A re-enactment of the Battle of Châteauguay. From the National Film Board and Parks Canada.
Candian Defences at Châteauguay
Hampton's army was met by a smaller, all-Canadian force of VOLTIGEURS, fencibles, militia, and several Kahnawake warriors, under the command of French-Canadian lieutenant-colonel Charles-Michel d'Irumberry de SALABERRY. The American loss effectively ended any serious threat against Montréal. For the defenders, who were outnumbered and, for the first time, fighting without British support, this skirmish became a source of enormous pride.
From the outset, Hampton's cause was fraught with challenges. Approximately 1000 of the New York militia who were a part of his army refused to cross the border, and during the battle itself, several of his officers were seen abandoning their men and positions for safer ground. The Canadians had lodged behind extremely well-constructed defensive works, and the amount of noise emanating from them - shouts, cheers, and bugling, deliberately produced to cause confusion - made it difficult for Hampton to ascertain how many members of the enemy's forces he faced.
Failed American Strategy
Initially, the Americans' plan of attack seemed promising, if precarious. Finding the Canadian defences wedged between the river on the east, and a swamp to the west, Hampton hired guides to lead a brigade (under Colonel Robert Purdy) northward, where they would position themselves behind Salaberry's barricade. Hampton and a second brigade under General George Izard would then commence a frontal attack on the Canadian position.
What looked good on the map, however, was a disaster in execution. On the evening of 25 October, Purdy and 1500 men set out to find their way behind the Canadian defences. When the guides proved less than reliable, the troops found themselves lost and meandering in the woods, making very little progress. Meanwhile, Hampton received a communication from the secretary of war, John Armstrong, that winter barracks were being constructed for his men; Hampton took this news to mean that Washington did not intend to support the invasion. Disheartened, but unable to recall Purdy, he went ahead with his plan the following morning.
Victory for the Canadians
The skirmish itself lasted several hours and involved intense and repeated thrusts and volleys on each side. But because Purdy's men had not been able to flank the Canadian defences, the forward assault on the barricade was not nearly as effective as Hampton and Izard had hoped. Purdy's men were scattered, under fire from snipers, and lacked any coordinated leadership; many of them abandoned the fight. The Americans were further disadvantaged by their weapons, which were loaded with notoriously inaccurate "buck-and-ball" ammunition, most of which ended up lodged in the surrounding trees. By three o'clock that afternoon, recognizing that the enterprise had failed, Hampton ordered his men to withdraw. Later reports described this retreat as panicked and fearful, particularly for Purdy's men, as they were pursued by Aboriginal warriors throughout the following night.
Although the encounter at Châteauguay was not as bloody as many battles fought during this war, the loss of life and injuries sustained should not be dismissed. The Americans suffered 23 killed and 33 wounded, while 29 men were declared missing. Salaberry's troops fared better (no doubt because of their well-constructed defences); they reported two killed, 16 wounded, and four missing.
Author RENEE LAFFERTY
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Battle of the Châteauguay National Historic Site of Canada
This site offers a summary of issues that precipitated the War of 1812 as well as details of the role of British commander Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry in the 1813 Battle of the Châteauguay. From Parks Canada.
The Project of Conquering this Province is Premature
A detailed account of the actions of British forces under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry at the Battle of the Châteauguay, 26 October 1813. From “The Canadian Army Journal.”
His Majesty's Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry 1803-1816
A brief history of the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry and their critical role in engaging American forces in the War of 1812. From "The War of 1812" website.
French Canadian Participation in the War of 1812
A detailed article about the trying conditions endured by French Canadians who served in the Voltigeurs Canadiens and other colonial militia units in the defence of Lower Canada during the War of 1812. With illustrations of military uniforms. From the journal "Canadian Military History."
The War of 1812 and the Tourist Encounter in Upper Canada
See a series of 1840 watercolour paintings depicting scenes of various sites related to the War of 1812 created by British military artist Lieutenant Philip John Bainbrigge. Includes an illustration of the original Brock's Monument and other structures that no longer exist. Also provides an account of Bainbrigge's travels through the region. Click on each image for a larger view. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
An Account of The Battle of Châteauguay
See the full text of a detailed lecture about the Battle of Châteauguay delivered to the Châteauguay Literary and Historical Society in 1889. Includes a brief summary of the issues leading up to the 1812 declaration of war by the United States. From the gutenberg.org website.
Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry
A biography of Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry, army and militia officer, politician, seigneur, office holder, and jp. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.