The Battle of Three Rivers (Trois-Rivières)
June 8, 1776 at Three Rivers, Canada
The Battle of Three Rivers (Trois-Rivières) was the British army, under Quebec Governor Sir Guy Carleton, in pursuit of an American force. They defeated an American counterattack, led by Brigadier General John Sullivan.
Gen. Sullivan was impetuous and spoiling for a fight from the very beginning. He decided to establish a base at Sorel, on the American side of the St. Lawrence River midway between Quebec and Montreal, from which he could maneuver and yet hold upper Canada. One of the first things Sullivan did upon his arrival was to launch an attack on the British garrison holding Trois Rivieres.
The American army in Canada had suffered a severe blow in the disastrous Battle of Quebec City on December 31, 1775. A heavy flow of supplies and reinforcements allowed the Americans to maintain a presence in the vicinity of Quebec into 1776, but massively superior British artillery made siege impossible, and disease and attrition further thinned their ranks.
In May, a British naval relief squadron sailed into Quebec Harbor. Carleton added the 9th, 20th, 29th and 60th Regiments of Foot along with Hessian troops from Brunswick to his command and set out against the Americans. Sullivan was already in retreat towards Montreal.
Facts about the Battle of Three Rivers
- Armies - American Forces was commanded by Gen. John Sullivan and consisted of about 2,500 Soldiers. British Forces was commanded by Gen. Guy Carleton and consisted of about 3,000 Soldiers.
- Casualties - American casualties were estimated to be 25 killed, 140 wounded, and 236 captured. British casualties was approximately 8 killed and 9 wounded.
- Outcome - The result of the battle was a British victory. The battle was part of the Invasion of Quebec 1775-76.
The Battle Begins
On June 8, the attack was a fiasco. Sullivan began what was intended to be a surprise attack at 3:00 AM. The local guide turned on the Patriots and led them down the wrong road. When they discovered that they had been tricked they attempted to backtrack, but to save time they left the public roads and started cross country. They soon found themselves stuck in a swamp.
The Americans reached dry ground about daybreak. They were seen and fired upon by British vessels in the river. In their effort to take cover within the bordering woods, they found themselves falling into another swamp. At that point, the group fanned out in all directions and became separated.
At some time after 8:00 AM, Colonel Anthony Wayne and about 200 men met up with a group of British troops, but the Americans were successful in the skirmish that ensued. Colonel William Thompson, in control of the main body of the Patriots, was stopped by a line of entrenchments that the British, under Major General John Burgoyne, had quickly established.
Thompson did not hesitate to launch an attack on the British lines, but the Americans were forced to retreat under heavy fire. That retreat was cut off by British troops who had encircled the them. The Americans fled through the woods toward Sorel.
Carleton did not want to take the Americans as prisoners and so they were allowed to escape. He commented to one of his officers at the time: "What would you do with them? Have you spare provisions for them? Or would you send them to Quebec to starve? No, let the poor creatures go home and carry with them a tale which will serve his majesty more effectually than their capture."
The Americans continued their escape for about two days, reaching the bridge at Riviere du Loup, over which the British let them pass. Despite Carleton's wishes, 236 Americans surrendered to him rather than continue on in flight. Nearly 400 Americans were killed, captured, and wounded in the confused fighting at Trois Rivieres, compared to only about a dozen British troops.