During the 200th anniversary period of the War of 1812, Legion Magazine will present a few photo essays by Ottawa photographer Dan Ward which will look at battlefields of the war as they are today. Each essay will present contemporary photographs where historic events took place, juxtaposed with archival images that capture the tumultuous events. The first focuses on the Battle of Châteauguay.
The quiet fields in the distance are along the Châteauguay River approximately where Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel de Salaberry in October 1813 gathered a force of 1,600 to face an army of more than 2,600 led by Major-General Wade Hampton who was bent on capturing Montreal and isolating the British forces in Upper Canada. De Salaberry’s force, consisting of the French-speaking Canadian Voltigeurs along with some British regular forces, local militia and Mohawks, drove Hampton’s force into retreat.
Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel de Salaberry (above) was known as a harsh disciplinarian who had served the British in the Antilles, Sicily and Ireland and yet was known for his refinement in society. Like the milkweed growing on the field today, he was of sturdy stock designed for fighting in the harsh realities of the Canadian wilderness.
The Canadian Voltigeurs (above) built reinforced positions on the Châteauguay River. When the Americans attacked in two flanks they were met with volleys of musket fire from about 400 of de Salaberry’s men. This was followed by bugling and other tactics which convinced the enemy they were confronting a far greater force than they were. It was all something of an illusion like the waving trees reflected in the water.
The Americans retreated across the fields in disarray. The enemy suffered approximately 75 killed, wounded or missing while the British lost fewer than 20 men. The Battle of Châteauguay saved the city of Montreal and de Salaberry became a Canadian folk hero as early accounts greatly embellished the size of the American forces he and his small group of Voltigeurs had faced.
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