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His Majesty's Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry 1803-1816


The Canadian Regiment Recreated (photo by Robin Morris)

 

A Brief History

      Though placed on the Army Establishment in 1803, the regiment's recruiting parties did not become active in North America until 1805. This was due to a failed attempt in the Scottish Highlands to raise the regiment from Highlanders wishing to emigrate to the Canadas. Rumours of the regiment being sold to the East India Company brought the first Canadian Fencible Regiment into open rebellion in late 1803. After the regiment's disbandment, the commissioned and non-commissioned officers were transferred to the Canadas to start over. The Highlander NCO’s had little in common with the French and English population and therefore found it difficult to entice settlers to join the ranks of the regiment in a time of peace. The slow growth of the regiment made the Horse Guards hesitant in supplying the fledgling corps with uniforms. To solve this problem, the Lieutenant-Colone1 supplied his men with uniforms from the disbanded Queen's Rangers. After surmounting these initial obstacles, the Canadian Fencibles began to attract able-bodied men from Quebec City to Niagara to the ranks. By the opening of the war, the Canadian Regiment had risen to a strength of over 600 rank and file.

        The activities of the regiment during the opening year of the War of 1812-14 were focused on the protection of the Montreal District. In July, the bearskin-headed ranks of the Grenadier coy. and the 'light Bobs' of the light company were embodied with the flank companies of other regular regiments to form a Flank Battalion. The Grenadier wing of the battalion came under the command of Major DeHaren of the Canadian Regiment; the same officer who formally accepted the American surrender at Beaver Dams, 1813. Though the majority of the regiment was in Lower Canada during 1812, there were detachments protecting supply flotillas up to Kingston, recruiting parties in York, and an officer and his soldier servant attached to Major General Brock's staff at the surrender of Detroit.

        The trend of service of the Canadian Regiment was considerably altered during the year of l813. Members of the regiment were employed as marines on Lake Champlain to harass American efforts on that frontier. In August 1813, four companies under Major Cockburn were sent to relieve the 2nd Battalion, 41st Regiment at Prescott. While stationed at Prescott, the Canadian Fencibles on 7 0ctober crossed the St. Lawrence River at Red Mills and surprised a piquet of the 1st Regiment of U.S. Dragoons. The detachment of Canadian Fencibles were in turn thanked by Major General De Rottenburg for the successful execution of this adventure.

        A detachment of the Fencibles at Prescott joined Lieut. Col. Morrison's force in its pursuit of General Wilkinson's army down the St. Lawrence on November 3. In the battle of Crysler's Farm, three days later, the Canadian Regiment was posted on the right of the line and, in conjunction with the flank companies of the 49th Regiment. made a very gallant but unsuccessful charge upon the enemy guns. One lieutenant, one ensign and four privates were killed, and l4 rank and file of the regiment were wounded in this engagement. Several members of the regiment received a medal for their role in the action of November 11. The other major engagement of l813 that the Canadian Fencibles participated in was the Battle of the Chateauguay. Taking position again on the right of the line, the light company of the regiment "bore the brunt of the principal attack in the memorable action on the 26th October 1813." In this battle the King's force of 300, composed entirely of Canadians, were able to turn Hampton's army of 5,000 and their thrust for Montreal.

        The events of l814 served to enhance the credibility of the Canadian Fencibles. In February, 1814 four companies of Canadian Fencibles along with detachments from the 89th and 103rd Regiments attacked the rear guard of Wilkinson's army across from Cornwall at Salmon River. This force of 600 captured a hundred sleigh loads of provisions and stores, and pursued the retreating enemy to with in a few miles of Plattsburg. On March 30, 4,000 Americans under Wilkinson attacked the garrison at Lacolle Bridge held by the l3th Regiment and the Royal Marines. The Canadian grenadiers, along with a company of Voltigeurs, marched all day, at points waist high in icy water, to reinforce the outnumbered British. Through a gap in the enemy lines, the grenadier company was able to reach the garrison. Upon their arrival, the Grenadiers and Voltiguers made two gallant but unsuccessful charges to capture the American guns. After stiff fighting the American army soon withdrew back to Plattsburgh. This was the last engagement of the regiment.

        The second half of l814 was spent doing garrison duty at Kingston. During this time Major Cockburn and 50 rank and file, experienced with the axe, were dispatched to Penetanguishene to build that area's first fortifications. Throughout the next year, the regiment slowly migrated towards the Niagara frontier, doing garrison duty for the first half of 1815 at York, and occupying Fort George for the second half. In May 1816 the regiment was ordered back to Montreal and was disbanded. Many were granted land in the Rideau Military Settlement around Perth while others simply returned to their original areas of settlement.       - Robert Henderson

Other Articles of Interest:

Canadian Fencible Light Company and the Battle of the Chateauguay
Field Officers of the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry in 1812
Captains of the Canadian Fencibles in 1812
The Battle of Lacolle Mills, 1814

 

The Reenactment Unit

Formed in 1984, the Canadian Fencibles set out to create an accurate representation of the Canadian regular during the War of 1812.  With a number of museum professionals, military collectors, artists and historians in the ranks, the regiment researched and developed patterns, secured sources for madder red wool, shako plates, and so on.  Much of the work and sources of the unit were then passed on to other reenactment units to the benefit of the hobby as a whole.  Even today the patterns are traced and retraced, used and reused by new reenactment units.

       The most challenging project undertaken by the unit was its participation at the 175th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in 1990.   Through the hard work of two of its members, this endeavour expanded as it went and other 1812 groups asked to be a part of it. The whole trip was a great success with 25 Canadian Fencibles on the field of battle.  This tradition was carried on the 8th Regiment of Foot in 1995.  The year 1990 also brought a small group of Canadian Fencibles to New Orleans.  The only redcoats to come to the event since 1986, the organizers showed wonderful hospitality to their Canadian cousins.

After a long service to the king and plenty of good memories a number of the Regiment's founding members retired from reenactment to pursue other challenges.  The remaining membership over the past five years have focussed their reenactment energies on events in Eastern Ontario.  Today the group continues to grow with new campaigns around the corner. 

For more information contact:

 
Keith Lindsey

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