Black Canadians fought in the American Civil War

Brief article (though supporting a much more indepth book) by a Canadian professor on the black Canadians who fought for the Union cause.  I’d been reading earlier this week about escaped slaves in Canada signing up for militia units to protect their new homes. This is an interesting counterpiece.

The black recruits who joined did so for many reasons. Anderson Abbott, the first Canadian-born black doctor, believed most fought to give “the world a higher conception of the value of human liberty.” Others were caught up in the excitement and adventure. Money also played a role, for by 1863 a knowledgeable recruit could earn hundreds of dollars in bounties or substitute fees.

Most of the African Canadians volunteering came from a hardscrabble working-class background and were supporting elderly parents, wives and children. The enlistment money allowed their dependants some financial security in their absence.

The timing of the black enlistment, however, suggests that one factor — fair treatment — was paramount. Some African Canadians volunteered as soon as black regiments began recruiting. Their numbers peaked in January 1864 and then slowed to a trickle by April, likely a result of Canadian black communities learning that some black regiments were being treated as second-class soldiers and assigned excessive fatigue duties and menial work. Canadian papers also carried reports of Confederate atrocities where black prisoners were cut down in cold blood.

via How black Canadians fought for liberty in the American Civil War.

The Canadian at Gettysburg

Torontoist discusses William McDougall, the Toronto politician who hobnobbed with Lincoln, Seward et al. at Gettysburg in November, 1863.  Great little article, though I’m not sure I buy their estimate of “tens of thousands” of Canadians dying in the war.

It was only about 270 words long, but the Gettysburg Address has resounded for generations. Abraham Lincoln’s appearance on a podium in the small Pennsylvania farm town on November 19, 1863, has been reported upon, debated, studied by academics, memorized by school children, and mythologized in fiction and on film. Newspaper coverage of the day sometimes reflected a correspondent’s faithful observations, sometimes was tinted by an editor’s party affiliation. Conflicting and contradictory recollections of eyewitnesses, repeated—mistakes and all—in countless magazine articles and books, hardened into conventional wisdom. Certain persistent myths that the president had hastily composed the speech on a scrap of paper aboard the train, for example were long trusted as fact until debunked by another generation of scholars.

Among these layers of fact and legend is the tale of William McDougall. A Toronto lawyer, newspaperman, and politician, McDougall attended the Gettysburg Address by special invitation of President Lincoln. Like so many other versions of that day, McDougall’s account, recounted to and recorded by his descendants, contains a mix of both confirmed fact and unsubstantiated anecdote.

via Historicist: “The World Will Little Note Nor Long Remember…” | culture | Torontoist.

Canada – Rogue State

Well, while we could never really be considered any cog in an Axis of Evil, Canada did offer harbour (complete with extraneous “u”) to Confederate agents during the war years. site I mentioned yesterday details some of the efforts of the Confederate Secret Service, who coordinated cross-border activities during the conflict, including the St. Albans’ Raid and the attempt to burn down New York City.

I’ve added yet another e-book to the Library, this one written by one of the New York conspirators, and goes into great detail on the planning and (failed) execution of this and other raids.

Confederate Operations in Canada and New York

Confederates in Canada

I caught a passing mention, years ago, that Jubal Early’s memoirs had been written in Toronto, but wasn’t able to follow any trails to more local information. This website was interesting, though, in providing quite a long list of famous Confederates who lived here or in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which seems to have become a kind of Richmond North, post-war.

The war’s end brought General John C. Breckenridge and his family to Toronto first, and then Niagara on the Lake in May 1866. Breckenridge served as vice president of the United States under James Buchanan 1856-1860, was a candidate for president in 1860 on the Southern Democratic ticket, (received nearly 850,000 votes) and a Major General in the Confederate service. He and his family rented a small home on Front Street overlooking Lake Ontario for twelve dollars a month. Immediately opposite the home on the New York bank of the river was Fort Niagara. Breckenridge gazed at the fort often, “with its flag flying to refresh our patriotism.” To him it seemed both a symbol of the Founder’s republic he tried to save, as well as a taunt that threatened arrest should he cross the river.

One who frequently visited the exiled Southerners was Lt. Colonel George T. Denison, commander of the Canadian Governor-General’s Body Guard, another was General Breckenridge’s “beloved old adjutant,” J. Stoddard Johnston of New Orleans. Johnston was the nephew of General Albert Sidney Johnston, and also served as an aid to Generals Bragg and Buckner. General George Pickett was also in Canada, though perhaps living in Toronto. Soon to join the ex-vice president at Niagara on the Lake were Confederate commissioner to England James M. Mason, General’s Jubal Early, John McCausland, Richard Taylor (son of General Zachary Taylor), John Bell Hood, Henry Heth, William Preston; and a host of lesser officers and their families. They often commiserated in the shade at Mason’s home, “discussing military matters and the practice of the soldiers art under the modern conditions inaugurated” by the War Between the States.

There’s even an account of Jefferson Davis coming for an extended visit, and being greeted by a cheering throng on Yonge Street.

Davis’ departure invoked this tribute from The Niagara Mail:

It is a subject of pride to Canadians that they can offer the hospitality of the soil and the shelter of the British flag to so many worthy men who are proscribed and banished from their homes for no crime at all, viz. to assert the right of every people to choose their own form of government.

One assumes the pro-Southern rhetoric can be attributed to the fear of many Canadians (D’Arcy McGee is quoted on this earlier) that the US would use its standing army to get that whole Manifest Destiny thing out of the way, at last.

Slavery in Canada

An odd choice of topic for Valentine’s Day, but this Wikipedia entry (pulled up when I was investigating comparative slavery systems for that Atlantic Monthly article) contained a paragraph that warmed the cockles of my patriotic heart:

By 1790 the abolition movement was gaining credence in Canada and the ill intent of slavery was evidenced by an incident involving a slave woman being violently abused by her slave owner on her way to being sold in the United States. In 1793 Chloe Clooey, in an act of defiance yelled out screams of resistance. The abuse committed by her slave owner and her violent resistance was witnessed by Peter Martin and William Grisely. Peter Martin, a former slave, brought the incident to the attention of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe. Under the auspices of Simcoe, The Slave Act of 1793 was legislated. The elected members of the executive council, many of whom were merchants or farmers who depended on slave labour, saw no need for emancipation. White later wrote that there was “much opposition but little argument” to his measure.

Isn’t that us in a nutshell? Plenty of griping, but resigned to the pragmatic solution. Take that, South Carolina.

Canada Watches Closely

The Gazette offers an interesting look at the anxiety Canadians faced as the Trent Affair unfolded. As colonial parent Britain sabre-rattled with Secretary of State Seward, Canadians wondered if their land would become a war zone.

Garrisons facing the U.S. border were meagre, and reinforcements were dispatched from Britain. But before they could arrive, Canadians themselves were already looking to their own defences.

In Christmas week alone, two companies of the Montreal Volunteer Artillery were organized. Capt. John Kelly and Lt. Angus Bethune volunteered as officers for the second battalion, Montreal Militia, while captains and subalterns of the fifth battalion were canvassing several neighbourhoods for recruits.

Lawyer Joseph Duhamel was raising a battalion in the Quebec suburb, in the eastern part of the city, to be known as la Garde Nationale. Former firemen were urged to sign up with the Montreal Fire Battalion. Pensioned exsoldiers were also called on to volunteer. Even members of a local snowshoe club, the Aurora, became a rifle company.