Early in September 1813, at the request of Major General James Wilkinson, Secretary of War John Armstrong ordered Major General Wade Hampton to march his division of the U.S. Army at Burlington, Vermont (on the right wing of the Ninth Military District), into Canada via the Richelieu River and attack the British post at Isle-aux-Noix. Although he doubted his ability to achieve this goal, Hampton moved his 4,000-man division to Plattsburgh, New York, beginning early on 19 September and, with the support of Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough’s squadron, landed at Champlain, New York, late that evening and marched to the border. The next day, he advanced into LC, but the skirmish at Odelltown (20 September) and reports of his scouts convinced him that it was impractical to force his way down the Richelieu route. Instead, he marched back into New York and then about 70 miles westward to the village of Four Corners, New York, on the upper Chateauguay River. The division was harassed by native parties, and Hampton deployed part of his force to deflect this problem and to create a distraction near the Richelieu that resulted in raids conducted by Colonel Isaac Clark.
Weeks passed during which Hampton waited at Four Corners for instructions regarding his coordination with Wilkinson’s campaign on the St. Lawrence (October–November 1813). He learned that a British force was forming on the lower Chateauguay and, on Armstrong’s advice, headed downriver to investigate on 16 October.
On 21 October, Hampton broke camp. His division now consisted of Colonel Robert Purdy’s First Brigade (Fourth and Thirty-third U.S. Regiments of Infantry and units of 12-month volunteers from Maine and New Hampshire), Brigadier General George Izard’s Second Brigade (Tenth, Eleventh merged with the Twenty-ninth, Thirtieth merged with the Thirty-first U.S. Regiments of Infantry, and a handful of New York Militia), 150 Second U.S. Regiment of Light Dragoons, and 200 of the Third Regiment of Artillery and the Regiment of Light Artillery. It rained hard during the next days as the column proceeded slowly, its path barred by trees felled by the British.
Lieutenant Colonel Charles de Salaberry had been charged with defending the lower Chateauguay. After a failed preemptive raid on Hampton’s camp at Four Corners on 1 October, de Salaberry fortified a location about 25 miles from the mouth of the river. This consisted of four sets of breastworks in a wooded area on the western bank of the river—the first at a ford, the others further upstream. At the edge of the woods beyond the fourth breastwork, de Salaberry erected an abatis overlooking a wide cultivated field and about seven miles of unforested terrain.
De Salaberry commanded about 400 men, most of them French Canadian (70 Canadian Fencibles, 110 Canadian Voltigeurs, 130 Select Embodied Militia, 75 sedentary LC Militia, and 20 Abenaki and Nipissing warriors). In his rear, Lieutenant Colonel George Macdonell had about 1,370 men, most of them militia.
Hampton decided to attack de Salaberry before his position could be further strengthened; he did this despite having just been advised by Armstrong to build winter quarters and without having any further instructions about Wilkinson’s movement. Late on 25 October, Hampton sent Purdy with 2,300 men (his brigade and light infantry from the other units) to the east side of the Chateauguay to capture the ford. The next morning, he sent Izard to attack de Salaberry with the remaining force but not the artillery.
Some of de Salaberry’s men were at the abatis and ready to skirmish in front of it and fired the first shots around 10:00 A.M. De Salaberry hurried there with elements of his force, bringing the total to about 300 defenders. Izard advanced across the field with the Tenth Infantry and engaged the British for 20 minutes, then fell back to restore his ammunition.
Meanwhile, Purdy, who had lost his way during the night, was only just approaching the ford. A company of LC Militia and one of Embodied Militia, sent to guard the eastern approach with some native warriors, fired on his leading companies, which fell back.
Only desultory fire occurred until about 2:00 P.M., when Izard moved forward again with his entire force and warmly engaged de Salaberry, pushing into the woods. Hampton had orders shouted across the river to Purdy to retreat, at which point the two French Canadian companies and warriors engaged Purdy’s men. His brigade dissolved into chaos (some of the officers even abandoned their companies) and scattered as it withdrew, although some returned the British fire well enough to force their retreat, too.
Macdonell arrived to occupy the breastworks behind de Salaberry’s position but was not needed, as Hampton decided around 3:00 P.M. that the attack had failed and ordered Izard and Purdy to retreat back to their camp; most of Purdy’s brigade spent another horrendous night in the woods before being able to recross the Chateauguay.
Hampton did not complete a list of casualties, though it was believed he lost 40 dead and at least as many wounded. The British had two killed, 16 wounded, and four taken captive. De Salaberry’s immediate superior, Major General Louis de Watteville, and Sir George Prevost arrived on the ground during the final stages of the action; the latter’s representation of his own part in the affair greatly offended de Salaberry.
There was no denying the importance of the victory, especially in light of how outnumbered the British were. Hampton demonstrated his limited battlefield acumen and then his lack of commitment to a coordinated effort with Wilkinson by marching back to Four Corners, where he informed Armstrong that his campaign was at an end on 1 November. A week later, his division headed for Plattsburgh.
CHARLES MICHEL D’ IRUMBERRY DE SALABERRY, (1778–1829)
Born in LC, Salaberry entered the British army as a volunteer in 1792 and two years later was commissioned an ensign in the 60th Regiment of Foot through the patronage of Prince Edward, fourth son of King George III (later the Duke of Kent and father of Queen Victoria). Salaberry showed courage and talent during a campaign in the West Indies, and the prince continued to guide his career. In 1806, as a captain, he joined the 5/60th Foot under then-Colonel Francis de Rottenburg, the expert in light infantry tactics who later referred to Salaberry as “my dear Gunpowder.” While on recruitment in England, he became involved in a brief but difficult controversy with then–Major General Sir George Prevost.
In 1810, Salaberry returned to Canada as de Rottenburg’s aide-de-camp. Breveted to major the next year, he proposed the formation of a light infantry corps of LC militia that became in the spring of 1812 the Canadian Voltigeurs. Another controversy involving Prevost developed, concerning the granting of a regular army commission as lieutenant colonel to Salaberry, and was not resolved until mid-1814, much to his annoyance.
In 1812, Salaberry and some of the Voltigeurs were posted along the LC border with New York and Vermont, where they saw action at the skirmish at Lacolle (20 November); Prevost did not mention him in a dispatch to the home government.
When the Right Division of the U.S. Army in the Ninth Military District under Major General Wade Hampton threatened to invade LC via the Richelieu River route, Salaberry reinforced his forward post at Odelltown (20 September 1813) and put up such a fight that Hampton withdrew and headed for the Chateauguay River in New York. In the subsequent battle on the Chateauguay (26 October), Salaberry demonstrated his expertise in defensive preparations, deployment, and battlefield steadiness, outnumbered though he was by Hampton’s army. Major General Louis de Watteville, Salaberry’s immediate superior, and Prevost arrived on the scene late in the action. Sir George later reported the affair in such a way as to downplay Salaberry’s role. Salaberry protested and threatened to resign, but Prevost offered him the lucrative assignment of inspecting field officer of the militia; privately, Prevost denigrated Salaberry’s role at Chateauguay and overall competence. Late in 1814, Salaberry sent his resignation to the Horse Guards, but Prince Edward intercepted it, and Salaberry remained in commission as a lieutenant colonel; he sat on the board at the court-martial of Major General Henry Procter at Montreal in December 1814.
Salaberry received a medal in 1816 in commemoration of his victory at Chateauguay and at the recommendation of Lieutenant General Sir Gordon Drummond was made a CB in 1817. He ended his years as a successful landowner, involved in various civil affairs.