The Battle of La Colle Mill
British at La Colle Mill
The Battle of La Colle Mill
In the autumn of 1812, U.S.
Major General Henry Dearborn finally
decides to attack Montreal. The American strategy was to divide Upper
and Lower Canada by cutting the St. Lawrence River supply line. But, Dearborn
has been painfully slow in preparing his invasion of Lower Canada.
The American commander is extremely
discouraged to find that recruiting for volunteers in New England is an
uphill battle. New Englanders have little interest in attacking their
neighbours and biggest trading partners. Most of the six thousand men
that Dearborn finally gathers in Albany come from other states.
Hulls embarrassing surrender at Fort Detroit, and the failed invasion at Queenston Heights, has made many Americans hungry for a victory. President James Madison is fed up with Dearborns procrastination. He orders the invasion: It is essential, notwithstanding the advance of the season and the difficulties thrown in the way, that the expedition against Montreal should be forwarded by all the means in your power.
Dearborn moves a large part of his army north to Plattsburg. On November
27, 1812, the first American force to invade Lower Canada, crosses the
border south of Montreal, near the town of La Colle.
A force of 300 Canadian Voltigeurs
and 230 Kahnawake Mohawk warriors, under the command of Charles
de Salaberry, huddle around a mill near the village. De Salaberrys
men resist the American advance fiercely but by nightfall the badly outnumbered
Canadians and Natives are forced to retreat to safety. The Americans gain
control of the mill and quickly make preparations for another advance.
During the night the mill is attacked. A pitched battle rages on in the
dark for hours. The break of day reveals the horrible truth of the battle
to the U.S. troops: they have been fighting another American unit, which
had crossed the border separately. Americans have been killing Americans.
Stunned by these events, the shaken U.S. soldiers are caught off guard
as de Salaberry launches his counter-attack.
The American militia units has
never been particularly enthusiastic about invading Canada and this deters
them completely. They retreat back across the border. The coming winter
will prevent the Americans from making another attempt at Montreal.
The first United States invasion of Lower Canada turns into an embarrassing
fiasco for the Americans. The disgraced General Dearborn wants to step
down from his position as commander of the U.S. forces. He writes to President
Madison: It will be equally agreeable to me to employ such moderate
talents as I possess in the service of my country, or to be permitted
to retire to the shades of private life, and remain a mere but interested
spectator of passing events. The following spring, President Madison
grants Dearborn his wish.