TROIS RIVIÈRES. 8 June 1776. Canada Invasion. An American defeat during the Canada invasion. When American reinforcements under Generals John Sullivan and William Thompson assembled at St. Johns on 1 June, they learned of the shattered condition of the army that General John Thomas had led back from Quebec. American authorities still hoped to hold Canada as the fourteenth colony, and to further that goal, the Canadian Department field army would attempt to push back toward Quebec. Sullivan directed Thompson to take two thousand of the best troops to attack Trois Rivières as a staging area. This town lay on the north bank of the St. Lawrence, about halfway between Montreal and Quebec, and was believed by Sullivan to be held by only four hundred men. Actually, General Burgoyne's regulars had started arriving there by ship, and the place was defended by about six thousand men under Brigadier General Simon Fraser.
Starting on 6 June, Thompson dropped down the river in bateaux to a point 10 miles from his objective. Moving by water again the next night, he landed at 3 a.m. on the morning of the 8th about 3 miles away. Here he left 250 men to guard the boats and started forward in four columns led by Arthur St. Clair, William Irvine, William Maxwell, and Anthony Wayne. (Thompson and these four subordinates all were outstanding commanders.) A plan calling for multiple elements moving in the dark over unfamiliar terrain to strike a target simultaneously was probably beyond the troops' abilities. Trouble started when their guide got lost and the men spent hours floundering in a swamp, which exhausted the troops. When they finally reached the river road shortly before dawn, three British warships chased them back into the cover of the swamp.
That firing of the warships alerted the British. Troops in the town moved into defensive positions, while those still on shipping poured ashore. Combat patrols sent out soon made contact with the American advance and identified the threat. About 7 a.m. Anthony Wayne led two hundred men in an attack that routed a patrol, and Thompson followed with the rest of the command to continue the pursuit. But the Americans then hit a line of entrenchments manned by vastly superior forces and covered by guns from the river. Unaware of the true odds, Thompson attacked and was repulsed. With a misguided courage he tried to organize another attempt, but his command was too scattered, and nothing more than an irregular patter of musketry could be delivered. In a matter of minutes the battle was over and the Americans found themselves in a race to escape capture.
Carleton pursued but used caution. He also took advantage of having absolute control of the sea (in this case, the river) and sent his armed vessels upstream to cut Thompson off. The boat guard escaped with its bateaux, but the rest of the Americans had to make their way out through swamps in great hardship and under constant threat of attack by Indians or Canadian Loyalists. The last of the eleven hundred survivors straggled into Sorel the evening of 11 June.
Total American losses were about four hundred, mostly prisoners. Thompson was one of the captives. The British lost five killed and fourteen wounded.
Digby, William. The British Invasion from the North: Digby's Journal of the Campaigns of Generals Carleton and Burgoyne from Canada, 1776–1777. New York: Da Capo, 1970.
Stillé, Charles J. Major-General Anthony Wayne and the Pennsylvania Line in the Continental Army. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1893.
revised by Robert K. Wright Jr.