It seems strange that films showing cowboys fighting Indians should be so popular on North American television. Perhaps cowboys fared better than soldiers in the Indian wars, but certainly the Canadian Indians terrified American troops during the War of 1812.
A great French-Canadian military leader, Colonel Charles de Salaberry, probably saved Montreal from being captured in 1813 by using the Indians to scare off a strong American force. While General Wilkinson was moving 8,000 American soldiers down the St. Lawrence towards Montreal, General Wade Hampton was preparing to attack from Lake Champlain, with 4,000 regular infantry, a squadron of cavalry, and 10 guns. After two days of heavy going through woods and marshes, his troops came to the Chateauguay stream in Canadian territory.
The British knew of the American plan and had sent de Salaberry to Chateauguay with four companies of his own Voltigeurs, (French militia, originally created by Napoleon I), Canadian Militia and 170 Indians. De Salaberry established a strong defensive position, where the only road through the woods, led to a ford across the river.
The attack began on October 25 and continued through the following day. Colonel de Salaberry had his Voltigeurs defending an advance position and the ford. At the same time he sent a company of militia, some Indians, and all his buglers into the woods across the river. As de Salaberry expected, the Americans made a frontal attack on the forward position, while sending another force to try to take the ford. They ran into strong opposition from the Voltigeurs in their defensive positions, who were deadly shots with their muskets.
Then the sound of bugles and the war cries of the Indians were heard, giving the impression that a military force was coming from Montreal. The Americans were in such a state of panic that they began firing at each other! General Hampton ordered them to withdraw, spent three days considering what his next move should be, and then decided to retreat. Four thousand American soldiers had been turned back by 400 French-Canadians and their Indian allies.
When General Wilkinson heard that General Hampton had withdrawn, he also decided to give up. Montreal had been saved.
Do you still want to read more about today’s post? I can suggest a few sites to get you started. There’s the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and the Royal Canadian Mint, and then the CBC’s Canada: a People’s History. And lastly I highly recommend you stop by the Government of Canada’s Heroes of the War of 1812.