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Excerpt from
  "Desperate Bravery", The Last Invasion of Quebec, 1814

By Robert Henderson


Canadian Voltigeurs on the march to reinforce Lacolle Mills
(painting by G.A. Embleton, copyright Parks Canada)

The following is part of the events that occurred before the U.S. Army arrived at Lacolle Mill on March 30, 1814.  150 Canadians advance on the US Army after it started to counter march to put itself on to the right road to Lacolle Mill. 

 

   ...While an army’s life can be a hard one, this did not stop soldiers from entertaining themselves in their duty.   One example of this was that the Voltigeurs referred to the cartridges in their pouches as “pills for Yankees”.   Just before 1:00 pm, the Voltigeur ‘apothecaries’ got the opportunity to administer their medicine.   Because of the rough road, the tired horses pulling the American artillery had to be changed often,[1] and this may have put them in an exposed position.  Advancing at the double with the hope of capturing the artillery,[2] the Voltigeurs and Canadian Grenadiers stopped, formed, and began firing into a detached group of riflemen protecting the army’s withdrawal.  Hearing the exchange of fire and reports that they had been “attacked by a strong force of the enemy”, General Wilkinson ordered Bissell’s brigade to advance in support of the riflemen.[3] 

            Advancing his troops down the road, Bissell began to draw fire from the Canadians.   Still a good distance away, surprisingly one bullet found its billet in the body of Lieutenant Parker of the 14th Infantry, “a young man of real merit”, who fell mortally wounded.  Having dropped his sword when he was shot, Parker asked for it back as he was being carried from the field: “Give it to me for I can still defend myself.”  It took several days for Parker to die, and during that time he expressed his regret not being wounded in close combat: “hard is my lot, that I should have received this wound at such a distance from the enemy.”[4]

            Reported later as “a strong force of British regulars”,[5] Cartwright’s force slowly advanced on Bissell’s brigade and more Canadian bullets began to find their mark.   Bissell had had enough and gave the order for his brigade to move from column into line.  Soon the narrow road and adjacent farm fields were jammed with companies forming the frontage Bissell had ordered for.  In column along the narrow road, Bissell could bring maybe eighty muskets to bear on the Canadians.  However in line, hundreds of muskets were ready to punish Cartwright’s boldness.   However, Bissell’s Corps was made up of detachments of various regiments,[6] like Clark’s Vermont Battalion, and performing this movement with companies unfamiliar with each other through deep snow must have been painstaking slow with breakdowns in cohesion. While forming into line, the 14th Infantry’s Major Isaac Barnard unfortunately lost the use of his mount: “I had dismounted to get over a fence, and snow bank which we had to pass, when they plugged him through the head.”[7] 

            Before Bissell’s brigade could complete their maneuver, Cartwright realized he had overstayed his welcome and withdrew out of range.  This exchange of fire with the Canadians had left Bissell with Lieutenant Parker and twelve men killed or wounded.  Dispatches arrived from Wilkinson inquiring into Bissell’s situation.   With the enemy put to flight, Bissell could do no more but order his units back into column and countermarch them to retake their place in the line.   This would not be the last time the US army would see these bold Canadians who “hung upon the enemy’s left flank during the whole of his movement.”[8]

This book will be released in 2013.


[1] Wilkinson, Memoirs... Vol. 3, p. 321.

[2] D. C. L. Gosling, “The Battle of LaColle Mill, 1814” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research Vol. 47, #191 Autumn 1969 p. 172; referencing an eyewitness account by Joseph Noel in “The Engagement at LaColle” Montreal Daily Star, February 2, 1895.

[3] Geneva Gazette,  April 9, 1814 quoting a letter from an officer published in the Albany Register; Wilkinson, Memoirs... Vol. 3, p. 321.  This sequence of events is sketchy.  Bissell’s brigade was behind Smith’s brigade but they were ordered to support the advance.  The only way this could have happened is Clark’s force and Smith’s Brigade had already countermarched leaving a detachment of riflemen to secure the flank.  A group of detached Riflemen on the battle map around Lacolle later that day suggests a division of Forsyth’s unit had occurred.

[4 Plattsburgh Republican Saturday April 9, 1814.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Samuel Hazard,ed. Hazard’s Register of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, May 17, 1834 vol. 13. No. 20 p. 306.  The front battalion of Bissell’s Corps contained the 14th, 20th and 23rd Infantry with the 14th Infantry companies leading by seniority. 

[7] Samuel Hazard,ed. Hazard’s Register of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, May 17, 1834 vol. 13. No. 20 p. 306.

[8] J Bouchette, A Topographical Description... p. 182

   

 

Copyright The Discriminating General 2010


 


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