Canadian Voltigeurs

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Provincial Corps of Light Infantry
Battle of Chateauguay.jpg
Voltigeurs in action at the Battle of the Chateauguay
Active April 1812 – 24 May 1815
Country Lower Canada
Allegiance United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Branch Army
Type Light Infantry
Size Battalion
Engagements Battle of the Chateauguay
Battle of Crysler's Farm
Battle of Plattsburgh
Disbanded 1817
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Charles de Salaberry
Frederick Heriot

The Canadian Voltigeurs were a light infantry unit, raised in Lower Canada (the present-day Province of Quebec) in 1812, that fought in the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States.

History[edit]

Formation[edit]

As war with the United States threatened, on 15 April 1812 Sir George Prevost, the Governor General of Canada, authorised the enlistment of a Provincial Corps of Light Infantry under Lieutenant Colonel Charles de Salaberry, to serve during war or the "apprehension of war".

The unit was officially part of the militia, and its enlisted personnel were subject to the Militia laws and ordinances, but for all practical purposes, it was administered on the same basis as the Fencible units, also raised in Canada as regular soldiers but liable for service in North America only.

De Salaberry selected members of the leading families of Lower Canada as officers, but their commissions were not confirmed until they had recruited their quota of volunteers (for example, 36 men for Captains, 14 for Lieutenants). Several other officers transferred from units of the British Army stationed in Canada, in the hope that they would gain rank or seniority by the transfer. Most of these officers remained with the Voltigeurs even when these ambitions were not fulfilled.

Recruiting was brisk; in addition to a bounty of £4, the recruits were promised a grant of 50 acres (200,000 m2) of land on discharge. Almost all the soldiers and most of the officers were French-speaking, which led to the unit being widely known as the Voltigeurs, a French word meaning "vaulter" or "leaper", and given to elite light infantry units in the French Army. However, all formal orders on the parade ground or in battle were given in English.

The Voltigeurs wore grey uniforms, with black facings and accoutrements. The coats were fitted with the padded "wings" worn by grenadier and light infantry units of the British Army. The headgear was a small black bearskin cap. Officers wore a hussar-type uniform,[1] in bottle-green (or "rifle green", as it was becoming known). The weapon carried was the British India Pattern Musket.

The new unit mustered at Chambly. It had eight companies of light infantry, and some Mohawk warriors were attached. Two further companies were recruited from Sedentary militia of the Eastern Townships of the Montreal district, and officially listed as the ninth and tenth companies, but they formed a separate corps, the Frontier Light Infantry, throughout the war.

Service in the War of 1812[edit]

Some of the Voltigeurs were in action at the Battle of Lacolle Mills (1812), in which a half-hearted invasion of Canada by the American General Henry Dearborn was turned back.

Early in 1813, three companies were detached under the unit's second-in-command, Major Frederick Heriot, and moved up the Saint Lawrence River to form part of the garrison of Kingston, the main British base on Lake Ontario. On 29 May, two of these companies took part in the Battle of Sackett's Harbor. Later in the year, the detachment moved to Fort Wellington at Prescott, and subsequently played an important part in the Battle of Crysler's Farm.

The main body of the unit formed part of a light corps stationed to the south of Montreal, which was commanded by de Salaberry in person. Learning that an American division under Major General Wade Hampton was advancing from Four Corners in New York state, de Salaberry's force entrenched themselves by the River Chateauguay. On 26 October, Hampton attacked. Two companies of the Voltigeurs formed part of de Salaberry's front line, and five companies were part of his reserve. At the resulting Battle of the Chateauguay, Hampton was repulsed.

Early in 1814, the entire unit concentrated at Montreal, and was built back up to strength. De Salaberry had been appointed Inspecting Field Officer of Militia, and Major Heriot became the Voltigeurs' acting Commanding Officer. The Voltigeurs were brigaded with the Frontier Light Infantry, and another militia light infantry unit, the Canadian Chasseurs. The combined light infantry force formed part of a brigade under Major General Thomas Brisbane during the Battle of Plattsburgh, where the British army retreated after its supporting naval squadron was destroyed.

On the end of the war, the unit was disbanded, on 24 May, 1815.

Legacy[edit]

The current Les Voltigeurs de Québec today perpetuate the history and traditions of the Canadian Voltigeurs within the Canadian Army. They also share a common link by the name, the province in which they are located and family ties since the founding commanding officer, Charles-René-Léonidas d'Irumberry de Salaberry is Charles de Salaberry's grandson, and name.

A junior ice hockey team in the QMJHL from Drummondville, Quebec, the Drummondville Voltigeurs, takes their name from the unit.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Chartrand, p.21

References[edit]

  • Chartrand, Rene; Embleton Gerry (1998). British Forces in North America 1793–1815. Osprey. ISBN 1-85532-741-4. 
  • Benn, Carl (2002). The War of 1812 (Essential Histories 41). Osprey. ISBN 1-84176-466-3. 
  • Fryer, Mary Beacock (1986). Battlefields of Canada. Toronto: Dundurn Press. ISBN 1-55002-007-2. 

External links[edit]