This Week in History


Repelling the Last American Invasion of Lower Canada:
The Battle of Lacolle

For the week of Monday March 26, 2012

On March 30, 1814, the Battle of Lacolle began near the Lacolle River in Lower Canada (modern-day Quebec). The Battle of Lacolle resulted in the death of 24 soldiers and the wounding of dozens. It also marked the end of the last American invasion of Lower Canada during the War of 1812.


Lacolle Blockhouse
© “Lacolle Mills Blockhouse,” Wikipedia
American troops had spent the winter of 1813-14 in New York near the Canadian border, recuperating from defeats at the Battle of Chateauguay and Crysler’s Farm. In a bold attempt to move past these defeats, U.S. Major General James Wilkinson decided to invade Lower Canada. The plan was to capture a small British outpost at Lacolle to draw the entire British Army into a major battle with his army. On March 30, he and his 4,000 soldiers marched through the Canadian border to Odelltown, a village near Lacolle. After fending off Canadian troops en route, the Americans set up a cannon battery to fire upon the outpost.

At the time, Lacolle was commanded by Major R.B. Handcock and garrisoned with a regular force of about 160 British soldiers from the 13th Regiment, 70 men of the Royal Marines as well as a detachment from the Frontier Light Infantry and the Canadian Fencibles. The British troops responded to the American cannon fire by launching an unsuccessful bayonet attack on the cannon battery. Hearing the sounds of battle, several nearby companies hurried to help defend the post. Finally, British gunboats arrived at the mouth of the Lacolle River and began firing cannons and rockets at the American position. The Americans realized that they could achieve little by continuing the attack in the snowy, wet weather, and at the end of the day, they retreated back towards the border. The battle was over. 

Uniform button of the Royal Marines, a battalion that fought in the Battle of Lacolle
© Courtesy of the Niagara Falls History Museum / 986.D.98.75, 1814

Both sides had lost roughly the same amount of men, with the British suffering 11 deaths and the Americans 13. For the British, this battle provided a morale boost, as they had withstood an invasion by the numerically superior American forces. For the Americans, the loss resulted in a change in commanding officers as Major-General Wilkinson was removed. Though this was the last invasion of Lower Canada during the War of 1812, the war was far from over.

The Battle of Lacolle was designated a National Historic Site in 1923. Many related forts and battles including Fort Erie, captured by the Americans in 1814, and the Battle of Chippawa, a subsequent action in 1814, were also designated national historic sites in 1931 and 1921 respectively.

This year is the bicentennial of the War of 1812! To learn more about the War of 1812, please read the stories The British Lose Ground, Americans Take Fort George, Victory at Fort Detroit!, and A Warrior’s Death in the This Week in History archives.

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