«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
Chambers, The Canadian Militia, pp. 64-65 Brereton Greenhous, Kingsley Brown, Sr. & Kingsley Brown, Jr., Semper Paratus: The History of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, Hamilton, ON: RHLI Historical Association, 1977. p. 10, 26; Andrews, p. 215 Stacey, Canada and the British Army, p. 118; Senior, The Last Invasion of Canada, p. 31 In April 1861, the American Civil War broke out. At first it seemed that it would have no repercussions on Canada other than an increase in commerce supplying the war effort, but on November 8, the U.S. Navy stopped a British postal steamer the Trent on its way from Havana in international waters near Bermuda. The Trent crisis threatened to lead to war between Britain and the United States and Canada would be right in the middle. Canadian public opinion which until then was relatively sympathetic to the Union and hostile to slavery in the south, almost instantly turned against Washington. Canadians were once again reminded of the historical hostility between the monarchy and republicanism.11 As tensions rose in November and December of 1861, Britain was forced to make its largest single troop deployment to North America in its history—some 14,000 British army regulars were hastily shipped here, raising the British troop strength to a total of 18,000.12 This was not what Britain wanted.
The threat to Canada presented by the crisis, however, unleashed a surge of volunteers into the militia. Men absent from drill for years suddenly returned enthusiastically. The provincial government established a department of militia, headed by John A. Macdonald, the attorney-general in Canada West and a premier in the current Macdonald-Cartier coalition whose Liberal-Conservative Party governed Canada since 1854 (except for brief interruption in 1858.) Anybody who wanted to be somebody, now rushed in to sponsor and organize a company of militia in preparation to fight an invading American army.
The founding of QOR Company No. 9 “University Rifles” In Toronto, Henry Holmes Croft, a forty-one year old chemistry professor at University College, one of the schools that would eventually be amalgamated into the University of Toronto, dreamt Helen G. Macdonald, pp. 94-98 Stacey, Canada and the British Army, p. 122 of a glorious military career all his life. The son of William Croft, the Deputy-General Paymaster of Ordinance under the Duke of Wellington, Croft had studied chemistry in Germany and upon graduation, with Michael Faraday‘s recommendation, came to Toronto to be the university‘s first professor of chemistry in 1843. During the Trent crisis, Croft assembled the students in Convocation Hall just before the Christmas holidays and delivered a patriotic lecture stirring them up to form a volunteer rifle company. The eager and excited college students, as it was the tradition in the militia then, elected their officers: Professor Croft as captain and company commander; John Cherriman, a professor of mathematics as lieutenant.13 By Christmas Day 1861, the University Rifle Company was at full strength and would be eventually assigned to the Queen‘s Own Rifle Battalion as Company No. 9. Captain Goodwin, a gym teacher at Upper Canada College and a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo was chosen by
Croft to drill the University Rifles. Professor Croft now had a company of infantry to play with:
to drill, compete, parade and host balls and picnics with.14 A laudatory late Victorian biography of Croft reports that the rifle company ―with the exception of the College Literary and Scientific Society, was the most potent element in the University for promoting sociability and esprit de corps amongst all classes of University men. Academic distinctions found no place in its ranks;
in its earlier years the messenger elbowed the graduate, the freshman the sophomore, and the professor freely reproved both for treading too heavily on his heels; its pleasant comradeship was a bond between the faculties and the student body.‖15 The Anglican Trinity College likewise formed a company of university student riflemen, and was eventually designated Company No. 8 in the QOR. Normal School and Education John King, McCaul: Croft: Forneri: Personalities of Early University Days, Toronto: Macmillan Co. Ltd., 1894.
p. 108 Globe, March 28, 1864;, June 27, 1866 King, p. 142 Department employees and teachers formed the ―Civil Service Company‖ or ―Education Department‖ No. 7, while Company No. 4 and 5 consisting of store and warehouse proprietors and their clerks and were known respectively as the 1st and 2nd Merchants Companies.16 Scots assembled in No. 10 Company ―Highlanders.‖ The newest unit, No. 6 Upper Canada College Company was nicknamed ―the babies.‖17 The Defences of Canada While the Trent crisis was defused relatively quickly in late December by Abraham Lincoln‘s release of the Confederate envoys arrested aboard, it again reminded both Canadians and the British of the need for a strong independent defence establishment in Canada. The popular enthusiasm for volunteering in the militia during the Trent affair was not matched by any funding from the Province to train, clothe, or arm the volunteers. In February 1862, in a Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Consider the Defences of Canada, British officers concluded after their inspection that Canada‘s port and border fortifications, except for those at Quebec City and Kingston, had been rendered obsolete by ―the improvements in the arms of modern warfare‖ and ―have either entirely disappeared, or are in a very dilapidated condition, and all require complete reconstruction.‖ 18 The report also called for a costly reform and expansion of Canada‘s militia.
In May 1862, the Macdonald-Cartier Conservative coalition government attempted to implement most of the Defences of Canada recommendations and proposed legislation calling for an active militia force of 50,000 (almost the size of the 65,000-strong regular Canadian army Chambers, pp. 149-156 Chewett, p. 52; Chambers, p. 54 Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Consider the Defences of Canada, February 6, 1862, RG9-IIA1, Vol.
482, p. 6 [hereinafter ―Defences of Canada‖], LAC today, protecting a much larger Pacific to Atlantic Canada with deployments abroad.)19 The militia would receive twenty-eight paid training days, there would be construction of new fortifications and a flotilla of gunboats for the Great Lakes, all at a cost of $1.1 million—ten per cent of the Province‘s current revenue.20 There was shrill criticism of the bill in both Upper and Lower Canada. The cost was enormous as also would be the tax burden and nobody liked the provisions for conscription if there were insufficient volunteers. The absence of 50,000 men from the labour market at a time when Canada was undergoing industrialization was also a concern for many entrepreneurs —especially when business supplying the war south of the border was beginning to grow. The bill consequently was defeated by 61 to 54 in the Assembly.21 The Macdonald-Cartier government resigned, to be replaced by a Liberal ministry led by John Sandfield Macdonald and L.V. Sicotte.
The new government now introduced a revised and more modest Militia Bill in June 1862 that provided uniforms, arms, supplies and payment for twelve days training at 50 cents a day for a maximum of 10,000 active militia volunteers. A budget of $250,000 was appropriated for each of the two years of the bill‘s duration.22 While this was a shadow of what was originally felt necessary to build an effective Canadian militia, it was still three times the annual budget spent on defence in the previous year.23 In the next year, the government introduced several new Militia and Volunteer Acts, eventually raising the number of volunteers to 35,000. In 1864 two military schools were established for officers who until now relied entirely on their social status for their appointments.
The schools would grant a 2nd Class certificate qualifying officers to lead a company and a 1st http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/cdnmilitary/operations.html [retrieved March 12, 2010] Winks, p. 115 Stacey, Canada and the British Army, p. 133 Chambers, The Canadian Militia, p. 70 Stacey, Canada and the British Army, p. 143 Class certificate to lead a battalion. A certificate was only required for those officers who were newly appointed—those already in command were not required to undergo any training unless they wished to do so. Admission to the schools still remained restricted to gentlemen with pending appointments.24 Canada‟s Officer Class The availability of funding now unleashed a feeding frenzy among Canada‘s gentlemen elite who saw the raising and drilling of militia companies as not only a civic duty but a means of promoting and aggrandizing themselves. It also triggered bitter rivalries among them because as companies were being amalgamated again into newly funded battalions, the question of officer seniority in a new battalion became a thorny one.
In Hamilton, for example, several prominent citizens had been involved in organizing companies since the 1855 Militia Act. In the 1850s, James Aitcheson Skinner, a wealthy china merchant organized and uniformed at his own expense a company of Highlanders. Alfred Booker, a prominent local auctioneer and consigned goods dealer, financed his own artillery battery.25 Isaac Buchanan, a Scottish merchant, railway investor and a member of the legislature formed a company of infantry. As company commanders they all held a Captain‘s rank and had near-absolute command over their own men in the immediate absence of any superior officers.
Once drawn together into battalions, however, these aggressively enterprising gentlemen found themselves chafing under each other‘s command. As new militia districts and commands were created by the Militia Act of 1862, some of the officers moved their way up into these district commands—Booker was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and became the Commandant
of the Hamilton Militia while retaining command of his artillery battery.26 Other prominent captains, like Skinner were promoted to the rank of major and given battalion-level responsibilities. It did not always work out.
The independent rifle companies in Hamilton were amalgamated in December 1862 into the 13th Battalion Volunteer Militia of Canada and put under the command of Isaac Buchanan.
The ambitious Skinner allied with several other disgruntled company captains and immediately began to feud with Buchanan over a myriad of issues ranging from drill instruction to the ―equalization‖ of companies. Some of the captains resigned in protest of Buchanan‘s continued command. By 1864 Buchanan was fed up and fatigued with the rebellious Skinner and his faction. When Buchanan announced that he was resigning from the command of the 13th, Skinner and his allies celebrated—Skinner as the next senior officer in the battalion would be the obvious choice to now command it. But Buchanan had one last surprise for Skinner. Before he left, the well-connected Buchanan ensured that the more senior-ranking Alfred Booker was appointed to replace him as the new commander of the 13th Battalion. Despite protests and threats of resignation from Skinner and several other company commanders, the unpopular Alfred Booker took command on January 27, 1865.27 In smaller rural communities with fewer social climbers, the going was much easier.
From a junction seven miles from Port Colborne on the Welland Canal, a twenty-one mile navigable feeder canal led to Dunnville on the Grand River near Lake Erie.28 There, forty-year old Scottish-born Lachlan McCallum owned stores, mills, shipyards and a fleet of tugs for towing rafts of lumber, grain and other freight along the lake and feeder canal. In 1863 he formed the Dunnville Naval Brigade—a marine rifle company. McCallum paid for their navy Greenhous, p. 31 Greenhous, pp. 12-35 Defences of Canada, p. 13.
blue uniforms with silver buttons out of his own pocket. The men of the company consisted of local merchants, small businessmen and McCallum‘s employees and family members.29 McCallum, a short-tempered and typically foul-mouthed mariner, was of course elected as captain, a naval rank equivalent to colonel. Angus McDonald, his first cousin and employee was elected as the company‘s lieutenant.30 In 1864 McCallum built a 128-foot, 180-tonne steam-powered tugboat which he christened the W.T. Robb, after its captain and McCallum‘s close friend, Walter Tyrie Robb. The powerful vessel was considered to be one of the fastest on the Great Lakes.31 McCallum dreamt of converting the Robb into a high speed gunboat crewed by his naval company and its marines.
In 1865 he wrote Macdonald who by then had returned to power and to his portfolios as Attorney General in Canada West and Minister of Militia for Canada. McCallum proposed that the Robb be fitted with two guns and leased to the government. It would be crewed by his marines who could deploy against an enemy anywhere along the frontier on Lakes Erie and Ontario and in the Welland Canal system. He claimed it would be as cost-effective as five or six companies of land-borne infantry.32 For now Macdonald declined the offer, but McCallum continued to personally finance the unit and the war-tug, drilling its crew and marines incessantly.
On the Welland Canal itself, Captain Dr. Richard Saunders King, M.D., a highly respected physician in Port Robinson took command of the Welland Canal Field Artillery Battery. The battery would be headquartered in Port Robinson and equipped with four 9pounder Armstrong brass field guns supplied by the British Army at Hamilton. Its gunners John Thornley Docker, Dunnville Heroes: The W.T. Robb and the Dunnville Naval Brigade in the 1866 Fenian Invasion, Dunnville, ON: Dunnville District Heritage Association, 2003. pp. 2-3 Proceedings of the Court of Inquiry Upon the Circumstances of the Engagement at Fort Erie on the 2 nd of June 1866, Adjutant General‘s Correspondence; Correspondence relating to complaints, courts martial and inquiries, RG9-I-C-8, Volume 7 LAC. [Hereinafter ―Dennis Inquiry‖] p. 54; p. 60 Dennis Inquiry, p. 343; Docker, p.14 McCallum to Macdonald, April 6, 1865, Adjutant General Letters Received 1865, RG9 IC1, Vol. 220, file 932, LAC.