At the time of the American Civil War, Canada did not yet exist as a federated nation. Instead, the territory consisted of the United Province of Canada (modern southern Ontario, southern Quebec and Labrador), the six other remaining colonies of British North America and crown territory administered by the Hudson's Bay Company. The United Kingdom (and therefore its North American colonies) was officially neutral for the duration of the American Civil War and sympathies in the nation were divided. Despite this, tensions between Britain and the North were high due to incidents on the seas, such as the Trent Affair and the Confederate commissioning of the CSS Alabama from Britain. If the conflict had continued to escalate and Britain had entered the war, Canada would probably have been the first target of Union forces. During the war, Britain thus reinforced its garrisons in Canada. Many Canadians also felt the smaller, weaker United States that would result from the separation of the South would be a positive development.
At the same time, however, Canadians were almost universally opposed to slavery and Canada had long been the terminus of the Underground Railroad. Close economic and cultural links across the long border also encouraged Canadian sympathy towards the North. While most French Canadians were sympathetic towards abolition, they were also somewhat pro-South in their outlook. The conservative and Catholic press in French Canada supported the secession but were opposed to slavery.
Confederate activity in CanadaEdit
Because of Canada's neutrality and some sympathy for the Southern cause, Canada became home to a number of Confederate operations during the war, particularly in Quebec. In December 1863, the Confederates captured the American ship Chesapeake and took it to Halifax harbour. The Northern forces then launched an operation to retake the ship, in Canadian waters, and captured two Nova Scotians aboard it.
The most controversial incident was the St. Albans raid. Montreal had become home to a group of Confederates attempting to launch covert and intelligence operations from Canada against the North. In October 1864, they attacked St. Albans, Vermont and robbed banks. They fled and were pursued by Union forces over the Canadian border, creating a diplomatic incident. The Canadians then arrested the Confederate raiders, but the charges against them were dismissed.
Many Canadian-born men are believed to have fought in the Civil War. There are no exact figures, but estimates have ranged from 40,000 to 100,000 men, although the late Yale historian Robin Winks has shown that there is no basis to these estimates. But it is very certain that several thousand definitely did serve in the war. The largest group were those who had immigrated to the United States sometime before the conflict and had been in the United States for some time. A significant number of Canadians seeking employment and adventure did join the conflict from Canada, mostly enlisting with the Northern side. A number of Canadians were secured for the Northern army through crimping, whereby men were drugged or intoxicated and then spirited across the border.
The majority of Canadians who served in the war fought with the Northern army; it is unclear how many served with the Confederacy, but the number was most likely small. One notable Canadian volunteer who served the Confederate army was George Ellsworth, who, as telegrapher for Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan during Morgan's Raid, deliberately spread considerable misinformation about Morgan's whereabouts over the telegraph wires, imitating the unique styles of Federal telegraphers.
On the Northern side, Edward P. Doherty was an American Civil War officer who formed and led the detachment of soldiers that captured and killed John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of United States President Abraham Lincoln, in a Virginia barn on April 26, 1865, twelve days after Lincoln was fatally shot.
The Civil War period was one of booming economic growth for the British North American (BNA) colonies. The war in the United States created a huge market for Canada's agricultural and manufactured goods, most of which went to the northern side. The collapse in Southern States' exports to the world also led to increases in the prices of many of Canada's exports.
The American Civil War had extremely important political effects on the BNA colonies. The tensions between the United States and Britain, which had been ignited by the war, led to concern for the security and independence of the colonies, helping to consolidate momentum for the confederation of the colonies in 1867.
In this regard, the conflict also had an important effect on discussions concerning the nature of the emerging federation. Many Fathers of Confederation concluded that the secessionist war was caused by too much power being given to the states, and thus resolved to create a more centralized federation. It was also believed that an excess of democracy, commonly referred to as mob rule, was a contributing factor and the Canadian system was thus deliberately made less democratic with institutions such as the appointed Senate and powers of the British appointed Governor-General, who until the 1931 Statute of Westminster was an official of the United Kingdom government. It is little surprise, therefore, that one of the guiding principles of the legislation which created Canada - the British North America Act - should have been peace, order, and good government. This remains an important element of Canadian collective self-identity.
- Canada Civil War Association
- "American Civil War" The Canadian Encyclopedia.
- Canadians in the American Civil War