As many as twenty-seven funerals in a single day passed by the old lime-kiln on the desolate point beyond the seaward walls of Louisbourg. 'After we got into the Towne, a sordid indolence or Sloth, for want of Discipline, induced putrid fevers and dysenteries, which at length became contagious, and the people died like rotten sheep.' Medical men were ignorant and few. Proper attendance was wholly lacking. But the devotion of the Puritan chaplains, rivaling that of the early Jesuits, ran through those awful horrors like a thread of gold. Here is a typical entry of one day's pastoral care: 'Prayed at Hospital. Prayed at Citadel. Preached at Grand Batery. Visited [a long list of names] all very Sick. [More names] Dy'd. Am but poorly myself, but able to keep about.'

No survivor ever forgot the miseries of that dire winter in cold and clammy Louisbourg. When April brought the Gibraltar regiments from Virginia, Pepperrell sent in to Shirley his general report on the three thousand men with whom he had begun the autumn. Barely one thousand were fit for duty. Eleven hundred lay sick and suffering in the ghastly hospital. Eight hundred and ninety lay buried out on the dreary tongue of land between the lime-pit and the fog-bound, ice-encumbered sea.

Warren took over the command of all the forces, as he had been appointed governor of Louisbourg by the king's commission. Shirley had meanwhile been revolving new plans, this time for the complete extirpation of the French in Canada during the present summer of 1746. He suggested that Warren should be the naval joint commander, and Warren, of course, was nothing loth.

Massachusetts again rose grandly to the situation. She voted 3,500 men, with a four pound sterling bounty to each one of them. New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island followed well. New York and New Jersey did less in proportion. Maryland did less still. Virginia would only pass a lukewarm vote for a single hundred men. Pennsylvania, as usual, refused to do anything at all. The legislature was under the control of the Quakers, who, when it came to war, were no better than parasites. upon the body politic. They never objected to enjoying the commercial benefits of conquest; any more than they objected to living on land which could never have been either won or held without the arms they reprobated. But their principles forbade them to face either the danger or expense of war. The honor of the other Pennsylvanians was, however, nobly saved by a contingent of four hundred, raised as a purely private venture. Altogether, the new Provincial army amounted to over 8,000 men.

The French in Canada were thoroughly alarmed. Rumour had magnified the invading fleet and army till, in July, the Acadians reported the combined forces, British regulars included, at somewhere between forty and fifty thousand. But the alarm proved groundless. The regulars were sent on an abortive expedition against the coast of France, while the Duke of Newcastle ordered Shirley to discharge the 'very expensive' Provincials, who were now in Imperial pay, 'as cheap as possible.' This was then done, to the intense disgust of the colonies concerned. New York and Massachusetts, however, were so loth to give up without striking a single blow that they raised a small force, on their own account, to take Crown Point and gain control of Lake Champlain.1

Before October came the whole of the colonies were preparing for a quiet winter, except that it was to be preceded by the little raid on Crown Point, when, quite suddenly, astounding news arrived from sea. This was that the French had sent out a regular armada to retake Louisbourg and harry the coast to the south. Every ship brought in further and still more alarming particulars. The usual exaggerations gained the usual credence. But the real force, if properly handled and combined, was dangerous enough. It consisted of fourteen sail of the line and twenty-one frigates, with transports carrying over three thousand veteran troops; altogether, about 17,000 men, or more than twice as many as those in the contingents lately raised for taking Canada.

New York and Massachusetts at once recalled their Crown Point expeditions. Boston was garrisoned by 8,000 men. All the provinces did their well-scared best. There was no danger except along the coast; for there were enough armed men to have simply mobbed to death any three thousand Frenchmen who marched into the hostile continent, which would engulf them if they lost touch with the fleet, and wear them out if they kept communications open. Those who knew anything of war knew this perfectly well; and they more than half suspected that the French force had been doubled or trebled by the panic-mongers. But the panic spread, and spread inland, for all that. No British country had ever been so thoroughly alarmed since England had watched the Great Armada sailing up the Channel.

The poets and preachers quickly changed their tune. Ames's Almanac for 1746 had recently edified Bostonians with a song of triumph over fallen Louisbourg:

Bright Hesperus, the Harbinger of Day, Smiled gently down on Shirley's prosperous sway, The Prince of Light rode in his burning car, To see the overtures of Peace and War Around the world, and bade his charioteer, Who marks the periods of each month and year, Rein in his steeds, and rest upon High Noon To view our Victory over Cape Brittoon.

But now the Reverend Thomas Prince's litany, rhymed by a later bard, summed up the gist of all the supplications that ascended from the Puritans:

O Lord! We would not advise; But if, in Thy Providence, A Tempest should arise, To drive the French fleet hence, And scatter it far and wide, Or sink it in the sea, We should be satisfied, And Thine the Glory be.

Strange to say, this pious suggestion had been mostly answered before it had been made. Disaster after disaster fell upon the doomed French fleet from the very day it sailed. The admiral was the Duc d'Anville, one of the illustrious La Rochefoucaulds, whose family name is known wherever French is read. He was not wanting either in courage or good sense; but, like his fleet, he had little experience at sea. The French ships, as usual, were better than the British. But the French themselves were a nation of landsmen. They had no great class of seamen to draw upon at will, a fact which made an average French crew inferior to an average British one. This was bad enough. But the most important point of all was that their fleets were still worse than their single ships. The British always had fleets at sea, constantly engaged in combined maneuvers. The French had not; and, in face of the British command of the sea, they could not have them. The French harbors were watched so closely that the French fleets were often attacked and defeated before they had begun to learn how to work together. Consequently, they found it still harder to unite two different fleets against their almost ubiquitous enemy.

D'Anville's problem was insoluble from the start, Four large men-of-war from the West Indies were to join him at Chibucto Bay, now the harbor of Halifax, under Admiral Conflans, the same who was defeated by Hawke in Quiberon Bay thirteen years later, on the very day that Wolfe was buried. Each contributory part of the great French naval plan failed in the working out. D'Anville's command was a collection of ships, not a coordinated fleet. The French dockyards had been neglected; so some of the ships were late, which made it impossible to practice maneuvers before sailing for the front. Then, in the bungling hurry of fitting out, the hulls of several vessels were left foul, which made them dull sailors; while nearly all the holds were left unscoured, which, of course, helped to propagate the fevers, scurvy, plague, and pestilence brought on by bad food badly stowed. Nor was this all. Officers who had put in so little sea time with working fleets were naturally slack and inclined to be discontented. The fact that they were under sealed orders, which had been communicated only to d'Anville, roused their suspicions while his weakness in telling them they were bound for Louisbourg almost produced a mutiny.

The fleet left France at midsummer, had a very rough passage through the Bay of Biscay, and ran into a long, dead calm off the Azores. This ended in a storm, during which several vessels were struck by lightning, which, in one case, caused a magazine explosion that killed and wounded over thirty men. It was not till the last week of September that d'Anville made the excellently safe harbor of Halifax. The four ships under Conflans were nowhere to be seen. They had reached the rendezvous at the beginning of the month, had cruised about for a couple of weeks, and had then gone home. D'Anville was now in no position to attack Louisbourg, much less New England. Some of his vessels were quite unserviceable. There was no friendly port nearer than Quebec. All his crews were sickly; and the five months' incessant and ever-increasing strain had changed him into a broken-hearted man. He died very suddenly, in the middle of the night; some said from a stroke of apoplexy, while others whispered suicide.

His successor, d'Estournel, summoned a council of war, which overruled the plan for an immediate return to France. Presently a thud, followed by groans of mortal agony, was heard in the new commander's cabin. The door was burst open, and he was found dying from the thrust of his own sword. La Jonquiere, afterwards governor-general of Canada, thereupon succeeded d'Estournel. This commander, the third within three days, was an excellent naval officer and a man of strong character. He at once set to work to reorganize the fleet. But reorganization was now impossible. Storms wrecked the vessels. The plague killed off the men: nearly three thousand had died already. Only a single thousand, one-tenth of the survivors, were really fit for duty. Yet La Jonquiere still persisted in sailing for Annapolis. One vessel was burned, while four others were turned into hospital ships, which trailed astern, dropping their dead overside, hour after hour, as they went.

But Annapolis was never attacked. The dying fleet turned back and at last reached Port Louis, on the coast of Brittany. There it found La Palme, a frigate long since given up for lost, lying at anchor, after a series of adventures that seem well nigh impossible. First her crew's rations had been cut down to three ounces a day. Then the starving men had eaten all the rats in her filthy hold; and when rats failed they had proposed to eat their five British prisoners. The captain did his best to prevent this crowning horror. But the men, who were now ungovernable, had already gone below to cut up one prisoner into three-ounce rations, when they were brought on deck again, just in time, by the welcome cry of sail-ho! The Portuguese stranger fortunately proved to have some sheep, which were instantly killed and eaten raw.

News of these disasters to the French arms at length reached the anxious British colonies. The militia were soon discharged. The danger seemed past. And the whole population spent a merrier Christmas than any one of them had dared to hope for.

In May of the next year, 1747, La Jonquiere again sailed for Louisbourg. But when he was only four days out he was overtaken off Cape Finisterre by a superior British fleet, under Anson and Warren, and was totally defeated, after a brave resistance.

In 1748 the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle gave Louisbourg back to the French. The British colonies were furious, New England particularly so. But the war at large had not gone severely enough against the French to force them to abandon a stronghold on which they had set their hearts, and for which they were ready to give up any fair equivalent. The contemporary colonial sneer, often repeated since, and quite commonly believed, was that 'the important island of Cape Breton was exchanged for a petty factory in India.' This was not the case. Every power was weary of the war. But France was ready to go on with it rather than give up her last sea link with Canada. Unless this one point was conceded the whole British Empire would have been involved in another vast, and perhaps quite barren, campaign. The only choice the British negotiators could apparently make was a choice between two evils. And of the two they chose the less.


1 An account of this expedition will be found in Chapter ii of 'The War Chief of the Six Nations' in this Series.


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Chronicles of Canada, The Great Fortress, A Chronicle of Louisbourg 1720-1760, 1915

 

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