Swiss DeMeuron Regiment in North America, 1813-1815  

The following is a composite of research done by several of our members. Special mention should be given to David Else and Joe Winterburn , who have compiled the most complete references over the past 21 years of our group's existance.  Also included are several quotations and excerpts from writings by Guy de Meuron, the present day Compte de Meuron, who resides in Neuchatel, Switzerland. These have been translated by David Else.


In 1813, the regiment departed for Canada on the 5th of May, aboard the trasports HMS Melpemone, Regulus, and Dover. Their numbers consisted of 1 major, 6 captains, 20 lieutenants and ensigns, 54 sergeants, 22 drummers and 1001 rank and file. It is also interesting to note here, that there were "officially" 28 women (wives) and 28 children listed on the regimental roll.

"Leaving Gibraltar on June fourth at four in the morning, the regiment crosses the ocean on the last episode of this story. We are going to reinforce the British army in Canada, "ces quelques arpents de neige" according to Voltaire, to protect his possessions from the pushy American. We crossed under the protection of the English frigates. The Dover advances to the front position and the Regulus, heavier, has trouble following; in the heavy mist the Melpomene touches bottom in the vicinity of Newfoundland, but can depart the following day, June 25, by high tide.
After a short stay from the sixth until the tenth of July, at Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, the convoy arrives on August 5th in Quebec, at the mouth of the Saint Lawrence Estuary; on a rocky headland that dominates the river, the city puts on its majestic allure as the old capital of Canada. All of the province of Quebec has "kept something precious and unique: a French perfume that is not an imitation of anything known"
From the memoirs of Alain Bosquet, HM Regiment de Meuron

Not all of the officers were on the transport ships. A muster report, filed May, 1814, reports that there were more wives and children who accompanied the regiment. It may be that Henri de Meuron-Bayard paid for their passage separately, along with his own, as he is listed in the muster, but not on the transport manifest.

Muster Report of the Regiment, at Chambly, May 29, 1814
Major-General George Townsend Walker (Colonel-inChief)
Lieutenant-Colonel Francois-Henry de Meuron-Bayard
Majors T. Fane and C. E. de May
10 Captains
18 Lieutenants
6 Ensigns
1 Pay-Master
1 Quarter-Master
1 Surgeon
64 Sergeants
59 Corporals
21 Drummers
852 Privates
92 Wives and 42 Children
It is also quite probable that many of the men found wives here, in Canada, to replace the ones who were left in Europe. This was a common custom of the time.
Regarding the Officers, there were twenty-eight Swiss, eleven English and five Germans. Among the Swiss are nine Neuchatelois, two members of the Meuron family: Francois-Henri, the Lieutenant-Colonel, and Charles-Cesar, 2nd Lieutenant, who will be promoted to Lieutenant.

At the occasion of this review, it is noticed that the regimental colours, after eighteen years of service, do not follow the rules of the British army. The field of the flag should be sky blue, the same colour as the Regimental Facing. Instead, it is a Swiss Sun Burst, in the de Meuron family livery of green, black and yellow.

It is most certain that not all of the regiment departed for Canada. A large number of officers and men remained behind, in Europe. There are several "Letters of transfer" by officers, exchanged over the months that followed. No doubt, many of the officers and men transfered to the Kings German Legion, and continued to fight against Napoleon, in Europe.

 A letter dated September 9, 1813, from R.H. Sheaffe at Chambly to Sir George Prevost at Kingston

"I have seen De Mueron's Regiment this morning, and have ben much pleased with its soldierly appearance - unfortunately it is week in Officers - in other respects it seems to be in a very efficient state: - gray trowcers are providing for them - their present dress is White cloth Breeches and Black Leggins."

They were stationed at Montreal and Chambly, as part of the defense of Lower Canada.
There is no doubt that the General Staff at Quebec were very pleased to have recieved a first rate line regiment to bolster the hard pressed Canadian Militia. Due to the priority of the Peninsula War in Europe, there were very few Regular Army troops available for North America.
 
 
October 30, 1813, Inspection Report of Col Sidney Beckwith at Montreal to Prevost.

"The Regiment De Meuron
The right wing of this regiment, it is my duty to report to Your Excellency, made a most respectable appearance. The men healthy, effective & fit for service. The Arms and Appointments in excellent order. Their Winter Clothing good & compleat. Their style of marching Order, good - their Packs and Blankets well put on. A very trifling deficiency of Canteens, the only Objection that could reasonably be stated and I am persuaded ay General Office inspecting those companines would have not hesitated to pronounce them fit to take the field. Their Barracks in good Order & look'd at in ten Minutes after the Men had Turn'd out of them."


The New York and Plattsburgh Campaigns of 1813 and 1814.

On arriving in Canada, the regiment recruits a number of other Swiss who had already fought under the British command in the Royal American Regiment.
The reputation of the Swiss was not unknown on this side of the Atlantic. These additional officers, along with knowing the French language, had more of an advantage in being Protestants, while the large majority of de Meurons where Catholic.
Jocques Prevost (de Geneva), Henry Bouquiet (de Rolle), and Frederic Haldimand (de Yverdon) had helped to organised the defence of Canada.
These three Swiss officers had functioned like instructors in Canada, impressing the inexperienced Canadian Militia troops with combat principles. Captain P. Clais (de Berne), another Swiss, introduced liaison to the army and the British navy.

The Canadians (now Quebec) refused to associate with the independence movement in America and they openly rejected the principles of the French Revolution. Remaining attached to those principles of the eighteenth century, they thus demonstrated their loyalty to the British Crown. The people of Lower Canada earned the right to become a Dominion during the War of 1812.

At the outbreak of the war, there were three military regions under the orders of Lieutenant-General Sir George Prevost. One in Upper Canada operating around Lake Ontario, and one each in Central and Lower Canada in the Province of Quebec.
Prevost was Governor of Canada and Commanding Officer, although his military competence was not equal to that of his father.

The de Meuron regiment was given the task of defending the Richelieu River Valley, which flows from Lake Champlain and empties into the Saint Lawrence River. There were numerous forts, built by the Canadians, along the course of the Richelieu.
William Henry was at the mouth on the Saint Lawrence, as well as Forts Chambly, Saint Jean and Ile-au-Noix (Fort Lennox), built on the island in the middle of the river.

The Americans needed to seize control of the valley. It is the key to accessing Lower Canada. At the time, supremacy of the lakes and rivers, the only lines of communication, meant winning the war in the East.
All this area had already been a battle ground for Canada against its' enemies coming from the south, first of all the Iroquois, then the English at the time of Montcalm, after that the Americans, in the War of Independence, and now, again the Americans in the War of 1812.

Ville de Quebec (Quebec City) was well fortified, but the Canadians had to protect Montreal, the commercial capital. The security of Montreal depended on the maintenance of an impenetrable line between Chambly and La Prairie on the Saint Lawrence and then disposing of the strong American fleet on Lake Champlain.
Reinforced by English Canadian militia troops, the regiment defended that line. The Regimental Head Quarters and main body were Fort Chambly. There were other strong points at Saint-Jean (still occupied by the Canadian Forces, today), La Prairie and Blaire-faindie.

The Americans had already tried, twice, at la Colle, to break the defences. The second attempt, in October of 1813, had been made against a vastly outnumbered Canadian Militia, supported by only two companies of British Regular troops.
In spite of their superiority, their invasion was pushed back at la Colle, Fort Ile-au-Noix, and at Chateauguay. The Canadians, commanded by Colonel Salaberry with 500 men, held the line against a brigade of American Regular troops.

 The Americans retreated to Plattsburg, on Lake Champlain. This was the General Headquarters and the main base for their fleet. For the Americans, the problem was going to become, not the successful invasion of Lower Canada, but the defence of the whole northern US.
Just as the Richelieu River Valley was the key to Lower Canada, it was also the gateway into New York, and the rest of New England. The Canadian Militia, was becoming a competant and professional army.

If the Americans lost Plattsburg, they would loose the war. In spite of the incompetence of George Prevost as British Commander, this almost happened.

The de Meurons went on the offensive in the spring of 1814.



During winter of 1813-14, the de Meuron companies rotated to Montreal.
Leaving minimum garrisons in place, the troops got a chance to enjoy a time in Canada's largest city.

After twenty years in the tropics and the Mediterranean, the Regiment spends Christmas in a land not too unlike their home.
On the 23rd of December, seven musicians from the regiment played at Notre Dame in Montreal and received three Louis and ten Shillings for their labour.
Many of these hard veteran soldiers begin to fall in love with Canada.

The winter rest was interrupted by an urgent alarm. The Regiment quickly marches across the frozen Saint Lawrence, blocked by the mountains of ice.
The men must cut themselves a path with axes, it is piercing cold. When the regiment arrives again at Chambly, they learn that the Americans intend to make a move north, once more.


Fortunately, the Americans are plagued by the same brand of incompetence as the British. The American General Staff hesitate, and loose the advantage. They are afraid of repeating the same blunder as the second battle of la Colle, last October.

The campaign becomes a game of chess. Marches and countermarches from one to one village to another, each side trying to gain the advantage over the other. This is the type of campaign the de Meurons know about, as it is the favourite strategy of their former commander, Arthur Wellesley, now the Duke of Wellington. However, to the Canadians it is monotonous and tiring.

Prevost becomes impatient, and perhaps he senses his lack of skill for this type of European war. Some of his soldiers dessert, and perhaps he fears he will loose his army and his reputation. During the month of July, the Americans decided to try and consolidated their positions at Niagara and around Lake Erie. The time is right for the Canadians to attack on Lake Champlain.

 Prevost has at his disposal a force of 30,000 men in Upper and Lower Canada. This time, the Americans will be outnumbered. The moment appears favourable for the British-Canadians to launch an offensive.

 A sea borne raid is planned on Washington in August. This will draw every American soldier in New England south, to defend the capitol. 


Prevost puts in motion an army of 11,000 men between August 31st and the first days of September. On two parallel roads they marched along the river west of Lake Champlain. One column is to the right, commanded by the Major General Power and Rottenburg, and the other on the left under Major General Brisbane.
In the left column marches the de Meuron Regiment with the Canadian Regiment Voltigeurs de Quebec, as the second brigade with Brigade Major G. Campbell.

 On the Fourth of September the army reaches the village of Chazy. From here the roads are covered by cut trees and the bridges have been destroyed by the retreating Americans. The vanguard is engaged several times, by American light infantry.
By the sixth of September, the two columns are in the proximity of Plattsburg. The right column is the first to reach Plattsburg, the left a little behind. Before superior numbers of British-Canadian troops, the Americans who have been harrasing the column (militia and volunteers) under General Alexander Macomb (about 330 men) refuse to do battle. They destroy the Saranac bridge which divides the village in two and retire to the Plattsburg Citadel, in reality three blockhouses and three strong fortlets, of Moreau, Scott and Brown.
The Anglo-Canadian force encircles Plattsburg: Power and Rottenburg with the Chasseurs to the north-west, with Prevost in the centre. When Brisbane's column arrived on the left, Plattsburg has only the outlet of the Bay of Cumberland. The American fleet, four ships and ten gunboats, commanded by Captain Thomas Macdonough, are all that stand in the way of the British.

"The regiment de Meuron does not follow the way taken by the main army, but went to the left, expecting the cannon of Platzbourg in that direction and to fall on the main route on the shore of Lake Ontario (in reality, the Lake Champlain), which was occupied by the American fleet.
The regiment de Meuron meanwhile receive gun fire from the American fleet, but none hit, but two shots of cannon left the fort of Platzborg, to send two balls that ricochet upon the column without touching any personal; than all the regiment without command on to the right for themselves to repay into the forest to one point on the village; the column cross with stride the coarse of wood and thus be in the town's defenders whose the musketmen were hidden under cover the..."
Charles de Goumoens, Lieutenant, HM Regiment de Meuron.

Lt. Graffenried recounts the same story, with some variation:

"It be the first occasion that I have been firing, in passing along the shore of the bay, we receive the grapeshot from the fleet and we do lose some men. Arriving on the outskirts, we (the four companies de Meuron), establish ourselves; they are in whole retreat, the inhabitants have taken flight as we loudly approach. They have dropped their provisions and good homes the tables are set for diner and excellent cigars I discover and I am served by this invitation! The rest of the army be camped some distance to the rear of the forest, to shelter from the Fort's and the fleet's cannon. We continue to maintain fire with a rather lively counterpart till next day. They do not save their houses, but riddle them with ball and grapeshot, we have great sadness. One gunboat we inconvenience without destroying, the Colonel sent a messenger to the Lt.-General, on his good horse, to request one cannon to promptly take the escaping gunboat. On passing along in front of the Fort, I serve the Yankee target with balls, but the horseman not ready with the cannon..."
On the 7th, Campbell, under orders from Brisbane, writes a letter to Lt. Col. Meuron-Bayard:
"I have received your note and am happy to inform you that you can proceed, but I have also been prepared by the bearer that you have positioned your main corps at the right edge of the woods, where discovering an entire roadway leading around the bank of the lake, and this must render difficult for you to support the Light Infantry in the Villa. It is than necessary to post about two companies on the left edge of the woods or after..."
Five Battalion companies, under the orders of Major Wauchope, participate in the attack, of the lower part of the village.
"The village of Platzbourg, be divided in two parts by a brook; one wooden bridge connects these two parts; the regiment locates in the part of the village which we have the bridge of wood has been destroyed, that obstacle must be passed to the other part of the village that contain the citadel. We loose 18 men; we guard this position during 6 days while the Americans set fire to house after house and when we left, all this part of the village was burnt. When the regiment does leave the village, Colonial de Meuron does demand of General Prevost what should he do? The general responses "Since you be there, rest!" We remain 6 days, shooting day and night, afterward go construct th` batteries..."
Charles de Goumoens, Lieutenant, HM Regiment de Meuron.

In his report to the Minister of the War, American General Macomb talked of the de Meuron light infantry that gave him such a hard time, firing without stop at the windows and the balconies, always searching to take possession of the bridge.
In desperation, Macomb had ordered hot shot fired to put the houses on fire, hoping to force the de Meurons back. He was unsuccessful.

The Anglo-Canadian troops prepare for a combined attack. Prevost orders the British fleet to attack the harbour. However, with no north wind, the Royal Navy is severally disadvantaged.
For 4 more days, the de Meurons sit under enemy fire from the citadel. The majority of this is born by the flank companies, who are waiting to lead the land attack.

 Finally, on the morning of the 11th of September, 1 frigate, 3 smaller ships and a dozen gunboats of the Royal Navy attempt to enter Cumberland Bay. It is a disaster. The Royal Navy commander, Downie, is killed in the first few minutes of the attack. The British fleet, with poor wind must manoeuvre through a narrow entrance, unable to bring their guns to bear until they clear into the harbour. The American boats are moored in a half moon, all guns aimed at the entrance. For two and a half hours, the Royal Navy tries, in vain to enter the harbour.

"Sunday 12 September arrives the English fleet coming to attack the American fleet, they form half moon line to wait... After a two hour combat, the English fleet gives back and prepares their colours, it is scattered. This action passes in front of the eyes of the Regiment De Meuron that will mount a frontal assault pending the naval combat, that is not finished, the order to wait comes from the General Prevost who commits a grave error; Because the Swiss wait to take possession of the Citadel, to stop the cannon of the American Fleet and stop the hinderance taking the assembled English fleet..."
Charles de Goumoens, Lieutenant, HM Regiment de Meuron.

Meuron-Bayard sees the advantage, and wants to order his regiment forward. All the guns in the American forts are pointed into the harbour. Prevost hesitates, and holds him back. He wants the navy to enter the harbour first. It is obvious to even a most junior office like Charles de Goumoens, that this is a fatal mistake.
Finally, to late, Prevost gives orders break through the defences of the American citadel. The fleet is ruined and the fortress guns turn back on their targets for the previous week. He has little possibility now. for gaining control on Lake Champlain. He lacks energy and spirit of rapid decision. By limiting his experienced Swiss officers, he has lost the campaign. There is much criticism later, about his failure to beat Macomb and attack Macdonough in Albany afterwards.

Again, fearing rumours of American re-enforcement's arriving, Prevost changes his orders. He commences a costly retreat. This begins in the night of the 11th-12th September. The American cannon are all turned on the troops holding the taken base of the village and the immediate area. This is the position held by the de Meuron Regiment. On the 12 and 13th, the artillery is withdrawn. Without counter battery fire, the de Meurons are now totally at the mercy of the American gunners in the citadel.

The rest of the Anglo-Canadian Army leaves, abandoning large quantities of munitions and supplies, as well the casualties and the sick. On the night of the 13th-14th, the last British unit, His Majesties Regiment de Meuron, are the sole occupants of the town of Plattsburg.

"Pending the night (of 13 and 14), we withdraw and our Regiment rests at last by covering the retreat.."
Charles de Goumoens, Lieutenant, HM Regiment de Meuron.

Covered by the Light Company of Captain Frederic Matthey, brother of the Lieutenant killed at Seringaphatam, and the other companies of the Regiment de Meuron, the last of the British leave.
Matthey is told to defend the town to permit the army to retire, and ordered to command the difficult operations of the rearguard during the retreat. Under a terrible rain, the soaked army marches back along the muddy road that a week before, they had taken so easily.
The majority of the army are tired and discontented as a result of the campaign. What's, more, the American boats, now free of the Royal Navy, leave their harbour, and bombard the retreating Canadians along the road. The Regiment looses twenty-two men on this retreat.

Finally once out of range of the Americans, the exhausted soldiers collapse, and do not rise to salute when the General Staff of Prevost pass in front of them. Some of the Canadians begin to jeer and boo.
Alone the Regiment de Meuron is the exception. Dressed to the order of the day, in marching kit, their conduct and deportment are beyond reproach. They stand, and present themselves.
The colours of the Regiment, by order of HM George III, received honour during this campaign. Engraved on their lance "7-14 September 1814 a Plattsburg, courrant la retraite de l,armee anglaise." They are the only British Regiment to receive that Battle Honour.

 The Plattsburg campaign stopped the British advance in the direction of New York. Prevost never resumed the attack. This was the last major battle of the eastern campaign.
Unfortunately, it was the sole important engagement of the Regiment in the war of 1812. This marks as well, the finish of the career of the Regiment.

 Sir George Prevost receives harsh criticism for not having mounted sufficient energy on the coarse of this campaign and especially for having ordered this rapid retreat. He is finished. It is his misfortune, to realise that, before the fatal issue of the naval attack, he had no reason not to try to take possession of Plattsburg.

 In North America, the war finds a finish, but not until British and Americans kill one another again in the Mississippi delta. The peace had been signed at Ghent the 24th of December 1814. The battle of New Orleans takes place on New Years day, in 1815.
As a finish to the war between the United States and England, there is one important consequence, the Canadians were confirmed in their desire not to become Americans.
The news officially of the conclusion of the peace arrived in Canada toward the middle of February 1815. The Regiment returned to their former positions at Saint-Jean, Chambly, and Montreal. Some men are sent to the region of Burtonville.
News is arriving daily from England. The British army is reducing. Talk of more duty for the Regiment is just that. It is to be disbanded, with offer of the officers and their men to settle in Canada as colonists.

On the 9th of January 1814, had the Regiment received general order offering the possibility of engagement in the Canadian militia.
The Montreal Gazette published the following letter to the Regiment from the commander of the local Canadian Militia:

"We must thank you Lieutenant-Colonel de Meuron-Bayard, for your assistance and good wishes we bestow to the non-commissioned officers of his regiment, for presiding over your instructions, zeal and activity deserve your recognition and I close a pleasure to testify all my recognition of their command. Long live the Regiment de Meuron..."
(Signed P. de Boucherville Lieutenant-colonel).
Finally, on the 11th May, 1816 orders for the debarkation of the Regiment were received.
"The officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers that desire can settle in Canada, at the Colony of Rideau by Saint-Thomas. With grants allocations of land: 1200 acres for the Lieutenant-Colonel, 1000 for a Major, 600 for a Captain, 200 for a Sergeant and 100 for a soldier, with two months of wages as gratitude."
This offer was taken by 343 officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers. An additional seventy-nine wives and about thirty children were also added to the Regiments roster. Possibly brought over from Europe to join their husbands in Canada. Among the officers, to resign their commissions were Captains Francois-Louis Bourgeois, Frederic Matthey, Protais d'Odet d'Orsonnens, and Lieutenants Frederic de Graffenried, Gustave-Adolphe Fauche, Joseph Wittmer, Williams Robins, Thomas Leonard, Charles-Duncan Napier and Stanislas Schultz.

 (Their story does not end. Matthey, d'Orsonnens and Graffenried have further adventures with the Light Company, in the Indian Territory, commissioned by Lord Selkirk, for the Red River Colony.)

Sir John Sherbrooke, who fought with the Regiment de Meuron and directed the right column on the assault of Seringaphatam, issues on the 26th of July 1816, the order of the day:

"On the parting of the Regiments de Meuron and de Watteville which His Excellence had the advantage of commanding both of these, in the other part of the world, Sir John Sherbrooke offer the Lieutenant-colonel de Meuron-Bayard and the Lieutenant-colonel de May, as well as all officers and soldiers of these two corps, congratulation of these which they be, by their excellent conduct in Canada, which is consistent of their reputation of past services, having justly been acquired. His Excellence not hesitate to declare that the service of His Majesty obtained lots of advantages, pendant the last war of their bravery and of their discipline."
Signed: J. Harvey, Lieutenant-Colonel
Deputy-adjutant-general"
Finally, the few that remain (The official manifest lists twenty-seven officers, thirty-seven Sergeants, twenty-two Corporals, seven drummers and two hundred thirty-two soldiers.) embark from Quebec the 31st July 1816 aboard a navy guard ship named Alexia. They arrive at Spithead the 9th September, than at Harwich on the 15th.

 His Majesties Regiment de Meuron is disbanded by order of September 24, 1816. The Officers present at that order were Lieutenant-Colonel F.-H. de Meuron- Bayard, Majors E. de May, N. Fuchs, Captains R. de May, C. de Rham, P. Lardy (promoted in June), Lieutenants F. Lardy, C. de Goumoens, J. -D. Dombre, A. de Loriol, L. Simoneau, Chs.-C. de Meuron, W. Griesback and Th. Leonard.

 The invalids were transferred to the Royal Hospital of Chelsea, then the Regiment was conducted to Lymington, where they would embark for Europe. The officers receive two months pay. The non-commissioned officers and soldiers were given free passage to the continent, along with 28 shillings, as well as their uniforms, their coats and their haversacks.

The records of Officers on half pay (retirement) for the Regiment show thirty-eight in 1817, twenty-two in 1830, eleven in 1840 and seven in 1850. The last dated record was Captain A. Dardel who receive half pay untill he died, in 1863, eighty two years after the Henri de Meuron first raised the Regiment.
 
 

God Save the King!


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