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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


(July 9, 2009)

Mortars in Louisbourg

By Sandy Balcolm, Historian

Mortars in the 18th century were a type of artillery cast in iron or brass that fired explosive shells in a high trajectory. They consisted of a short squat barrel, typically set at 45’ on a stout carriage bed. Mortar barrels were either cast whole with the bed or with trunnions and were removable from their beds. Mortars varied in size with the largest ones (12
to 13 inch (30.4 to 33.0 cm) bore) firing shells that weighed close to 200 pounds (90 kg).

Because of their high trajectory fire, mortars were valued in siege warfare as they could fire over walls either in attack or in defence. In both sieges, mortars played key roles for Louisbourg’s attackers and the defenders. In 1745, a significant turning point in the first siege came late in the siege when the New Englanders used a large mortar on Lighthouse
Point to silence the Island Battery (a critical harbour-entrance defence). For their part, French gunners used a large mortar (nicknamed le Comte de Maurepas), mounted near the right flank of the King’s Bastion to slow siege battery operations against the town.

In 1758, during the significantly larger second siege, the French used 12 large iron or brass mortars (10” bore or larger) and 5 smaller mortars in the town’s defence. A key moment in the second siege came when an exploding British mortar shell started a fire on a large French warship, which then spread to two nearby French warships, destroying them as well.

After 1758, the British took away serviceable artillery pieces as they gradually reduced and then abandoned Louisbourg’s defences.

(By Sandy Balcom)