- Endgame 1758: The Promise, the Glory, and the Despair of Louisbourg's Last Decade
Endgame is the last stage of a chess match when few pieces are left on the board and a decisive move is to be expected. The penultimate move in the conquest of New France was the 1758 siege of the fortified seaport of Louisbourg on Cape Breton. Both British and French strategists saw that port as the key to France's Canadian colony. The author points out that the French government committed more munitions, ships, and men to Louisbourg's defence than were allocated to Quebec City's protection in 1759 (151–6). After the loss of Louisbourg, Quebec was open to attack, and the seizure of that town brought about the capitulation of New France in 1760.
John Johnston has worked as a Parks Canada historian at Louisbourg, and that experience strengthened his conviction that the seaport's importance ought to be restated on the 150th anniversary of the final siege. He cites local archaeological evidence – a source that is still not fully exploited by most Canadian historians. Archaeology and archival research are major sources of information for Parks Canada historians, who excel at presenting military and social history to the general public.
What distinguishes this account of the second siege of Louisbourg is the author's wide range of sources and his attention to the impact of events upon the colonial population and soldiery before and during the 1758 siege. He builds on his colleagues' many studies of colonial society on Ile Royale (Cape Breton). This is military history with a social context. Earlier histories treat the Seven Years' War in Atlantic Canada as a series of decisions by senior officers and administrators followed by a description of the military consequences. The 'pawns' – to use the author's chess metaphor – were removed from the board without acknowledgement of their perceptions or experiences. They were statistics. The written sources used by previous historians [End Page 164] were usually government communications and officers' journals. John Johnston draws on a wider range of material. One writer he quotes is Olaudah Equiano, an African slave on a British ship. The book is filled with well-chosen quotations from people at different social levels. One surprising statement is Ensign René Gaulthier de Varennes' ready appreciation of the Nova Scotian administrators' expulsion of the Acadians, 'a perpetual thorn in their side, whom they could at best look upon as secret domestic enemies' (87).
In addition to having a broad perspective, John Johnston offers fresh insights into the 1758 siege. Both attackers and defenders applied lessons from the 1745 siege of Louisbourg by New Englanders. As a consequence of French preparations to avoid a repetition of that defeat, the British forces suffered twice as many casualties as the French. The town's situation was more precarious in 1758. The expulsion of Acadians from Nova Scotia had deprived the seaport of a regional source of foodstuffs. The settlement's economy was crippled by the wartime interruption of the seasonal fishery and the disruption of maritime commerce.
Acadians and Micmacs (Mi'kmaqs) are described with sympathy and in considerable detail, although their role in the 1758 siege was slight. Arming and provisioning these auxiliaries drained French resources. France's Native allies were more helpful as a perceived threat, affecting plans for the British landing and for the protection of the troops who disembarked. Johnston notes that the seizure and killing of paroled Britons and Americans by Abenakis and others after the surrender of Fort William Henry in August 1757 put the British in a vengeful and unforgiving mood. Blame extended unjustly to the French troops. At Louisbourg on 26 July 1758, British commanders demanded unconditional surrender and denied the honours of war to the French garrison after a valiant defence over seven weeks. That delay prevented an expedition against Quebec in 1758. The William Henry massacre also explains the vituperative statements made by Edward Boscawen, James Wolfe, and Jeffery...