July 18, 2012

Citizen soldiers

During the War of 1812, both the British and Americans used citizens to help serve in auxiliary military units known as the militia. The militia was primarily employed to help move supplies, garrison forts, and was used as auxiliaries to regular forces.

In 1793 the Legislature of Upper Canada passed the Militia Act that required citizens to take responsibility for the defence of their province. The Act required that all males between the age of 16 and 60 perform military service in peace and wartime. They were required to provide themselves with clothing, arms, ammunition and accouterment. Most militia units were not issued military uniforms and were forced to wear their civilian clothing on the battlefield. The lack of uniforms did cause some confusion at times since it was difficult to distinguish between British and American militia in some battles.

James Thompson's Militia Officers Coatee
By 1808 the Militia Act required eligible men to train about two to four times a year. Training mostly consisted of men proving that they could operate a musket, and then there would be a celebration with free beer for the rest of the day. Some men opted to join militia flank companies where men trained for six days a month and could be placed on full time duty for up to six months during war. Of course, certain religious groups could be exempt from militia service by paying a fee of five pounds per year in peacetime, and twenty pounds per year in wartime. By 1812 there were about 11,000 men eligible to serve in the Upper Canada militia, compared to 460,000 men eligible to serve in the U.S. militia.

Janet Thompson's Wedding Dress
Militia officers varied in quality in the Upper Canada militia. Most officers were chosen for their status in the community, such as lawyers, doctors or politicians. Some officers had previous military service in the British military and were chosen for the skill and knowledge that they possessed.

Throughout the War of 1812, the Canadian militia provided a vital role in support of the British Army. Whether it was serving on the frontlines or transporting vital supplies, the British Army would not have been able to function without the support of the Canadian militia.

If you want to find out more about the militia and see some great artifacts from the War of 1812, don’t miss the Grand Opening of the Niagara Falls History Museum. On display will be a militia officer’s coatee belonging to James Thompson. As well, they will have his wife’s, Janet Cooper Thompson, wedding dress on display. Don’t miss this great event! Click here for more details.

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