The Battle of Saint-Denis
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The Battle of Saint-Denis
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The Battle of Saint-Denis

The first gunshots of rebellion were fired on November 23, 1837 at Saint-Denis, in the Richelieu Valley.
On November 23, 1837, 300 British soldiers confronted 800 Patriotes at St. Denis at the start of the armed rebellion. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
On November 23, 1837, 300 British soldiers confronted 800 Patriotes at St. Denis at the start of the armed rebellion. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Three hundred English soldiers confronted eight hundred Patriotes. About a hundred of the rebels took up positions in front of the Saint-Germain house on the main road to Sorel. Louis-Joseph Papineau and the other Patriote leaders placed Saint-Denis' fate in the hands of Dr. Wolfred Nelson. From a Sorel English family and married to a French Canadian, Nelson was one of the most radical Patriotes.

Daniel Lysons was a lieutenant in the First Regiment of Foot, the Royal Scots. They had a reputation for being one of the toughest units in the British Army:

"It soon became evident that the rebels were on the alert; the church bells were heard in the distance ringing the alarm, and parties of skirmishers appeared on our left flank."

Wolfred Nelson recounted:

"I told my companions that their lives were sought after, and that they must sell them as dearly as they could; to be steady, take good aim, lose no powder and all attend to their duty, their self-preservation."

The battle went on for six hours.
The Patriote rebels surprised the British with a stubborn resistance at the Battle of St. Denis on November 23, 1837. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
The Patriote rebels surprised the British with a stubborn resistance at the Battle of St. Denis on November 23, 1837. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
But musket fire was not highly accurate, and so there were relatively few victims. Philippe Napoléon Pacaud, a notary, was in the thick of the action:

"I don't know how many I killed, but I fired without remorse. It was not so much from a sentiment of insults and injustices, but the old instinct of traditional hatred of the races that awoke in us; we were fighting despotism, but it was above all the English that we loved to aim at."

The stubborn resistance took the English by surprise, and their ammunition was running low.

Finally, Colonel Charles Gore ordered his men to retreat.
After six hours of fighting, British soldiers retreated from St. Denis leaving 12 soldiers and 13 Patriotes dead. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
After six hours of fighting, British soldiers retreated from St. Denis leaving 12 soldiers and 13 Patriotes dead. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Twelve soldiers and 13 Patriotes were dead.

Louis-Joseph Papineau was not at Saint-Denis to celebrate the victory. Some said that Wolfred Nelson ordered him to leave the village for his own safety. Others accused him of fleeing the battlefield. While his men were celebrating, Nelson reflected on the consequences of this battle.

"We have now passed the Rubicon - our very lives are at stake - there is no alternative; even a mean, cringing submission will scarcely protect us from every kind of ignominy, insult and injury, worse to bear than death itself, if, indeed, this event do not befall us at once.
We see, now, but the painful necessity of taking up arms in good earnest, and manfully awaiting the occurrences which our attitude may provoke."

General John Colborne was shaken by the Patriote victory. He wrote to the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, Sir Francis Bond Head:

"The Civil War has now commenced in this Province. I entreat you, therefore, to call out the Militia of Upper Canada and endeavour to send to Montreal as many corps as may be inclined to volunteer their services at this critical period."

All eyes were now turned to Lower Canada.
The battle of Saint-Denis was only the first in a series of bloody confrontations. Rebellion would spread all the way to Upper Canada. Hundreds of men would fall on the battlefields. Women and children would be dragged into misfortune and despair

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