Men and women from Canada, or connected, have fought in American uniforms going back to the Revolutionary War.
It is often said that the Badge of Military Merit. created by George Washington was awarded only 3 times during that war. But a few others have come to light... including one, appearing in an earlier blog and evidencing the soldier was from Montreal.
Two of the actual badges that have survived are shown below. Both hand made, on a purple material and in the shape of a heart, though never called such till many decades later. The choice of the colour and name have been given in past blogs.
Like MacDonald, many of her fellow Canadians have played major roles in the famous and even lesser known battles along side their counterparts in the US. But these rarely get the same notice, as do the American counterparts in the books, TV, big screen, and press anywhere in North America.
While probably serving in all elements of the military, such was not widely disseminated. In the movies The Great Escape, the Monuments Men and Argo, Hollywood has Americanized most of the plots and taken credit for much of the roles actual performed by Canadians. In fact, US former President Jimmy Carter would say after seeing Argo that... "I was taken aback by its distortion of what happened. Because almost everything that was heroic, or courageous, or innovative was done by Canada, and not by the United States."
In Gods and Generals, the opening movie scenes were about about the horrendous slaughtering at the "turkey shoot," better known as the Battle of the Crater. It failed to mention the dozens of Canadians fought and died there, including black soldiers. One Canadian white soldier came home with a Medal of Honor. Nor is there any real Canadian input into the Burns several disc series on the Civil War about the 50,000 plus Canadians in that war. Nor do we see any input in the movie Glory about the famous 54th Massachusetts and that Canadians, with their American brothers, were ordered to charge into a forlorn hope at Fort Wagner and suffered massive losses. Same for the Canadians charging downhill at Little Round Top with only fixed bayonets. They had already run out of ammunition, yet still won the day. Canadians to this day are buried at or near these battlefields.
North of the border many in Canada expressed serious concerns about American politicians pushing Lincoln to attack the British to the north... read Canada. The Brit's were already supporting the Confederates, (though they were supposed to be neutral) and some wanted the President to push north as well as south. But he proclaimed that one war at a time was enough. It would be a Canadian soldier, leading a few others that took the opportunity to question Lincoln in DC claiming he joined to fight the south... not the north. And fight he did, and earn a MOH to boot.
Meanwhile London had sent addition troops in the thousands to Canada. An 1862 newspaper account claimed that Canada was so worried that it was about to raise 750,000 men to protect the country. Possibly your ancestors and mine could have earned a whopping 50 cents daily to protect their country. An additional dollar if they brought along their horse!
So, do you think Canada should be remembering these facts and so many others that led, in part, to the creation of our very Dominion a few years later ?
How about remembering those that payed a role in capturing Jeff Davis in the end days of the war, or the fellow from Montreal who caught famed spy Bellie Boyd or the Canadian who shot famed Confederate General G.E.B. Stuart. or the Canadian soldier who served on General Grant's honor guard at the surrender of Lee's army at DC.
What about the soldiers from Canada who fought in the first major battle of the Civil War.. at Bull Run Virginia in July 1861 where about 5,000 men went missing, fell wounded or lay dead within just a few hours. MOH's would come back to Canadians after the war who participated in this battle and many others.
At least one man wasn't a man. That of course being the well told story of Frank Thompson, the New Brunswick born soldier, nurse and sometime spy for the North, who's real name was Sarah Edmunds, shown below.
He's then add his surname... Gettys... burgh and the rest is history!
Over the first 3 days of July 1863 his town of about 2,400 and the surrounding area were taken over by over 170,000 troops who would do battle in the streets and surrounding area. Before it all came to an end and great victory for the North, casualties would number close to 50,000, be they the dead, the wounded, the POW's and MIA's. Many a Medal of Honor would be awarded for bravery in the battle. Some even came home to Canada. Some for actions before, at or after the battle. It is possible that our casualties could number close to 700 though confirmation is nearly impossible.
This battle has been mentioned often in this space. In one of the blogs mention is given to the Alberta grave of a CW soldier believed to have been the last survivor of the famous Pickett's charge. A Confederate officer also given lots of ink in these pages.
Remembrance is also due those Canadian MOH recipients, buried across the US, sometimes being the lone medal recipient in the cemetery itself. There are also cases where the Canadian recipient was the only recipient in his regiment of upwards of a thousand men (and more) to be so decorated. And then there are of course the two MOH men charged with murder, a third non medal man later murdering one of the two, a VC man also charged with murder and a MOH man who actually committed suicide. The stories are all in these blogs.
Canadians rest in about 2 dozen Arlington graves. Almost 1/2 are MOH recipients. Respects are paid to them each year by officials and the military attache at our DC embassy. It was back on Canada Day 2005 that the Cdn Ambassador to the US and several of our military went to Arlington that stated this tradition. At my request they performed a service at many of the MOH graves. Research has now added to the list and many of over 2 dozen are visited each year by Embassy staff and officials.
One of those Arlington graves, my research had recently discovered, is that of Lehna Higbee, one of the above mentioned nurses. Recent announcements tell us that in a few years a new US navy war vessel...the USS Higbee will be launched.
It will then join a proud history of the warships, USS Preston, US CGC Munro, the USS Stoddard, and possibly others that have been named after Canadian born US war heroes.
Should we not remember these folks? I believe about a dozen ships carried their names in honour of incredible heroism during their service... and death in 2 cases.
And we cannot forget our navy heroes who stood on the decks as the Admiral hollered down to DAMB THE TORPEDOES... and ... FULL SPEED AHEAD. And read further of the CW meanings of Biting the Bullet, Crossing the Dead Line, I Heard it on the Grapevine, and of the term Hookers. It's all here... and needing remembrance.
Some will recall recent publicity about raising the USS Monitor, sunk during the CW. It was an iron clad vessel of the Northern navy. It did battle on the 2nd of a 2 day spree for the USS Virginia (AKA the Merrimack) and also was an iron clad. Such being framed by railroad track so thick that it repelled most any shell the enemy could throw at it.
But on day two, the Northerners unveiled their own ironclad... the Monitor. On day two each Ironclad teased the other for hours before and both puffed off in opposite directions in equal frustration because neither could really hurt the other.
But on day one, several powerful Northern..but wooded vessels were destroyed or rendered useless. Many Union sailors were blown out of the water. There are dozens of Canadian connections to the story. News of the battle spread around the world within days and told all in the construction business that wooden clad ships were then a thing of the past and to expect victory with such was foolish.
In that first day of battle the Southerners only had one victim on the Merrmack. He was killed as he stuck his head put a window to service a cannon. And he was from a place called New Brunswick. Something to remember.
An equally famous CW naval Battle, off the coast of France has the USS Kersarge and the CSS Alabama in battle. Much has been said on this site about this venture, in which the Southerners lost. An interesting side bar is the fact that a very small graveyard at the shore overlooking the battle scene has only 3 graves in it. All are sailors from the Alabama. And again one was New Brunswick born.
After the wars the Canadians returned to Canada in some cases and often stayed in the US. They shed their uniforms often but not always. Some went into farming and business, or the law, police work, the courts and politics. Some went into printing, and the news, while others went into the hotel and alcohol establishments. A few were appointed customs agents to Canada, with offices within Canada while another was the US representative to Paraguay, a country that even issued a stamp in his honour, one of several stamps honouring Canadians.
On the United States we can see hundreds of thousands of statutes and markers and interpretation centres and grave markers and buildings, and roads, streets, avenues, schools public buildings and airports army and navy and air force facilities and other ways of keeping alive the names of their great war heroes and their deeds.
In Canada we can total similar markers honouring our Medal of Honor men in a total of probably less than a couple of dozen locations.
This is nothing short of disgraceful!
A year ago we finally got a wonderful memorial in Ontario to the 50,000 or more who fought, with names of some of the MOH recipients, but certainly not all. That aside, we now have someplace to go to give honour to those who fought for a common cause.
When I started the first of these 2 blogs I noted that the recent news about Victoria Cross recipient Fred Fisher contained the statement that his VC, was the first coming to a Canadian, who was serving under a Canadian command when the bravery occurred.
While this may be true, I ask why does it matter who was commanding. Is it not the same Canadian blood that ran through his veins that ran through the veins of the 50,000 that went south to fight in the Civil War. And what about the other half or thereabouts, who came back to Canada from other wars proudly wearing the US Medal of Honor. Is there any reason why we in Canada should not also celebrate their service to peace throughout the world!
I believe that we not only need to see some visual markers across the country in whatever form they may take that shed light on the stories of these men, and possible several hundred women as well who fought. I further believe that we should have one full day ...perhaps March 23, to celebrate our MOH recipients. The 23rd being the first day that medals were awarded...back in 1863.
In the mean time..here is a further thought... Just what does 50,000 look like.
Well, Google tells me that the average man, standing 5'8" and with arms fully spread, covers 69.2 inches. That being said, if you invite 8,112 men to stretch out their arms till just touching the next fellow, they will start a line at the eastern border of Alaska and reach the western shore of Newfoundland, if in fact that could go in an impossible straight line. It would take 6 such lines across the country, and add them all up you would have just under 50,000 men, not including the three who fell asleep.
That's how many we need to be recognizing for their US service.
We have a little ways to go!
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