- Historic Sites
Yankee Gunners at Louisbourg
Gallant exploits against long odds helped the American militia capture the famous French citadel.
February 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 2
Fire from the inland emplacements and the Grand Battery redoubled. Great gaps yawned now in the citadel walls. Debris heaped higher, filling the moat. Pepperrell and Warren, whose reinforced fleet had been gathering in French prizes, made ready for a grand assault by land and sea.
It never was delivered. Suddenly a white flag of truce fluttered from the staff of the citadel. Louisbourg was surrendering.
Under terms of capitulation the garrison marched out, colors flying and drums beating, to be later embarked, along with the townsfolk, for France. They left behind them a shattered citadel.
Chaplain Moody raged through the French churches, wielding an axe with bigoted zeal on altar and images; mollified, he astonished and delighted hungry diners at the victory banquet by limiting himself to a two-sentence grace of record brevity. Spoils of war included a silver cross presented to Harvard College, but the army was bitterly disappointed in hopes of rich loot from Louisbourg. There ensued, wrote one disgusted trooper, “a great Noys and hubbub a mongst ye Soldiers a bout ye Plunder; Som Cursing, som a Swarein.” It was the British Crown and Navy that drew huge dividends from the triumph: five million dollars’ worth of French prizes, including a treasure ship from Peru, lured into the harbor by flying the fleur-de-lys banner over the citadel again in place of the English ensign.
In the end, it seemed almost a mockery, and many a New Englander felt that the blood and toil spent at Louisbourg had been spent in vain—and, in his mental account book, chalked up a remembered item against the British government in London. For the British statesmen of that particular moment had their eyes on India rather than on the bleak coast of Nova Scotia; and at the peace conference which brought the war to an end, they blithely traded Louisbourg back to the French in exchange for possession of Madras, in India. After the peace settlement, the flag of the French king flew again over Louisbourg—and in 1758, when another war came, it had to be taken all over again.
Yet the siege, one of the most desperate and gallant exploits in the annals of warfare, an artillery epic, was far from futile. There, against long odds and logical military expectation, Americans justified their confidence in themselves, confidence they never would lose. It was strong thirty years later at the outbreak of the Revolution, and its token and symbol were veterans of Louisbourg, old men in faded uniforms marching once more to the sound of the guns.