Battle of Lacolle Mills, 1814
by Robert Henderson

After his defeat at Crysler’s Farm by a vastly inferior in number enemy and a poorly handled retreat from French Mills on the St. Lawrence river in February, Major General James Wilkinson in March 1814 was again planning an invasion of Canada. The dishonoured general hoped that a quick victory against a small British force, would help him avoid condemnation by his superiors in Washington for his previous campaign.

Leaving Plattsburg, NY and moving up along Lake Champlain, Wilkinson’s army of four thousand men crossed the Canadian frontier on March 30th and attacked a small outpost at Lacolle Mills. Housed in a stone mill and a wooden blockhouse was a company of 13th Regiment of Foot numbering 70 to 80 men. This company was reinforced by the 13th Regiment’s Grenadier and Light companies from Isle aux Noix. Meanwhile Wilkinson’s force quickly established a battery of a 12 pounder gun and a 5 inch mortar in hopes of dislodging the members of the 13th barricaded in the stone mill. A rapid thaw of that day made the ground too soft for the 18 pounder to be brought up. The ensuing American barrage was answered with congreve rockets.

Assessing the battery to be the chief threat to his position at Lacolle Mills, the British commander Major Handcock ordered the 13th flank companies to attack the guns. After a couple of charges, Handcock withdrew with a number of casualties. The small garrison maintained a brisk fire upon the American Artillery and Infantry positions. At one point both the officer commanding the US Artillery and his successor fell wounded. Hearing the noise of Wilkinson’s investment of Lacolle, a company of the Canadian Voltiguers and Canadian Fencible Grenadier company at Burtonville, two miles distant, were ordered to reinforce Handcock. With the spring thaw, these were forced to wade at time up to their waists in icy water as they made their way to the action. Making their way through a hole in the US lines, Captain Cartwright of the Canadian Fencibles, in charge of the small Canadian force, ordered an immediate attack on the guns. The heavy US infantry support of the battery checked this new attempt.

The battery in the end proved ineffective in breaching the walls of the mill. After hours of little success and with Lacolle reinforced to over 500 men and supported by Royal Navy guns, Wilkinson decide to withdrew back across the border. The losses to the Americans were 13 killed, 128 wounded and 13 missing. The British casualties were lighter with 11 killed, 46 wounded, and 4 missing; the majority of which coming from the 13th Grenadier and Light Company attack on the guns.

British Letter on the Engagement

The following is a letter written by the lieutenant colonel of the 13th Regiment to Major General Vincent, in command of the region south of Montreal providing further details of the battle including the active participation of the Royal Navy and Marines in the engagement:

[National Archives of Canada, Record Group 8, Series I, vol. 682, p.289]

“La Cole, March 31st, 1814


I beg leave to acquiant you that I have just received from Major Handcock of the 13th Regiment Commanding at the Block house on La Cole rvier, a report stating that the out Post on the roads from Burtonville, and La Cole Mill leading to oDell Town were attacked at an early hour yesterday morning by the Enemy in great force collected from Platsburg, and Burlington under the Command of Major General Wilkinson. The attack on the Burtonville road was soon over, when the Enemy shewed themselves on the road from the Mill that leads direct to oDellTown where they drove in a picket stationed in advance of La Cole about a mile & half distantand soon after the Enemy established a Battery of three Guns (12 pounders) in the Wood.--with this Artillery they began to fire on the Mill.--when Major Handcock hearing of the arrival of the Flank Comapnies of the 13th Regiment at the Block house he ordered an attack on the Guns which however was not successful from the wood being so thick and so filed with men; soon after another opportunity presented itself when the Canadian Grenadier Company and a Company of the Voltigeurs attempted the Guns but the very great superiority of the Enemy’s numbers hid in the woods prevented their taking them-- I have to regret the loss of many brave & good Soldiers in these two attacks, and am particularly sorry to lose the services for a short time of Captain Ellard of the 13th Regiment from being wounded, while gallantly leading his Company.

The Enemy withdrew their Artillery towards night fall, and retired towards morning from the Mill taking th road to oDell Town.

Major Handcock speaks in hight terms of obligation to Captain Ritter of the Frontier Light Infantry who from his knowledge of the country was of great benefit. The Marine detachment under Lieuts. Caldwell & Barton, The Canadian Grenadier Company, and the Company of Voltiguers, as well as all the troops employed the Major expresses himself in high terms of praise for their conduct so honorable to the Service--

Major Handcock feels exceedingly indebted to Captain Pring Royal Navy for his ready & prompt assistance in moving up the Sloop and Gun boats from Isle aux Noix to the entrance of the La Cole river, the fire from which was so distructive. Lieut. Creswick & Lieut. Hicks of the R.N. were most zealous in forwarding the Stores, and landing two Guns from the Boats and getting them up to the Mill.

To Major Handcock the greatest praise is due for his most gallant defence of the Mill against such superior numbers, and I earnestly trust it will meet the approbation of His Excellency, The Comr. of the Forces. I have the honor to transmit a list of the Killed & wounded of the British that of the Enemy from all accounts I can collect from the Inhabitants must have been far greater.

I have the honor to be Sir

Your most obedient Humble Servant,

William Williams

Lieut. Col. 13th Regt

Comg. At Saint Johns"

Copyright The Discriminating General 1998


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