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All Canada in the Hands of the British
General Jeffery Amherst and the 1760 Campaign to Conquer New France
By Douglas R. Cubbison
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESSCopyright © 2014 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
"THE ENTIRE REDUCTION OF CANADA"
War on the Saint Lawrence to 1760
On January 7, 1760, William Pitt, First Earl of Chatham, secretary of state for the Southern Department, and the political leader of the British government who directed and coordinated Britain's war efforts, wrote to General Jeffrey Amherst, the Commander in Chief of the British Army in North America. This letter contained Pitt's instructions to Amherst for his execution of the 1760 campaign:
The reduction of Montreal was evidently the great and essential object, which remained, to compleat the glory of His Majesty's Arms in North America.... To this great end, it is His Majesty's pleasure, that you do attempt the invasion of Canada, with the Forces under your command, either in one body, or by different operations, at one and the same time, by a Division of the said forces, into separate and distinct bodies, according as you shall, from your knowledge of the Countries, thro' which the War is to be carried, and from emergent circumstances not be known here, judge the same to be most expedient; and that you do proceed to the vigorous attack of Montreal, and exert your utmost efforts to reduce that place, as well as all other posts belonging to the French in those parts.
Amherst received Pitt's letter relatively expeditiously, as he wrote to Colonel John Bradstreet from his winter quarters in New York City on February 16, 1760: "I am now to Inform You, that the Packett has brought me Letters from Mr. Secretary Pitt, directing me to make all necessary preparations for pushing the War with the utmost Vigour as early in the Year as the Season will permit, and thereby Compleat the great work so Successfully begun of rendering His Majesty entire Master of Canada." As the senior British general officer in North America, General Jeffery Amherst was to play the lead role in the campaign that Pitt had just called for.
Amherst was born in 1717, and had entered military service as a cornet with Major General John Ligonier's Regiment of Horse in 1735. His most significant military service had been as an aide-de-camp to General Ligonier in Flanders during the War of the Austrian Succession. Serving under this highly skilled, aggressive, and efficient commander throughout the European continent, Amherst had the opportunity to observe a true master at work. He had been present at the engagements at Dettingen in 1743 and Fontenoy in 1745. Amherst clearly impressed General Ligonier throughout this war. In the Campaign of 1747, Amherst became aide to William, Duke of Cumberland, the son of King George II, who had saved his father's monarchy at Culloden in April 1746.4 He had the opportunity both to observe the duke closely and to impress him.
Early in the Seven Years' War in Europe, Amherst briefly served under the well-regarded Prussian general Prince Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, who commanded a Hanoverian "Army of Observation" cooperating with the British in Flanders. Amherst and the Duke of Brunswick doubtless had discussions regarding military leadership, administration, and logistics while serving together in what was then regarded as "the cockpit of Europe."
When Pitt determined to replace the British military leadership in North America with younger, more active commanders, General Ligonier (by now the overall British Commander in Chief) recommended Amherst for the position. Amherst was at this time a relatively junior colonel, and although King George II "took a lot of persuading" he eventually approved the appointment of Amherst as a major general responsible for commanding the British combined naval and land operation in 1758 against Louisburg, the strongest and most prominent French fortress in New France. The fort on Cape Breton Island was generally considered to be the guardian of the North Atlantic gate to Canada. Amherst crossed the North Atlantic barely in time to join the army already en route to Louisburg. He had immediately taken charge and promptly directed the capture of Louisbourg. Late in 1758 Amherst was appointed commander in chief in North America, and he personally commanded one of the three major British columns, directed against French Fort Carillon, in the 1759 campaign. Under his leadership, the British won three great victories in North America, with the captures of Quebec, Fort Carillon, and Fort Niagara. Amherst proved himself to be a highly capable and competent senior general.
The situation in February 1760 reflected the major accomplishments of the British Army and Royal Navy in North America during the previous campaign season. In the eastern Saint Lawrence River Valley, Major General James Wolfe had won a great victory at Quebec in September 1759. In the process, both Wolfe and the French commander, the Marquis de Montcalm, were killed. Wolfe's army had occupied the premier city of Canada, Quebec, which had been badly battered by the summer's siege. To secure their prize, the British had installed a substantial winter garrison in Quebec under the command of one of Wolfe's Brigade commanders, Brigadier General James Murray. To the south, Amherst himself had led a British army up the Hudson River–Lake George–Lake Champlain corridor in 1759 and had engaged Fort Carillon at Ticonderoga in a formal siege. The French had left behind a minor caretaking garrison to delay Amherst. Before this garrison retreated, they detonated the powder magazine in the southeast bastion, and in the resulting maelstrom the stone and timber French fort was partially burned. Shortly thereafter, the small French garrison of Fort Saint Frederick at Crown Point similarly detonated their magazine and withdrew down Lake Champlain. Once at Crown Point, Amherst's advance was stymied by the need to construct a naval flotilla. There were no roads at the time around Lake Champlain, and the French operated a small but effective naval force that dominated the lake. Amherst had to first construct and then operate a fleet on Lake Champlain. He would engage and defeat the French flotilla in the fall of 1759, but this came too late in the campaign season for him to exploit his victory. While Amherst was waiting for his vessels to be built, he occupied his time by performing minimal repairs to Fort Ticonderoga. He also constructed Fort Crown Point, an enormous new fortification, to guard against any future French counterattack up Lake Champlain from Canada. He dispatched a strong ranger corps commanded by New Hampshire major Robert Rogers against the Indian village of Saint Francis, which for decades had been a source of trouble for New England. Rogers succeeded in his mission and destroyed the village, but his rangers took serious casualties during their withdrawal through the wilderness. The British armies also gained a major success when a strong column captured Fort Niagara, effectively sundering all posts on the Great Lakes from the remainder of Canada. Although this siege had been successfully concluded by July 1759, one of Amherst's key subordinates, Brigadier General Thomas Gage, had failed to exploit that accomplishment. He squandered the remainder of the summer in idleness at Fort Ontario at Oswego on Lake Ontario.
Thus, the 1759 campaign had ended with three large British armies encamped on the periphery of Canada: to the east down the Saint Lawrence River at Quebec, to the south up Lake Champlain at Fort Crown Point, and to the west up the Saint Lawrence River and Lake Ontario at Fort Ontario (also known as Fort Oswego). The French defenses were concentrated at Montreal, with three fortified positions to defend against any potential British attacks. A small force at Jacques Cartier was intended more to keep an eye on the British force at Quebec than to defend against any serious attack by that garrison. A strong fortified position at the island of Îsle aux Noix was to safeguard the Richelieu River from any invasion down Lake Champlain. Another strong fortified position in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River, near the Catholic mission Fort de La Présentation, was to obstruct any British line of advance up the river.
To prepare for the campaign of 1760, Amherst opened negotiations with the numerous Indian nations that inhabited the interior of the continent. Amherst regularly corresponded with Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern Department, regarding diplomacy and relationships with the various First Nations.
William Johnson, born in Ireland in 1715, had moved to the Mohawk Valley in New York colony in 1738 to manage the large estates of his uncle, British admiral Peter Warren. Over the next ten years, Johnson established himself as one of the most prominent residents of the Mohawk Valley, and purchased thousands of acres for his own. Johnson was physically powerful, personable, intelligent, hard working, and ambitious. He established profitable trading relationships with the Indians of the region. Johnson was adopted into the Mohawk Tribe of the Iroquois Confederation, and eventually became regarded as a Chief of the Nation. Active in the New York militia, during King George's War he had been effective at raising and dispatching Mohawk raiding parties against Canada. By 1755 he was a senior officer in the militia, and agent to the Iroquois Confederation. Accordingly, he commanded the provincial column operating against Fort Saint Frederick on Lake Champlain. His victory at Lake George in September 1755 was one of only two British successes that year, and King George II rewarded him with a baronetcy and the appointment as the Northern Superintendent of Indian Affairs in North America. Johnson had raised New York provincial militia in an attempt to relieve Fort William Henry in 1757, and led a large force of Iroquois warriors in the 1758 expedition against Fort Carillon. In 1759 he had marched at the head of a similar large contingent of Iroquois warriors against Fort Niagara, had assumed command when General Prideaux was killed, and had received the French surrender to considerable acclaim.7 During the preparation for the campaign, Johnson and Amherst worked closely together to plan and prepare for the coming operations.
In late April, Amherst traveled up the Hudson to Fort George. Although it was spring, the river was frosty and speckled with ice. Here he met with Johnson and representatives of a number of Indian nations and presented a formal speech at the small fort on April 27, 1760. Amherst promised the friendship of the British, and laid the foundation for the participation of various Indian tribes in the forthcoming campaign. He also promised, "I mean not to take any of your Lands." He then proposed arrangements for leasing land for military posts and their necessary gardens, noting that "they shall remain your absolute Property." He assured the Indians that he would "promise you some Presents as a Consideration for the Land where such Forts & trading Houses are or may be built upon." These commitments by Amherst as an official representative of "the King my Master" would eventually be formalized by Sir William Johnson later that summer and fall into the treaties of Oswegatchie and Caughanawaga.
Although the French army in Canada was rather the worse for wear as a result of the heavy engagements and defeats of 1759, it remained a potent striking force. With the highly capable and experienced François de Gaston, Chevalier de Lévis in command, it retained the ability to launch at least one formidable counterattack. De Lévis would carefully and craftily weigh the odds and, when he adjudged the moment to be right, aggressively carry the fight to the British.
Thus, Amherst faced a complicated tactical challenge. His three armies at Fort Ontario at Oswego, Fort Crown Point on Lake Champlain, and Quebec formed the rim of a wheel, while a smaller but still formidable French army held the hub at Montreal. Amherst determined to proceed along three axes of advance: west from Quebec on the Saint Lawrence River, north on Lake Champlain, and east from Oswego on Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River. His intent was "that I may force them to divide their Troops, which will Weaken them in every Part, and that I may press on them as nearly as may be, by those Routes at the same time." This book will examine how Jeffery Amherst overcame this challenge and exercised successful command and control, as it was practiced by the British army in the middle part of the eighteenth century, to defeat and conquer Canada.
Under his orders from Pitt, Amherst's mission was straightforward enough: seize Canada to contribute to the collapse of New France. The specifics were left entirely up to Amherst, who decided to launch columns from each of the three bases that had been established in the successful campaigns of 1759. The capital of Montreal would be the objective of the 1760 campaign. Amherst himself would lead the largest army down the Saint Lawrence River from the logistical base at Fort Oswego. Colonel William Haviland commanded another major column that would continue Amherst's campaign of the previous fall north down Lake Champlain. Finally, Brigadier General James Murray led a column principally employing Royal Navy vessels operating from Quebec to Montreal on the Saint Lawrence River. If Amherst could successfully concentrate these three armies in front of Montreal, he would possess more than adequate combat power to subdue the considerably smaller French army. As British army commander in North America, Amherst would guide the British regiments, artillery, and naval vessels toward this end.
One modern combat veteran has famously stated that "The business of the military in war is killing people and breaking things." Although often quoted, this adage is entirely inaccurate. Any military leader, of any rank, has to possess a range of certain characteristics. An effective military leader has to be self-confident (sometimes to the point of arrogance or egotism), self-reliant, proud, and resolute. He has to be courageous, brave, determined, focused, and dynamic. Most effective military leaders also have to be ambitious. As one example, Civil War brigadier general John White Geary would write to a U.S. senator in 1862, "He that is without ambition is unworthy to wear a sword." In short, leaders have to be strong and committed men. In battle, the actual contest is between two military leaders rather than between two military forces. A victorious leader utilizes his military might, which sometimes in fact does entail killing people and breaking things, to shatter the will of his opponent, to destroy his resolution and confidence, and to eliminate his focus and determination. An effective military leader breaks the will, morale, confidence, and resolve of his opponent. Military defeat is something that happens inside the mind of a leader.
It must be noted that this result is often achieved by separating the leader from his subordinates. The effective application of violence serves this purpose quite well, but there are other techniques. During this campaign, Brigadier General James Murray, who commanded Amherst's column on the Saint Lawrence River, effectively employed maneuvers and measures directed against the Canadian population to outflank the French military opposition, and to divide the militia and Indians from the cause of Canada.
The core of General Jeffery Amherst's strategy was to defeat not the armies of Canada, but a single man, Pierre François de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnal, the governor of Canada. The Marquis de Vaudreuil was born in Quebec in 1698, when his father was governor of Canada. He had briefly served in in the Troupes de la Marine—companies raised and controlled by the French Ministry of Marine—and had subsequently proven himself to be a skilled, courageous, efficient, and ambitious leader and administrator. When he was appointed as governor in 1755, he was the first Canadian-born governor of the colony. The Marquis de Vaudreuil was absolutely committed to the cause of France, and until Amherst could crush his resolve to defend that colony, Canada would remain undefeated.
As the New Year of 1760 was ushered in with a round of social events in the capital city of Montreal, Governor de Vaudreuil's Canada found itself in desperate straits. In 1755 and 1756 Canada had been reinforced by over three thousand French regulars, who had put a serious strain on the agricultural resources of the settlement. Canada was barely self-sufficient at the onset of hostilities. Exacerbating the situation, the harvests of 1756, 1757, and 1758 had been meager. An aggressively prosecuted British blockade had become progressively more efficient every year and had limited supplies arriving from the home country. The operations of General Wolfe around Quebec in the summer of 1759 had devastated the agricultural production of that region, the longest occupied and most well established of New France. Continuous militia service had seriously reduced the availability of labor and doubtless played a role in the three successive years of poor harvests. By 1759 the island of Montreal "was so depopulated that the crop had to be gathered by a common effort, and even though women and girls, old men and boys all turned out, the work went slowly." Eventually, de Lévis was forced to detach militia from his already depleted army to bring in the harvest. By 1760, agriculture in Canada had for all practical purposes collapsed. Because of the large militia drafts over several years, numerous farms had gone out of cultivation. Many holdings had been abandoned when militiamen failed to return from campaign, and the supply of livestock had been seriously depleted as animals had been taken from the farm fields for military purposes. The dire shortage of provisions severely constrained French military operations.
Excerpted from All Canada in the Hands of the British by Douglas R. Cubbison. Copyright © 2014 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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