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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 15

Fortress of Louisbourg



The rank of corporal began in the French service in the 16th century under Henry II. [1] A non-commissioned officer who was paid 6 livres per month after deductions for clothing and vivres, the corporal had two distinct areas of responsibility, one within his company as commander of a squad, and the other in the various guard posts. [2]

Each company was divided into as many squads as there were corporals. In Louisbourg there were two corporals per company in the Marine troops and two per 50 men in the Karrer detachment. In connection with his squad a corporal was to:

1. Keep a roll of those under his charge in order to command them "à tour de rô1e" for their different duties.

2. Instruct the soldiers in all they were to do.

3. Prevent quarrels among the men. If a quarrel were to erupt, the corporal was to restore order and report the circumstances to the captain.

4. Advise the soldiers of the days on which they were to stand guard. This was done after the orders were given in the Grand Circle.

5. See that the soldiers were well armed and their uniforms well cared for. If there was some deficiency and the offending soldier refused to correct it, the corporal was to inform the sergeant who would have the soldier imprisoned until whatever was wrong had been rectified.

6. Distribute the vivres and munitions to the men. [3]

All the soldiers were to give complete obedience to the corporals, and the death penalty awaited any soldier who put his hand to his sword in rebellion against a corporal's command. [4] According to an ordinance of 1766 a corporal was normally to carry his gun on his left shoulder, as a soldier did. However, when he was representing the sergeant, marching at the head of a division, or posting sentries, he would transfer the gun to his right shoulder. [5]

A corporal's second area of responsibility was his role as part of a corps de garde. The guard at each post was to include a caporal de consigne and a caporal de pose. The duties of the caporal de consigne fell to the corporal of the most senior company and included:

1. Caring for the furnishings and utensils in each guardhouse

2. Sending soldiers for wood, coal or candles for the guardhouse

3. Carrying the light for the capitaine des portes while he closed the gates

4. Seeing that a candle remained lit during the night for those who were to do sentry duty

5. Receiving all patrols and rounds, except those of the governor, lieutenant de roi or major [6]

At each post there was also a caporal de pose whose duty was to post the sentries within the jurisdiction of the guardhouse. As the sentries were posted, the corporal would pay close attention to the consigne or instructions given by each sentry to the soldier who was to relieve him. Inside the guardhouse the caporal de pose kept the soldiers quiet so that the sentries could be heard. Because of the tiring nature of this duty, the position of caporal de pose was shared by all the corporals assigned to a corps de garde, including the caporal de consigne. [7]

There was also a caporal de garde who was a jailor responsible for guarding prisoners left in his charge. Most likely a caporal de garde served only at the post which included the prison in its area of responsibility. In Louisbourg the caporal de garde from the guard post at the King's Bastion accompanied the procureur général or major, depending on whether civilian or military jurisdiction applied, to the prison whenever a new prisoner was placed there. With the prison door open, the procureur or major would instruct the corporal. to maintain good and sure guard over the prisoner and to admonish his replacement to do the same. When prisoners appeared for trial they were escorted by the caporal de garde. [8]

The number of corporals available at Louisbourg prior to 1745 would not have been sufficient to follow the ordinances too scrupulously. There were never more than 25 corporals in the garrison during that period, and several of them were stationed at the various outposts. Subtract as well those who were called to detachments or work crews, and it becomes clear that the division of responsibility dictated by the regulations would have been impossible. For this reason the use of squads among the Compagnies Franches would have been feasible only when both corporals of a given company were in Louisbourg. (Since the Karrer Regiment did not serve outside of Louisbourg, their corporals would have been able to command squads within that detachment).

Nor were there sufficient corporals in the Louisbourg garrison to include even two at each guard post each time the guard was mounted. The list of guards and sentry posts drawn up by Duquesnel in 1741 was an attempt by the commandant to illustrate the necessity of augmenting the garrison further, or at least not diminishing it when the threat of war passed, as the minister had indicated was his intention. Duquesnel wrote that he hoped the minister would reconsider decreasing the garrison since the recent augmentation - which had seen the addition of ten men to each existing company instead of the creation of new companies as Duquesnel and his predecessor had requested - was absolutely essential. The increased number of troops, he wrote, would be sufficient only for the daily guard of the place, once it were closed by the completion of the seaward front. There would be few soldiers available for the numerous other jobs which had to be done. [9] Two years later Duquesnel reported that the officers would not have enough men in the spring of 1744 to mount the guard at the Porte Maurepas and the Pièce de la Grave. Should an attack come, there would not be sufficient men to defend the place. [10]

The number of men required for guard duty as set out by Duquesnel's 1741 list far exceeded the number actually "in service". Even if all of the corporals were within the fortress there would not have been enough to furnish two per guardhouse on a regular three day rotation. There were five possible alternatives to compensate for the small number of corporals available:

1. They could have stood guard every other day instead of every third day. This would have been taxing considering the duties of a corporal at a guard post and would have left him little time for his responsibilities within his company.

2. One corporal could have performed the functions of both corporals at each post

3. Assistance could have been given by the sergeant of the guard. This was apparently the case in Louisbourg in 1740 when a sergeant on duty at the King's Bastion remarked that he was doing the duty of a corporal and relieving the night sentries. [11]

4. Two corporals, when a sufficient number were available, could have been placed at the busiest guard posts (the Porte Dauphine and the Place D'Armes), while only one was sent to the less important posts, such as the Porte Maurepas.

5. Anspessades could have been appointed to assist the corporals

The title "anspessade" derived from a member of the light horse cavalry who, having dropped his lance honorably in battle and being dismounted, as least temporarily joined the infantry, while still receiving the pay of a "chevau-leger." The rank continued in the infantry, the anspessade becoming an assistant to the corporal who taught exercises to recruits, posted sentries and generally performed any of the duties of the corporal himself. He was entered on reviews of the troops as "appointé," a designation given a soldier who received a higher pay than the ordinary soldier due to seniority or special merit .[12]

There is no mention of anspessades in Louisboimg prior to 1745; the absence of any appointés on the bordereaux being especially significant. However, in 1747 an extract of funds needed to pay the appointements and soldes of the officers and men previously stationed at Ile Royale listed what was left of the garrison's companies which had been decimated by death and desertion. Five of the eight companies list anspessades among their surviving members - two companies having two; two companies, one; and one company, four. [13] Why these should have been noted then and not previously is not known, but it is unlikely that they had been only recently appointed. The companies were, at this point, too small to require the services of any additional non-commissioned officers. What is more likely is that the rink had existed at Louisbourg all along, but that those who occupied it did not receive any more pay than the ordinary soldier. Perhaps they were rewarded simply by the prestige the rank would have given them among their comrades and whatever advantages it brought them. Certainly the presence of anspessades in the Louisbourg garrison would have lightened the burden of the corporals considerably, both within the companies and on guard duty.

In 1739 De Forant stated that the corps of corporals at Louisbourg was of extremely poor quality. The governor attributed this to the fact that promotions had previously been made according to seniority rather than merit. He wrote that there were several vacancies among the corporals, and that he was filling, these positions with the most capable men available. His hope was that in the future it would be possible to choose sergeants from among the corporals, as was the custom in the Marine service. A year later, before Duquesnel's arrival, Bourville reported that he was following the late governor's example and selecting corporals without regard to age or seniority. [14]