The Conquest

A Change in Tactics

Light infantry soldier of the 48th Regiment of Foot, 1759-1760

Caption: Light infantry soldier of the 48th Regiment of Foot, 1759-1760

From the beginning of the war the Anglo-American armies continued to grow. In 1755, there were approximately 11,000 British soldiers and American militiamen, a number that was to exceed 44,000 in 1758, not to mention the thousands of sailors and allied Amerindians who took part in the war effort. The total number of men mobilized - between 60,000 and 70,000 - represented almost the whole population of New France. This numerical superiority enabled the British to use European strategies, and guerilla tactics could no longer hold off such numerous armies indefinitely.

However, unlike the officers from France in Canada, several members of the British staff understood the importance of such tactics, and even thought, quite rightly, that they could be integrated usefully with classic European strategy. In 1756 General Loudoun recruited American Rangers to serve as pathfinders for the regular army. In 1758 a whole regiment of regular light infantry, the 80th, was raised by Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Gage. The men in this regiment were armed with light muskets. They wore caps rather than the traditional tricorne, which tended to get caught in tree branches, and short-skirted coats that were less restrictive. Most striking of all was the colour of their uniform, dark brown, with no lace, with dark brown lining and black buttons 11 for better camouflage, instead of the sacrosanct red coats faced with bright colours, multicoloured lace and buttons that shone in the sun. These soldiers were good pathfinders, trained to conceal themselves and to move quickly. In short, they were experienced in what were called "light" infantry tactics as opposed to the rigid methods and manoeuvres in ranks used by the line infantry.

All these innovations introduced in the British army were based on tactics that had been used since the end of the seventeenth century by Canadians. Soon one out of the 10 companies in each British line infantry regiment in North America was converted to a "light company," whose men wore red uniforms cut short, with no lace, and felt caps made from old tricorne hats. The British light infantry corps and the Rangers could never quite match the French and Amerindians in this type of combat, but it was definite progress, and these troops won many battles. The changes did not go unnoticed among the Amerindians - the true masters of the forest - who decided as a result that the Anglo-Americans were "beginning to learn the art of war." 12