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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 20, 2005)
Spiking guns at the Royal Battery, 1745
By Sandy Balcom
One of the controversial events of the first siege was the spiking, rather than the destruction, of the cannons at the Royal Battery. The battery had 28 36-livres guns, while there were only 12 others at the Pièce de la Grave Battery. These were Louisbourg’s largest guns and the captured guns were the first to bombard the town and the Island Battery. It is charged that the New Englanders were aided by the fact that the guns had been improperly spiked.
The orders that acting commandant Louis du Pont du Chambon gave to Captain François-Nicolas Chassin de Thierry stated that he could abandon the battery after spiking the cannons and bringing most of the military and food stores to Louisbourg. 1 Even at the time, there were charges that the cannons were not properly spiked. French sea captain and militia officer Gilles Lacroix-Girard commented about the battery’s abandonment that “les canons ont été encloués assez mal”. 2
In spite of these charges, the problem lay principally with the nature of spiking. The procedure involved blocking the touchhole with a nail or metal ramrod, so that the obstruction could not be pulled out quickly but would have to be drilled out slowly by hand. Spiking therefore only incapacitated guns until the touchholes could be drilled out. While tedious, the work was a matter of hours not days.
The day after the capture of the Royal Battery, the New Englanders had already drilled out the touchhole of one cannon and were able to fire on the town. The following day, they had three more cannons cleared. On the fourth day after the battery’s capture, Seth Pomeroy received orders to supervise the work of approximately 20 smiths at the Royal Battery to continue clearing the touch holes. 3 As Pomeroy reported having to drill out the touchholes, one must conclude that the French spiked the guns properly.
Could the guns have been destroyed more effectively you ask? There were a variety of ways to make the guns useless. The trunnions could be knocked off, two cannons could be fired facing muzzle to muzzle, or they could be overloaded with an oversized powder charge and additional balls to try and blow off the breach.
So why were the French content to spike the guns? This action, as well as the having of the women and children living outside the walls (especially from Lorraine and Baleine) retire to temporary shelters in the woods, suggests the French did not initially believe they were facing a full siege. Moreover engineer Etienne Verrier argued that the siege would likely be lifted soon and the French would then face the expensive task of rebuilding the Royal Battery as a necessary element of the harbour’s defences. 4
In the second siege, the French quickly destroyed the Royal Battery after the British landed successfully.
France, Archive Nationales, Colonies, F3, Vol. 50, fol. 303. Ordre donné par
Mr.Duchambon a Mr. Thiery.
2 Julian Gwyn and Christopher Moore (eds.) La Chute de Louisbourg: Le journal du 1ersiège de Louisbourg du 25 mars au 17 juillet1745 par Gilles Lacroix-Girard. p. 72
3 Louis Effingham de Forest (ed.) The Journals and Papers of Seth Pomeroy. New Haven: 1926, Ottwaw:1978, pp. 22-3.
4 George Rawlyk, Yankees at Louisbourg. Orono: 1968, pp. 90-91.