A Photographic Essay In Six Parts

The year was 1758. On one side of the Atlantic Ocean, in the tragic aftermath of the battle of Culloden, the Scots had been denied the right to bear arms and even the right to wear their traditional highland dress, under the Act of 1746. For his clan's part in the battle that cost his nation so dearly, Simon Fraser, the Old Fox, Chief of the Frasers of Lovat was beheaded and his lands and titles forfeit.

On the opposite side of the ocean stood the Fortress of Louisbourg, third largest port in North America at the time. Founded by the Sun King, Louis XIV in 1713 on Cape Breton Island, she guarded the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and the French Colonies in Quebec. She had fallen once, in 1745, to the forces of New England, but now rearmed and refortified she was a powerful force and a symbol of French might. However, there was soon to be a Wolfe at her door.

Impressed by the skill and courage of the Scots at Culloden, Brigadier General James Wolfe was instrumental in persuading the British to allow Simon Fraser of Lovat, son of the Old Fox, to raise a regiment from his own and neighbouring clans. While the majority of the men he raised were not Frasers, they were the cream of the Highland gentry and many of their clansmen. These men would be allowed to wear their traditional dress and the opportunity to regain the Lovat title became a possibility for Simon. Originally named the 63rd Highland Regiment of Foot, but changed to the 78th shortly after their landing in America, they were more commonly known as the Fraser Highlanders.

Part Two
The Cannons

When Louisbourg had fallen to the armies of New England in 1745, she had been protected by a garrison of only 560 soldiers, three quarters of whom were marine troops. However, by the time the Fraser Highlanders arrived, Louisbourg's forces had risen to over 3,600 "professional" soldiers, battalions from four French army regiments.

The Fortress' 100 cannons were tended by an elite group of artillery specialists who dressed in bright red uniforms. However, there were only 30 such cannoneers, one for every three cannons, a shortage that was to prove costly.

Loaded with a 13 pound charge, each of the Fortress mighty cannons was capable of firing a round over a mile and a half. As they discharged, the roar must have shaken the very foundations of the land. The vast majority of the cannons, however, were pointed toward the sea; but Wolfe had other ideas.

Part Three
The Town

Louisbourg was essentially a fortified town of approximately 4000 inhabitants, dependent on trade, fishing and the military for her survival. Each year over 100 ships would visit her harbour from France, Quebec, the West Indies, Acadia and the American Colonies. Although there were many families in the town, men often outnumbered women in the Fortress by a ratio of 10 to 1.

Voltaire called Louisbourg "...the key to (French) possessions in North America." With over two miles of perimeter walls cut by four monumental gates, five guardhouses and seven bastions, Louisbourg was massive by North American standards.

The architecture of the fort is, of course, typically French, with distinctive shutters, dormers, flared roofs and lavish use of ornamental fleur-de-lis. The gates were named for various members of the Royal family.

Everything in the fort was functional, there was little room for the frivolous. No animals were kept as pets. Gardens were given over to the growing of herbs and vegetables. However, protected from the chilly breezes off the ocean and laid out in raised beds, the Fortress gardens had a beautiful symmetry all their own.

Part Four
The Garrison

None of the children from the town were recruited as soldiers, because the King wanted the colonial population to grow. Most of the troops came from France, many from among the homeless on the streets of Paris. A significant portion of the troops were mere boys under 16 and drunkenness, disorderly conduct and even desertions were common.

Against the garrison of the fort, Wolfe assembled an army of over12,000 men, 41 ships with a total of 1,956 guns. The Frasers alone comprised 13 companies. This combined might of nearly 27,000 soldiers and sailors was assembled at Halifax and put through rigorous training exercises. On May 26, 1758 embarkation began and on May 28 the fleet set sail for Louisbourg.

The first of the ships in Wolfe's fleet arrived at Louisbourg harbour on June 2nd but the fog was heavy and the weather made a landing impossible until June 8th. The Fortress waited until the landing boats were near the shore and then trained the entire might of the fort's considerable weapons upon them. Both cannon and musket fire rained down on the landing craft. Boats were blown to pieces or capsized and the men had to leap into the water to make it to shore. Brigadier Wolfe and the Fraser Highlanders arrived safely at Cormorandiere cove under cover of the smoke from the Fortress' own massive cannons.

Part five
King's Bastion
At the time, one of the largest buildings in North America, the King's Bastion barracks housed the Governor's apartment, officer's quarters, a chapel and bunk rooms for more than 500 soldiers. It was the heart of the military might of Louisbourg--and Wolfe's military objective.

Governor Drucourt had two bedrooms in his magnificent apartment at the end of the left wing of the Bastion. Here he received his officers and the notables of the town for early morning conferences, safely sconsed in the comfort of his bed. Meanwhile, the Frasers had captured the Lighthouse Battery, an outpost on the edge of Louisbourg, cutting the defendants to pieces with broadswords.
The troop's bunks were far less spacious, but must have seemed very inviting at the end of their day. Wolfe had landed his cannons 3 miles down the coast and had them dragged to a point where they could be trained on the least defended, land ward side of the Fortress. For the next month, while his ships harried the Fortress from the harbour, his cannons gradually reduced the Fort's rear walls. The Frasers, and other troops, slept in tents on the beach.

Part six
The End & The Beginning

But the French were not idle. There were frequent attempts at counter attack, sometimes led by Governor Drucourt himself. During one sortie, Drucourt's troops managed to bayonet Lord Dundonald before being driven back to the safety of the King's barracks.
During one excursion by the Frasers, they stumbled upon the French army quietly entrenched in two lines outside the Fortress, waiting to ambush the British. Catching the French by surprise, and using the brush to conceal their real numbers, they fired on the French lines and the French, believing themselves under attack by the might of Wolfe's army, beat a hasty retreat chased by screaming Frasers, broadswords drawn. Many of the French were taken prisoner. It is hard not to believe that those who reached the safety of the fort, spent some time that day in the Fortress' magnificent Chapel.
On August 15, after being under siege for over two months, Louisbourg fell. The French garrison were all sent to England as prisoners of war. The taverns in town rang with voices in Gaelic and English. Wolfe later wrote, "The Highlanders are very useful, serviceable soldiers and commanded by the most manly corps of officers I ever saw."
To ensure Louisbourg would never threaten British Colonies in the New World again, Prime Minister William Pitt ordered its complete demolition. Through the summer of 1760, British sappers and miners systematically laid the charges that would level the Fortress at Louisbourg to rubble. Wolfe went on to capture Quebec City, lay the foundations of modern Canada and die on the Fields of Abraham. The Fraser Highlanders gained a reputation for extreme courage and Simon Fraser managed to regain some of the former Lovat lands in 1774, by a special Act of Parliament, in recognition of his military service to the Crown, and by the payment of some 20,000 Pounds Sterling. However, the title of Lord Lovat was not restored, either to Simon or to his younger half-brother, Archibald Campbell Fraser, who inherited the Lovat lands on the death of Simon in 1782. When Archibald died in 1815, the original line of Lovat Frasers ended. The Lovat titles were non-existent from 1747 until 1857, when Thomas Fraser of Strichen succeeded in proving his hereditary claim to the satisfaction of The Lord Lyon.
In June of 1961 Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker announced the decision to reconstruct Louisbourg on the original site and over the next thirty years the great Fortress gradually returned to life. It is now one of the major tourist attractions on Cape Breton Island.
For more on Louisbourg see: Fortress of Louisbourg
For more on the Frasers in Canada see: Clan Fraser Society of Canada
For artists impressions of the Battle and a Portrait of Wolfe visit: Canadian Heritage Gallery