A Question of Loyalties
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A Question of Loyalties
Battle of Châteaugay
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Introduction
Two weeks after the disaster of Moraviantown, the Americans invaded Lower Canada in a two-pronged attack.
Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Michel de Salaberry commanded the troops that met American invaders at Châteauguay in October, 1813.  (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Michel de Salaberry commanded the troops that met American invaders at Châteauguay in October, 1813. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
One army came down the Châteaugay River and a second down the St. Lawrence with the plan of converging on Montreal.

The forces of Lower Canada were under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Michel de Salaberry, whose grandfather had fought against the British and whose father had fought for them. De Salaberry was an imposing man, a career soldier who had killed a Prussian in a sabre duel. French Canadian support for Britain was an unknown quantity and it was thought that the charismatic de Salaberry could rally the citizens. He raised a company called Les Voltigeurs Canadiens with the promise of an immediate salary and fifty acres of land.

Eighteen months before, when de Salaberry put out the call for volunteers, the Quebec Gazette reported that the Voltigeurs were an instant success.
Sharp-shooting Canadian and British troops repeatedly rebuffed American attacks on the banks of the ChâteauguayRiver  on October 26th 1813. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Sharp-shooting Canadian and British troops repeatedly rebuffed American attacks on the banks of the ChâteauguayRiver on October 26th 1813. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
"The corps now forming under the command of de Salaberry is completing with a dispatch worth of the ancient warlike spirit of the country. They are to defend their king, known to them only by acts of kindness, and a native country long since made sacred by the exploits of their forefathers."

The Gazette may have been overstating the prevailing mood, but militia companies were raised to defend Lower Canada's borders at Lacolle River, Odelltown and at Four Corners.

De Salaberry chose to face the American invasion on the banks of the Châteaugay, a strategically advantageous spot. The company felled trees and destroyed bridges then waited anxiously for three days for the enemy.
De Salaberry's troops waited behind their barricades for eight cold and rainy days believing that American troops would attack again at Châteauguay. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
De Salaberry's troops waited behind their barricades for eight cold and rainy days believing that American troops would attack again at Châteauguay. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
There were 500 men facing an army of 4,000.

Charles Pinguet, a lieutenant with the Canadian Fencibles, described his commander's tactic: "Colonel de Salaberry selected a strong position and ...we began to fortify ourselves with trees and to form entrechments. Behind these works we lay for three days and three nights waiting for the enemy."

On the morning of October 26th, 1813, it was a confident American army that took to the field. The Americans fired the first volley. "The fire from their right was so powerful as to force our skirmishers to shelter themselves," said Michael O'Sullivan, aide to de Salaberry.
The Americans planned to capture Montreal with two offensives - one force would march north along the Châteauguay River while a second would come along the St. Lawrence.
The Americans planned to capture Montreal with two offensives - one force would march north along the Châteauguay River while a second would come along the St. Lawrence.
"The enemy mistook this for the beginning of a retreat and much mistaken they were... Huzzas resounded from all parts of their army."

There was no retreat. Lieutenant Pinguet and the other Canadians calmly stood up to the attack, returning fire from their entrenched positions and repeatedly rebuffing the Americans. "All of our men fired from 35 to 40 rounds so well aimed that the prisoners told us the next day that every shot seemed to pass at the height of a man's breast or head," Pinguet testified in his eyewitness account.

Unable to penetrate the defenses and vulnerable to fire, the Americans quit the field. "I write you just a word to let you know that the enemy commenced his retreat yesterday," de Salaberry wrote to his wife Anne, "I believe that we have saved Montreal for this year...
I hope that they are going to let us rest and that I shall have the happiness to see you shortly. I am very tired. I kiss you a thousand times, also the little one."

Although they were in retreat, de Salaberry thought the Americans might simply be regrouping. For eight days, the Canadian forces stayed behind their barricades, waiting in the cold autumn rain. The weather became a more bitter enemy than the Americans.

"We suffered so much from... foul weather that some of our men fell sick every day," wrote Pinguet, "I now know that a man can endure without dying more pain and hell than a dog.
There are many things that I can tell you easier than I could write them, but you will be convinced by this affair that Canadians know how to fight."

Six months later, Pinguet would die of a sickness contracted during this campaign. The Americans never did come back.

A few weeks after the battle of Châteaugay, the second arm of the American invasion plan also fell to pieces. In the fields of John Crysler's farm, on the bank of the St. Lawrence River near Long Sault rapids, a greatly outnumbered force of British regulars and Canadian militia drove the invaders back. Another attempt by the Americans to conquer Canada had failed.


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