Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Grand Army of the Republic in Canada

It's a little known fact that the first veterans organization in Canada was not Canadian at all.  Instead it was the Grand Army of the Republic, the association of those who fought in the United States Army during the Civil War.  As far as I know, veterans of the War of 1812 did not organize this way, if at all.  Also, British veterans of imperial wars, everything from Napoleonic Wars through the Crimean War, the Great Rebellion in India, up to Northwest Rebellions in the Canadian west, do not appear to have organized in Canada.  The GAR had a significant presence, with eight posts in all, each associated with a US state organization.  Four were in Ontario, the William Winer #77 in Hamilton, the Hannibal Hamlin #652 of NY in London, the W. W. Cooke #472 of NY also in Hamilton, and the J. S. Knowlton #532 of NY in Toronto.  Quebec had three, the Joseph Bernard #77 of New Hampshire, the General Hancock #73 of Vermont in Montreal, and the Quebec #117 also of Vermont in Quebec City.  Winnipeg, far out in the west, had the Manitoba #592 of Pennsylvania.  While these constitute just .1% of the 8,000+ GAR branches in the US, and two more abroad in Mexico and Peru, they nonetheless indicate the extent that the Civil War had on North America. 

To my knowledge, no research has been done on these posts or the men who belonged to them.  Were they Americans who came north or Canadian veterans who returned home?  Were any black, or English or French?  What about any Confederate veterans since no branches of the UCV existed outside of the United States or even the South?  It would be interesting to see how their presence and public role affected the society around them.  Nineteenth Century Canada had a strong anti-American sentiment in it.  While Civil War veterans spread around the world, they did not organize in the same way as in Canada, Mexico and Peru.


  1. I am sort of embarrassed to admit that I do not know anything about these veterans - do you know Barb Gannon? I'll bet she knows something about them.

  2. I managed to find information on two veterans. Harper Wilson was an Irish-born Canadian resident who fought in a New York regiment. Wounded at Gettysburg, he returned north (so to speak!) and migrated to Winnipeg. He ran the GAR post there, and managed to secure pensions for other veterans.

    The other is Anderson Ruffin Abbott, the first black doctor in Canada. The son of free people of color from Alabama, he attended medical school. As a physician with the Union Army in Washington DC, he was among the few to attend to President Lincoln at his death bed. After the war, he belonged to the James S. Knowlton NY Branch of the GAR in Toronto.

    Here's a list of known Civil War veterans buried in Canada:

    Fun fact: William Hatcher Barnett of the Company F, 11th Virginia (CS) is buried in Bottrell, Alberta in 1933 at the age of 90. He was the last verified survivor of Pickett's Charge.

  3. We forget how freely people moved across borders in those days.


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