The Defense of New France in North America. 2nd Part.

XVII and XVIII Centuries

The struggle of New France against British expansionism.

In North America, in the Great Lakes and the San Lorenzo basin areas, virgin forests separated the French and English colonies. At first, only the Aborigines dared to enter and pass through them. Soon, the French, especially the trappers, acquired the necessary capabilities for this activity. The English and their colonists could not even appreciate the difficulties of the march for them: Uneven and rocky soils, hidden by slippery fallen and overlapping leaves and strangely tangled weeds; which were hindered every few steps by fallen rotting trees. These primitive forests soon became a military means of great value. For an armed light force, able to penetrate and cross them in their hidden approach to the enemy. Doing not very long marches, which did not mean a wear on their marching and combat capabilities. Because no British soldier, no English settler was able to advance through them, nor fought in that vast territory of anyone.

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The key to the comfortable survival of New France in the face of the demographics and appetites of the English was thus found, little by little. Irregular fighting tactics in attack and defense were adapted and implemented and gradually refined. This gave the French regulars and their Canadian militias an advantage in operational strategy.

And, as a corollary, they gained clear control over the fur trade and enormous influence over the Iroquois tribes.

We must now confirm that the French counted soon with the collaboration and loyalty of the Indians. Those whom the French approached and attracted for their defense, with far more diplomacy and skill than the British. These treated them as «isolated» and inferior and the French acted as friends and collaborators. It was probably influenced by the Jesuit priests and nuns, who came to New France, mainly from the measures of Louis XIV. That offered to everyone, as souls redeemed by Jesus, on the basis of charity and compassion, a treatment even testimonial of help and teaching, and also to the Iroquois. Far from the mercantilist sentiments and the idea of God’s blessing to the English’s own material progress.

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As a detail, some Jesuits frequently went as chaplain on the expeditions to attack the English settlements and groups. And, some of the first Indian revolts against the English, after the Seven Years’ War, were due to the fact that they abruptly suspended the usual and generous annual gifts of the French to the Indians chiefs and tribes.

The bordering forests were crossed by a good hydrographic network, even capillary in some places, whose knowledge by the French and the Indians allowed them to advance more quickly and comfortably through their different regions, using the country’s canoes. These incursion marches, sometimes by hundreds of assailants, demanded the establishment of various «logistics stations» (hubs) for the assembly, unloading and storage of equipment and supplies and repair workshops and with temporary bases for the men.

The Resistance of New France.

The rest of the 18th century was marked by an intermittent struggle of the French, Canadians and their Indian allies for survival, facing the threat of the English neighbors and their colonists.

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The offensive tactics and techniques of the French raiders were the ambushes prepared against the advancing enemies. And the surprise assaults on British and Anglo-American settlements of all kinds. After previously reconnaissance the objectives and checking their means and routines.

They took advantage of the concealment of the night, the fog or the rain to attack them from a couple of concentric directions, eliminating each attack group (the Indians went alone) the enemy resistances of the different constructions. And plundering them and taking prisoners. The Indians were in the habit of taking «trophies» from enemies, to exchange or display them later. Which the French soon banned and cut off.

The English hardly ever deployed a security in their positions, even if they expected an enemy attack. The physical capacity for combat of the attacked was generally low. After the attacks, survivors or escapees alerted their nearby positions to send their militias to counter-attack the French. However, the persecutors were not very effective either in reaching the retreating attackers or in combat with them. And, many times they were ambushed by these, who took advantage of favorable points and/or covered and camouflaged in their approach.

French irregulars deployed in attacking groups of 30 to 50 men. Although their various groupings march through the forests towards an important goal, could reached several hundred of their combined forces.

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The English never had the slightest intention of undertaking an effective, costly, extensive, deep and sufficient training of their regulars and colonists in irregular fighting in wooded terrain. That was for them an insurmountable impediment to their transitability to the French settlements.

The English naval attacks, supporting with their heavy fire of board, and amphibians, to land troops and to avoid the crossing of the forests, were always effective. But, they were not used, except in the final war for the domination of North America, for the lack of means and logistical complications. And they were effective because in them the French lost their irregular infantry fighting capabilities and the favorable transitability of the terrain from march to combat. And so, they had to defend themselves symmetrically against a much more powerful and mobile regular enemy, with naval capacities.

New France is lost in the 7-year war.

In 1754, at the beginning of that global and imperial war for the domination of the known and relevant world, the population of New France reached 55 thousand inhabitants and that of the English colonies to the south was 2.4 million people.

What We Learned From...Braddock's Defeat, 1755

Both France and Great Britain then moved large contingents of regular forces to North America. Which allowed the English to force a regular form of fighting. And, with the invasion of New France, at its most important and vulnerable points, by land and sea, finally prevailed to France and its colonists in the American theater of the World War.

Rediscovering Colonial America: The Braddock Expedition – 1755, Part One –  War Returns To South Mountain

One of the peak actions of irregular warfare in that theater was the Battle of Monongulela, on 9 June 1755. When the British regular column of General Braddock was annihilated (unable to fight for their casualties and loss of morale) by the French irregulars in a prepared ambush in their march through the forest. The French were 30 and their Indian allies, 300.


The Defense of New France in North America.

XVII and XVIII Centuries

Operational Conditions and Fighting Tactics.

This prolonged and victorious defense in the time of the French colony is due to several tactical and operational reasons.

One of them is the transitibility of the extensive woodland that separated it from the 13 English colonies, especially south of Lakes Erie and Ontario and the San Lorenzo River basin. Transitibility is the geographical dimension on and where military actions take place. In its application, it is framed by the surface (and spatial, modernly) capacity of the terrain to sustain and permit maneuvers and combat by the military means. Thus, the superficial non-simultaneity of these means is one of their absolute conditioning factors.

It also has relative functions, which depend on geography. And, therefore, the road network (urban geography) and climate, hydrology (river network), orography, seasons, meteorology and time of day (physical geography). The transitibility determines the physical ease or difficulty for the passage of men and other means and their fighting mode in a field. Thus, it conditions the speed of «operational movement» and the «total time of operations» in motion.

In New France were integrated units of march and attack, formed by French regular forces (royal or of the colonizing companies), that offered their discipline and logistic capacity, by self-defense militias from the French-Canadian territory and by allied Indian warriors, singularly from the Iroquois tribes, who knew the skills of deep incursion tactics of the irregular infantry.

Winning the strategic initiative, both in attack and in defense, to the Anglo-Americans and regulars of the 13 English colonies. And, keeping the unity of central command and of the combined incursion forces in the marches and assaults on the Anglo-American positions and locations and in the fighting in the virgin forests, which separated both great colonies.

The settlement of New France.

In 1524, French explorers first arrived in North America. They were looking for a new sea route to China. To overcome the terrestrial obstacle encountered by the Spaniards in the area of the Caribbean Sea and the Tropic of Cancer, to make that trip. The failure of this expedition did not prevent France from insisting on taking control of part of the New World.

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In 1534, Jacques Cartier began his expeditions to the San Lorenzo River, which failed to settle on its banks. In 1604, French settlers managed to settle in Acadia, the land around a part of the Gulf of San Lorenzo. In 1608, Samuel Champlain raised Quebec on the banks of the San Lorenzo.

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The policy of the French crown in New France was to allow entrepreneurial commercial enterprises to bring settlers and equipment to America. In exchange for the rights to exploit the resources of the colony. But, the shortage of settlers and the conflicts that arose with the neighboring Indians withered those plans.

The Iroquois had settled for millennia in the lands south of Lakes Erie and Ontario and the upper San Lorenzo basin. And, their trade routes ran through them. In the time of Champlain, five large Iroquois branches, the Seneca, the Oneida, the Mohawk, the Cayuga and the Onandaga united and formed the «League of Five Nations«, which would later make up six.

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The Indians knew the trades of hunting and fur and exchanged their skins for the goods offered by the French, firearms, metals and fabrics. They also taught the first settlers to orient themselves in the extensive and hard forests existing throughout the mentioned area and to travel in canoes the abundant rivers and tributaries that crossed them.

This exploitation of the area’s animal resources, its fur processing and trade with France, brought intermittent clashes between tribes and settlers. As these demanded many more skins for their trade, than the tribes hunted for their subsistence. In the 1630s and 1640s, the Iroquois began attacking other Indians and French settlers who hunted for trade themselves. Also, native beliefs were affected and harmed by white activity. Because the Iroquois believed that they should be compensated by the French with prisoners, by reason of their relatives who died in these areas and by those who died from contagious diseases.

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This triggered a series of armed conflicts. They were characterized by more or less deep incursions into enemy settlements. And it unleashed a self-destructive spiral of fur hunting, its wild trade and blood revenges, that shocked New France. At this time, the French government decided that New France was not profitable for it and did not take additional measures to protect its colonists.

Thus, the governor of the French-Canadian settlement of Trois-Riviers developed an effective defense plan. Based on early warning, the rapid grouping of armed settler militias, close to the Indian attack, training of those as irregular light infantry, and acting with sufficient aggressiveness. And in 1653 he rejected a 9-day siege, the result of which led the Indians to negotiate peace.

But, in the next decade, the tribes managed to invade and control much of the rural, free areas of New France. The main reason for this strategic defeat of the French was the colony’s meager population. About 3,000 French and Canadians lived there, including soldiers from the colonizing company and regular ones, trappers, merchants, woodcutters-farmers and small artisans, and about 500 women.

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In 1663, King Louis XIV (the Sun King) decided to change the situation of his North American colony and qualitatively strengthen its defense and demographics. To do this, the crown paid some 800 women their trip to New France to get married. They were young and poor women from all over France. And half of them also received dowries and trousseau. And so, they all acquired a better future than they could aspire to in the metropolis. The women selected their husbands, touring the settlements of the colony. And, most were getting married soon. Wealth of the colony in survival means allowed the easy survival of the women and their children in New France.

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Furthermore, in 1665 Louis XIV sent 1200 regular soldiers to the colony, which was a qualitative plus for the guarantee of the defense of New France. Within a few months, these metropolitan soldiers, trained for closed-formation fighting, musket discharges by small units, and bayonet assaults, were trained for irregular infantry warfare.

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As a result, in 1667 New France and the 5 Iroquois Nations signed a lasting peace treaty. And, in 1701, the French and Iroquois signed a final peace treaty, which lasted until the end of the French colony.

By the beginning of the 18th century, New France had expanded to 20,000 inhabitants. Montreal had 4,000 people and Quebec had 8,000. The other settlements were inhabited by a few hundred settlers and Indians. This allowed the French to establish a series of fortified positions along the Mississippi. They really had testimonial garrisons. But, they served in part for the restraint and rejection of the explorations and expansionist attempts of the English colonists to the west of their settlements. These already reached a population of 2 million souls. The expansion to the north (Canada) seemed to the English to be a very hard bone to gnaw and of little profitability.