François-Charles de Bourlamaque

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The Victory of Montcalm’s Troops at Carillon by Henry Alexander Ogden.

(1716–June 23, 1764) French Army Officer

Bourlamaque was by turns the third- and second-highest ranking French officer in Canada during the French and Indian War. He distinguished himself in several major actions and is regarded as one of the most competent officers of his grade.

François-Charles de Bourlamaque was born in Paris around 1716. His father, Jean-François Bourlamaque, a French officer of Italian descent, served as a captain of grenadiers in the Dauphin Regiment and died at the Battle of Parma in 1734. Bourlamaque joined his father’s regiment five years later, rose steadily through competence, and became a captain in 1745. Although an infantry officer, he apparently developed an intimate interest in, and understanding of, military engineering. It is for accomplishments in this field that he is best remembered.

Over the course of several years, Bourlamaque was actively employed during the War of the Austrian Succession and participated in the Battles of Fontenoy in 1745 and Rocourt in 1746. In 1755, he received a monetary award for helping to improve infantry drillbooks. On March 11, 1756, Bourlamaque gained promotion to colonel and was assigned to service in New France. In this capacity he became the third-ranking officer of regular forces in Canada, behind Gen. Louis- Joseph Montcalm and Brigadier François Levis. After receiving the prestigious Cross of St. Louis, he departed Brest in April 1756 and arrived at Quebec the following May.

By this time British and French forces had commenced operations in the French and Indian War, which closely paralleled Europe’s Seven Years’ War (1754-1763). No sooner had Bourlamaque arrived than he accompanied Montcalm to Oswego, New York, to invest several British forts in the vicinity. These socalled forts were actually little more than wooden and earthen stockades, a poor match for the scientific siegework as practiced by the French army. Bourlamaque handled his duties competently, and the British surrendered on August 12, 1756. Montcalm followed up his success the following year by pushing forces down the Lake Champlain corridor and investing Fort William Henry on Lake George. Bourlamaque, as usual, directed siege operations, and on August 9, 1757, it too surrendered. Reputedly, he risked his life in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the Indians from massacring the prisoners. When Montcalm proved unable to follow up on his victory, he withdrew back to the head of Lake Champlain and instructed Bourlamaque to reinforce the post at Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga), New York. This he did handily, and in July 1758 a large British force under Gen. James Abercromby advanced upon Carillon and attacked. The ensuing action pitted 15,000 British against 3,500 French. The Highlanders bravely attacked the abatis (lines of fallen trees) repeatedly on July 8 but were repulsed with heavy losses. Bourlamaque commanded the left wing and was closely engaged throughout most of the day until disabled by a severe shoulder wound. It was not until September that he was well enough to convalesce at Quebec. Moreover, with this victory Montcalm had bought the French additional time, but little else.

The war entered its crucial phase in 1759 when New France, despite Montcalm’s impressive performances, was systematically attacked by superior British forces. While the decisive campaign was being waged at Quebec, Bourlamaque, now a brigadier general, was entrusted with the defense of Isle Aux Noir in the Richelieu River. To accomplish this he had only 4,000 regulars, Indians, and militia to oppose 11,000 men under his old adversary Abercromby. The British resumed their advance in July and slowly pushed French forces toward Montreal, their immediate objective. Rather than risk being engulfed by superior numbers at Carillon, Bourlamaque left a small delaying force to blow up the fort once he withdrew the bulk of his army. At Crown Point, Fort St. Frederic was similarly abandoned and destroyed, and the French made preparations for a last stand at Isle Aux Noir. Preliminary skirmishing resulted in the loss of several French vessels on Lake Champlain, but Gen. Jeffrey Amherst abandoned the campaign after news of Quebec’s surrender was received. Montcalm’s death there now made Bourlamaque the second- ranking French officer in Canada.

Bourlamaque’s inability to stop Amherst- an impossible task-occasioned much criticism from Governor-General Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, but General Levis, now senior commander, felt this talented subordinate discharged all duties “with the greatest distinction.” In the spring of 1760 Bourlamaque led French forces back to Quebec to explore the possibility of retaking it. He joined Levy in an aborted attack on the city that April, helped defeat British forces in the vicinity of Sainte Foy, and sustained a leg wound. Quebec, however, proved unassailable, and over the course of the next four months French forces continually gave ground to superior numbers. Once ensconced at Montreal, the end was drawing near, and on September 9, 1760, New France was finally surrendered by Vaudreuil. Both Levis and Bourlamaque strongly protested the governor’s decision to agree to terms they considered humiliating to forces under their command.

Bourlamaque was quickly exchanged and returned to France in 1761, enjoying a reputation as one of the most capable French commanders of the war. To that effect he was elevated to commander within the Order of St. Louis and subsequently dispatched on a military mission to Malta against the Ottoman Turks. He also spent considerable time writing an official memoir of events in Canada, strongly intimating that it should be recaptured in some future conflict. In 1763, Bourlamaque was promoted to major general and appointed governor-general of Guadeloupe, which had recently been returned by the British. He died serving in that capacity on June 24, 1764, at the age of 48. His passing was a genuine loss to the French army, for few contemporaries of this period could match his performance or determination in field operations.

Bibliography Dodge, Edward T. Relief Is Greatly Wanted: The Battle of Fort William Henry. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1998; Henderson, Susan W. “The French Regular Officer Corps in Canada, 1755-1760: A Group Portrait.” Unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, University of Maine, 1975; Lee, David. “The Contest for Isle Aux Noir, 1759-1760: A Case Study in the Fall of New France.” Vermont History 37 (1969): 96-107; MacLeod, D. Peter. “The French Siege of Oswego in 1755: Inland Naval Warfare in North America.” American Neptune 49 (1989): 262-271; Nester, William R. The First Global War: Britain, France, and the Fate of North America, 1756-1775. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000; Snow, Richard F. “The Debacle at Fort Carillon.” American Heritage 23, no. 4 (1972): 81-89; Steele, Ian K. Betrayals: Fort William Henry and the Massacre. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990; Taylor, Blaine. “France and Britain Vie for a Continent.” Military Heritage 1, no. 4 (2000): 76-83, 88-89; Windrow, Martin C. Montcalm’s Army. Reading: Osprey, 1973.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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