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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



In 1965 plans were made for the preparation of a comprehensive report on the garrison stationed at Louisbourg during the 18th century. Shifts in priorities and personnel, archaeological and construction deadlines, and various other factors combined to cause this project to be postponed repeatedly. In the absence of such a study, it was inevitable that much of the information available on the officers and men of the Louisbourg garrison was gleaned piece-meal in the course of combing the documents for other topics. Taken out of context, and never supplemented by a study of the military manuals and ordinances of the day, this information gave rise to an interpretation of Louisbourg's military men which was often exaggerated and incorrect.

The picture which emerged was of a soldier whose life was miserable; more miserable, in fact, than most of his counterparts anywhere in the service of the French king. We were given the impression that his uniform and person were, even by 18th century standards, grubbier than most, his quarters totally unsanitary, his pockets always empty, and his mind continually befuddled from alcohol. Discipline was said to have been non-existent. For their part, the officers were portrayed as money-hungry sycophants who cheated their men and cared little for their duties as military men. Socially the soldier was said to be a pariah, shunned by even the lowest class of servant. Children animating the fortress, especially the girls, were even told to run when they saw soldiers coming. Certainly this interpretation contained elements of truth, but hopefully this report will serve to moderate this view somewhat.

The military was an important and integral part of Louisbourg's society. The show of military and naval strength which the fortress and its garrison represented enabled the town of Louisbourg to thrive as a fishing and commercial center. This military presence was essential to the colony's growth and prosperity; military rules and regulations affected the lives of the civilian population; and the military personnel -officers and soldiers - interacted with every level of Louisbourg's society.

According to Andre Corvisier in L'Armée Française de la fin du XVIIe siécle au ministére de Choiseul, contacts between the civilian population of France and the soldiery were both frequent and intimate, especially during the first half of the 18th century. The "daily roll-calls put a rhythm into the lives of the inhabitants of the vicinity". The exercises, drills, and even punishments of the soldiers, conducted in public view, made the soldiers familiar to the civilian population. These and numerous other more personal contacts made the soldier an integral part of general French society. [1] In Louisbourg all these contacts took place. Moreover, the isolation of the colony, combined with the close proximity in which civilians and military worked, worshipped and drank, seems to have produced an interaction among the classes of society which would not have occurred in France.

The relative peace in France at the beginning of the 18th century permitted its inhabitants to view the military there without the same fear and dread that their presence produced in wartime. The soldier now appeared to the ordinary Frenchman, Corvisier writes, "less as a foreigner and more as a subject of the King, often sharing with the lower classes enmities such as the tenacious and widespread one they bore against employees of the tax farms". Civilians forgot, at times, the discipline to which a soldier had to submit, and saw only his relative independence, free from the constraints of family, society and even morals. [2] Again, this would have been even more true in Louisbourg, where the soldier enjoyed an unusual amount of freedom and was often financially able to mingle with the civilian population in the inns and cabarets.

This is not to say that class distinction and prejudices had ceased to exist in France or in Louisbourg. Those above him in the social strata would still have regarded the soldier as "undisciplined, escaping civilian life ... recruited from the most dubious elements of the population, and requiring constant surveillance". [3] Undoubtedly, their excessive drinking and other bad habits would have done little to improve the image of the soldiers of the Louisbourg garrison. But the common folk, who were the majority of the population, would have regarded the soldier less unfavourably.

On the question of the appearance of the soldiers and their quarters, we can only guess. However, matters were probably not nearly as bad as has been claimed by historians in recent years. By 20th century standards of personal cleanliness and military spit-and-polish, the soldiers of the Louisbourg garrison were undoubtedly a motley bunch. But by the standards of their day, they were probably no worse than other overseas troops. If, contrary to regulations, the soldiers engaged in construction projects wore their uniforms while working, they would have looked particularly unkempt. The soldiers who stood guard, however, were in all likelihood, turned out in accordance with at least the minimum requirements.

The use of a barracks instead of private homes for billeting soldiers was a relatively new practice. Regulations were not as refined as they were to become, even by the end of the 18th century. While there is ample proof that discipline and attention to duty were often lax in Louisbourg, there is no evidence to suggest that those regulations which were on the books were totally ignored. Soldiers were probably made to do basic housekeeping. Both the soldier and his, quarters, therefore, would be best portrayed as reflecting a somewhat relaxed, but definite, adherence to the minimum acceptable standards of the period.

The officer corps of the Louisbourg garrison deserve some re-evaluation as well. As members of the upper class, albeit perhaps its lowest rung, they struggled to better their positions socially, financially and within the ranks of the Compagnies Franches against the harsh realities of life in a garrison town, far from the amenities to which they aspired and from contact with those who might further their careers. Life in Louisbourg was expensive, particularly for those determined to maintain some semblance of the genteel life to which they felt entitled. The officers eagerly sought favors for themselves and members of their families, and jealously guarded any potential advantage.

Many officers tried to supplement their military pay by engaging in commercial ventures. Some, such as the Du Vivier family, did quite well. Others, lacking opportunity, skill or luck, had to content themselves with the perquisites connected with their place in the military and restrict themselves to selling goods to their men. This was not a practice unique to Louisbourg, and there is no indication that the officers of the Ile Royale garrison were any more unscrupulous than those of other establishments. Numerous allegations were made, particularly by Commissaire-Ordonnateur Le Normant, for which there is no corroboration. The validity of the charges, therefore, is impossible to assess. Le Normant, and his father before him, engaged in intense rivalry with the governor, St. Ovide de Brouillan. The accusations made against the officers might have been exaggerated by the financial administrator in an effort to discredit his rival. Whatever the case, there is no other evidence that the officers of Louisbourg were an especially bad lot.

It must be remembered that much of what we find unacceptable about the officers'-conduct was, at that time, sanctioned either by written ordinance or by the unwritten code of class behaviour and privilege which was recognized by everyone of the day, including the soldiers. In short, both the officers and the soldiers should be judged only in the context of the period in which they lived - not by 20th century, democratic prejudices.

A start toward altering the interpretation of the military at Louisbourg was made by Allan Greer in his report, The Soldiers of Ile Royale. Greer argued that the conditions experienced by Louisbourg's soldiers were not particularly bad when compared with their counterparts in other Places De Guerre. In fact, he concluded, living conditions in Louisbourg may have been decidedly better than in many establishments. However, like the intellectuals of the late 18th century enlightenment who wrote with an anti-militaristic bias which caused them to see the soldier as one to be despised, yet pitied, Greer damned the military establishment in the person of the officers stationed at Louisbourg, while concentrating on the negative aspects of the soldiers' lives. By this means the soldier has become a victim in ways he probably never saw himself, and the mutiny which occurred in December 1744 becomes a sort of precursor to the French Revolution.

This is reading mare into the events of 1744 then the facts seem to warrant. Military life in the 18th century was hard by today's standards. Louisbourg's soldiers endured much that would dismay the modern soldier. But, due to the nature of the place and the duties they were to perform in the colony, the men of the Louisbourg garrison probably enjoyed a degree of freedom from authority and a financial independence found in few other establishments. Rather than being the culmination of long-festering resentments or the foreshadowing of the class straggle which was to erupt in France 45 years later, the mutiny in Louisbourg was primarily a reaction to conditions which were unique in 1744. [4]

One of the reasons for the inaccuracy of earlier interpretations of the military at Louisbourg prior to 1745 is the reliance which has been placed on military manuals and ordinances which were published after 1750, as well as on documents relevant only to the 1749-58 French occupation of Louisbourg. Too many things were different when the French returned to Ile Royale to permit tire use of evidence from the later period to explain or evaluate conditions which existed in the pre-1745 years. The size and composition of the garrison had greatly changed, and the officers, soldiers and administration of the colony were on a more professional level than in 1744 and 1745. The new commandant, Desherbiers, came to Louisbourg bent upon reform and was assisted by Major Des Troupes Surlaville. (Louisbourg before 1745 had only a Major de Place who was responsible both for the troops and for the security of the place). Together they brought the garrison to military standards not even dreamed of during the first period.

During the later period too, the colony's officials were constantly aware of the threatening presence of the English at Halifax. The uneasy peace which characterized the early 1750s, together with the memory of Louisbourg's fall in 1745, combined to give military preparedness a much higher priority than it had had before 1745. Moreover, the first major revision of the regulations governing Places De Guerre since 1727 took place in 1750. As a result of this revision, many of the procedures followed during the later period were very different from those in effect before 1745. And, to further complicate things, additional changes seem to have been made to diffuse the rivalry between the colonial troops the Compagnies Franches - and the regular land forces which arrived in the colony in 1755.

Specific information concerning the day-today operation of the fortress at Louisbourg is scarce. However, a study, of what was expected of the officers and troops stationed at other Places De Guerre, combined with the fragments of information which do emerge from the Louisbourg documents, reveal that the fortress was run, as far as possible, according to the regulations. Three sources have been particularly valuable in determining what was required:

Côde Militaire - published in 1728 this was a multi-volume compilation -of the ordinances issued by the kings of France which were to govern the conduct of the military in their service.

L'École De Mars - by Guignard. Also published in 1728, this 2 volume work explains in detail much of what is only alluded to in the ordinances. For example, instead of simply stating when and by whom the gates should be closed and the fortress secured for the night, Guignard describes precisely how these things were done. His work is an invaluable source for anyone interested in the French military during the first half of the 18th,century.

L'Elemens De L'Art Militaire - by D'Hericourt. Although published in 1748, this 2 volume manual is applicable to Louisbourg before 1745 since it pre-dates by two years the revision of the ordinances governing a Place De Guerre. Like the previous work, it expands upon the information contained in the ordinances. It is particularly valuable for the study of French military justice of the period.

The present report is a general study of the officers and troops stationed at Louisbourg prior to 1745. It deals separately with each rank within the Compagnies Franches de la Marine, fret the governor to the common soldier, and then with the officers and men of the artillery card of the Swiss Karrer Regiment. A second report, Fortress Security and Military Justice, issued separately, details the procedures concerning security and the administration of military justice followed at all Places De Guerre and how these were applied at Louisbourg.

Finally a note on the use of the word "fortress" is perhaps in order. The word forteresse was rarely used by the French in regard to their establishment at Louisbourg. Indeed, the term was not only used by the French at all. In its place the term Place de Guerre is found in the 18th century documents and published sources. Shortened very often to Place, this term referred to what we today understand as a fortress, a fortified military establishment which contained a civilian community. Since a modern reader would not attach the same significance to the word "place", it is necessary to substitute "fortress" when referring to things uniquely military.