- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

Among the estimated 50,000 Canadian-born men and women who fought in America's bloodiest war, four attained the rank of brigadier general including two (Jacob Cox and John F. Farnsworth) who led Union troops at Antietam and 29 who were awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry.

Perhaps the most interesting Canadian was Sarah Emma Edmonds, one of an estimated 400 women who disguised themselves as men and served in battle. “She enlisted in the Union Army in 1861,” says Mark Vinet, president of the Canada Civil War Association and author of “Canada and the American Civil War.”

Edmonds, dressed as a man, fought at Antietam and served as a spy (at times passing as a male or female black slave). After the war, she collected her pension and then, at a reunion of her regiment Michigan's 2nd Infantry “Pvt. Franklin Tompson” arrived in a dress and revealed herself as Edmonds to her astonished brothers in arms. She is buried in Washington Cemetery in Houston, the only woman in the lot for the Gen. McClellan Post of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Mr. Vinet says about 1,000 Canadian-born men enlisted in the Confederate ranks. The overwhelming majority that joined the Union forces did so for a variety of reasons. Many joined the regiments raised from Canadian border states such as New York, Michigan and Ohio because they were living and working there already, he says. Others, like the thousands of Europeans who also volunteered, joined to escape the drudgery of farm work or to seek adventure and glory.

Some, he says, joined for the $13 a month in Union Army pay later boosted with signing bonuses of up to $1,000. “Then there were those with strong moral and religious convictions who really believed in the abolition of slavery,” he adds.

Canadians who found themselves living in the United States when war broke out undoubtedly felt pressured particularly by women to enlist, he continues. “By 1863, most families had lost someone, and if a young, healthy male was walking around in civilian clothes, he was harassed,” Mr. Vinet says.

Though Canada would not become a unified nation until 1867 two years after the war ended the effect of the conflict on America's northern neighbor was profound. Tensions rose when Confederate agents raided Northern states from Canada, and Confederate sympathizers in the Maritime Provinces manned blockade runners.

Even before the war, Abraham Lincoln noted in 1859, “If Canada now had as many horses as she has slaves belonging to Americans, I should think it a just cause of war if she did not surrender them on demand.”

Lincoln's relations with Britain (and as a result its then-Canadian colonies) were so tense over Britain's tepid neutrality that he considered invading Canada.

Aware of this and of the enormous American military machine in place at the end of the war, Canada's Fathers of Confederation successfully argued that Canada needed to be unified as a way to ward off potential invasion.

Just as fear of fallout from the Civil War drove Canada to its own union, the rousing patriotism of the war may have inspired Canada's national anthem. Quebec-born Calixa Lavalle, who wrote the original French version of “O Canada” in 1880, fought in a Rhode Island regiment during the Civil War, according to Mr. Vinet.

Nearly 1,000 black Canadians served in the Northern armies, including 37 in the 54th Massachusetts regiment made famous in the movie “Glory.” Ironically, in the War of 1812, Canadian Laura Secord gained fame by warning of a coming American attack on Canada, while her descendant Dr. Solomon Secord an outspoken abolitionist who was visiting in Georgia when war broke out narrowly escaped hanging for his views by serving as a volunteer surgeon in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Canadians served in units from Wisconsin to Vermont and New York to Georgia, Alabama and Texas, and many are buried in Canada.

Canada's Civil War connection extends even further. Confederate President Jefferson Davis sent his mother-in-law to Montreal during the war, and later, when he was released from prison, Davis and his family joined her there for several months.

“There's a plaque in Montreal commemorating the site of Davis' home,” Mr. Vinet says. It was in Montreal's St. Lawrence Hall hotel in 1864 that John Wilkes Booth hatched his plot to kidnap Lincoln, and when that failed, he went on to assassinate the president.

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