Louis de Watteville

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Louis de Watteville (1776 – 1836), whose name was sometimes germanicised to Abraham Ludwig Karl von Wattenwyl was born in Switzerland but became a Major General in the British Army, and fought in the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812.

Dutch and Austrian service[edit]

His father was an officer in a Swiss mercenary regiment in the service of the Netherlands. No doubt through his influence, Louis fought as a junior officer in the same regiment against Revolutionary France in 1793 also in 1794. When the Netherlands were defeated by France, Louis gained a commission in a similar Swiss corps in the Austrian army in 1799. When Austria was defeated in turn, the various Swiss units were disbanded, and they regrouped under British command at Malta and various other posts in the Mediterranean. Louis's uncle Frédéric was appointed Colonel and gave his name to the regiment.

British service[edit]

Louis fought with the regiment at the Battle of Maida, in 1806, and at the Siege of Cádiz. He was appointed Colonel of his regiment in 1812. In the following year, he and the regiment were transferred from Cadiz to Upper Canada. By this time the regiment was a mixture of nationalities, including German, Italian and Hungarian, many of whom had been taken prisoner of war by the British while serving in the French armies in Spain.

War of 1812[edit]

On arrival at Quebec, de Watteville immediately struck up a friendship with the Governor General of Canada, Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost, himself of Swiss origin. He received promotion to Major General on 11 August 1813, although for a time held no appointment. On 17 October he was appointed to command the district of Montreal, which at the time was threatened by American armies approaching on two fronts. De Watteville immediately called out the militia and began strengthening his defences, but on 26 October, his collected outpost units under Lieutenant Colonel Charles de Salaberry defeated the nearest American army at the Battle of Chateauguay. De Watteville was present and gave full credit to de Salaberry in his dispatch. Unfortunately, Prevost, who was also present, belittled both de Watteville and de Salaberry in his own dispatch, which took precedence over those of his subordinates.

In June 1814, de Watteville was transferred briefly to the Richelieu River sector, but on 8 August, he was appointed to command the "Right Division" on the Niagara River in Upper Canada (succeeding Major General Phineas Riall who had been wounded and taken prisoner by the Americans at the Battle of Lundy's Lane). He reported to the siege lines around Fort Erie on 15 August. On 17 September, the Americans made a sortie against de Watteville's lines, leading to a bloody engagement in which about 600 men were killed or wounded on each side.

As campaigning wound down over the winter, de Watteville took leave in Montreal to meet his wife and family. Here he learned that the War had ended. After presiding over the court martial of Major General Henry Procter, he resumed his command, and in late 1815 was nominated Commander in Chief of the forces in Upper Canada. He preferred to retire from the army, and lived out the remainder of his life in retirement in Rubigen in Switzerland.

Although his career was undoubtedly assisted by family influence and the accident of serving under a Commander in Chief with similar background, de Watteville was often given credit as a steady officer, and noted for his fairness to subordinates.

De Watteville's Regiment[edit]

Note: de Watteville's regiment, although no longer under his command from the date of his promotion to Major General, suffered heavy casualties at Fort Erie, and also suffered heavily from desertion. As already mentioned, by the time it arrived in Canada it was a motley mix of nationalities with little obvious cause for loyalty to the British cause. On the end of the war, several of its survivors accepted discharge on the spot, and settled in Upper Canada. The members of the regiment were offered land grants.

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