War of 1812people

Charles de Salaberry

British

Charles de Salaberry’s letter to his father after Chateauguay

Charles de Salaberry responds to the Legislative Assembly's unanimous vote of thanks

The Battle of Chateauguay

Charles-Michel D’Irumberry De Salaberry was born into a French-Canadian aristocratic family whose men had served in the armies of the kings of France for generations. After 1760, they saw no reason not to continue the tradition under the kings of England. The son of a British officer, Charles-Michel joined the British army at 14. In November of 1812, he commanded the advance guard of the force that turned away Henry Dearborn’s northern attack at La Colle Mill. In the summer of 1813, he and his Voltigeurs covered Murray’s retreat from Plattsburg and Burlington.

De Salaberry organized his Régiment de Voltigeurs Canadiens himself. It was really a militia unit, though he drilled its members exactly as he would have regulars. He even paid for some of their equipment out of his own pocket. De Salaberry lived by a strict code of conduct. He believed death preferable to life without honour. He was a harsh disciplinarian, yet his men adored him.

In the fall of 1812, when American troops under Wade Hampton began massing near the border, de Salaberry was aware of their movements and numbers since he had an efficient spy network among the border farmers. When Hampton advanced along the Chateauguay River, he resolved to stop him at the confluence of the Chateauguay and English Rivers. His Voltigeurs would fight behind breastworks of abatis - tangles of trees felled with their tops pointing down into the ravines.

The odds were not in de Salaberry’s favor. With a force of barely 1500, he intended to stop an army of over 4000, yet he was so confident that he didn’t even bother to notify his superiors that Hampton’s forces were advancing along the Chateauguay. This was an oversight that could have easily landed him before a court martial if he had failed.

But he didn’t fail. When Hampton attacked, de Salaberry had his men sound bugles simultaneously throughout the forest, leading the credulous Hampton to believe the Canadians outnumbered his army. Hampton next attempted a flanking movement that also failed, largely because of American timidity. After less than a day, Hampton had had enough and withdrew back over the border.

After the War of 1812, de Salaberry became a folk hero in French Canada. He served as justice of the peace for various district courts, and served on the legislative council for Lower Canada. After his father’s death, he became Seigneur of St. Mathias. He died in 1829.