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CHAPTER 5: The Compagnies Franches de la Marine of Canada

Organization Of Expeditions (2 pages)

A New Way of War

Captain Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville

Captain Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville
(Click image to enlarge)

Hertel de La Fresnière believed that a mixed force, consisting of men familiar with the climate and accustomed to long, exhausting journeys across woods and rivers, could deliver blows deep within enemy territory. The ideal war party was composed, he believed, of Canadian officers with an excellent knowledge of the country and Amerindian customs; a few hardened, elite soldiers from the regular troops; coureurs de bois; "Canadian voyageurs" (as the canoeists and transporters were known); and allied Amerindians. Finally, the commanding officer of this corps should adopt a flexible form of command, while preserving its military form. It should not be forgotten that the Amerindians were allies, not subordinates. They could change their minds at any time. It was therefore necessary to employ diplomacy in order to maintain their enthusiasm and respect.

Logistics occupied a very important place in expeditions of this kind, in which the party could rely only on what it had brought in order to survive. Since speed was of the essence, only the strict minimum was taken along. Ideally, food, tools, weapons and ammunition were loaded on canoes, and caches were made along the route for the return. The food was not very appetizing but was nourishing: mostly corn and dry peas, dried meat, and hard biscuits. This was occasionally augmented by some game or fish, but all hunting ceased when enemy territory neared. All that remained then to keep spirits and courage high were fortifying shots of brandy. As the party approached the enemy fort, the canoes were hidden and the rest of the journey was made on foot, through the woods, with each man carrying his own pack. If all went well, they arrived within sight of the enemy fort without having been detected.

On winter expeditions, the canoes were replaced by sleds and the men donned snowshoes. They had to be dressed and equipped in the Canadian way, carrying only light, useful arms: guns and hatchets for the officers, petty officers, and soldiers; and hunting guns, hatchets and knives for the Canadian volunteers. Halberds and tricorn hats were not called for!

These general conditions applied as well to the Amerindians participating in the raids. They attacked with extraordinary ardour, sowing terror in their wake, and were matchless scouts. However, it was impossible to bend them to European discipline because "there [was] no subordination among them and their chiefs [had] no right" [58] to command warriors, only to suggest certain courses of action. The Amerindians therefore constituted an independent entity which could not be integrated. In addition, when Amerindians thought they might be defeated, they withdrew rapidly from battle. This was another factor which Canadian tacticians had to take into account.

Additional Images (Click image to enlarge)

  • A military expedition moving by canoe