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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



Besides the drummer or drummers attached to each company, there was, for the regiment or garrison as a whole, the position of tambour major. Belonging to no company in particular, the tambour major held the same authority over the drummers as sergeants did over the men of their companies. He was responsible for ensuring their attendance on guard duty or at other occasions for which they were required, for overseeing the condition of their quarters and equipment, and for instructing them in the drum beats necessary on marches and for the performance of the various evolutions. He was to be familiar not only with the calls used in the French service, but also with those in use in neighbouring countries. He was, according to an ordinance of 1768, excused from guard duty and rounds, and was to march at the head of the drummers when they marched together. [1]

The position of tambour major, long established in the infantry, was introduced into the Compagnies Franches in 1732, but did not become established in Louisbourg until 1741. The 1732 ordinance provided that the tambour major would be part of no one company, that he would receive a monthly pay of 18 livres, and that his uniforms would bear the grand livrée du Roi.[2] Louisbourg's commissaire-ordonnateur, François Bigot, wrote in October of 1741 that Governor Duquesnel had found it necessary to augment the number of drummers in each company of the Compagnies Franches by one, bringing the total to 16, and had established the position of tambour major "pour les contenir." The governor believed that there would be no objection to this step since the only cost to the king would be the uniform, and since it was required for the good order of the service. [3] An ordinance in 1749 which dealt with the strength of the garrison in Isle Royale again set the pay of the tambour major at 18 livres.[4]

For the better discipline of the drummers, they were billotted together, apart from their companies, near the quarters of the tambour major. His lodging was to be on a par with that provided for sergeants, while drummers received the same as the soldiers. [5] The ordinance of 1768 listed furnishings to be provided for these quarters: a bed for two with a straw mattress or a feather bed, depending on the rank, a wool blanket, a bolster (traversin), sheets every 20 days, two chairs or a bench, a table, a fireplace and a candle. [6] In camps the drummers were to have their tents ten paces from the kitchens which in turn were ten paces "du fond des bataillions." At the arrival of a regiment or a battalion in a town, the municipal officers were to see to it that all the drummers of the infantry were "au centre du quartier qu'occupera le bataillon ou regiment." [7]

The Côde Militaire stipulated that the daily ration for the French and foreign infantry, including drummers, was to consist of 24 ounces of bread "cuit & rassi, entre bis & blanc," one pint of wine "mesure de Paris & du crû du lieu," or one pint of cider or beer, and one pound of meat, either beef, veal or mutton "au choix de l'Etapier." The tambour major received a double ration of victuals. 8 While mentioned in the ordinance governing the infantry in encampments, it is likely that in fortified places as well, drumming practice was held at the hour that the drummers "ont coutume de s'assembler pour diner & pour souper." [9]

The early assertions that the drummers should be sufficiently versed in foreign languages to parley with the enemy is borne out by the 18th century ordinances. Each mention the procedure to be followed if an enemy drummer presented himself at the gate or at the head of a camp. According to the ordinance of 1750, he was to be blindfolded by the guard of the advance posts and led to the commander of the place without being permitted to stop at any point along the way or speak to anyone. [10] In 1768 the ordinance required that enemy drummers should be held at the Corps de Garde while word was sent to the commander who would immediately send an officier-major to question him as to why he had come. The drummer would not be allowed to enter the place further or converse with anyone. [11] By an ordinance of 1551 soldiers were constrained not to parley "ne avoir conversation à Trompette, Tabourin ni autre de Ennemies," without permission from his superior officer. [12]

Drummers were to mount the guard with the captain of their company. If, however, their captain was not part of that day's guard, the drummers were to draw lots for their postings in the same manner as the soldiers. Each captain was to give two sols per day to his drummer, or one ration of bread when it was being furnished to the troops, in return for the drummer's maintaining and repairing his drum, sling and sticks. The king was to provide the two sols to each of the drummers of the militia when they were assembled. [13]

One regulation, issued in 1680, would seem to indicate that the drummers had not always maintained the high level of behavior expected of them.. All trumpeters and drummers - French or foreign - were forbidden to demand "& exiger à l'avenir dans l'étendué du Royaume, sous quelque pretexte que ce puisse entre, les cinq sols que quelques-uns d'eux ont cy-devant exigez des moulins près desquels ils passent, ... à peine des Galeres [to them and to those] qui lui donneront mainforte pour les recevoir." Any officers who failed to prevent such extortion were to be "cassez & privez de leurs charges." [14] At least the absence of mills in Louisbourg would have had the salutory effect of preventing its drummers from succumbing to this temptation.

It was noted in Ecole De Mars that when a drummer of a company found himself the most senior soldier, he was able to assume the place of the "Anspecade vacante."[15] No one was able to prevent his moving into the vacant position on the grounds that his first function was to drum. While this had caused numerous arguments, the drummer always won his case. [16]