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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada





Report H E 9

Fortress of Louisbourg



The process of securing a fortified place for the night began with the tolling of the bell in the belfry at sunset, the exact time having been ordered by the commander. This was the signal for the drummers of the guards at the gates to mount the parapets and there beat La Retraite as a warning to those inside and outside the walls that the gates were soon to be shut and would remain so until daybreak. Permission to begin the lockup procedure was requested of the governor by the capitaine des portes who would then distribute the keys to the two soldiers from each guardpost who were waiting at the door of the governor's residence. The keys were kept in "un-coffre de bois ferré" in labeled leather pouches, and included those necessary to lock such things as posterns and casemates, as well as the gates. The soldier from each guard who was unarmed would receive the keys for that post and be escorted back to the Corps de garde by the other, who was armed. [1]

While the soldiers were getting the keys, the officer of the guard would send a sergeant and four soldiers to the first barrier "avec ordre d'examiner encore plus soigneusement dans le reste du jour" any persons who approached the barrier. The lockup would begin with the arrival of the capitaine des portes at the first gate to be closed, usually the one facing enemy territory. At his approach the members of the guard would present arms and put themselves en haie to the right and left of the gate. The capitaine des portes would ask the officer of the guard if he were ready to begin to lock the gates. They, along with the town major, who was to be present at the lockup, would go to the first barrier. The drummer would then sound L'Appel as a last warning for those wishing to enter or leave. As soon as they began to secure the first barrier, the drummer would beat Aux Champs, and he would continue to do so on the rampart until all the gates and other doors within the jurisdiction of that guard had been locked. Having locked the first barrier, the party would retreat to the main gate raising bridges and fastening gates as they went. As he passed any detachments stationed outside the walls at outer defences such as demi-lunes, the major would give the mot de ralliement - which he had received from the commander an hour before - to the officers in charge. [2]

When this had been completed, the captain of the guard would examine to see that all was well at his post, and the capitaine des portes would move on to the other gates of the city. The soldiers of the guard would put down their arms, and the corporal would call the roll in the presence of the officer. If any additional sentinels were to be posted for the night this would be done. Those not standing watch would then enter the Corps de Garde where they would spend the: night in silence so that they might hear the "Sentilelle qui est devant les Armes, y annonce, du tout ce qu'il voit ou entend ..."[3] As each-gate was closed and locked, the keys would be returned to the commander's residence. A soldier from the first guard to have completed the lockup would stand guard over the keys until relieved. by a soldier of the next guard, and so on until the return of the capitaine des portes who, after being assured no keys were missing, would place them in their chest. [4]

All the gates having been secured and the keys returned, the major would go again to the governor to receive any orders to be carried out that night or the next day. The major would also receive the mot de l'ordre (one of two mots du guet or passwords given each night in order that the guard might challenge, and in turn recognize, those making the rounds). Prior to the closing of the gates, the mot de ralliement, usually the name of a city, was distributed so that it might be given to the officers commanding detachments outside the main walls. The mot de l'ordre, a saint's name, was given to the sergeants only after the gates had been locked, never before. [5]

After leaving the governor, the major would go to the Place D'Armes where he would command the drummer of the guard to beat L'Ordre. A sergeant and a corporal from each company and from each guard would assemble on the Place D'Armes to receive the night's orders and the password. The major would cry: "Sergens à l'Ordre," and they would form a circle according to seniority. The corporals would form a second circle a few paces from the sergeants, facing outwards with their guns on their shoulders in order to prevent anyone from approaching the circle. The tambour major would stand between the sergeants and corporals. Inside the circle would be the town major, the aide-major, any other officiers major, the caporal du consigne "du corps de la place" - who would carry a lantern - and the corporal who would have the "registre de la garde des rondes."[6]

The major would begin by designating any detachments which were to prepare for a march, and naming the officers who would command them. When a sergeant would hear the name of an officer of his company, he would say: "on l'avertira." Following this, the major would give the number of guards which were to be mounted the next day and the officers who would command them; the sergeants responding as before. Next he would name those who were to make the rounds that night. As an officer was named, the sergeant from his company would step forward and draw a marron [7] from a sack held by the major., This would indicate the time at which he ought to begin his rounds, and the major would add to this tallies for each of the guardhouses he would visit on his route. [8]

When these and any other orders the governor wished to impart had been given, the major would again cry: "à l'Ordre." This was the signal that the password was to be revealed. The sergeants would take off their hats at the same time as the corporals would drive back anyone who was too near the circle. The major would then disclose the password, beginning with the officers inside the circle, by whispering it in their ears. He would muffle his voice by removing his hat and holding it close to their heads as he whispered. After the officers had received the password, the major would whisper it in the ear of the first sergeant in the circle, who would pass it on to the one next to him, and so on around the circle, until it returned to the major. If a mistake had crept in along the way, the process would be repeated until the word came back to the major as it had been given. [9]

The major would then dismiss the cercle générale, and immediately the sergeants of the guard would go and report faithfully to the officers of the guards everything that had transpired in the circle. The remaining sergeants of each battalion or regiment would form a "cercle particulaire" to receive any orders that pertained to them alone, following which they would report to the officers of their companies. As soon as the circles had dispersed, all the drummers would assemble and prepare to go, beating La Retraite, on a circuit through the town such as they had made before the mounting of the guard. This time they were notifying the soldiers that it was time for them to return to their quarters. [10]

According to an ordinance of 1691, they would begin La Retraite or the retraite générale of the garrison at 8 P.M. from All Saints Day (1 November) until Easter, and at 9 P.M. from Easter to All Saints Day. [11] In 1748 D'Hericourt put the time at 7 P.M. from November through February, 8 P.M. during March, April, September and October, and 9 P.M. from May through August. 12 At the appropriate time the drummers would leave the Place D'Armes to make the circuit, and upon its completion they would separate and return, still beating, to their companies' quarters. Commanders were permitted to designate certain places where La Retraite should be sounded. If any such places were ordered, certain drummers would proceed to those areas rather than returning to their quarters. When the companies' quarters or these other positions were reached, the drummers would stop beating and go, in silence, to their own barracks. [13]

The patrols would begin to police the streets as soon as the drums began to sound La Retraite. Anyone, civilian as well as military, who was creating a disturbance was to be arrested. Any soldier not on patrol duty who was on the streets one hour after the beating of La Retraite was to be placed in the Corps de Garde until the next day. If any soldier was found in a cabaret after the curfew had passed, he would be arrested, and the cabaretier fined. Inside the barracks roll call would be taken, and the names of any who were not present would be reported. No one, except for those making the rounds, was to be on the ramparts once La Retraite was sounded. At 10 P.M. the bell would signal the retraite bourgeoisie after which public houses were to be closed and people on the streets were required to carry torches, candles or lanterns. [14]