The US Tried to Invade Montréal in the War of 1812. They Failed — and Saved Canada.


Most American historical past textbooks clarify that the Struggle of 1812 grew out of American grievances over U.S. vessels being stopped by British warships and their seamen being pressed into Royal Navy service as “deserters,” with the added provocation of the British serving to Native American tribes that resisted the settlement of the western frontier. A much less talked about casus belli, nonetheless, was the push to overcome Canada superior by the younger “Struggle Hawks” faction within the U.S. Congress.

Simply weeks after it declared battle on Nice Britain on June 18, 1812, the USA launched its first invasion of Higher Canada (now Ontario Province) from Michigan Territory on July 12. Beneath the unsteady hand of Brigadier Basic William Hull, the operation didn’t go nicely, ending with Hull’s withdrawal to Detroit and adopted, on August 16, by the one give up of a U.S. metropolis to a international invader. A succession of subsequent makes an attempt additionally got here to nothing, together with the taking, partial burning, and supreme abandonment of York (now Toronto) in April 1813. 

The Saint Lawrence marketing campaign, because the eighth of those U.S. invasions got here to be recognized, was one other grand effort, involving two armies appearing in live performance to grab management of the Saint Lawrence River and Decrease Canada (now Quebec Province). A basic examine of the failure to coordinate an offensive at each the strategic and tactical ranges, it will additionally characteristic one of many battle’s bloodiest land battles and an encounter that turned iconic to a nation that had but to exist.

Clockwise from left: U.S. Secretary of Struggle John Armstrong Jr.; Main Basic James Wilkinson, who noticed a final probability for redemption within the Struggle of 1812; Lieutenant Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry of Canada.

John Armstrong Jr., the U.S. secretary of battle, conceived the Saint Lawrence marketing campaign with the intention of commanding it personally. His plan, launching from New York, was to have Main Basic James Wilkinson lead 8,000 troops, accompanied by a squadron of supporting gunboats and bateaux, out of Sackett’s Harbor alongside the Saint Lawrence River, whereas Main Basic Wade Hampton led one other 4,000 males north from Plattsburgh. The 2 forces would meet and take the town of Kingston, on the mouth of the Cataraqui and Saint Lawrence Rivers on Lake Ontario—an goal subsequently modified to Montreal as a prelude to conquering all of Decrease Canada.

However the plan went awry nearly from the start, as Armstrong fell sick and left it to his two division commanders to hold out the invasion. Furthermore, although each males have been veterans of the Struggle for Independence, Hampton was loath to work alongside Wilkinson, with whom he had not been on talking phrases since 1808.

Hampton was not alone in despising his erstwhile associate. Wilkinson, who had been serving since 1800 as common accountable for the U.S. Military, carried a careerlong status for shady dealings that ceaselessly attracted indictment however in some way at all times eluded conviction. (Solely in 1854 would it not be confirmed that Wilkinson, utilizing the codename Agent 13, had been holding Spain knowledgeable of all American actions within the western frontier—even when he was commander in chief of the U.S. Military.)

The Struggle of 1812 gave Wilkinson a final probability at redemption, however by the summer season of 1813 his principal achievement had been the occupation of Cell in Spanish West Florida. When he changed Main Basic Henry Dearborn in command at Sackett’s Harbor that July, he had extra substantial prospects, however quickly after Armstrong’s arrival together with his invasion plans, Wilkinson additionally fell sick.

As Armstrong and Wilkinson convalesced, Hampton, a 61-year-old South Carolinian who was one of many wealthiest landowners in the USA, found that almost all of his troops have been poorly educated and his provides barely enough to maintain a march, not to mention a siege alongside the way in which—on prime of which was the truth that British gunboats dominated Lake Champlain. He was additionally so averse to taking orders from Wilkinson that Armstrong needed to guarantee Hampton that they’d be forwarded by way of the Struggle Division as a substitute.

Hampton set out from Burlington, Vermont, on September 19, however on reaching Plattsburgh he turned west to bypass Lake Champlain and the 900-man British military and naval base on Île de Noix. Hampton established his subsequent base at 4 Corners on the Châteauguay River. He resumed his march on October 18, when he acquired a communiqué from the still-ailing Armstrong, who had left Sackett’s Harbor two days earlier, stating that Wilkinson’s division was about to get underway. However Hampton’s 1,400-man brigade of New York militia adamantly refused to cross the border and struggle folks with whom that they had been on pleasant phrases for many years. Consequently, when Hampton entered Decrease Canada, his pressure totaled 2,600 U.S. Military squaddies, 200 cavalry, and had 10 subject weapons.

After greater than a 12 months of hostilities, Britain nonetheless seen the “American Struggle” as an unwelcome distraction from its most important precedence: preventing Napoleon’s armies in Spain. It had elevated its common military forces in America to greater than 13,000 males, however to complement their meager numbers these scattered models relied on 5 fencible regiments—protection models made up of native conscripts with British commanders—in addition to quite a lot of native militia models and allied Indian tribes. On studying that his metropolis was the goal of the subsequent U.S. invasion on September 17, Main Basic Louis de Watteville, the Swiss-born commander of the Montreal District, ordered the militia raised, whereas the governor common of North America, Lieutenant Basic George Prevost, ordered the first Gentle Battalion, a composite of British regulars and Canadian militiamen led by Lieutenant Colonel George MacDonnell, to march from Kingston to a blocking place south of Montreal.

Salaberry, a hardnosed veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, leads a mixed pressure of Voltigeurs, native militia, and Indians to victory over a a lot bigger U.S. pressure on the Battle of the Châteauguay on October 26, 1813. (Six Nations Public Library)

Within the meantime, the principal pressure standing in Hampton’s means was a blended bag of militia north of the Châteauguay River, close to the junction with the English River. Its nucleus, the Voltigeurs de Québec, was a lightweight infantry regiment of French Canadians who, whereas loyal sufficient to the British Crown, refused to put on pink coats, preferring militia grey uniforms with black bearskin hats. Its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry, educated his males with hardnosed professionalism acquired throughout earlier service within the Napoleonic Wars. A couple of hundred of the Voltigeurs had gained some expertise on the First Battle of Lacolle Mills on November 19, 1812, when Salaberry led them and 230 Kahnawake Indians to repulse some 650 U.S. Military invaders. 

As soon as MacDonnell arrived to complement his Voltigeurs and native militia, Salaberry established an abatis of tree branches to dam the street at a ravine close to the English River junction. There he waited with 150 of the Voltigeurs, 50 Canadian Fencibles, 100 sedentary militia, and two dozen Indians. Behind that first line of protection he left MacDonnell in control of a sequence of reserve traces, totaling 300 Voltigeurs, 480 troops of the 2nd and third Battalions of Choose Embodied Militia, 200 sedentary militia, and 150 Indians, to protect the river, together with Grant’s Ford.  

Whereas native farmers saved Salaberry and his officers nicely knowledgeable about enemy actions, the People proceeded blindly. Hampton did learn about Grant’s Ford, nonetheless, and on the night of October 25 he dispatched Colonel Robert Purdy together with his 1st Brigade and the sunshine corporations of the fifth, twelfth, and thirteenth U.S. Infantry Regiments on a 16-mile march to cross the Châteauguay and flank the enemy from the south the next daybreak. Poorly guided, Purdy’s 1,000 troops received misplaced within the woods and spent a depressing evening underneath a pouring rain. 

The subsequent morning, October 26, Hampton acquired a dispatch from Armstrong stating that he was departing Sackett’s Harbor and leaving general command to Wilkinson. He ordered Hampton to arrange winter quarters for 10,000 troops alongside the Saint Lawrence. Sensing that the entire marketing campaign was being written off, Hampton wrote a letter resigning his generalship, and he would have withdrawn forthwith however for Purdy’s misplaced brigade. As an alternative, he dedicated his 2nd Brigade, underneath Brigadier Basic George Izard, to a frontal assault.

The Battle of Crysler’s Farm, fought on a marshy subject beside the Saint Lawrence River on November 11, 1813, resulted in ignominious defeat for the People, although Wilkinson would later attempt to declare simply the other. Courtesy Higher Canada Village, Morrisburg, Ont. (St. Lawrence Parks Fee, an company of the Authorities of Ontario)

In the meantime, at daybreak, Purdy had discovered the right path north, however his brigade was once more misguided, in order that at midmorning most of it emerged from the woods simply south of Salaberry’s first line of protection. The third Choose Embodied Militia attacked the People however was pushed again, with its two highest rating officers wounded. Hotly engaged by extra militia and Indians, a few of Purdy’s troops retreated solely to return underneath fireplace from the subsequent line of People. 

Round noon Izard’s 1,000 troops reached the ravine and lined as much as have interaction 300 dug-in defenders with rolling volleys extra suited to a European battlefield than the uneven terrain they confronted. A U.S. officer reportedly rode up and ordered Salaberry to give up, however because the officer was not carrying a white flag of truce, the colonel shot him. Within the subsequent three-quarters of an hour of preventing, a part of Izard’s pressure drove again the Canadian Fencibles on Salaberry’s proper flank, however reinforcements arrived in time to revive the road. All through, Salaberry inspired a cacophony of bugle calls, cheers, and whoops from the woods to deceive the People as to his precise numbers. Allegedly a bugle sign to advance lastly satisfied Izard that he was outnumbered, and his pressure retreated three miles.

Simply as Purdy reached the purpose the place he hoped to contact Izard and have his wounded ferried throughout the river, his brigade got here underneath fireplace from Salaberry’s advance component and spent one other wretched evening retracing its steps by way of the forest earlier than lastly rejoining Hampton. 

At a subsequent council of battle Hampton’s adjutant common, Colonel Henry Atkinson, reported 23 males killed, 33 wounded, and 29 lacking; Salaberry later accounted for 16 of the latter as prisoners of battle, whereas recording 2 of his personal males useless, 16 wounded, and 4 lacking. Hampton then withdrew to 4 Corners whereas Atkinson rode off to report the scenario to Armstrong.

After their devastating loss at Crysler Farm, Wilkinson’s forces withdrew to Plattsburgh, New York. The fleet of British gunboats on Lake Champlain attacked the American forts there in 1814. (Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Assortment)

Arriving on the Châteauguay on the finish of the battle, Generals Prevost and de Watteville inflated their position of their dispatches, reporting a superb victory by 300 militiamen over 7,500 People. Salaberry, livid at their distorted accounts, thought-about resigning his fee, however the reality stood by itself deserves, and he finally received due recognition and thanks from the Legislative Meeting of Quebec. Each he and MacDonnell have been additionally made Companions of the Bathtub.

As Hampton was transferring on Montreal, Wilkinson lastly received his 8,000-man division underway on October 17. He deliberate to grab Kingston earlier than becoming a member of Hampton, however Commodore Isaac Chauncey, commanding the boats accompanying Wilkinson’s military, vetoed the thought, arguing that the British had a extra highly effective naval pressure. Wilkinson’s troops, marching northwest alongside the Saint Lawrence, reached French Creek (close to present-day Clayton, New York) on November 4. There the People’ anchorage was bombarded by British brigs and gunboats commanded by Commodore William Howe Mulcaster till Lieutenant Colonel Moses Porter’s artillery drove them off.

On November 6, Wilkinson realized of Hampton’s defeat on the Châteauguay. Dispatching orders for Hampton to march west and be a part of his pressure, Wilkinson resumed his advance, bypassing Fort Wellington, the British submit at Prescott, on the seventh, to land east of Galop Rapids. From there he deliberate to shoot the Rapids du Plat and the Lengthy Sault Rapids between Morrisburg and Cornwall. 

At Kingston, Main Basic Francis de Rottenburg, the lieutenant governor of Higher Canada, realized of Wilkinson’s actions from Mulcaster. Though he was primarily involved with Kingston’s protection, Rottenburg dispatched Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Wanton Morrison, the commander of the 2nd Battalion, 89th Foot, to harass the People with a 650-man “corps of remark,” consisting primarily of the 89th Foot, the forty ninth Foot, and a contingent of Royal Artillery. Mulcaster transported the corps so far as Prescott, the place the river turned too shallow for his largest vessels. Bolstered by the Fort Wellington garrison’s fencible and militia models, in addition to three corporations of Voltigeurs and 30 Tyendinaga and Mississauga Mohawks, Morrison’s corps grew to virtually 900 males as they marched after the biggest military but to invade Canadian soil.

On the night of November 10, Wilkinson’s vanguard, led by Brigadier Basic Jacob Jennings Brown, encountered 500 members of the Stormont and Glengarry militia at Hoople Creek, northeast of what’s now Morrisburg, Ontario, and drove them off. In the meantime, Morrison arrived at John Crysler’s farm, simply east of Morrisburg, the place his troops bedded for the evening. The American rearguard, underneath Brigadier Basic John Parker Boyd, was encamped simply two miles downstream.

November 11 was dawning uncooked and wet when a couple of of Mulcaster’s shallow-draft gunboats fired on People encamped at Cook dinner’s Level. Farther inland, a Mohawk shot at an American scouting occasion, which returned fireplace, sending half a dozen Canadians dashing again to report that the People have been attacking. Dropping their half-eaten breakfasts, Morrison’s redcoats stood to arms. This exercise likewise roused the People to type up for battle. 

The rain abated, and at 10:30 a.m Wilkinson received Basic Brown’s report that his success at Hoople Creek had opened the way in which to the Lengthy Sault Rapids. Wilkinson, nonetheless, wished to remove the annoyance to his rear earlier than continuing. Since he nonetheless claimed sickness—as did his second in command, Main Basic Morgan Lewis—Wilkinson delegated the duty to Boyd, a veteran of the battles of Tippecanoe and Fort George, heading a detachment of two,500 troopers of the first, 4th, ninth, sixteenth, twenty first, and twenty fourth Infantry and troops of the 2nd Gentle Dragoon Regiment. 

Regardless of the muddiness of the open fields, Morrison judged them splendid for the form of musketry at which his redcoats excelled. Whereas the five hundred regulars lined up within the middle, supported by two 6-pounder cannons, Morrison anchored his proper flank in opposition to the Saint Lawrence with Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Pearson, Fort Wellington’s commandant, heading a detachment of the sunshine and grenadier corporations of the forty ninth Foot, the Canadian Fencibles and the Canadian Provincial Artillery serving the third 6-pounder, with a gully between them and the People. Within the woods to the British left, the Voltigeurs, Dundas County Militia, and two dozen Indians took up skirmishing positions.

Boyd, like Hampton on the Châteauguay, sought to flank the British from their left, beginning with a thrust by the twenty first Infantry that drove the Canadians a mile again by way of the forest. Pausing for breath, the twenty first was then joined by the twelfth and thirteenth Infantry and emerged from the woods on the left flank of the 2nd Battalion, 89th Foot, as deliberate. As an alternative of falling again, nonetheless, the well-drilled British wheeled about and engaged the People with a withering sequence of volleys that drove them to cowl in dysfunction.

In the meantime, the U.S. 4th Brigade (ninth, sixteenth, and twenty fifth Infantry), led by Brigadier Basic Leonard Covington, struggled throughout the ravine and reached the open subject to behold a line of gray-clad troopers. “Come on, lads,” Covington shouted, “let’s see how you’ll cope with these militiamen!” Beneath the grey raincoats, nonetheless, have been the pink coats with inexperienced facings of the crack forty ninth Foot, whose return fireplace confirmed why the British known as them “the Invincibles” and the People would name them “the Inexperienced Tigers.” Covington fell mortally wounded, and when his second in command died shortly after, your complete brigade misplaced order.

The lay of the land—and water—at Plattsburgh is illustrated on this map from The Pictorial Discipline-E book of the
Struggle of 1812 (Harper & Brothers, 1896), by Benson John Lossing, a prolific and well-liked American historian. (College of California Libraries)

At that time Wilkinson’s six cannons belatedly got here up the street alongside the riverbank, unlimbered, and commenced an efficient bombardment. Directed to grab the weapons, the forty ninth Foot superior in echelon, struggling over a number of fences and struggling heavy casualties earlier than nearing its goal. In a final effort to save lots of the weapons, Colonel John Walbach, Wilkinson’s adjutant common, led the 2nd Dragoons in opposition to the forty ninth’s uncovered proper flank, however the Invincibles re-formed in time to throw them again. The dragoons charged once more, solely to be caught in a crossfire between the forty ninth, Pearson’s detachment, and all three British cannons. At the price of 18 casualties out of 130 troopers, the dragoons’ sacrifice allowed the artillery to recuperate 5 of its weapons. The sixth slowed down within the mud and was taken by the 89th Foot.

By 4:30 the People have been in full retreat, save for troopers of the twenty fifth and a few boat guards overlaying them till Pearson’s troops threatened to flank them. As darkness fell, the British ended their pursuit whereas the People took their boats to the south aspect of the river.

If Crysler’s Farm had been an exceptionally typical pitched battle by the requirements of the Struggle of 1812, its butcher’s invoice was additionally exceptionally excessive. The British misplaced 31 males killed and 148 wounded; the People suffered 103 useless, 247 wounded, and 120 taken prisoner. 

On November 12 Wilkinson’s pressure moved on aboard its boats previous Lengthy Sault Rapids to achieve a small settlement three miles above Cornwall, the place it reunited with Brown’s vanguard. Colonel Atkinson arrived to report Hampton’s determination to retire to Plattsburgh, and Wilkinson held one other council of battle, which unanimously agreed to curtail the marketing campaign. He withdrew to French Mills after which, with provides operating low, to Plattsburgh.

Wilkinson deliberate extra invasions that winter, however his solely offensive transfer, with 4,000 troops, was thwarted by 80 defenders and 420 reinforcements at Lacolle Mills on March 30, 1814. Wilkinson had beforehand requested a court docket of inquiry to guage his efficiency on March 24, and he acquired its appraisal on April 11, when he was relieved of command. Though in one other court-martial he evaded conviction for negligence and misconduct, his profession within the U.S. Military was over.

Lewis was additionally retired, and Boyd was sidelined to rear-area instructions as Armstrong started winnowing the senior ranks and refilling them with youthful males of just lately confirmed benefit, similar to George Izard (who changed Wilkinson), Jacob Brown, and Winfield Scott.

Though the humiliating Saint Lawrence marketing campaign is given brief shrift in American histories of the Struggle of 1812, it’s higher remembered north of the border, the place Crysler’s Farm is called “the battle that saved Canada.” Much more legendary is the Châteauguay, through which a military of U.S. Military regulars met ignominious defeat by the hands of a small group of native militiamen of English, Scottish, French, and First Nations, a cross-section of peoples who would compose, 54 years later, the Dominion of Canada.

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this text first appeared in army historical past quarterly

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