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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


Extracts of Matters of Historical Interest from "The Huissier, News For and About the Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff" By The Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff


(August 3, 2005)

Understanding Military Terminology: Company, Regiment, Battalion 

By Sandy Balcom 

In discussing, Louisbourg’s garrison, one often has to use the terms company, regiment and battalion . These terms all refer to different groupings of soldiers. 

A company was the basic infantry unit in the 18th century. Companies were headed by captains and typically had between 50 and 100 men. Assisting the captain were his junior commissioned officers –the lieutenant and ensigns. In 1744, a company of troupes de la Marine at Louisbourg numbered 70 men. For officers, the company had a captain, a lieutenant, an enseigne en pied and an enseigne en seconde. By comparison the companies of Philipps’s Regiment at Canso that year had a very low peace-time establishment of only 30 men per company. Each Canso company had a captain, a lieutenant and one ensign. With the outbreak of war in 1744, the British planned to increase the number of men per company at Canso, but the place was captured before the increase took effect. 

European armies of the time had thousands of men divided into hundreds of companies of soldiers. To create a more effective command structure, companies were grouped into regiments and battalions. In the 18th century, a typical infantry regiment contained one battalion of approximately ten companies. Some regiments had more than one battalion, each with the same number of companies as the first. There were exceptions in regimental organization. The Karrer regiment, for example, consisted of first three, and then four, over-sized companies. Consequently, the 150 men of the Karrer posted at Louisbourg between 1741 and 1745 constituted only a detachment of the regiment and not a full company. 

In war-time, governments expanded the size of their armies by increasing the size of each company, by adding additional battalions to existing regiments, and by raising new regiments altogether. When peace came, the most junior battalions and regiments were disbanded. Career officers therefore had to be concerned not only with the seniority of their own commission but also with the seniority of their regiment. 

A regiment was commanded by a colonel with a lieutenant-colonel and then a major below him, assisted by several junior staff officers. Day-to-day command of the regiment often fell to the lieutenant-colonel. At Louisbourg, the governor, King’s lieutenant, town major, and one or more aide-majors provided a similar staff organization to the garrison. 

In the case of the troupes de la Marine, there were not enough companies to make regimental organizations necessary. Moreover, the mobility of the these companies both aboard vessels and in the colonies would have played havoc with a regimental organization. In consequence, the Marine companies remained as independent companies, hence their name of the compagnies franches de la Marine

The 1744 Louisbourg garrison (a 30- man artillery company, eight 70-man infantry companies, one 150-man detachment of the Karrer regiment) approximated the size of a battalion. When formed in line en battalion, the artillery company acted as the grenadier company and stood at the place of honour to the right of the line. The eight infantry companies lined up according to the seniority of their captain’s commission, with the most senior company to the right. The Karrer detachment, as “foreign” troops, formed to the left of the French companies. When the “battalion” turned to right in preparation for marching, the artillery company thus led the column and the Swiss came at the rear.