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Case 4: Niagara~Johnson~July 25

Pierre Pouchot, Plan Du Fort de Niagara, construit et defende par M. de Pouchot in Pierre Pouchot, Mémoires sur la Dèrniere Guerre de l’Amérique Septentrionale entre la France et l’Angleterre. Yverdon, 1781, vol. 3. Book Division, C 1781 Po.

The army arrived before Niagara on July 6 after evading French warships on Lake Ontario.  Prideaux and his engineers were unpleasantly surprised to discover that Niagara was not the weak wilderness fort they had expected but a strong, European-style fortification capable of resisting for a considerable length of time.  Only formal siege tactics and heavy artillery could reduce this fortress.

The French had greatly strengthened Fort Niagara between 1755 and 1757 under the direction of Captain Pierre Pouchot, an infantry officer with considerable engineering experience.  Pouchot’s plan of the improved fort was published with his Mémoires.  The original rectangular stockade (“C”) is at top, enclosed by the massive earthworks of the expanded fortress, arguably the most sophisticated defensive work in New France west of Québec.

A View of Niagara Fort, taken by Sir William Johnson, on the 25th of July 1759. Drawn on the Spot in 1758.  Engraved for the Royal Magazine. London, September 1759. Book Division, Serials 1 Ro.

From the perspective of Prideaux and his engineers, Fort Niagara appeared much as it does in this engraving published in the Royal Magazine of September 1759.  The large building within the fortifications had been constructed in 1726 as the citadel of the original stockade fort.

Pierre Pouchot, Mémoires sur la Dèrniere Guerre de l’Amérique Septentrionale entre la France et l’Angleterre. 3 vols., Yverdon, 1781. Book Division C 1781 Po.

About 600 French, Canadian, and Native American defenders, under the leadership of Captain Pouchot himself, were well prepared to hold Fort Niagara.  Pouchot’s detailed and colorful narrative of the siege is recorded in his memoirs, the only account of the French and Indian War from the French perspective published in the eighteenth century.

Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, Manière de Fortifier de M. de Vauban.Amsterdam, 1689. Book Division, C2 1689 Va.

Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, The New Method of Fortification as Practiced by Monsieur de Vauban, Engineer-General of France.London, 1748. Book Division, C2 1748 Va.

The siege of Niagara, though conducted deep in the North American wilderness, proceeded according to well-established European practices.  The most widely accepted manners of siegecraft and fortification were those espoused by French engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707).  Vauban’s instructions, addressing both the attack and defense of fortified places, were first published in the late-seventeenth century and soon translated into most European languages.  The two volumes here were printed eighty years apart in different languages.  The adversaries in the nineteen-day Niagara siege were essentially reading out of different sections of the same book.

The 1689 French example was inscribed as the property of a British engineer, possibly Captain Harry Gordon (fl. 1766).