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The Life of General The Hon. James Murray
Chapter IV. The Capture op Louisburg, 1758


When in June, 1757, Pitt returned to the Ministry as Secretary of State, with full control of the foreign policy of the country, a new life was infused into the nation which was felt to its farthest limits. He assumed control not only of the army, but of the navy. He was supreme, and proceeded to utilise his power with characteristic genius and energy. It is with his plans for the conquest of Canada that we are for the moment concerned, and for this the plan of campaign included, as a principal objective, the capture of Louisburg.

In those days, no less than at present, a naval base, from which to control operations at sea within a given area, was essential, and in the North Atlantic the English possessed only Halifax from which action to cover the Gulf of the St. Lawrence could be taken. Louisburg, then in French hands, was some 180 miles nearer, and was the true key to the position. Time and again the difficulty of keeping great fleets at sea at a distance from a harbour had frustrated the attempts to prevent the French carrying reinforcements and supplies into Canada. Thus the capture of Louisburg, dominating a secure haven and commanding the approach by sea to the French North American possessions, became the first object of what may be termed the eastern section of Pitt's reduction of Canada, which involved the termination of French control over the hinterland of New England, and the security and expansion of the English colonies.

Since the peace of 1748 vast sums and the best engineering talent had been expended on the fortress, which was styled the Dunkirk of America, and no effort had been spared to make it an impregnable position commensurate with its strategical importance. It is said that in some respects the fortifications were defective and not completed to the original design, but it is not probable that this had any important effect on the result. The fortress was isolated, the garrison was insufficient, consisting of 6000 men, including the 3000 seamen manning the squadron lying in the harbour, a part of which, escaping the vigilance of Admiral Hardy, had recently arrived, carrying considerable supplies for the garrison.

No effective succour could be expected either from Canada, then preparing to resist the English advance on Montreal via Lake Champlain, or by sea, where the English fleets held the undoubted superiority. Thus the best defence of Louisburg, other than its own ramparts, was the open and dangerous coast, rock-bound and continually swept by storms, which rendered it a difficult task to assemble and maintain in position a great fleet of transports and war vessels, and a still more hazardous undertaking to land an army in the face of opposition from the French. Had Drucour commanded a sufficient garrison to enable him to hold all the defences of the harbour as well as to maintain a considerable movable force in the open, it is doubtful how the affair would have ended, and even as it was, the astonishment expressed by Montcalm, when later he heard of the English landing, seems to have had good ground.

"Why," wrote Montcalm, "did not the troops, whose duty it was to defend the entrenchments at this point, march after the first discharge of artillery and musketry, with bayonets fixed, upon the English, whom they ought to have destroyed? Why did not those of other entrenchments advance also?"

To encompass this formidable undertaking orders were issued for the assembly of a large force at Halifax.

Including the four battalions of the Royal Americans (60th Foot), there were twenty-one battalions of the regular army in North America, and of these the assembly of twelve battalions "j" at Halifax was ordered two additional battalions, the 15th Foot, commanded by Lieut.-Col. the Hon. James Murray, and the 58th Foot, were sent out with the fleet of twenty-three vessels of the line which sailed from St. Helen's on February 19, 1758. The 15th was apparently included at the urgent solicitation of Amherst, who was its colonel, backed up by all the influence which James Murray could bring to bear through his interest with the Pelhams. Five companies of New England Rangers were added, and about 300 artillerymen. In all a force of some 14,800 men.

The command was given to Amherst, whose substantive rank as colonel dated from May, 1756, but who, for the purpose of this venture, received the local rank of major-general, the commission being dated March 1, 1758.

The three brigadiers appointed under Amherst were Edward Whitmore, appointed December 30. 1757; Chas. Lawrence, appointed December 31, 1757; and James Wolfe, appointed January 23, 1758.

There is a letter from Mr. Andrew Stone, secretary to Newcastle, and a friend of Mr. Collier, Murray's father-in-law, regretting that Colonel Murray if under any uneasiness on account of the disposition of the troops designed for America, and promising to take the first opportunity to mention the affair to the Duke. This is dated January 2, 1758.

The 15th Foot was in garrison at Maidstone with a detachment guarding French prisoners at Sissenhurst when they were ordered to Southampton for embarkation on December 31, 1757.

A letter from Lord Harrington to Murray, dated January 23, 1738. details arrangements made to collect the parties of the regiment which were still in Ireland.

Wolfe, however, was, as has already appeared, connected on more than one occasion with Murray, and his name is so closely woven with the events of the years 1758 and 1759 that some details regarding his personality find proper expression here, and, indeed, though in some respects they differed widely, there are many similarities in the character and life-history of the two which are of interest.

In both the martial spirit was strongly developed. To follow "the profession of arms" was the absorbing occupation of their time and their thoughts. Glory, personal honour, the military ambition to lead, their dread of any stain on their name, or on that of the troops they commanded, were to them ingrained principles which found expression in a shibboleth that fills many of their letters, whether private or official, and the very fear that their claims to advancement might be overlooked, and thereby reduce their prospects of leadership, led both into hasty acts which in these days would be called insubordination, but which are justly to be regarded as indications of their superlative desire to participate more closely in the honour of the campaigns they engaged in, and in no sense to mere material advantage.

On the other hand, Murray, strong and robust of body, controlled his natural tendencies, and was more equable in temperament than Wolfe. Defeat did not depress him, but set his energy into fresh action to secure what remained. He gloried in a tight corner, and depended on himself to come through, at least with honour if victory was impossible. Wolfe battled constantly against ill-health, and even his gallant spirit was unable always to preserve its constancy under the exhausting cffect of the complaints from which he suffered; tortured by rheumatism, and frequently suffering from gravel, he was also consumptive, and had to endure the intermittent depression which accompanies that disease. Ilis brother Edward had died of it, and it appears certain that he himself had but a few months to live when he fell gloriously in action at Quebec. His physical incapacity explains much that is otherwise incomprehensible ; it gave him a sense of detachment which caused him to regard himself as one apart, and on a different level, and endued him with a vanity which led him into strange excesses of self-assurance. "The world could not expect more from him than he thought himself capable of performing," wrote Horace Walpole, and if this attitude of mind, combined with his undoubted gift of organisation, had procured for him phenomenally rapid advancement to the rank of lieut.-colonel, under the segis of the Duke of Cumberland, it could hardly be expected that his personal views would receive the same favour from superiors not of royal rank, to whom he did not hesitate to express his opinions as to their proper movements with a freedom that he showed no disposition to permit when in turn he came to command.* It is only necessary to compare his letters to Amherst containing his advice to that general as to future movements, with his reply to Brigadier Monck-ton during the operations before Quebec; when the brigadier asked for more definite instructions he was informed that it was not usual for "inferior officers" to ask questions. And it is easy to see that the fears which he himself expressed, that command had a bad effect on character, were not groundless. Yet this was but one mood of a man of many moods, who was "happy or ruined by my last night's rest, or from sunshine or from light or sickly air." At other times he was nobly generous in his commendation of his officers and troops, and never behindhand in assuming blame for his mistakes.

In the quaint language used by Wolfe, he and Murray were old "antagonists," and it is quite clear that he uses the word not in the sense usually applied to it, but as meaning "comrades," or, perhaps, "friendly rivals."

Of his letter to his friend Rickson, quoted by Wright, in which he refers to himself as "Your Antagonist," and there are other he succeeded in twisting it into this sense is not easy to explain. In 1710 they had met when the troops assembled at the Isle of Wight prior to the disastrous West Indian expedition. Wolfe, a lad of thirteen, bad been attached as a volunteer to his father's regiment of marines, but fortunately for him his delicate constitution gave out before the expedition started, and he was landed at Portsmouth and sent back to school, while Murray, as we know, went through three years of a campaign full of horrors.

In 1745 Murray and Wolfe were together in Flanders, and in the same year both returned to England—Wolfe to take part in the campaign against the Scots " rebels," which ended in the massacre of Culloden, and added very little to his military experience. They did not meet during the campaign abroad of 1746-47. Wolfe was wounded in the hardly-contested battle of Lauffeld, while Murray had been employed in the far less glorious attack on L'Orient. From the peace of 1748 both were employed at home, and from 1750 were in command of battalions exercising their utmost ability to bring their commands to perfection. Murray and Wolfe were both enthusiastic regimental officers, and they each received high praise for the efficiency to which they brought their respective battalions. In 1757 they served again together in the expedition to Rochfort, as we have seen, and in 1758 and again in 1759 were together at Louisburg and Quebec. Thus the war services of Wolfe and Murray were, on the whole, very similar, and they had been in frequent contact. Wolfe had a warm admiration for his "antagonist," and expressed it on several occasions, and it is certain that if Murray was occasionally irritated with Wolfe's vacillation in their last campaign, he nevertheless held Wolfe in high estimation as a gallant and intrepid soldier.

Although Pitt used every means to hurry the despatch from England of the fleet intended to support the Louisburg operations, Boscawen's squadron of twenty-three sail of the equally strange perversions of the meaning of words, e.g. "illustrate" = render illustrious.

Fine, accompanied by numerous transports, sailed from St. Helen's considerably later than was intended, and, delayed by contrary winds and much bad weather, made an extraordinarily slow voyage. Wolfe, who accompanied the fleet, writing to his former colonel, Lord George Sackville, describes the arrival at Halifax on May 8 :

'I From Christopher Columbus' time to our days there was never a more extraordinary voyage ; ... a fleet of men of war . . . has been eleven weeks on its passage; ... we found Amherst's regiment * in the harbour in fine order and healthy. Fraser's and Lawrence's battalions were here (78th and 3rd 60th), both in good condition. The Highlanders, very useful serviceable soldiers, and commanded by the most manly corps of officers I ever saw. Webb's, Otway's, and part of Monckton's battalions from Philadelphia came in with us (48th, 35th, and 2nd 60th) . . . about 500 Rangers are come, which in appearance are little better than cannaille. Brigadier Whitmore is expected every day with the artillery, and the troops from New York and Boston, Bragg's (28th Foot) from the Bay of Fundy, and Anstruther's (58th) from Ireland."

On June 2 the fleet, with about one-third of the troops, anchored in Gabarus Bay, and on the same afternoon Amherst, Lawrrence, and Wolfe reconnoitred the coast in boats from the fleet. On the 3rd most of the transports had assembled, but the surf ran too high to permit the boats to venture near the shore. On the 4th, 5th, and 6tli fog and a heavy swell hindered action, and the admiral declared against -nakmg the attempt. It is said J that considerable doubt existed among the sea officers as to the practicability of landing on a well-defended coast, with the difficulties superadded of a rocky and surf-bound shore, but that one of the captains, Fergusson by name, commanding the Prince of Orange, alone adhered to the advice of landing at all costs, and of not calling a council of war, and this advice Boscawen determined to adopt. It was not until the 8th that the weather moderated. By break of day the troops were in the boats. A furious cannonade was opened by the ships of the line stationed along the coast of the bay, and under its cover the flotilla pushed for the shore in three divisions, that on the left commanded by Wolfe, with the Grenadier companies of the 1st, 15th, 17tli, and 22nd under Col. James Murray, and a mixed battalion of light infantry, commanded by Major Scott of the 40th, who was brigade-major of the force, together with a company of Rangers, and supported by the 78th and remaining Grenadiers. This division headed for the left of Kennington Cove, where the New England troops had effected their landing thirteen years previously. The centre division, under Lawrence, with 15th, 40th, 35th, 22nd, 3/60th, 45th made for the cove to the right of Wolfe's division, while the right attack, under Whitmore, including the 1st (2nd Batt.), 47th, 2/60th, 17th, 58th, 48th, made for White Point some two miles to the right, in order to induce the enemy to divide his force. The 28th Foot had already been sent in sloops with some artillery to L'Orembeck on the east of the harbour, there to threaten a landing.

The approach of the boats containing the left and centre divisions was the signal for a heavy fire from the French, who were in force at this point, and well protected by entrenchments covered in front with spruce and fir trees laid on the ground with the tops outward. It is said by Drucour in his Journal that 085 soldiers under St. Juhan were stationed here, besides some Indians, and that the rugged steep approach to the position was at least fifteen feet above the beach line. To Wolfe, who apparently disapproved t. of the method of attack from the beginning, the attempt seemed hopeless, and he had given the signal to sheer off.1 The honour of the landing, and perhaps the success of the whole expedition, therefore falls to three young officers, Lieuts. Hopkins and Brown, and Ensign Grant, who, with 300 men of the light infantry, made directly for the shore and succeeded in effecting a lodgment, followed immediately by Major Scott, who scrambled on shore though his boat was stove in on the rocks. Wolfe was quick to support his subalterns, and though many boats were destroyed, the division succeeded in effecting its purpose.

Murray, with his Grenadiers, landed with, or immediately after, the light infantry, the centre attack meantime landing their first detachments. Although the disembarkation of the troops was necessarily a slow and gradual process, giving the enemy every possible chance to repel the invaders, yet the French made no stand at all, and that such should be the case is almost inexplicable. That over a thousand men behind breastworks, and aided by artillery, permitted a few boatloads to disembark on a difficult shore, speaks little for their morale, and it is only possible to attribute their failure to the contagious example of the French officials, who thought more of luxury and peculation than of duty. Montcalm's astonishment at the success of the landing has already been quoted ; he, at least, understood the fatal nature of the blow. The defenders, having left their trenches, fled precipitately to the town—they were unsupported, possibly Drucour had no other troops available.

The British loss was trifling. Capt. Bailie, Lieut. Cuthbert of Eraser's Highlanders, and Lieut. Nicholson of the 15th, and 43 men killed, out of which no fewer than 21 were of Murray's composite battalion of Grenadiers. A large part of this latter loss was due to the upsetting of a boat, by which thirteen Grenadiers of the 15th were drowned. On the enemy's side only one officer and "several men" were reported as killed! Yet with this small loss was decided an operation which w as of paramount importance to the fate of Canada. The troops once landed, the fate of the town, cut off from relief by sea by Boscawen's powerful squadron, was but a matter of time.

It is unnecessary to follow in detail the land operations which followed the landing. There were some instances of gallant resistance on the part of the enemy, and the brave commander, de Vauquelin, of the French frigate Artthuse,2 especially distinguished himself, but with few exceptions the defence was not worthy of France, and it is an open question if it was conducted without treachery on the part of some of the leaders. On July 27 the French governor, Drucour, sent out an officer to capitulate.

Thus fell the "Dunkirk of America." 5637 prisoners fell into our hands, and the French squadron of eleven ships was destroyed or captured, the loss on our side being 168 officers and men killed and 352 wounded. A prayer of thanksgiving for the taking of Louisburg was used in the churches and chapels throughout the kingdom, and there were great rejoicings in the cities and in most places in the country. The affair was in fact brilliant, and if it depended in some measure on good fortune, and few victories do not, it nevertheless owed the greater part of the success to the dogged pertinacity of Amherst and Boscawen. and the officers and men under them.

Of Murray's personal part in this affair the private correspondence gives practically no insight. We obtain however, a glimpse of his activity from Wolfe's correspondence with Lord George Sackville.

'1 Murray, my old antagonist, has acted with infinite spirit. The public is much indebted to him for great service in advancing by every method in his power the affairs of the siege. Amherst, no doubt, will do all manner of justice, and your lordship will get him a regiment or the rank of colonel."

This is Wolfe's characteristic generosity, and as evidencing his broad principle of giving praise to those to whom it was due, he adds: "The Highlanders have behaved with great distinction, and their company of Grenadiers has suffered three officers killed and the fourth dangerously wounded."

Unfortunately Murray's legitimate aspirations to obtain the coveted position of command of a regiment were not at the time fulfilled. He had already had the mortification of seeing himself passed over by Robert Monckton, who, junior to him in age, and below him on the list of lieut.-colonels, had been posted as colonel of the 4th battalion 110tb Foot in the previous December, but a still more bitter blow was the promotion of Lieut.-Col. Thomas Gage to the rank of colonel in May, 1758. The rumour of this impending appointment had evidently reached Murray before leaving England, but the fact did not come to his hearing until after the siege of Louisburg, when, no doubt, the consciousness of having deserved more consideration made it doubly repugnant. In January of 1758 Murray had written to the Duke of Newcastle:

"I take the liberty to leave in writing, what perhaps I did not so fully explain in the conversation your Grace was pleased to honour me with, I mean the pretensions 3 I have to preferment, which I can venture to assure myself, from your Grace's known goodness and justice, will prevent any attempts to put a junior officer over my head. I have served His Majesty twenty years and paid three thousand pounds for my several commissions. Last war I was three years in the West Indies, in Flanders, and present in all the variety of service on which the regiment was ordered, and was severely wounded. I have had the honour to command the fifteenth regiment for some years, and have constantly had the thanks of the generals who reviewed it. In 1755, when it was ordered from Ireland, it consisted of no more than one hundred old soldiers; as it is confess'd now to be inferior to no regiment in the service, it is distinguished by the choice made of it on this occasion for the intended enterprise, which I flatter myself is a proof of the diligence of its officers. As I conceive America to be the scene of action. I have for two years past solicited to go there in the room of lieut.-colonels returned unfit for that service when their regiments were ordered for it. I am at this time the oldest lieut.-colonel belonging to the troops to be employed in America. There is a battalion vacant there by the resignation of Colonel Prevost. If a junior officer is preferred to it, the mortification to me will be insupportable, and I can venture to affirm, the example, as it will be the first of its kind that ever happened, must prejudice the king's service, unless it can be made evident that I am unworthy of rank and preferment in my turn in actual service. It is this only, my lord, that I ask, and as the generals that know me are now at the head of the army, and join with the Secretary at War in assuring me that nothing in their power shall be wanting to procure it for me, it is impossible to suppose that your Grace, who has hitherto been my patron, will oppose them on this occasion without at least securing to me the rank of colonel in the army by brevet or otherwise as may be thought convenient. If this is done I cheerfully resign all pretensions to the battalion in favour of Mr. Gage, who, I daresay, is a man of too much honesty to desire to come over my head. Without declaring myself destitute of the spirit which should characterise a soldier, I cannot stoop to be commanded by a junior officer who has not superior military pretensions.

"As the regiment I am in was not destined for service when Colonel Monckton was put over my head, I joyfully heard the news of his promotion, because he is connected with your Grace's family, and, as I was then situated, it was no disgrace to me; but should I now be laid aside on Mr. Gage's account, I never can hold up my head, must be totally undone and deservedly despised if capable of submitting to it with the utmost alacrity to serve my country; it 1 am preferred I hope I shall give satisfaction to those who recommend me to the king; if I am laid aside, I Hatter myself the generals who command the enterprise will be able to make reports of my service which will give the authors of my misfortune some concern, and then 1 can retire to Sussex, and, as contentedly as I can, reflect upon the sums and constitution I have squandered in His Majesty's service."

This spirited remonstrance met with some response, for Murray's name appeared in the Gazette of January 24, 1758, as receiving the rank of colonel "in America." The same Gazette included the name of Thomas Cage to similar local rank. The Gazette of May 9 following, however, included Gage to be colonel of a regiment of Rangers, which gave him substantive rank, and he was at the same time appointed a brigadier in America, and thus superseded Murray. I think there can be no question that Murray had good reason for complaint. It must be remembered that at this time political influence counted for much, and it was common for officers to be dismissed, or to be passed over, if their vote or opinions was known to be unfavourable to the Ministry. It is only necessary to quote the ease of William Pitt himself, who was deprived of his commission when, as a young man, he spoke in Parliament against the measures introduced by Walpole (1735).

In Murray's case the political action of his brother Alexander, which I have already noticed, and the known opinion of Lord Elibank, were too recent and well known to make it likely that a Ministry in which Newcastle was a power would do much to help him, and it is the strongest testimony to his worth that he succeeded in making headway at all against such serious disabilities. In the meantime, however, he was undoubtedly discontented with his prospects, and actually went the length of resigning his commission, as we are told m a letter from Amherst to Lord George Sackville. This was in January, 1759. I am not certain as to the reply made by the Commander-in-Chief to this letter of resignation, but probably Lord Ligonier, w ho knew Murray's worth well, mollified him with the promise of a brigade in the approaching operations against Quebec. His promotion to substantive colonel, however, did not take place until October of 1759.

The siege of Louisburg successfully accomplished, Wolfe, all impetuosity, was for an immediate advance on Quebec, and expressed his views both to Amherst and others with no little assurance. Apart, however, from the general situation, the proposal was obviously impossible. To re-fit and re-victual the fleet and the transports would alone have taken time. The re-embarkation of the troops and artillery, and completion of the stores, would have still further delayed a departure. The St. Lawrence could not, in any circumstance, be reached before the beginning of September, much too late to commence operations. The admirals condemned, and quite rightly, the proposal out of hand. Besides, Amherst was not in a position to decide; he was still subordinate to Abercrombie, and that general, after his severe defeat at Ticonderoga in July, had no desire to embark a large force on a new expedition. He ordered Amherst to join him as soon as possible with reinforcements.

Much had to be done before Amherst could leave. Troops under Monckton and Rollo were sent to take over the outposts of the surrendered territory, and the despatch to France of the civil population of Louisburg and the prisoners was itself a considerable task. At the end of August Amherst left for Boston, via Halifax, to join Abercrombie. Wolfe had asked permission to take the reinforcements, but Amherst, as the senior in America next to Abercrombie, had considered it proper to proceed himself, and his judgment was correct, for Abercrombie was withdrawn and Amherst himself appointed to the chief command, and thus found himself on the spot. In order to employ Wolfe as well as to make a demonstration at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, a strong detachment, consisting of the 15th, 28th, and 58th were sent under convoy of a fleet which left Louisburg on August 28 under Sir Charles Hardy, to Gaspe, with orders to ascend the St. Lawrence and lay waste the bordering villages. Murray accompanied the force, and, after visiting Gaspe with Wolfe, was detached with 800 men to Miramichi Bay, where the settlements were destroyed, and from whence he returned to Louisburg on September 24.

The whole of this proceeding can hardly be called one of importance or even of military necessity, for the only destruction effected was that of fishing villages ; and having in view the greater operations pending, it was neither necessary nor even desirable to attack a region so far removed from the true objective, though a mere reconnaissance might be justified.* Information of importance as to the conditions in Quebec was obtained. In a letter from Wolfe, dated September 30, he says:

"All the prisoners paint the distress of Canada—the inhabitants and even the troops are reduced to horseflesh. Bread is now Is. a pound at Quebec, and everything else in proportion. If our squadron gets up to the Isle Bic in good time, the destruction of Canada, I should think, is inevitable."

The instructions from England to the new Commander-in-Chief at the end of 1758 were :

"To build forts at Lake George and the Oneida Carrying Place" (at the head of the Mohawk river, on the Oswego route).

"To invade Canada, by Crown Point or La Gallette, or both, and invade and attack Montreal or Quebec, or both, by the forces in one body, or by dividing them. To give due attention to Lake Ontario. To attack Niagara. To rebuild Fort Duquesne." (Chatham MSS., Bundle 98 in P.K.O.)

The king's instructions were conveyed to Amherst by Pitt under date December 29, 1758.

"His Majesty having nothing so much at heart as to improve the. great and important advantages gained in the last campaign (capture of Louisburg), as well as to repair the disappointments at Ticonderoga . . . and to avert all future dangers to His Majesty's subjects in North America * . . . the King has come to the resolution to allow an adequate proportion of His Majesty's forces in America, amounting to 12,005 men, to make an attack on Quebec by the river St. Lawrence, against which place they are to proceed from Louisburg as early in the year as on or about May 7, if the season shall permit, under Brig.-Gen. Wolfe, who will have the rank of major-general for that expedition only . . . and to take especial care that . . . the total forces do amount to the full number. ... I now come to that part of the operations for the ensuing campaign in North America which are to be under your own immediate directions, and which from their importance, difficulty, and extent, as well as from the correspondence and intercourse with the several governors . . . must require the presence of the Commander-in-Chief. . . . Nothing can contribute so much to the success of the operations, and particularly the attempt at Quebec, as putting the forces early in motion on the frontiers of Canada and obliging (the enemy) to divide their strength."

To admiral Durrell, commanding the naval force at Halifax, Pitt sent orders, dated December 29, 1758, to proceed early to the St. Lawrence and ascend as far as the Isle de Bic and prevent succours from reaching the enemy, and then await further orders from Admiral Saunders. Most unfortunately these orders were not obeyed, as we shall see.

The above orders constituted the base work for the campaign of 1759, which we now proceed to consider; but it is especially desirable to note the orders issued as to the number of men intended for Quebec, and also the particular instructions given to Admiral Durrell, for as neither was complied with, much difficulty subsequently arose.

Murray passed the winter of 1758 in command of the troops at Halifax, under Governor Lawrence.


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