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The Capture of Louisbourg, 1758.

The Capture of Louisbourg, 1758. By Hugh Boscawen. (Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press. 2011. Pp. xxxviii, 466. $39.95.)

The author of this book proves in this well-crafted and well-researched study that amphibious expeditions in the eighteenth century were complicated in the extreme, a fact often glossed over in normal descriptions of the events. He has produced a volume that will enhance any library on eighteenth-century military history.

Hugh Boscawen begins with a good, crisp overview of events before 1758 and the background to Louisbourg. Then he relates the extraordinary complexity involved in mounting an expedition in 1758. Amphibious operations involved intricate command structure (naval vs. land command), relationships between regular army and provincial soldiers, and the incredible problems of supply and transport. In chapter 4, Boscawen explores the equally complex problems of defending a place so far removed from France. The reader may be perplexed by the descriptions of naval actions in the Mediterranean, but, eventually, one realizes that every action there, as well as naval actions in the Atlantic, potentially deprived France of ships, supplies, and even reinforcements that may have been sent to Louisbourg.

There are times when Boscawen's thoroughness may be difficult to follow. For example, in chapter 6, he details the movements of (it seems) every individual British soldier and every British ship. However, the reader comes to understand that all of this had to happen for the siege to be successful, and thus the details again underscore the enormity of military operations. He does, perhaps, spend too much time on the woods warfare training of the English at Halifax when he admits that the expedition would turn out to be a fairly typical European style siege. Though this supports his later contention that the English officers had adopted an appreciation for initiative and independence (something woods warfare inculcated more than linear tactics training), the section seems to be too detailed for what it contributed.

Boscawen then takes the reader through the siege, at some points almost hour by hour. He analyzes the relationship between Admiral Edward Boscawen and land commander Jeffrey Amherst. Their cooperation was remarkable, with Admiral Boscawen assenting to every request of land forces no matter how difficult. James Wolfe emerges as an aggressive, competent leader. The references to all the batteries require constant referral to the maps at the beginning of the book, but the maps do help in that regard (although perhaps they could have been positioned nearer to the text to which they relate).

Except for an unfortunate overreaching at the end of the conclusion, in which Boscawen claims the siege of Louisbourg in 1758 "may mark a point that was the beginning of the end of the American colonies in that empire," Boscawen more than proves his other points: that the siege enhanced the reputation of William Pitt and that it illustrates the "early signs of the revolutionary changes in military affairs toward larger armies supported by organized industrial and agricultural efforts" (335, 333). Boscawen not only proves that, but he also provides a classic description of the complexity of warfare in the eighteenth century. No student of early modern warfare should be without it.

Steven C. Eames

Mount Ida College
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Author:Eames, Steven C.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2012
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