Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Battle of the Thousand Islands

The ‘Louisbourg Grenadiers’

The ‘Louisbourg Grenadiers’ was a temporary unit formed in 1759 for the Quebec expedition from the grenadier companies of three regiments that were stayed behind as part of the British garrison of Louisbourg. The image shows grenadiers of the 22nd (left), 40th (right) and 45th (centre) Regiments of Foot. General Wolfe was with the Grenadiers when he was hit at the battle of the Plains of Abraham on 13 September 1759. The grenadier of the 40th at right is shown in full marching order. He also wears the brown marching gaiters that were used on active service. Note how each regiment's uniform has different facing colours and lace to distinguish it. Reconstruction by R.J. Marrion. (Canadian War Museum)

The Louisbourg Grenadiers was a temporary unit of grenadiers formed by General James Wolfe in 1759 to serve with British Army forces in the Quebec campaign of the Seven Years' War.
Grenadiers from the 22nd, 40th, and 45th regiments were brought together by Wolfe at the Fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia in preparation for action along the St. Lawrence River. The unit was involved in numerous battles during the months-long prelude to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, including the ill-fated Battle of Beauport on July 31, 1759. After Quebec City's capture, the Grenadiers went on to be involved in the fall of Montreal the next year. After the end of the Seven Years' War, the unit was disbanded and its members returned to their original regiments.

Montreal and its environs. Map drawn by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin in 1764

Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst, commander of the British forces which captured Montreal

Britain was now sole North American ruler east of the Mississippi River. The War was over, and it was now time for the British to put her new found empire into good working order. France, on the other hand was in a different situation. She had to remove forces, and surrender large portions of land to her bitter enemy. This entire transition was to take place while a war was still being fought in Europe, therefore, tensions remained very high, and occasionally erupted into full conflict.

The most notable of these conflicts occurred near Prescott Ontario along the St. Lawrence River in August 1760. The conflict which became known as the Battle of the Thousand Islands was France’s last stand. A small band of 300 partisans united to hinder General Jeffrey Amherst’s rapid march into Montreal. The 300, not to be confused with the more famous 300 from Sparta, occupied Fort Levis in hopes to stop the British juggernaut. It was a tall task, but for eight days the French did hold out.
Pierre Pouchot was given the order to build Fort Levis, and defend it. The Chevalier de Levis, for whom the fort was named, had designed a large stone fort to be placed on what would become called Chimney Island, New York. Pouchot did not have time to build the original stone complex, and had to settle for a much smaller wooden structure. He organized two small ships, corvettes, under the command of 200 remaining sailors to protect his position while he built furiously with the remaining 100 men. While Pouchot worked tirelessly in advance of a certain battle, Amherst organized and dispatched 11,000 regulars and Indians from Oswego, New York as part of his final plan to surround Montreal on three sides. Two British shops were also to set sail toward Montreal, as Amherst’s three pronged assault upon the city was taking shape.

Amherst did not know, nor did he receive any forewarning, that the French had been building a new roadblock along the route into Montreal. Amherst’s southern wing marched within Pouchot’s range on August 7, and the French were discovered. The British gave chase to the French throughout a maze of “a thousand islands” only to get lost for days. Amherst waited for the chasing party to reemerge, but by August 16, he could no longer take any chances, and ordered Colonel George Williamson to capture the remaining French group. Five boats were sent to assault the French corvette, l’Outaouaise. The French boat fought valiantly, and was severely damaged. The ship listed toward the two British galleys, and inflicted substantial damage before being captured itself. The British decided to repair the l’Outaouaise and rename it the Williamson. As the Williamson, the British used the ship to attack Fort Levis directly. Fort Levis bombarded the Williamson all of August 19 before the two British ships Onondaga and Mohawk arrived on August 20. While the gunboats bombarded the fort, Amherst established artillery batteries throughout the islands surrounding Fort Levis. The French successfully sank both the Onondaga and the Williamson, and the Mohawk ran aground during the melee. Stunningly the French 300 were holding off the might of the British masses. Yet all was to change when British artillery began to use a type of early incendiary called “hot shot”, which set the wooden fort ablaze. By August 24, after absorbing 8 full days of assault from a substantially larger force Pouchot surrendered only when he ran out of ammunition.

The French resistance was now completely over. The Marquis de Vaudreuil formally surrendered Montreal and all of New France on September 6, 1760. The war in North America between France and Britain was over officially after the diplomats signed the Treaty of Paris in 1763, but the British would find themselves fighting a new foe, Spain within the year. France would remain shell-shocked for decades to come after losing then steadily growing empire. She lost influence on the continent, in the New World, and disastrously in Asia, as must be further detailed in subsequent articles.

The British Capitalize
Quiberon Bay was a feat of great seamanship on behalf of Hawke and his seamen, but it was more an effect of British naval power than a cause of it. For some years, British naval vessels could act aggressively in French coastal waters at will. They outnumbered their enemies and equalled them in the quality of vessels. Their time at sea may have fouled the ships and exposed them to wear and tear, but improvements in victualling preserved health and experience at sea enabled the sailors to outfight their rivals. The battle greatly reduced the power of France to send out its small expeditionary squadrons, but financial collapse and the crisis in manpower were equally important constraints. The collapse of the French naval threat in Europe enabled Britain to divert forces at home to other operations, such as the capture of Belle Ile in June 1761 and the expeditionary army to assist Portugal in 1762.30 However, it was the fall of Montreal in September 1760 which released the vital British and American land forces that made the critical difference to operations in the West Indies rather than changes at sea. In June 1761 forces sent from New York captured Dominica, and by the end of the year there were adequate land forces to attempt Martinique, which surrendered in February 1762. Grenada and the Grenadines quickly followed. 

In January 1762, Spain had been persuaded to enter the war on the side of France, but it was too late to have a significant impact on Britain's preponderant position at sea. British land and sea forces were large, experienced and well positioned to take immediate advantage of the situation. There was a resurgence of privateering at the prospect of Spanish prizes. British forces fresh from the capture of Belle Ile and Martinique and from New York converged on Havana and after a siege captured the city in August 1762.

The Treaty of Paris signed in 1763 ended the most successful war the British had ever fought. The French overseas empire had been largely destroyed, and although their islands in the Leewards were returned to them, Canada was lost. Spain had lost Florida. Indisputably, this success had been bought by seapower. It was an achievement acknowledged not only by Britain, but by France and Spain as well. French strategy, which had evolved as a response to the apparent success of the guerre de course at the beginning of the century and the use of expeditionary squadrons up to 1748, had been shown to have had its day. France and Spain were presented with an unpalatable dilemma. The impact of war at sea appeared to have increased. For the first time, British seapower had not been compensated for by successes on land and the unprecedented reach of seapower meant that for the first time adequate forces could be projected at massive distances from Europe to achieve substantial results. If Britain was to be controlled it had to be done with seapower. Her geographical reach and power had to be matched. However, the gap between Britain and the Bourbons was greater than ever-not just in numbers but in the administrative and economic infrastructure and the political and professional confidence that made this power projection possible. The remarkable fact is that within 15 years, the Bourbon navies had eliminated the numerical advantage Britain possessed in 1763. They did not match the infrastructure, but they had made sufficient gains to challenge Britain directly in home waters and in every ocean. How they did this is vitally important to how seapower was perceived both then and in the future.

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