Band of Brothers: Stephen Brumwell Examines How the Death of a Charismatic Young British Officer 250 Years Ago This Month-And the Involvement of His Two Younger Brothers in Subsequent Military Operations in North America-Had a Lasting Impact on Anglo-American History

Article excerpt


On July 14th, 1762, a new monument was unveiled in Westminster Abbey's already congested Nave. Its embellishments included a trophy of arms in fine white marble and the figure of a grieving woman. As the Boston Evening-Post proudly informed its readers some three months later on October 23rd, this mourner personified their very own province of Massachusetts Bay. The inscription told how the same colony,

   ... by an Order of the Great and
   General Court, bearing Date
   February 1, 1759, caused this
   Monument to be erected to the
   Memory of George Augustus, Lord
   Viscount Howe, Brigadier General
   of His Majesty's Forces in America,
   who was slain, July 6 1758, on his
   march to Ticonderoga, in the 34th
   Year of his Age, in Testimony of the
   Sense they had of his Services and
   military Virtues, and of the
   Affection their Officers and
   Soldiers bore to his Command. He
   lived respected and beloved; the
   Public regretted his Loss; to his
   family it is irreparable.

Howe's memorial, which cost 250 [pounds sterling] and was designed by James Stuart and sculpted by Peter Scheemakers, is located just inside the Great West Door. It is not the only monument within the Abbey to commemorate a young British soldier killed during the North American campaigns of the Seven Years' War. Along the Abbey's South Aisle, a distinctive pair of marble caryatids--life-sized and near-naked Eastern Woodlands Indian warriors complete with scalp locks, moccasins and tomahawks--flank the monument to Colonel Roger Townshend (1731-59), killed a year after Howe, during another, and this time successful, attack upon Ticonderoga, the fort (known as Fort Carillon by the French) on the western shore of Lake Champlain, in the disputed territory between New France and New England. Meanwhile, the North Transept is dominated by Joseph Wihon's towering tribute to a better known British martyr of the annus mirabilis of 1759, Major-General James Wolfe (born 1727), the 'hero of Quebec'.


While Howe's modest monument is neither the most striking nor impressive of this trio, it is surely the most poignant: unlike Townshend and Wolfe, Howe was killed not at a pivotal moment of victory, but on the cusp of catastrophic defeat; and his monument alone was conceived and funded by the colonists whom the British Army had been sent across the Atlantic to defend. This concrete gesture of gratitude would be remembered-with significant consequences--thirteen years later, when the once loyal province of Massachusetts Bay was the hub of colonial rebellion, and Britain and her North American colonies were at war.


But why was Lord Howe remembered so fondly by the inhabitants of Massachusetts? Of all Britain's North American colonies, none had made a greater contribution, in both money and manpower, towards waging the bitter war against New France between 1755 and 1760. To the inhabitants of the Bay Colony, Howe epitomized a shared sacrifice. Yet there was another explanation for Howe's extraordinary reputation--his personality and abilities, what they promised for the future, and the traumatic circumstances in which those hopes were dashed.

George Augustus, 3rd Viscount Howe (17247-58), had arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia in July 1757, with reinforcements intended to halt a depressing run of British defeats. In the following month, however, as the force in which he served was poised to attack the French fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton, the Anglo-Americans suffered yet another grievous blow: the outpost of Fort William Henry, at the head of Lake George, was seized by a French army under Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm (1712-59). The Marquis was unable to prevent his Indian allies from murdering scores of prisoners. Duly exaggerated by an outraged press, this massacre marked a nadir in the war with Canada. …


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