The Sherwood Foresters

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The 45th Regiment of Foot (Sherwood Foresters) won their first battle honours at Louisburg, Canada.

 

The Sherwood Foresters began its history in 1741 when England was committed to war against the French and a battalion was raised under a Colonel Houghton. Posted to Gibraltar in 1745 at the declaration of war between Britain and France, the regiment was sent a year later to America to assist the settlers against the French. With the peace of 1748 the regiment was withdrawn to Nova Scotia and in 1751 it became the 45th Regiment of Foot.

In 1754 war broke out again in North America over disputes between Britain and its American colonies with the French and their Algonquian allies over lucrative fur-trading posts and fishing rights off the coast of Newfoundland. And France hoped to unite, through a chain of forts, its Canadian possessions as far south as New Orleans.

During the first two years of the war the French were successful, winning a surprising victory in defending Fort Duquesne. However, British statesman William Pitt the Elder appointed the General Wolfe as second in command to Major General Amherst in North America and an expedition undertaken to take the French fortress of Louisburg on Cape Breton Island.

Louisburg

Settled by the French in 1713, Louisburg developed as a fishing and shipbuilding centre because of its ice-free and well-protected harbour. It became an important French stronghold guarding the gulf of St. Lawrence when a fortress of staggering ostentation was built between 1720 and 1745. The stronghold covered a hundred acres encircled by ten-metre high stone walls, so expensive and taking so long to build that King Louis XV said he was expecting its towers to rise over the Paris horizon. Unfortunately the humid weather and swampy ground prevented the mortar drying out and advances in gunnery made high walls ineffective as a means of defence. The landward defences were commanded by a series of low hills providing excellent locations for siege batteries.

As an important trading centre, the town of Louisburg overflowed out of the fortress with warehouses, a careening wharf, admiralty courts and Canada's first lighthouse. The fortress contained a four-storey governor's residence, power magazines, forges, guardhouses and barracks for a garrison of 1,400 troops. The scene of several military skirmishes, it was occupied by New England militia in 1745 till the second treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle returned it to the French in 1748.

Landing

As part of General Amherst's army of four brigades, the 45th Regiment of 945 men embarked from Halifax. The fleet of ships carrying the army arrived off Louisburg on 2 June 1758, and moving as close to shore as possible, reconnoitred the ground. The surf was too high for a landing to be attempted immediately.

Not until the surf subsided on 8 June was it decided to invade. At daybreak troops assembled in boats and seven British ships of war moved close in shore to open a bombardment to cover the landing. After fifteen minutes the boats rowed toward the shore in three divisions:

On the left, Brig.-General Wolfe commanded Grenadier Companies of four senior regiments, followed by a picked corps of marksmen, 550 strong, from different regiments and the company of Rangers, supported by the 63rd (Fraser's Highlanders) and Grenadiers companies from the remaining regiments including the 45th. They landed at Kennington Cove.

In the centre Brig.-General Lawrence commanding six regiments made a feint of landing at Freshwater Cove.

On the right Brig.-General Whitmore commanding six regiments moved toward White Point as though intending to land there. This 'drew the enemy's attention to every part , and prevented their troops posted along the coast from joining those on their right.'

Major Murray under Wolfe's command later reported: 'After the first broadside, General Wolfe made the signal to advance which they did with great briskness and silence till we got very near their entrenchments, when they began a most prodigious fire from two cannon, several swivels and musketry, so that it fell all around us just as if we had taken handfulls of shot and thrown them into the water . . . General Wolfe waved me to go to the right, and in an instant we got up some very steep rocks and forced their lines which were incredibly strong both by nature and by art, so that an immediate rout followed and a great many of the French and Indians were killed.'

In the landing operations the 45th suffered no loss and for some days afterwards the troops were employed in getting guns and stores of all kinds on shore despite the heavy surf.

Lighthouse Point Captured

There came a setback on the third day ashore when the French destroyed the Grand Battery and outposts were called in. General Amherst immediately detached Wolfe with four companies of Grenadiers, including the 45th, Rangers and Light Infantry round the north-east harbour to silence the Island Battery and destroy the ships in the harbour. Wolfe succeeded in capturing Lighthouse Point and all outposts, the enemy leaving behind several guns, some tools, and a quantity of fish.

On 16 June the Grenadier Company of the 45th, commanded by Captain Sutherland, was attacked at a post near head of the north-east harbour by some Canadians and Indians but were soon driven off.

By 30 June the Island Battery had been silenced with the help of the fleet. The Fench men-of-war had been driven under the guns of the fortress, and the entrance to the harbour would now have been open to the entry of the fleet had not the French commander taken advantage of a foggy night to sink four large vessels in the channel.

Bastions

Dauphin's GateThe strongest front of the fortress was from the sea on the south to the harbour on the north, which was protected by four bastions called respectively the Dauphin's, the King's, the Queen's and the Princess Bastions, and it was on the high ground on the north of the line, at the edge of a marsh, that Amherst was pushing his first attack, breaking ground on the day the Island Battery was silenced. (Dauphin's Gate pictured right.)

On 9 July, during the night, the French attacked from the direction of Cape Noir, surprising a company of Grenadiers under command of Lord Dundonald who was killed along with several of his men. The situation was recovered by Major Murray who counter-attacked with his two companies of Grenadiers, instructing his men: 'Not to fire till it could do execution, to make good use of the bayonet and to depend chiefly upon it.' Fifty or so of the enemy were killed or wounded and several prisoners taken. Lieut. Collingwood of the 45th was present at this repulse and Major Murray said: 'Faithful Collinwood volunteered it with me that night and stuck to me like a shadow.'

The besieged seemed to have made use of every description of missile as the Rev. Wm. Philipps stated: 'They discharged great quantities of old iron of several kinds, such as shovels, tongs and the like, besides a most destructive sort of square iron bars of about of about 5 or 6 inches long, about an inch and a half square, several of them cased in plates of tin, which they called Mitraille, by way of grape shot; the wounds they give are very difficult, if at all to be cured, from their being made with such angular, ragged weapons.'

Defenceless

By mid-July the fire from 'Amherst's batteries had reduced Louisburg almost to defencelessness. The masonry of the fortress had crumbled under the concussion of its own guns and was little able to withstand the shot of the British. A new battery erected on the hill to the north of the Barachois raked the western front of the French works from end to end, and there was no standing against its fire. On 26 July the last gun on that front was silenced and a practicable breech had been made. Drucour then made overtures for captulation.'

To the French commander's offer to capitulate, Amherst briefly replied that he would accept nothing but unconditional surrender. On 27 July terms were accepted and 5,600 French soldiers laid down their arms, while eleven colours, over two hundred guns and a large amount of stores were surrendered to the besiegers,

Full Share

The officers and men of the 45th had contributed their full share to the victory: they had assisted to drive the French from the shoreward defences; they had pushed forward various small posts towards the fortress and held them against repeated attacks; and during the closing days of the siege had erected a two-gun battery.

The total casualties of the 45th Regiment during the siege of Louisburg numbered 1 Sergeant and 9 privates killed and 14 privates wounded and the regiment was later awarded the first of the long roll of battle honours which now adorn the colours.

Quebec

The 45th Regiment was later represented by its grenadier company in the the British force that General Wolfe led up the St. Lawrence river to capture Quebec.

America

After serving for twenty years in Canada, the 45th Regiment returned home but was sent to New York when the American War of Independence broke out in 1776 and fought at Long Island, Philadelphia, Brandywine, Germantown and other places.

When the Regiment returned home, the citizens of Nottingham requested that the Regiment should be called 'The Nottinghamshire Regiment'.

The secondary title 'The Sherwood Foresters' was granted to the 45th in 1866 by Queen Victoria.

Sherwood Times