François-Charles de Bourlamaque

(1716-1764)




Bourlamaque, François-Charles de, French army officer, governor of Guadeloupe; born 1716, at Paris, France; died "the night of 23-24 June 1764," at Guadeloupe.

          François-Charles de Bourlamaque is said to have been of Italian descent.  His father, whose name is given as Jean-François de Bourlamaque, was an officer in the French service who was killed in the battle of Parma, 1734, while serving as a captain of grenadiers in the Régiment du Dauphin.  Bourlamaque himself entered the same regiment as a volunteer in 1739, and became a second lieutenant in 1740, lieutenant in 1742, adjutant in May 1745, and captain in December 1745.  Though he is often described as a military engineer, it seems evident that he never belonged to the corps of engineers; he may however have been employed at times on engineering duties.  He is reported to have seen much service in the War of the Austrian Succession, including the battles of Fontenoy (1745) and Raucoux (Rocourt, Belgium) (1746).  In 1755 he was given a pecuniary award for two years' work devoted to improving the infantry drillbook.

          In 1756 the court of Versailles reinforced New France and sent out new commanders for the troops there.  The Marquis de Montcalm was promoted major-general (maréchal de camp) and dispatched to take command of the regular force; the Chevalier de Lévis was made brigadier and second in command.  Bourlamaque, who was still at this time captain and adjutant (capitaine aide-major) in the Régiment du Dauphin, was commissioned as colonel of infantry in Canada (11 March 1756) and thus became third in command.  At the same time he received the cross of Saint-Louis.  He sailed from Brest in the Sirène in April 1756, and reached Quebec on 15 May.

          Shortly after his arrival he was actively involved in the preparations for the attack on the three British forts at Oswego.  In June he was sent to take command at Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ontario), where a force for this enterprise was being assembled.  On 5 August Montcalm, with Bourlamaque and most of the troops, left Frontenac for Niaouré Bay (now Sackets Harbor, New York) en route to Oswego.  On the night of 10-11 August Bourlamaque took a detachment forward to cover the engineers who were to reconnoitre Fort Ontario (Oswego, New York).  He was placed in charge of the siege works, and trenches were opened on the evening of the 12th.  The following day, Montcalm's journal records, Bourlamaque received "a contusion to the head," but did not leave the trenches.  That night the British abandoned Fort Ontario and retired across the river to the other forts; and on 14 August their whole force surrendered.

          Bourlamaque played a prominent part in the campaign of 1757 on the Lac Saint-Sacrement (Lake George) front.  In the spring he was placed in command on this frontier.  When the main French army invested Fort William Henry (also called Fort George; now Lake George, New York) in the first week of August he was again charged by Montcalm with the direction of the siege.  The place surrendered on the 9th, the capitulation being followed by an Indian massacre of prisoners.  Montcalm was unable to follow up the victory, and the season ended with Bourlamaque standing on the defensive at the head of Lake Champlain with two regular battalions, working on the fort at Carillon (Ticonderoga, New York).

          The summer of 1758 witnessed the disastrous attempt of General James Abercromby to invade Canada by the Lake Champlain route.  Bourlamaque had charge of the French advanced troops in front of Carillon and retired into the defences as the British moved forward.  On 8 July Abercromby attacked the trench line and abattis which the French had thrown up before the fort.  His army suffered a bloody repulse, successive charges being beaten back throughout the afternoon.  Bourlamaque commanded the French left wing until about four o'clock, when he was "dangerously" wounded in the shoulder.  The seriousness of the wound is indicated by the fact that he was able to leave Carillon to convalesce at Quebec only on 11 September.

          In the crucial campaign of 1759 New France faced a double attack: by General Wolfe up the St. Lawrence River and by the new British commander-in-chief in America, General Jeffery Amherst, following the line of Lac Saint-Sacrement and Lake Champlain.  Montcalm, seconded by Lévis, opposed Wolfe at Quebec; it fell to Bourlamaque (who was promoted brigadier by a commission dated 10 February) to deal with Amherst.  The latter had a force of over 11,000 men.  Bourlamaque was given three of the eight French regular battalions in the country; colonial regular troops and militia brought the grand total of his command to some 4,000 men, of whom only roughly 3,000 were available for his main force.  He had in addition a few Indians, whom he found to be of little use.  He was in position at Carillon by the latter part of May, but Amherst did not advance until 21 July.  To the surprise of the British, Bourlamaque did not attempt to defend the entrenched line in front of the fort on which they had been so badly defeated in 1758.  To avoid the possibility of having his position turned and his whole force cut off, he withdrew from Fort Carillon on the night of 22-23 July.  To delay the enemy he left a rearguard of 400 men under Captain d'Hébécourt (one of two officers of that name then serving in the Régiment de la Reine, and probably the senior, Louis-Philippe Le Dossu d'Hébécourt).  Amherst brought up his artillery and began a siege of Carillon in form. D'Hébécourt made a spirited defence for four days; then on the evening of the 26th his force too slipped away by water and joined Bourlamaque, leaving a match burning in the magazine.  The explosion did much damage to the fort.  On 31 July Fort Saint-Frédéric (Crown Point, New York) was likewise blown up, and Bourlamaque pulled his little army back to Île aux Noix in the Richelieu, where he proposed to make a final defence.

          The Île aux Noix position had been considerably strengthened during the summer, and Bourlamaque continued to improve it, among other things taking steps to flood the mainland nearby.  He was worried by the possibility of the British outflanking him by a movement through the forest.  Amherst, however, made no such attempt.  He proceeded to build a great new fort at Crown Point and a naval squadron on Lake Champlain.  On 11 September a British party attempted unsuccessfully to burn a sloop that the French had constructed at Île aux Noix.  Finally on 11 October the British flotilla moved down the lake.  Three of Bourlamaque's four armed vessels, cut off from entering the Richelieu, were put out of action on the 12th, two being sunk by their crews and the third run ashore.  But on the 18th Amherst heard of the fall of Quebec and at once abandoned the campaign.

          Bourlamaque's operations in 1759 must be accounted a successful example of delaying action, though they might not have been so successful against an adversary less cautious than Amherst.  Bourlamaque himself told Lévis that the British general's campaign had been "stupid."  The brigadier's own most severe critic was Pierre de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil, who complained that d'Hébécourt might well have defended Carillon for a fortnight longer.  He got no change out of Bourlamaque, who replied that Vaudreuil himself had sent him an order on 20 May, reinforced by another on 1 June, to the effect that Carillon should be evacuated as soon as the enemy had set up batteries against it, and that it was more important to preserve the garrison than to gain time.  Bourlamaque's instruction to d'Hébécourt, he told the governor, had been copied word for word from Vaudreuil's own orders.  Lévis, who had succeeded the dead Montcalm, was well pleased; he reported to France that Bourlamaque had performed his task of defending the frontier "with the greatest distinction."

          As the 1759 campaign drew to its close, Bourlamaque was complaining of ill health, including "a return of asthma."  He told Lévis that this made it impossible for him to carry out Vaudreuil's desire that he remain on the frontier for the winter.  In fact, he probably spent the greater part of the winter at Montreal; but in February he was in the Quebec area investigating the possibility of an enterprise against the outposts of General James Murray's garrison there.  Finding this impracticable he returned to Montreal.  For the 1760 campaign he did not go back to Lake Champlain.  Lévis evidently wanted Bourlamaque with him for the stroke he was planning against Quebec, and it was Louis-Antoine de Bougainville who was now sent to take command at Île aux Noix.  Bourlamaque was thus second in command of the French army that attacked Quebec in April.  He commanded the advanced guard during the approach to the city, and was wounded in the victory of Sainte-Foy, won over Murray on 28 April.  In the early stages of the battle Lévis, fearing that his troops would not be able to form before Murray's attack came in, ordered a withdrawal of the left flank.  While directing this Bourlamaque was hit in the right leg by a cannon-shot, his horse being killed under him. Subsequently Lieutenant-Colonel Jean d'Alquier, the officer now in command on the left, countermanded Lévis' order with excellent results for the French.  Bourlamaque's injury was a flesh wound, and he recovered rapidly enough to play a part in the final stage of the year's campaign.  In July he was sent to the Sorel area to prepare defences against a British advance up the St. Lawrence from Quebec.  On 10 August he was again dispatched there to oppose Murray's army.  However, with the British in control of the water and his own militiamen deserting in large numbers, he was unable to offer any effective resistance and could only follow Murray's flotilla along the shore.  On 2 September his attenuated detachment joined Lévis on the island of Montreal.  Amherst had concentrated an overwhelming force against them – Murray from Quebec, William Haviland by Lake Champlain, and Amherst's own army down the St. Lawrence from Lake Ontario.  There was no alternative, and Vaudreuil surrendered Montreal and Canada on 8-9 September.

          Bourlamaque returned to France in accordance with the terms of the capitulation.  His reputation had clearly been enhanced by the distinguished part he had played in the defence of the colony.  He was promoted to the rank of commander in the order of Saint-Louis.  In 1761 he led a military mission to Malta.  On 1 August 1762 he sent the Duc de Choiseul a striking "Mémoire sur le Canada" which argued that the country would be valuable to France if improvements were made in its administration.  It would be well worth retaining, he said, even if the Great Lakes basin were lost; the colony had suffered through too much attention being paid to the fur trade and the establishment of distant posts, and not enough to developing the resources of the St. Lawrence valley.  Perhaps Bourlamaque hoped to be governor of Canada if the colony were returned to France at the peace.  This, however, was not to be.  In February 1763 Bourlamaque (who had been promoted major-general) was appointed governor of the then important colony of Guadeloupe, and later that year he took it over from the British who had been in occupation of it.  In 1764 he died in office.

          No evidence has been found that Bourlamaque ever married.  He was on friendly terms with Montcalm, and the general's intimate letters to him (which he preserved in spite of Montcalm's repeated injunctions to destroy them) are an important source of information about both Montcalm himself and the events in which he took part.  Bourlamaque's own surviving letters – chiefly addressed to his military superiors – are in general severely professional in tone.  What we know of him leaves us with the impression of a gallant soldier – in this respect his wounds seem to speak for him – and, rather less common in the French army of that era, a very competent officer.  His memoir of 1762 suggests a keen and original mind.  Beyond that there is little to be said.  As a person, Bourlamaque largely eludes us.

—  Charles Perry Stacey, Emeritus professor of history
University of Toronto, Ontario

Colonel Charles Perry Stacey, OC, OBE, CD, FRSC Wikipedia

Charles P. Stacey was a Princeton PhD and taught there 1934-40. He had been a committed part-time soldier since his student days at University of Totonto and Oxford, and he served as the Canadian Army's historical officer in London 1940-45 and chief army historian 1945-59.  Colonel Stacey was for decades Canada's foremost military historian.  He wrote four volumes of the official history of the Second World War along with several other major contributions to Canadian history.

Colonel Charles Perry Stacey O.C., O.BE., C.D., B.A., A.M., Ph.D., LL.D, D.Litt., D.Sc. Mil, F.R.S.C. Directorate of History and Heritage, Department of National Defence

"Charles P. Stacey is widely considered the founder of modern Canadian military history."
—  UNB Perspectives, 24 January 2006
Newsletter published by the University of New Brunswick

Arms, Men, and Governments: The War Policies of Canada 1939-45 by Charles P. Stacey, was awarded the 1972 Albert B. Corey Prize, a biennial prize awarded in even numbered years for the best book on Canadian-American relations or on the history of both countries.





Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
François-Charles de Bourlamaque (the original article)

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