WATTEVILLE, LOUIS DE (the name sometimes appears as Abraham Ludwig Karl von Wattenwyl), army officer; b. 1776 in Bern, Switzerland, and was baptized on 26 July of that year, son of David de Watteville and Magdalena (Élisabeth) Jenner, daughter of Abraham Jenner, bailiff of Grandson, Switzerland, from 1775 to 1780; m. 28 Sept. 1807 Sophie de Tavel at Wichtrach, in the canton of Bern, Switzerland, and they had nine children; d. 16 June 1836 in Rubigen, Switzerland.
Although he was a descendant of the Rubigen branch of the Wattenwyl family and was called Carl Ludwig von Wattenwyl in the registration of his death, Louis de Watteville used mainly French and signed the French form of his name. He began his military career in Europe, probably through the help of his father, an officer in the service of the Netherlands. He fought against France in a Swiss regiment serving the Netherlands in 1793 and 1794, and then in a Swiss corps of the Austrian army that was raised in March 1799 with British financial aid.
After the Treaty of Lunéville was signed by France and Austria on 9 Feb. 1801, Great Britain remained at war with France, and organized the various Swiss corps into a regiment that was posted to the Mediterranean theatre. On 1 May 1801 Watteville was made lieutenant-colonel of the new regiment, which was named after his uncle Frédéric de Watteville, its colonel and proprietor. There followed for Louis de Watteville a dozen years of service in various Mediterranean countries. With the regiment, he distinguished himself particularly in the battle of Maida, fought in the south of Italy on 4 July 1806, which led to a British rout of the French forces. For this brilliant action Watteville was decorated on 22 Feb. 1808 with the gold medal awarded to the commanders of the units present at the battle.
Watteville attained the rank of brevet colonel on 25 April 1810, and on 7 May 1812 he replaced his uncle as colonel and proprietor of De Watteville’s Regiment. Although it was a Swiss unit in the service of Britain, it was largely made up of Germans, Italians, Poles, Hungarians, and Russians, with a handful of Greeks and Frenchmen. Roughly a fifth of its strength, including nearly all the officers, was Swiss.
Watteville was in Spain at Cadiz, where he had been since late in 1811, when the order came on 15 March 1813 to sail for the Canadas with his regiment. They were being sent as reinforcements for the small British garrison which had been resisting American attempts at invasion since the previous year, when the United States and Britain had gone to war. On 5 April Watteville, 41 officers, 1,414 men, 8 servants, 45 wives, and 38 children boarded six ships, which set sail the next day and reached Quebec on 4 June after calling in at Halifax.
Two days later Watteville and his unit continued on to Kingston, Upper Canada, where the regiment was posted. Watteville arrived on 29 June and immediately met Sir George Prevost*, governor general and commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America, himself an officer of Swiss descent. The two men got along well and Watteville’s diary several times mentions “having dined at General Prévost’s.” For Prevost an experienced officer was an invaluable asset. Consequently on 5 July Colonel Watteville was named commandant of the Kingston garrison. The army staff in London seems to have shared his view, for on 11 August Watteville learned that he had been promoted major-general on 4 June, even though he had never been a brigadier-general. He had to abandon the scarlet coat with black velvet facings and silver lace of his regiment and don the scarlet coat with dark blue facings and gold embroidery worn by general officers. In addition, although he was still proprietor of his regiment, he had to hand the command over to another officer.
No new instructions accompanied Watteville’s promotion, and so he could not be employed as a major-general in the Canadas. As a result he spent August and September 1813 in Kingston impatiently waiting. Except for a mention in his diary on 12 September – the sole entry of its kind during his stay in the Canadas – that he had been “very ill all this last while,” there was nothing to report. Having soon recovered, Watteville decided to go to England, sold his effects, and left Kingston on 12 October. Reaching Montreal on the 16th, he learned that on 29 July he had been designated by London to serve on the staff in North America. The general order announcing this news was finally published in Montreal on 17 October, as was Watteville’s posting to the district of Montreal. He thus had command of the troops southwest of Montreal and on 19th October set up headquarters in the presbytery at Châteauguay.
There were rumours that the American army was assembling near the border. Watteville had only a handful of British regulars to count on. The troops at his disposal were mainly the Voltigeurs Canadiens and some battalions of the Select Embodied Militia of Lower Canada, the latter often made up of conscripts, under Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry* de Salaberry. After carrying out a reconnaissance on Watteville’s orders, Salaberry reported to him on 22 October that the enemy was “in great strength”: about 5,000 men, most of them regulars, the first units having crossed the border on the morning of 21 October.
From his advanced post Salaberry began to organize a defensive position. Watteville immediately assembled his troops to form a defence in echelon along the west bank of the Châteauguay and established himself “at the forks,” where he received Prevost between 11 and noon on 26 Oct. 1813. At 1:00 p.m. the two officers set off on horseback for the advanced posts, but on the way they received news that those positions had been engaged with the enemy since 11 o’clock. Watteville immediately went on ahead. By the time he arrived, firing had already ceased and the battle of Châteauguay was over. The next day he forwarded Salaberry’s report to Prevost, along with a letter of his own saying that the victory had to be attributed “both to the bravery of the troops and to the activity and good judgement exhibited by Lieutenant-Colonel de Salaberry in choosing and fortifying the position in the space of a few days” – high praise from an experienced officer.
Watteville was, however, taken to task by Major-General Richard Stovin and Colonel Edward Baynes for not having taken advantage of the victory to order that the Americans be pursued and harassed. After consulting Salaberry, he replied on 31 October, explaining in detail the “great danger” that a detachment sent in pursuit would have run. The American army, it is now known, withdrew in orderly fashion after the reverse suffered on 26 October. It would, in fact, have been extremely risky to attack a force that consisted mainly of regulars, who were more reliable than militiamen, and that was still well disciplined.
On 29 November Watteville returned to the presbytery at Châteauguay, where he was paying six dollars a week for lodgings. But on 28 December he left in a huff because he would not tolerate the parish priest’s sending an “insolent” letter to his aide-de-camp. In the mean time he had been appointed to preside over a commission to examine claims for war damages, a delicate administrative task he carried out smoothly until the end of January 1814.
On 22 June Watteville was sent to Chambly to take command of a brigade of the Select Embodied Militia, and late in July he proceeded to the outposts at Lacolle, where Salaberry was established. The area was quiet except for occasional exchanges of fire between the Canadian and American scouts. But Watteville’s respite was short-lived, since on 8 August he received a new appointment in Upper Canada. On his way there he dined in Montreal on 15 August with Prevost and several senior officers. At the camp of the British force besieging Fort Erie he met the officer in command of the troops in Upper Canada, Gordon Drummond*. When on 17 September the Americans attempted a sortie in the sector under Watteville a sharp battle ensued, but the British forces were well deployed, and the enemy finally had to withdraw. There were heavy losses – about 600 men on each side, according to Watteville. In his official report of 19 September Drummond praised Watteville’s sound judgement and zeal. He was subsequently assigned to the advanced guard at Black Creek (Niagara Falls).
The war with the United States was, however, coming to an end. On 8 Oct. 1814 Watteville learned that his wife and children had arrived at Quebec, and on 25 October he requested two months’ leave in Montreal, which was granted. He finally reached there on 20 December, rejoining his family “after an absence of more than two years,” he noted with feeling in his diary – two long years, for he loved Sophie de Tavel deeply. Many times in his diary he mentions receiving letters from his wife or writing to her, and how much he hopes that she will come to Canada. For her part, Sophie was in love with her husband. She could have gone off to Switzerland, which had been liberated early in 1814, but she braved a difficult four-month voyage with her children in order to join him. Christmas of 1814 was undoubtedly a memorable one for them. On his leave, however, Watteville had to discharge the rather delicate, even painful, duty of sitting on the court martial convened in Montreal for the trial of Major-General Henry Procter*.
In February 1815 Watteville left for the Niagara peninsula, accompanied by his brother Rodolphe. They were dining with Drummond at York (Toronto) on 20 February when news came that Britain and the United States had signed the Treaty of Ghent on 24 December. The war was finally over.
Watteville remained in Upper Canada for the next year or so. He commanded the British troops in the Niagara region from his headquarters at Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake), and then in July 1815 he took up quarters at Kingston with his family. He was named commander-in-chief of the armed forces in Upper Canada on 7 October, but he wanted to retire from the service and was finally allowed to do so. On 27 July 1816 the Wattevilles left Kingston. They stayed in London from September 1816 to January 1817 and reached Bern on 18 January. Later they went to live in the château at Rubigen, where Watteville resided until his death in June 1836.
Louis de Watteville was level-headed, discreet, and efficient. Through his military experience and his love of order and work, he contributed to improving the quality of the British army staff in the Canadas during a critical period. His tactical arrangements, always made with great attention to detail, were the decisive factor at Châteauguay and Fort Erie. A demanding officer, he was fair and gave his subordinates the credit they merited. In that sense he was instrumental in raising Salaberry to the status of a military hero to the French Canadians. This reserved and methodical soldier was a patient and understanding man profoundly attached to his family. He no doubt had his faults, but history has forgotten them.
[Two portraits of Louis de Watteville are known to exist, both in the hands of descendants at Bern, Switzerland. The first, a rather naïve work by an unknown artist showing him in the uniform of a major-general, seems to have been done in Canada, probably at Montreal, some time between 1813 and 1816, and is reproduced in P.-E. de Vallière, Honneur et fidélité: histoire des Suisses au service étranger (Lausanne, Suisse, 1940), 651. The second work, executed by a more skilled artist, also unknown, portrays Watteville in civilian clothes about 1820; it is included in E. H. Bovay, Le Canada et les Suisses, 1604–1974 (Fribourg, Suisse, 1976), 25. Both portraits present him as a handsome, attractive man.
The principal source for this article is the four-volume journal Watteville kept from 1801 to 1826, which is with the Watteville family at the Château d’Au in the canton of Saint-Gall, Switzerland. A typescript is held by the Bibliothèque Militaire Fédérale at Bern (mfm at PAC, MG 23, F96); volume 3, for the period 1 Oct. 1810–30 Sept. 1815, is particularly important. r.c.]
Arch. de l’État de Berne (Berne), Reg. des sépultures, 16 juin 1836. PAC, RG 8, I (C ser.), 229: 138; 233: 58, 77, 81; 680: 326, 331; 681: 100, 105, 130; 685: 164, 267; 686: 90, 93, 150, 168, 188, 200; 1170: 362; 1171: 117, 143, 291, 333; 1203 1/2I: 46, 246; 1203 1/2S: 86, 93; 1219: 125, 290, 293; 1221: 211. Annual reg. (London), 1815: 259–60. Dictionnaire historique et biographique de la Suisse (6v. et 1 suppl., Neuchâtel, Suisse, 1921–34), 4: 236–37. G.B., WO, Army list, 1803: 234; 1813: 448; 1816: 516. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving), 9, 11. Ouellet, “Inv. de la saberdache,” ANQ Rapport, 1955–57: 139. “Papiers d’État – Bas-Canada,” PAC Rapport, 1896: 36, 38, 43. The royal military calendar, or army service and commission book . . . , ed. John Philippart (3rd ed., 5v., London, 1820), 3: 306–7. F.-M.-L.-R. Grouvel, Les corps de troupe de l’émigration française, 1789–1815 . . . (3v., Paris, 1957–64), 1: 329–34. C. T. Atkinson, “Foreign regiments in the British army, 1793–1802,” Soc. for Army Hist. Research, Journal (London), 22 (1943–44): 13–14, 316–20. F.-J. Audet, “Abraham-Louis-Charles de Watteville,” BRH, 32 (1926): 749–51. Gérard Malchelosse, “Deux régiments suisses au Canada,” Cahiers des Dix, 2 (1937): 279–96.
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Cite This Article
René Chartrand, “WATTEVILLE, LOUIS DE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/watteville_louis_de_7E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||René Chartrand|
|Title of Article:||WATTEVILLE, LOUIS DE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1988|
|Year of revision:||1988|
|Access Date:||May 29, 2023|