Battle of St. Eustache

The Battle of St. Eustache was the last great battle of the Lower Canada (Quebec) Rebellion. St. Eustache is a rather small town located to the north of Montreal.

The Patriots established their camps there. It was from these bases that leaders of this force Jean-Olivier Chenier and Amury Girod intended to seize the metropolis. In fact, the number of the Patriots was relatively small, but they relied on sympathizers within the city. Reality was, however, very harsh. Louis-Joseph Papineau, Thomas Storrow Brown and Wolfred Nelson had fled to the United States, along with hundreds of other Patriots.

On 6 December 1837, the movement suffered another setback when 80 or so of their exiled fellow Patriots were ambushed by local militia as they attempted to re-enter Quebec from Vermont. One Patriot was killed, while arms, artillery, ammunition and four Patriots were captured. The remaining Patriots were forced to retreat to the United States.

Disagreements between Patriots at St. Eustache started. William Henry Scott, one of the remaining leaders, had concluded that further military efforts would be futile and fatal. He encouraged Chenier and Girod to disband the camps, but was dismissed. Jean-Olivier Chenier was a medical doctor. He commanded the force of about 300 remaining Patriots, mostly peasants and merchants. His opponent, General John Colborne had 1200 regular solders and no less than 200 volunteers. The General had been at Waterloo where he dealt with the French Imperial Old Guard.

But even without the veteran of Waterloo, it is impossible to imagine who Chenier could have achieved a victory against the force which he was confronted. On 14 December, the troops marched into the village. The Patriots holed themselves up in the village church, the convent and the presbytery. Colborne ordered his artillery to fire upon the church. The bombardment lasted two hours, yet the church withstood all. As dusk descended, a detachment of Royals entered the church in an attempt to drive the Patriots out into the open.

The Patriots fired from the second story, forcing the British to withdraw. However, before abandoning the church, they set the altar cloth alight. The church was ablaze in minutes. Many Patriots, trying to escape, were caught by bullets. Dr. Chenier was killed by a bullet while trying to fire at the approaching solders. In the end, three British regulars were killed. The number of Patriot fatalities was close to one hundred. Among the survivors was Girod.

Just as the fighting had begun, he left St – Eustache, supposedly to ask for help from the base at St – Benoit. As the reinforcements never arrived, he was accused of cowardice and committed suicide to prove than he was not a traitor.

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