November 22, 1812
The first Battle of the Salmon River [“French Mills” (near to Fort Covington, NY, USA) as the Americans refer to it (also near to St. Regis, Lower Canada)] was fought very briefly under a night sky and in poor weather on November 22nd, 1812 and Canadian occupation carried over to the early hours of the next day, November 23rd, 1812.
Fort Covington initially became occupied by the Americans in July of 1812 when they proceeded to begin the construction of a blockhouse on Covington Hill. It was from Fort Covington that Major Guilford Young (Troy Militia), aided by Capt. Rufus Tilden (Moira Militia) and Lt. Noble (Essex Militia), twice made raids on St. Regis in Lower Canada the second being successful in that the Americans plundered Canadian provisions and captured a company of British soldiers in the process. The distance between the two locations was/is approximately 18 miles. The American junior officers involved in the second raid on St. Regis expressed concern that Major Young was attempting to lead them against a British/Canadian force at Montreal and so they withdrew their men quickly to French Mills on the Salmon River. It was here that the Americans, numbering 50, were attacked by the Canadians.
The Canadian attacking force comprised of approximately 150 men of which one company was Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles (commanded by Capt. Alex Roxburgh) while the remainder of the force was made up of men from the Glengarry Militia (1st Regt.) and the Stormont Militia (although it’s the Dundas Militia – 1st Regt. that are credited with the battle and not the Stormont Militia) as well as Indian allies. The attack was in retaliation for the most recent raid on St. Regis (known as Akwesasne Indian Reservation today).
Lt. Col. Alex McMillan (Glengarry Militia) commanded and led a direct and spirited assault against the Americans using sound judgment. His second in command, Lt. Col. Neil McLean (Stormont Militia) was in command of the embarkation. In less than an hour the enemy that had fled to a blockhouse for protection had surrendered because they were outnumbered and completely surrounded. The Canadians had captured 4 river boats (bateaux), 57 muskets, 47 soldiers, 2 lieutenants and 1 captain.
In the aftermath of the battle the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles conducted themselves extremely well while the undisciplined and somewhat untrained militiamen from Glengarry and Stormont counties were difficult to control during the battle and also difficult to reign-in at battle’s end resulting in a cease-fire that took some time to complete. The militiamen also found it difficult to transport the captured muskets and accoutrements and as McMillan’s frustration mounted, he eventually ordered them, via Capt. Andrew Gray, to break all the captured muskets in two and throw them into the river.
The Canadians and their Indian allies retired back to Cornwall in Upper Canada where the Glengarry Militia was assigned with delivering the American prisoners to Coteau du Lac. Once there they were taken by boat to Montreal where they were eventually paroled and exchanged for some York Militiamen who had been captured during the summer months of 1812.
The Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles received no casualties at all in the first Battle of the Salmon River. It was a complete victory for them in every sense and it was their first engagement of the war.
© Mr. Jesse Pudwell; August 2009