Their commander was Major Charles-Michel de SALABERRY, formerly of the 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot. His family had a well regarded reputation for serving the British Army, and he had served with the British against the French in the West Indies and at Walcheren. He wrote effective books on rifle drill, had fought a duel in which he sliced his rival almost in half and had a reputation as a brutal task-master among both his men and his officers. De Salaberry was one of the most experienced officers in British service during the War of 1812.
The Voltigeurs were officered by well-to-do members of Québec society, many related to de Salaberry, though all were treated to his fierce discipline and high standards. Commissions went to the captains and lieutenants who could fill their ranks (36 for captains, 16 for lieutenants). Despite jingoist propaganda to the contrary, the Voltigeurs had reached just over half of their 538 authorized ranks. At war's start, FENCIBLE units would be added to their numbers for support and strength.
The Voltigeurs were initially assigned to defend the EASTERN TOWNSHIPS. In November, they faced American Major General DEARBORN and his 6000-strong force, who invaded the region from Plattsburgh. De Salaberry rushed with his forces and some First Nations allies to staunch the invasion at LACOLLE. While they could not halt the invasion, days of skirmishing increased the cost and Dearborn retreated days later. The spring of 1813 saw the splitting of Voltigeur units, some of whom bolstered the defences at KINGSTON and others who participated in the failed assault on SACKETS HARBOR. But the Voltigeurs are best known for their service at the BATTLE OF CHÂTEAUGUAY and the BATTLE OF CRYSLER'S FARM.
In the fall of 1813, American strategy focused on cutting off the St. Lawrence to isolate British forces in Upper Canada, followed by a decisive attack on Montréal. The first move was by Major-General Wade Hampton, who took 4000 men from the Lake Champlain region up the Châteauguay. His goal was to cut the St. Lawrence and meet up with General Wilkinson's forces coming down the river from Sackets Harbor. Hampton was not keen on the venture or on the quality of his men, and moved slowly. De Salaberry had excellent intelligence on Hampton's movements, ordered various obstacles to be constructed to complicate the American advance, and with his forces (Voltigeurs and militia), and supported by the troops of Lieutenant-Colonel George MacDonell (Canadian born himself), led his all-Canadian force against the Americans. While primarily a series of skirmishes, the Battle of Châteauguay was a very "Canadian" victory.
During the Battle of Crysler's Farm, 3 companies of the Voltigeurs served under Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison to help deflect Wilkinson's 1800-strong rearguard, sent to repulse Morrison's forces. On 11 November, the Voltigeurs were stretched across Morrison's skirmish line and were heavily wounded. The Americans advanced past them, but were routed by Morrison's mixed force.
After the war, the Voltigeurs underwent a variety of changes to their designation, but the unit found service in a series of conflicts, including as part of the 57th Battalion of the CANADIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE in the First World War, and as part of the Canadian Active Service Force in the Second World War.
Author JASON RIDLER
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.
Les Voltigeurs de Québec
Watch the Heritage Minute about Canada's national anthem from the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related online learning resources.
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.
St. Lawrence War of 1812 Bicentennial Alliance
The latest news about upcoming community events commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 in Eastern Ontario. Features local history and online archival material about the war. From the St. Lawrence War of 1812 Bicentennial Alliance.
The Voltigeurs de Québec
View an image and description of the badge for the Voltigeurs Canadiens (1812-1815), a temporary British Army regular unit commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry during the War of 1812. From the website for the Canadian Heraldic Authority.
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.”
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."
Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry
A portrait of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry, circa 1813-1815. Includes notes about his role in the War of 1812. From the Canadian Military History Gateway website.
A brief note about the Canadian Voltigeurs' participation in the War of 1812.
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.
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