War of 1812: The Americans Threaten Montreal, Fall, 1813


The United States government forced General Dearborn to retire during the summer of 1813. His string of mistakes included leaving Sackett’s Harbor weakly defended, his inability to capture Brigadier General John Vincent’s army after the fall of Fort George, the subsequent loss at Stoney Creek and ignominious retreat back to Fort George, and the embarrassing surrender of yet another American army at the Battle of Beaver Dam. General James Wilkinson took over command of the Northern Army in August.

The American Invasion Plan: Capture Kingston and Montreal

The new strategic plan involved attacking Kingston, the British naval base on Lake Ontario, and then assaulting Montreal. General Wilkinson would sail from Sackett’s Harbor with the bulk of his army and capture Kingston. Meanwhile, his bitter rival and subordinate, Major-General Wade Hampton, would advance from Burlington, Vermont and threaten Montreal in an attempt to prevent the Montreal defenders from reinforcing Kingston.

Following the defeat of the British naval base, General Wilkinson’s army would advance in boats down the St. Lawrence River and join General Hampton’s men near Isle Perrot. The combined forces would then attack across the lake to Lachine and into Montreal.

The American Army Invades Canada

General Hampton’s right wing of the army included more than 4,000 regulars, 1,500 militia, and 10 cannons. After the Burlington troops traveled across Lake Champlain and disembarked in Cumberland Head, New York, the skittish British leader, Sir George Prevost, immediately ordered most of his British forces to Kingston. He had incorrectly concluded that the Burlington army was joining the Kingston assault forces in Sackett’s Harbor.

Instead, General Hampton’s men returned to their boats and disembarked near the mouth of the Richelieu River, crossed the Canadian border on September 20, and overcame a small British picket at Odelltown. They headed north through a wooded swamp that had been parched by an unusually hot, dry summer.

Colonel De Salaberry and his Men Harass the American Army

A few British infantry and some native warriors constantly harassed the American invaders by firing from the surrounding woods and then disappearing. The small force was led by 35-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Charles Michel d’Irumberry De Salaberry, a well-liked military hero of French-Canadian descent. The annoying ambushes caused few casualties; however, after two days, General Hampton abandoned his invasion and withdrew back to the United States.

The reason for the withdrawal was that the dry conditions meant there was no water for the men or horses. General Hampton moved his army west and camped at Four Corners (Now Chateaugay, NY) on the River Chateauguay. Beginning on September 24, he rested his men and waited for further orders from General Wilkinson.

Meanwhile, Sir George Prevost in Kingston, worried about General Hampton’s forces, ordered Colonel De Salaberry to attack the camp at Four Corners. It was a ludicrous idea. The British force consisted of approximately 200 Voltiguers and some native warriors, while General Hampton had more than 5,000 soldiers. A bold and brave soldier, De Salaberry carried out his orders. On October 1, he surprised the American camp by attacking with 50 chosen men and the warriors. They charged the camp twice and then skirmished with the Americans from a forested area until darkness. During the fight, they killed an officer and a private, and they captured two soldiers.

The Canadian Voltiguers Prepare Their Defenses

Withdrawing by the route General Hampton and his army would be taking towards Montreal, the British troops felled trees hoping to slow the Americans’ progress. Colonel De Salaberry then selected a position in a thickly wooded area on the left bank of the river and constructed defensive works with the intention of delaying General Hampton’s army when he advanced on Montreal.

For three weeks, Colonel De Salaberry and the Canadian Voltiguers improved their defenses while General Hampton rested his men, prepared for the assault on Montreal, and waited for General Wilkinson’s attack on Kingston. The British forces built log breastworks, a small blockhouse, and lines of abattis. They destroyed bridges over the River Chateauguay and felled trees to block the roads and discourage artillery. Soon, veteran soldiers of the Glengarry Regiment and a new unit of Canadian Fencibles arrived to help strengthen the position.

The Attack on Kingston is Cancelled

News arrived at Sackett’s Harbor that British troops had reinforced Kingston. On October 16, the Americans abandoned that part of the plan and immediately began the advance on Montreal. As General Wilkinson’s men boarded boats at Sackett’s Harbor, he ordered General Hampton to advance down the Chateauguay River towards Montreal.

General Hampton’s army finally left their Four Corners camp on October 21. Over the next few days, his engineers laboriously cut a 24-mile road through thick forest. Soldiers used the road to drag the ten cannons forward, from the camp at Four Corners to Spears (now Ormstown, Quebec), roughly seven miles south of Colonel De Salaberry’s fortified position. The mismanaged fight called the Battle of Chateauguay was about to begin.