Battle of Signal Hill
The Battle of Signal Hill was fought on September 15, 1762, and was the last battle of the North American theatre of the Seven Years' War. The British under Lieutenant Colonel William Amherst forced the French to surrender St. John's, which they had seized earlier that year in a surprise attack.
By 1762 France and Britain had been fighting for eight years, and both were now contemplating a peace agreement. Britain's long blockade of the French coast had forced the French economy into a decline – and had prevented the French navy from going to the aid of France's colonies around the globe – leading to a large number being captured. To rebuild the French navy in the years of peace, it was believed that they needed access to the Newfoundland fishery and so an expedition was planned to take the island in anticipation of the coming peace negotiations. This occurred in May 1762 when a small force under the Chevalier de Ternay slipped out of Brest and past the blockade and headed out into the Atlantic.
On June 27, 1762, the French forces under the Comte d'Haussonville forced the British capitulation of St. John's. During the following weeks, d'Haussonville, under the orders of the Chevalier de Ternay, was able to consolidate the French position in Newfoundland. His defence system consisted of several advance posts equipped with artillery around Signal Hill, a strategic point dominating the surrounding area.
On September 13, 1762, the British landed at Torbay, a few miles to the north. Ternay and Haussonville were unable to counter it, so to hamper the British advance, they dispatched a detachment to guard the bare summit of Signal Hill.
St.Johns, being the most easterly city in the Americas (excluding those of Greenland), was an important place to dock ships from Europe and prepare them for further inland journeys. After the French took this valuable land from the British, the latter responded with the same tactic, eventually winning. Apart from seaboard advantages, St.John’s was highly regarded for its abundance in natural resources. St.Johns has a huge fishing industry; by 1540 Spanish and Portuguese ships were traveling to this point solely to gather fish. The land is also abundant in fir and spruce trees, which were commonly used in ships and often as sources of food/medicine.
Signal Hill on the other hand was used as a center for the defense of St.John’s throughout the 18th century. Being along the Atlantic coast – northeast of the Avalon Peninsula (southeast Newfoundland) – Signal Hill is positioned beside the inlet of the harbor of St.John’s. Sea being the only effective mode of transportation at the time of the battle, troops on Signal Hill could spot seaboard vehicles miles off. Additionally, Signal Hill must be passed to enter the settlement of St.John’s via sea, making it hard for foreign warships to cause destruction to the settlement.
On the 26th of August, British-Yankee warships dispatched by Amherst and under Capt. Campbell had reached the now British Halifax harbour, in hopes of recapturing St.John’s (Newfoundland). Returning to sea on the 1st of September (three days after the expected date, due to contrary winds), those particular men-of-war had reached Louisbourg on the 5th of September. After leaving on the 7th, fortunately, Campbell's fleet joined that of Lord Colvill's on the 11th, not far off the south coast of St.John’s. Nearing the 12th the fleets landed at Torbay, a few miles north of St.John's and took three prisoners. French commanders Count D'Haussonville and Bellecombe were unable to prevent the British at Torbay, so they sent a battalion to guard Signal Hill as an important protection summit due to natural defenses. At the break of September 15, 1762, [Royal Navy] men-of-war reached and anchored behind the steep cliffs of Signal Hill, with masts out of view of the French. The surprise was total, and the engagement was brief but fatal. The commander of the French detachment, Guillaume de Bellecombe, was seriously wounded. On the British side, a bullet shattered the legs of one of Amherst's officers, MacDonell. The British attacked about 295 French infantry, resulting with the remainder of the French (about 600) retreating to Fort William. The British then began painstakingly bringing artillery pieces up the cliff and constructed small batteries which they proceeded to use to bombard the fort, until the French capitulated.
At the close of the battle, Signal Hill was in the hands of the British. Strengthened by this advantageous situation, three days later they obtained the capitulation of the French garrison of St. John's, which consisted of just over 1,500 French regulars.
- "No. 10251". The London Gazette. 9 October 1762. p. 1.
- Dull 2005, p. 226
- "Geography and Climate | City Of St. John's". www.stjohns.ca. Retrieved 2018-12-24.
- "Signal Hill | The Canadian Encyclopedia". www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. Retrieved 2018-12-24.
- Newfoundland Grand Banks. "Recount of William Amherst Journal". Archived from the original on 9 February 2018. Retrieved 2008-01-28.
- Dull, Jonathan R. (2005). The French Navy and the Seven Years' War. University of Nebraska Press.
- Fowler, Jr., William (2005). Empires at War. New York: Walker & Company. ISBN 0-8027-1411-0.
- Further reading
- Georges Cerbelaud-Salagnac, La reprise de Terre-Neuve par les Français en 1762, revue française d'histoire d'outre-mer, tome LXIII, 1976, numéro 231
- Major Evan W. H. Fyers, The Loss and Recapture of St.John's, Newfoundland, in 1762, Army Historical Research, Volume XI, 1932
- André de Visme, Terre-Neuve 1762 : Dernier combat aux portes de la Nouvelle-France, Montréal, 2005, ISBN 2-9808847-0-7