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History of the Seven Years War

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Janine McAuley

The History of the Seven Years War
Seven Years' War
During the late 1750's and early 1760's, Fredrick of Prussia's invasion of the German state of Saxony had sparked a worldwide series of conflict that also raged in North America. This war was known as the Seven Years' War. It was one of the largest struggles between England and France for dominance in world trade, naval power, and control of the land in North America.
For nearly a century, the French and the British had coexisted peacefully in North America. The French explored and claimed a vast region of the land, from Louisiana in the South to the Great Lakes in the North. This region, enclosed by four major cities: Montreal, Detroit, New Orleans, and Quebec, was the Centre of the French empire in North America. (www.digital) history.org For the British, their empire was located at the eastern coastal line of the Atlantic Ocean. Both the French and the British had built communities, trading posts and fortresses to secure a hold on their own claims.
Yet, by 1750's, things began to change as both English and French settlements expanded. The religious and commercial tensions began to produce many new conflicts. During this period, the English were getting prepare for the great population leap across the Appalachians into the Ohio valley and beyond. They were not impressed when France tried to claim the Ohio Valley as part of the French territory in the same year while they were prepared to use that region for settlement purpose. To prevent the English from expanding into the French territory, the French were prompted to construct new fortresses in the Ohio Valley. British had interpreted this action as a threat to their mid-western settlements. In turn, the British too began to make military preparations and started to build fortresses.
For the next five years, tensions between the French and the British continued to increase until the summer of 1754 when war finally broke out. The governor of Virginia sent a militia force into the Ohio valley to challenge the French expansion by building Fort Necessity and attacking a French army. The French countered this action by attacking the Fort Necessity, and the British forces surrendered. This clash between the British and French marked the beginning of the Seven Years War in North America. Yet, it was not until 1756 when the war was officially declared. (web.syr.edu/~LA roux/index.html)
As the Seven Years War started, both the French and the British raced to gain control over the different bodies of water. The dominance in sea power was an extremely important factor for this war. It was the key to the gateway for the army's back up supplies. Many strategic locations were located along the sides of the different bodies of river. Thus, it was vital to have a strong navy to gain power to control the bodies of water. Yet, France failed to do so. France was unable to gain control of the sea from the start of the war. Then France lost most of the strategic locations as the war progressed. Furthermore, France did not have a strong navy. Together, these weaknesses at sea made the defeat of France inevitable.
From the beginning of the war, the British had shown their dominating position at sea. Before the Seven Years' War was officially declared, the British army had already made several moves to secure her dominance at sea and on land. In 1755, in order to prevent New France from expanding, the British created a three-part plan: to capture Fort Duquesne and Fort Beausejour, to construct Fort Edward and Fort William Henry, and to capture the French commander Dieskau. These three movements played a significant role in the war in this year for they gave British the initial dominance at sea. The two forts that were captured, and the two forts that were built were all located near different bodies of water, thus Britain was able to gain control of some strategic locations from the start of the war. The Capturing of Fort Duguesne was especially important for the Fort sat astride the Monogahela and Alleghneny rivers where they united to form Ohio River. The British commander even commented Fort Duguesne was, "extremely well situated for a fort, as it has the absolute command of both rivers.” (www.digitalhistory.org) The capture of commander Dieskau as gave Britain some advantages over France for this movement prevented France's expansion into the Champlain Valley. Furthermore, on June 27, 1755, British built and launched their first naval vessel on Lake Ontario, continued to prove their dominance at sea. (Rude, 1972, p.226)
In the following year, the British continued to show their ambition of keeping their dominance at sea. In June 1756, England "had stolen a march on her opponents by seizing 300 French merchant vessels, with their 8,000 sailors, lying at anchor in her ports.” (Rude, 1972, p. 228). This surprise attack had caught the French off guard for the French were not prepared for any battle and the British had carried out this plan secretly without declaring war. Now, with this attack, France was forced to formally declared war with England.
France was reluctant to declare war with England for her forces were mainly focusing on the war that was taking place in Europe. The French strongly believed that the war in Europe would soon come to an end and thus they neglected the importance of the different events occurring in North America. (Rude, 1972, p.228) However, to the French's surprise, the war in Europe lasted longer than they imagined. Therefore, due to the lack of attention, France suffered an initial disadvantage in the Seven Years War, and they were never able to recover from this disadvantage. Yet, little did they know that this initial disadvantage would result in the defeat in this war.
In 1757, French enjoyed a series of victories in a year that was filled with successes. Victory appeared to be fallen into French hand. However, the next year, 1758 was a dramatic turning point of the war. It turned out to be a disastrous year for France. During this year, England had captured most of the major strategic locations. From then and on, it was all England's show. France barely had any chance to regain her glories in 1757.
The first disaster for France was the capture of Fort Louisburg by England. Led by Major General, the British fleet sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Louisburg. They were prepared for a tough battle to recapture the fort for England. As expected, it took more than a month for the British fleet to blew up Fort Louisbourg's fortification. Both Britain and France lost hundreds and thousands of soldiers. With the control of Fort Louisbourg in their hand, the British Occupied Cape Breton Island and the Island of Saint John. The British also seized the fishing coasts of Gaspe. This cuts of one of the main food sources for the French. The most important of all, the way by sea to the St. Lawrence and Quebec now laid opened to the British, and the British had gained the gateway to the heart of the French empire. (Careless, 1995, p.113)
As General Jeffery Amherst's gun pounded Louisbourg, Lt. Colonel John Bradstreet of the Royal Americans led three thousand men to the Mohawk River, near Schenectady, ready to take over Fort Frontenac. Fort Frontenac was located where Lake Ontaio joins the St. Lawrence River and it acted as the chief supply base for French outposts on the Great Lake and along the Ohio River. Thus, having control over this fort was important to both countries. Yet, after France captured Oswego from England, they believed that their enemy had abandoned the plan of recapturing Mohawk region. Therefore, the defense at Fort Frontenac was very weak. The French officer even complained "it shook whenever a cannon was fired from the walls” (www.digitalhistory.org). When the British army attacked the fort Frontenac, there was barely any resistance. After two days, they captured this fort and again. Once this fort is captured. France's chain of forts to westward was broken.
The next important strategic location that was being captured by the British army was Fort Duquesne that was located in Ohio. At first, the British were encountering lots of resistance. Despite this setback, the British army continued to push ahead confidently and finally, they successfully captured this fort. Now, with all these strategic locations under their control, the British forces were converging on St. Lawrence, core of Canada: Eastward of Lake Ontario, North from Lake Champlain Region and up the main St. Lawrence River from the sea. The St. Lawrence River was opened for any British fleet to go up and down stream and provide support and extra supplies to the soldiers that were ready to fight for the control of the Centre of New France. Furthermore, British isolated France from the coastal line, "depriving them of a great source of experienced seamen, to prevent the revival of their navy”. (Anderson, 1976, p.300) France is now situated in a very dangerous position for!
England was ready to attack France's heart of empire while France had no control of the gateway to the empire. Thus, it was clear that victory would be landing on England's side.
Besides an initial advantage and the loss of the most important strategic locations, France had one more weakness that attributed her defeat. This was France's weak navy force. Many crucial battles of the Seven Years War involved a sea battle thus it is a disadvantage to have a weak navy. Since the British had a much stronger navy, therefore, they are situated in a much better position. One of the reasons of France for having a weak navy was France's concentration on the war that was occurring in other parts of the world at the same time. Not only was France battling against Britain in North America, France is also fighting against Britain in India for the control of the lucrative trade and land in West Indies. Furthermore, France was also fighting against Germany in Europe. Thus, France's navy forces were being divided up into small forces and spread all over the world. When the king of France finally decided to send more troops to North America, it was too late already.
Since, France's navy forces were spread all over the world, the number of soldiers in the navy was minimal. Take a look at the battle for the fort of Louisburg as an example, clearly, British fleet easily outnumbered the France's. During the battle, British's fleet contained 39 warships, escorting ten transport, storage vessels, and supply ships. Some ships had as many as one hundred cannons on the three gun decks. There were twelve thousand sailors and marine manned the ship. Some ships were even crowded with ten thousand soldiers. As compared to the France's two war vessels and three thousand soldiers, it was obvious that Britain's superiority in number of soldiers would put Britain in a much better situation than France. (www.ctcsc.dnd.ca/links/milhist/7.html)
Food shortages was also a problem that had weakened the French navy. Since 1758, there had been a famine. Since all the supplies were being cut out due to the loss of the most important strategic locations, the navy's food storage slowly ran out. As the food supply ran out, many soldiers being to starve. Without sufficient energy, fighting was impossible for the soldiers. Many of the French soldiers even surrendered to the army for food at the end.
Another problem that weakened the French navy forces was the lack of financial support. During this period, France just recovered from her wartime financial crisis. However, she immediately began to resume her old active role and got involved in a war. Therefore, France had put herself in debt again. Since France was concentrating on the war around the world, thus the financial support for France's navy in North America was minimal. Furthermore, many Americans began to support Britain instead of France for Britain seemed to be able to provide more profits for the merchant. Since the economy of the British colony was much stronger than that of France, once again, Britain's navy was situated in a much better position than the French navy.
An initial disadvantage, a lack of strategic locations, and a weak navy were France's weakness at sea that made defeat the inevitable fate for France. As British fleets took over the Centre of the French Empire, it was the end to the France's colonial empire. In 1763, France finally surrendered to the British. The treaty of Paris was signed at Versailles on February 10, 1763 to bring an end to the Seven Years War between Britain and France. This treaty virtually gave England "all territory east of the Mississippi River and allowed France to retain the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence as bases for fishermen”. (www.digitalhistory.org) If France at notice her weakness at sea at the beginning of the war, the ending of the war might be different. From this, it was clear that every single aspect was very important to a war. If a country just showed one weakness, that country would most likely to be facing the fate of defeat.

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