Friday, August 14, 2009

Canada in the Civil War

Since I went to Canada recently to visit my family there, I thought I would post about the role of Canada and Canadians in our Civil War.

It is estimated that several thousand Canadians fought in the Civil War. Most were Canadian immigrants who had come to the United States. Most fought for the Union side. A few joined the Confederate forces. The most prominent on the Union side was Edward P. Doherty, an officer who led the squad which captured and killed John Wilkes Booth twelve days after Lincoln's assassination. The most famous Canadian to fight for the South was George Ellsworth, a telegrapher for Confederate cavalry general John Hunt Morgan. Ellsworth played a valuable role in spreading misinformation about the whereabouts of Morgan's forces. No less than twenty-nine Canadians won the Medal of Honor.

The Canadian province of Quebec served as a base for Confederate covert operations. Many French Canadians took a curiously schizophrenic attitude toward the war. Though anti-slavery, a large number sympathized with secession. Perhaps they sensed that a divided United States would be to Canada's advantage.

Due to Canada's neutrality and this pro-Southern attitude, Montreal became a refuge for Southern operations against the North. Confederate agents launched a raid on St. Albans, Vermont in October 1864 and robbed banks there. Union forces pursued them into Canadian territory. Though the perpetrators were arrested, Canadian authorities dismissed the charges.

It should be remembered that Canada was still a possession of the British Empire at that time. Canada was a collection of colonies. In 1867, these separate possessions formed a confederation.

Due to the influence of our Civil War, the Confederation became a more centralized institution. A number of Canada's founders felt that America had given too much power to the states, allowing secession to occur. As a result, they created an appointed Senate with a Governor General appointed by London, an arrangement that lasted until 1931.

It would not be the last time when events in the United States affected our northern neighbor.

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