1813 Battle of Châteauguay
A historical narrative of the Battle of Châteauguay in 1813, produced in collaboration with the Société du Musée du Grand Châteauguay.
Unsuccessful in their attempts to invade Upper Canada, the Americans planned to invade Lower Canada with two separate divisions that would meet to capture Montréal.
On October 21, 3,000 American foot soldiers and gunners crossed the border and made their way up the western bank of the Châteauguay river. Meanwhile, under the direction of their new commander, Louis de Watteville, seconded by Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry, Canadian troops had been in Châteauguay since October 19.
Forewarned about the arrival of the Americans, most of the Canadian soldiers went to Allan’s Corner. Between October 24 and 26, de Salaberry had them chop down trees to erect abatises and wooden ramparts on both sides of the river. He also set up two areas defended by 460 Canadian soldiers, conscripts and Indigenous allies. The first line, on the western side of the river, was made up of 300 Canadian and Indigenous fighters, divided into two companies of elite skirmishers known as “Voltigeurs.” The Americans decided to leave one-third of their troops and artillery in Ormstown. The remainder was divided into two brigades of 1,000 men each. The first brigade marched along the western bank toward the abatises. The second had left the day before, taking the eastern bank, to skirt around the enemy lines.
The morning of October 26, a first brigade of American soldiers attacked the Canadian defenders assembled behind abatises, but the second brigade had gotten lost in the woods the night before. About a hundred American soldiers came out of the woods around 11 in the morning and came face to face with the 40 regular infantrymen in Captain Bruyère’s company, all from Châteauguay. Surprised, the men on both sides fled. When the Americans were trying to reach their lines in the woods, they were fired on by their own troops, who mistook them for the enemy. At one point, the Americans came out of the woods in pursuit of a Canadian unit beating a retreat. Then, from the other side of the river, de Salaberry’s Voltigeurs opened fire. Trapped in the crossfire between the Voltigeurs and the men in Captain Bruyère’s and Captain Daly’s units, the Americans broke off the battle. After a four-hour fight, they withdrew.
While General Hampton said he lost fewer than 50 men, a letter de Salaberry sent a few days after the battle puts the number of American casualties at 70 dead and 16 prisoners. On the Canadian side, some 30 victims were counted. The contradictory information makes it impossible to provide an accurate outcome for the battle. The next day, the Canadians, believing the statements of the prisoners, thought they had been fighting 6,000 to 7,000 Americans, lending the Battle of Châteauguay the mythical status it took on in French-Canadian historiography. It was really about 3,000 Americans against about 300 Canadians.
Most historians now consider the Battle of Châteauguay to have been nothing more than a skirmish with no consequences for the outcome of the war.
Canada at the time of the conflict
At the time of the conflict, Canada as it is today did not yet exist. It was a set of six independent colonies: Lower Canada, Upper Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island. The total population of the six colonies was about 400,000 inhabitants, of whom 260,000 lived in Lower Canada.
Reasons for the conflict
After the destruction of the French fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Napoleon forbade all the other European nations to trade with Great Britain, and Great Britain set up a naval blockade of France. The United States intended to remain neutral in the conflict but was dragged in when, over the course of several years, a number of ships flying the American flag were boarded by British ships, pressing over 6,000 American sailors into service in the Royal Navy.
On June 22, 1807, the American frigate USS Chesapeake was in American territorial waters when it was boarded by the British vessel HMS Leopard after refusing to stop for inspection. Cannons were fired and three American sailors were killed. This incident pushed the United States to the breaking point and it issued an embargo forbidding any ship of any nationality from sailing from a US port to any other foreign port. On June 18, 1812, the many disputes between the two countries led the United States to declare war on Great Britain. England followed suit in January 1813.
Depiction of the Battle of Châteauguay by Henri Julien (1852–1908). Lithography published in Le Journal de Dimanche on June 24, 1884.
Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry received the Army Gold Medal for his success in Châteauguay and was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath. (Medal of the Order of the Bath)
(Photo: P.Y. Charlebois)
A Sketch of the Battle of La Fourche or Châteauguay, 1815
(Stewart Museum Collection (Montréal), 1982–382)