Apparently the old adage “once bitten, twice shy” did not apply to the United States, or rather, its Secretary of War, John Armstrong Jr. From the first failed attempt at conquering Quebec back during the Revolutionary War, it seemed that the old US of A would have learned their lesson trying to conquer the Great White North of Quebec and its polar bears (minus the polar bears). In fact, Benjamin Franklin even admitted that it would have probably been easier to buy Canada rather than to try to conquer it. (America would indeed purchase territories later, with President Jefferson purchasing the Louisiana Territories from France, thus ensuring America’s rapid expansion westwards, but that’s another story.)
Along the line somewhere came the War of 1812 and Americans, now Independent with a capital I since the end of the American Revolution with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. On the brink of turning thirty, America decided it would be an interesting excursion to alternatively conquer Canada, get their own national anthem, and renovate the White House (which wasn’t white back then), and so they went onwards.
Whereas Napoleon, an event in himself, was happening in Europe (he had crowned himself emperor back in 1803), the Americans, with President James Madison, were again unhappy with Great Britain. Various theories as to why America was unhappy include their desire for more territory, the British practice of impressment (forcing people into navy service), and even the threat of becoming submissive to the British economy if war ever happened. Whatever the reason, Madison declared war on June 1, 1812. One autumn day in 1813, it would be up to Lieutenant-General Charles de Salaberry and his army and allies to defend Quebec from the American invasion.
By numbers, de Salaberry’s Voltigeurs, professional Canadian soldiers that did not belong to the British army, was outnumbered by 1000 American troops that came marching into the area near the Chateauguay river which is now approximately the town of Ormstown in the South shore. De Salaberry’s allies included volunteers and Mohawk allies, whereas Wade Hampton, the leader of the American forces, were army soldiers composed of regulars and militia. It would be one of the battles in the war with the least amount of Canadian casualties (two). On the American side, the battle was almost a disaster from the beginning, with about 1000 troops refusing to cross into Canada in the first place, and a very long and difficult journey with not-very-efficient guides. The Battle of Chateauguay lasted several hours, ending with Hampton’s retreat at 3 PM.
The War of 1812 is a common starting point for historians to trace back the idea of the start of a “Canadian” consciousness separate from Britain. Whereas the war is not remembered as much in Britain, since the Napoleonic Wars would gain importance in Europe, the War of 1812 would ensure Upper and Lower Canada’s continuation as members in the British Empire until Confederation in 1867 and its complete independence with the repatriation of the constitution in 1982 with the Canada Act.
The Battle of Chateauguay in Quebec as well as the Battle of Crysler’s Farm would end the American’s St. Lawrence Campaign of 1813.