French & Indian/Seven Years' War

1758-1759: The Tide Turns

Battle of Carillon. Photograph Source: Public Domain

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A New Approach in North America

For 1758, the British government, now headed by the Duke of Newcastle as prime minister and William Pitt as secretary of state, turned its attention to recovering from the previous years' reverses in North America. To accomplish this, Pitt devised a three-prong strategy which called for British troops to move against Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania, Fort Carillon on Lake Champlain, and the fortress of Louisbourg.

As Lord Loudoun had proved an ineffective commander in North America, he was replaced by Major General James Abercrombie who was to lead the central thrust up Lake Champlain. Command of the Louisbourg force was given to Major General Jeffery Amherst while leadership of the Fort Duquesne expedition was assigned to Brigadier General John Forbes.

To support these wide-ranging operations, Pitt saw that a large number of regulars were sent to North America to reinforce the troops already there. These were to be augmented by locally-raised provincial troops. While the British position was strengthened, the French situation worsened as the Royal Navy's blockade prevented a large amount of supplies and reinforcements from reaching New France. The forces of Governor Marquis de Vaudreuil and Major General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, Marquis de Saint-Veran were further weakened by a large smallpox epidemic that broke out among the allied Native America tribes.

The British on the March

Having assembled around 7,000 regulars and 9,000 provincials at Fort Edward, Abercrombie began moving across Lake George on July 5. Reaching the far end of the lake the next day, they began disembarking and preparing to move against Fort Carillon. Badly outnumbered, Montcalm built a strong set of fortifications in advance of the fort and awaited attack.

Operating on poor intelligence, Abercrombie ordered these works stormed on July 8 despite the fact that his artillery had not yet arrived. Mounting a series of bloody frontal attacks through the afternoon, Abercrombie's men were turned back with heavy losses. In the Battle of Carillon, the British suffered over 1,900 casualties while French losses were fewer than 400. Defeated, Abercrombie retreated back across Lake George. Abercrombie was able affect a minor success later in the summer when he dispatched Colonel John Bradstreet on a raid against Fort Frontenac. Attacking the fort on August 26-27, his men succeeded in a capturing £800,000 worth of goods and effectively disrupted communications between Quebec and the western French forts (Map).

While the British in New York were beaten back, Amherst had better luck at Louisbourg. Forcing a landing at Gabarus Bay on June 8, British forces led by Brigadier General James Wolfe succeeded in driving the French back to the town. Landing with the remainder of the army and his artillery, Amherst approached Louisbourg and began a systematic siege of the city. On June 19, the British opened a bombardment of the town which began reducing its defenses.

This was hastened by the destruction and capture of the French warships in the harbor. With little choice remaining, the Louisbourg's commander, the Chevalier de Drucour, surrendered on July 26.

Fort Duquesne at Last

Pushing through the Pennsylvania wilderness, Forbes sought avoid the fate that befell Major General Edward Braddock's 1755 campaign against Fort Duquesne. Marching west that summer from Carlisle, PA, Forbes moved slowly as his men built a military road as well as a string of forts to secure their lines of communication. Approaching Fort Duquesne, Forbes dispatched a reconnaissance in force under Major James Grant to scout the French position. Encountering the French, Grant was badly defeated on September 14.

In the wake of this fight, Forbes initially decided to wait until spring to assault the fort, but later decided to push on after learning that the Native Americans were abandoning the French and that the garrison was poorly supplied due to Bradstreet's efforts at Frontenac.

On November 24, the French blew up the fort and began retreating north to Venango. Taking possession of the site the next day, Forbes ordered the construction of a new fortification dubbed Fort Pitt. Four years after Lieutenant Colonel George Washington's surrender at Fort Necessity, the fort that touched off the conflict was finally in British hands.

Rebuilding an Army

As in North America, 1758 saw Allied fortunes in Western Europe improve. Following the Duke of Cumberland's defeat at the Battle of Hastenbeck in 1757, he entered into the Convention of Klosterzeven which de-mobilized his army and withdrew Hanover from the war. Immediately unpopular in London, the pact was quickly repudiated following Prussian victories that fall. Returning home in disgrace, Cumberland was replaced by Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick who began rebuilding the Allied army in Hanover that November. Training his men, Ferdinand was soon confronted by a French force led by the Duc de Richelieu. Moving quickly, Ferdinand began pushing back several French garrisons that were in winter quarters.

Outmaneuvering the French, he succeeded in recapturing the town of Hanover in February and by the end of March had cleared the electorate of enemy troops. For the remainder of the year, he conducted a campaign of maneuver to prevent the French from attacking Hanover. In May his army was renamed His Britannic Majesty's Army in Germany and in August the first of 9,000 British troops arrived to reinforce the army. This deployment marked London's firm commitment to the campaign on the Continent.

With Ferdinand's army defending Hanover, the western border of Prussia remained secure allowing Frederick II the Great the focus his attention on Austria and Russia.

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Frederick vs. Austrian & Russia

Requiring additional support from his allies, Frederick concluded the Anglo-Prussian Convention on April 11, 1758. Reaffirming the earlier Treaty of Westminster, it also provided for a £670,000 annual subsidy for Prussia. With his coffers reinforced, Frederick elected to begin the campaign season against Austria as he felt that the Russians would not pose a threat until later in the year.

Capturing Schweidnitz in Silesia in late April, he prepared for a large-scale invasion of Moravia which he hoped would knock Austria out of the war. Attacking, he laid siege to Olomouc. Though the siege was going well, Frederick was forced to break it off when a large Prussian supply convoy was badly beaten at Domstadtl on June 30. Receiving reports that the Russians were on the march, he departed Moravia with 11,000 men and raced east to meet the new threat.

Joining with Lieutenant General Christophe von Dohna's forces, Frederick confronted Count Fermor's 43,500-man army with a force of 36,000 on August 25. Clashing in the Battle of Zorndorf, the two armies fought a long, bloody engagement which deteriorated to hand-to-hand fighting. The two sides combined for around 30,000 casualties and remained in place the following day though neither had the will to renew the fight. On August 27, the Russians withdrew leaving Frederick to hold the field.

Returning his attention to the Austrians, Frederick found Marshal Leopold von Daun invading Saxony with around 80,000 men. Outnumbered by more than 2-to-1, Frederick spent five weeks maneuvering against Daun attempting to gain and advantage. The two armies finally met on October 14 when the Austrians won a clear victory at the Battle of Hochkirch.

Having taken heavy losses in the fighting, Daun did not immediately pursue the retreating Prussians. Despite their victory, the Austrians were blocked in an attempt to take Dresden and fell back to Pirna. Despite the defeat at Hochkirch, the end of the year saw Frederick still holding most of Saxony. In addition, the Russian threat had been greatly reduced. While strategic successes, they came at a severe cost as the Prussian army was being badly bled as casualties mounted.

Around the Globe

While the fighting raged in North America and Europe, the conflict continued in India where the fighting shifted south to the Carnatic region. Reinforced, the French at Pondicherry advanced capturing Cuddalore and Fort St. David in May and June. Concentrating their forces at Madras, the British won a naval victory at Negapatam on August 3 which forced the French fleet to remain in port for the remainder of the campaign. British reinforcements arrived in August which allowed them to hold the key post of Conjeveram. Attacking Madras, the French succeeded in forcing the British from the town and into Fort St. George. Laying siege in mid-December, they were ultimately forced to withdraw when additional British troops arrived in February 1759.

Elsewhere, the British began moving against French positions in West Africa. Encouraged by merchant Thomas Cummings, Pitt dispatched expeditions which captured Fort Louis in Senegal, Gorée, and a trading post on the Gambia River. Though small possessions, the capture of these outposts proved highly profitable in terms of confiscated good as well as deprived French privateers of key bases in the eastern Atlantic. In addition, the loss the West African trading posts deprived France's Caribbean islands of a valuable source of slaves which damaged their economies.

To Quebec

Having failed at Fort Carillon in 1758, Abercrombie was replaced with Amherst that November. Preparing for the 1759 campaign season, Amherst planned a major push to capture the fort while directing Wolfe, now a major general, to advance up the St.

Lawrence to attack Quebec. To support these efforts, smaller-scale operations were directed against the western forts of New France. Laying siege to Fort Niagara on July 7, British forces captured the post on the 28th. The loss of Fort Niagara, coupled with the earlier loss of Fort Frontenac, led the French to abandon their remaining posts in the Ohio Country.

By July, Amherst had assembled around 11,000 men at Fort Edward and began moving across Lake George on the 21st. Though the French had held Fort Carillon the previous summer, Montcalm, facing a severe manpower shortage, withdrew most of the garrison north during the winter. Unable to reinforce the fort in the spring, he issued instructions to the garrison's commander, Brigadier General François-Charles de Bourlamaque, to destroy the fort and retreat in the face of a British attack. With Amherst's army approaching, Bourlamaque obeyed his orders and retreated on July 26 after blowing up part of the fort. Occupying the site the next day, Amherst ordered the fort repaired and renamed it Fort Ticonderoga. Pressing up Lake Champlain, his men found that the French had retreated to the northern end at Ile aux Noix. This allowed the British to occupy Fort St. Frederic at Crown Point. Though he desired to continue with the campaign, Amherst was forced to halt for the season as he needed to build a fleet to transport his troops down the lake.

As Amherst was moving through the wilderness, Wolfe descended on the approaches to Quebec with a large fleet led by Admiral Sir Charles Saunders.

Arriving on June 21, Wolfe was confronted by French troops under Montcalm. Landing on June 26, Wolfe's men occupied Ile de Orleans and built fortifications along the Montmorency River opposite the French defenses. After a failed assault at Montmorency Falls on July 31, Wolfe began seeking alternative approaches to the city. With the weather rapidly cooling, he finally located a landing place west of the city at Anse-au-Foulon. The landing beach at Anse-au-Foulon required British troops to come ashore and ascend a slope and small road to reach the Plains of Abraham above.

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Moving under the cover of darkness on the night of September 12/13, Wolfe's army ascended the heights and formed on the Plains of Abraham. Caught by surprise, Montcalm rushed troops to the plains as he wished to engage the British immediately before they could fortify and become established above Anse-au-Foulon.

Advancing to attack in columns, Montcalm's lines moved to open the Battle of Quebec. Under strict orders to hold their fire until the French were within 30-35 yards, the British had double-charged their muskets with two balls. After absorbing two volleys from the French, the front rank opened fire in a volley that was compared to a cannon shot. Advancing a few paces, the second British line unleashed a similar volley shattering the French lines. In the fighting, Wolfe was hit several times and died on the field, while Montcalm was mortally wounded and died the next morning. With the French army defeated, the British laid siege to Quebec which surrendered five days later.

Triumph at Minden & Invasion Averted

Taking the initiative, Ferdinand opened 1759 with strikes against Frankfurt and Wesel. On April 13, he clashed with a French force at Bergen led by the Duc de Broglie and was forced back.

In June, the French began moving against Hanover with a large army commanded by Marshal Louis Contades. His operations were supported by a smaller force under Broglie. Attempting to out-maneuver Ferdinand, the French were unable to trap him but did capture the vital supply depot at Minden. The loss of the town opened Hanover to invasion and prompted a response from Ferdinand.

Concentrating his army, he clashed with the combined forces of Contades and Broglie at the Battle of Minde on August 1. In a dramatic fight, Ferdinand won decisive victory and forced the French to flee towards Kassel. The victory ensured Hanover's safety for the remainder of the year.

As the war in the colonies was going poorly, the French foreign minister, the Duc de Choiseul, began advocating for an invasion of Britain with the goal of knocking the country out of the war with one blow. As troops were gathered ashore, the French made efforts to concentrate their fleet to support the invasion. Though the Toulon fleet slipped through a British blockade, it was beaten by Admiral Edward Boscawen at the Battle of Lagos in August. Despite this, the French persevered with their planning. This came to an end in November when Admiral Sir Edward Hawke badly defeated the French fleet at the Battle of Quiberon Bay. Those French ships that survived were blockaded by the British and all realistic hope of mounting an invasion died.

Hard Times for Prussia

The beginning of 1759 found the Russians forming a new army under the guidance of Count Petr Saltykov. Moving out in late June, it defeated a Prussian corps at the Battle of Kay (Paltzig) on July 23.

Responding to this setback, Frederick raced to the scene with reinforcements. Maneuvering along the Oder River with around 50,000 men, he was opposed by Saltykov's force of around 59,000 Russians and Austrians. While both initially sought an advantage over the other, Saltykov became increasingly concerned about being caught on the march by the Prussians. As a result, he assumed a strong, fortified position on a ridge near the village of Kunersdorf. Moving to assault the Russian left and rear on August 12, the Prussians failed to scout the enemy thoroughly. Assaulting the Russians, Frederick had some initial success but later attacks were beaten back with heavy losses. By evening, the Prussians were forced to begin departing the field having taken 19,000 casualties.

While the Prussians withdrew, Saltykov crossed the Oder with the goal of striking at Berlin.

This move was aborted when his army was forced to shift south to aid an Austrian corps that had been cut off by the Prussians. Advancing into Saxony, Austrian forces under Daun succeeded in capturing Dresden on September 4. The situation further worsened for Frederick when an entire Prussian corps was defeated and captured at the Battle of Maxen on November 21. Having endured a brutal series of defeats, Frederick and his remaining forces were saved by a deterioration of Austrian-Russian relations which prevented a combined thrust at Berlin in late 1759.

Over the Oceans

In India, the two sides spent much of 1759 reinforcing and preparing for future campaigns. As Madras had been reinforced, the French withdrew towards Pondicherry. Elsewhere, British forces conducted an abortive attack on the valuable sugar island of Martinique in January 1759. Rebuffed by the island's defenders, they sailed north and landed on Guadeloupe late in the month. After several-month campaign, the island was secured when the governor surrendered on May 1. As the year came to a close, British forces had cleared the Ohio Country, taken Quebec, held Madras, captured Guadeloupe, defended Hanover, and won key, invasion-thwarting naval victories at Lagos and Quiberon Bay. Having effectively turned the tide of the conflict, the British dubbed 1759 an Annus Mirabilis (Year of Wonders/Miracles). In contemplating the year's events, Horace Walpole commented, "our bells are worn threadbare ringing for victories."

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