Battle of Chateauguay River, 26 October 1813

The battle of Chateauguay River (26 October 1813) saw the defeat of one of two American armies attempting to invade Lower Canada in the autumn of 1813. The American plan was for one army to attack from the south west, along the St. Lawrence River, while a second army moved north from Lake Champlain. Montreal was only thirty miles north of the American border at this point.

The Lake Champlain expedition was commanded by General Wade Hampton. He first crossed the Canadian border on 19 September. The British responded by calling out 8,000 sedentary militia to support the 6,000 men already under arms around Montreal, but this first American offensive came to nothing. A lack of drinking water convinced Hampton to turn back (after one of the series of councils of war that plagues the American efforts during the entire war). This council decided to use a longer route, along the Chateauguay River, where there would be a good supply of drinking water. The American force retraced its steps back to Lake Champlain, and then marched west for forty miles to reach the Chateauguay.

Wade’s army was 4,000 strong. If he had been able to combine with the larger force coming up the St. Lawrence, then the combined army would have outnumbered the effective British forces around Montreal, but that second expedition wouldn’t even enter the St. Lawrence until November.

The British moved a force 1,600 strong to defend the Chateauguay front under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles de Salaberry. He moved south down the river and prepared a defensive position downstream from the American camp. He posted most of his men on the west bank of the river, defending the road. On the front line he posted 50 Canadian Fencibles, 150 Canadian Voltigeurs and 100 sedentary militia behind a line of breastworks. A force of 160 militia was posted in the woods on the opposite bank of the river to protect a ford just behind the British front line. Finally he posted 1,130 men behind his front line.
This deployment was never really put to the test. Hampton began to advance down the river on 21 October. On 25 October his scouts found the British front line, but failed to discover the other 1,300 British troops. Hampton decided to outflank the British position. 1,500 men under the command of Colonel Robert Purdy were sent onto the east bank of the river, with orders to advance 15 miles through the woods and cross the fort behind the apparent British front lines. Meanwhile the remaining 2,500 American troops would attack the British front line.

By dawn Purdy’s men had only moved six miles through the woods. They then advanced north along the river bank, where they came under fire from the British on the west bank. His advance guard came close to the fort soon after noon, where they came under fire from the 160 militia on the east bank. At about the same time they discovered the presence of the main British force, and decided to retreat.

The main American force was even less effective. Hampton advanced towards the British front line in mid-morning, but then waited to the result of Purdy’s attack. When they saw Purdy’s men retreating on the opposite bank of the river, they too began to retreat. Very little fighting took place on either bank. The British lost 5 dead, 16 wounded and 4 missing while the Americans suffered 50 casualties. Hampden had allowed his army of 4,000 to be turned back by less than half of their number, and after coming into contact with less than 500 men. He retired back across the border into New York State, where he held a council of war, which decided to enter winter quarters. When this news reached General Wilkinson, commanding the St. Lawrence expedition, the news was used as a reason to abandon that attack as well.

The Incredible War of 1812, J. Mackay Hitsman. This is a revised edition of a classic work on the War of 1812, one of the more neglected corners of military history. The author writes from a Canadian perspective, but without distorting his material, and the American side of the war is well represented. This is a good clear account of what can be a somewhat confusing conflict. [see more]
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Books on the War of 1812 | Subject Index: War of 1812

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 November 2007), Battle of Chateauguay River, 26 October 1813 ,

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