We need to give thanks to the Almighty who brings us the rains needed to feed the crops we eat daily. Rains needed to feed our trees that clean our air and shelter us from sweltering heat. Rains that give us our drinking water, provide us a means of transportation and shipping and a place for our children to go and play with the rest of the neighbourhood kids.
But in many parts of the world, recent down pours have also caused us loss of lives, property, and a way of life that will affect millions for the rest of their lives.
My last column ended with the rather flippant comment that I did not want to rain on the parade of a wonderful group of Ontario volunteers and supporters for their work. Incredible work that now quite rightly has become part of North America's heritage.
And so it should be!
This work, literally carved in granite, puts a new breath of life into the 150 year old fact that British North Americans numbered about 50,000 and probably more, fought and shed their blood, and in many cases their lives in the 4 year slaughter known as the US Civil War.
My blogs noted that the work done by so many, under the direction of the re-enactor group known as The Blues and Grays of Montreal were actions worthy of praise from all sides.
I did however note that this week I will be talking about some of the facts of the story that need clarification. However such should not take away from the massive efforts and the beautiful as well as important monument they created to the men and women of so many years past. Stories that most today do not remember, or worse yet probably never knew.
Setting the stage, a retired teacher involved in the efforts noted that the CW details were not well known and the hopes of the group were to obviously make them much more known. Another former teacher and now senior government official in a department that surely ought to have known much better, admitted that he did not know anything about the CW involvement.
From the massive web, newspaper, radio and probably tv coverage of the event, tens of thousands, if not considerably more learned of the Canadian involvement in the war. This is great. But problematic is the fact that in much of the media coverage, the statistics quoted and the verbiage used was flawed.
Old and outdated materials and opinions ought not to be the basis of research. But the press often takes little time to do their own homework, and thus their stories become the new story, twisted and wrong that it may be. When a group launches a project like that in Ontario, it is therefore incumbent on them to be very careful about the materials provided to those they know will be running with it.
As regular readers know, for more than 18 years I have been researching the Canadians and those connected to Canada that earned the American Medal of Honor. Actually my research is even older and dates back into late 1980's and early 1990's. Some of that work touched on numbers in total fighting for the cause on either the North or Southern side.
Had I simply rested on figures of the day, my number of MOH recipients coming back to a Canadian or one with connections would still be at 54, yet as of just two weeks ago they rose to 118. The numbers, details and facts change in some cases almost weekly, so to rely on old materials from 30 or more years ago is incredibly flawed.
In various forums, be it public talks, my association with many groups and individuals, the media and well over 400 stories in this space, my work has been recognized by many as THE source in North America, for MOH materials on the Canadians. Others have shared with me the belief that I have delved further into the research of the MOH from the Canadian prospective, than any other in either Canada or the US.
That said, I wish I had learned earlier of the work being done in Ontario. I would have been thrilled to have assisted the group in their work. My site is well known, yet they did not reach out to me. When I learned about a month ago of their efforts, I contacted them, but things were already poured in concrete, as the saying goes.
My concerns are with regards to the numbers of Canadians fighting, the numbers that rose to the rank of General, the numbers being awarded the Medal of Honor, the verbiage used in many cases and some blatant wrong details to boot.
Of concern is the wide spread erroneous information, and the issue of who does what to fix this. This blog will offer corrections, but much more is needed by others to follow up on this. After reading this you can do your bit by looking at the news coverage via the web, and passing on to those outlets what is said at this site.
To begin one story tells of a fellow named HIFFLING who earned a MOH. His name is HIGGINS and his fascinating story is told on this site. Most press coverage called the medal the CONGRESSIONAL Medal of Honor. There is no such thing. It is the MEDAL of Honor...period. Most repeatedly say the individual wins, or won or was given a medal of honor. Not so. None were GIVEN it, nor was there a single case of anyone WINNING it. These medals were awarded. Period.
Media coverage often quoted direct info from the Blues and Grays that the those fighting came from Ontario east. Not so. Many, including a few MOH recipients, had connections or came from all across the country.
Coverage also indicated that in CW days the medal had to be earned for bravery in front of the enemy. This is 100% wrong. Check my early blogs on the creation of the medal and the verbiage used back in late 1861 and early 1862. Read it carefully. It says that requirement was not the only qualifier.
Most of the media and others have quoted the fact that either four or five men rose to the rank of General while serving in the Civil War. With some 583 Generals serving for the North, it's not difficult to see that getting accurate figures re the Canadians is difficult.
Factoring in how the name is selected also can complicate matters. Do we limit these to just those born in Canada, or add those who at some point, be it before or after the war, lived in Canada? Do we consider those that had medals purged, be that action as illegal as it was and duly noted on this site in the past? Factor in also how recent is the research you base your numbers on?
One of the standard research tools relied on by many is the exhaustive research done over probably more than a decade by Tom Brooks from Ontario. Aided by a DC man by the name of Ed Milligan, and before the days of computers and email, they poured over archival records of the US government for OVER 3,500 DIFFERENT UNION REGIMENTS ETC. Their herculean task was to get names, dates and places of birth, units served in and other materials, where available for any with Canadian connections. From this work they identified 4 who became Generals. They wrote about this in the early 1990's. But that was over 30 years ago, and is thus now quite out of date. Many a year ago I had the privilege of being in contact with both men about their work. Both have sadly passed away since. It is unknown what happened to their massive cabinets full of information.
As of about 2 weeks ago my numbers of Canadian Generals reached NINE, and all born in Canada. When at 8 about a month ago, I spoke to the Ontario group, but they had moved too far forward on the project to amend that appearing on the memorial being created. One claiming only 5 Generals. The press stories on the September monument's unveiling widely quoted that there were only either 4 or five.
Moving on, the media widely circulated that there were only 29 Canadian CW Medal of Honor recipients born in Canada. Other using the same number saying they "came" from Canada, which is not the same as being born here. A few used the number 34. Of the standard, but wrong number of 29, two in fact were NOT born in Canada. One was from England and another was from France. But each should clearly be included in the Canadian numbers.
Dealing with this category we must again consider birth, relocating before or after the war, and purged medals.
My years of research, updated just weeks ago, have identified 118 recipients from or connected to Canada. Looking only at the Civil War numbers, there were 66 from that era. Not 29.
Of these most would discount 14 that had their names removed from the honor role as a result of the ILLEGAL purge. Being thus removed does not equate to the medals NOT BEING ISSUED. And from the 66 some may want to remove another 14 who were either in the country after birth or after the war. So if you chose to remove these 28, you still have another 38 born in Canada. That's about a third higher than the press would have you believe.
Moving on, but still with numbers, there is some debate about the number of Canadians who fought in the CW. I have seen numbers of between 33,000 and 64,000. Sir John A MacDonald himself quoted 40,000 while Nova Scotia's Joseph Howe had the number at 50,000.
Whatever the number, with some 250,000 British North Americans living in the US at the time, you can be assured the numbers were not insignificant. In fact one quote says that of all the nations involved in the war, (30 nations according to one source,) the Canadian contingent was the fourth largest.
Tom Brooks numbers were at 53,000 probably also giving consideration to the 1869 Gould study of about 53,500. A 1919 Grand Army of the Republic quote had the number at 64,000 but in 1920 a respected historian placed the number at 48,000. One of the Ontario groups had the number at "over 50,000." And the Blues and Grays web site has the number being estimated at 40,000 and elsewhere on same site as being "over 50,000." But the memorial says the numbers are at 40,000 plus. That's a drop of probably real numbers by about 25%. Most in the media carried the low number of about 40,000.
And finally the group's website and most if not all of the press quote the memorial unveiled as being the first national memorial representing those who went south. A few added the caveat..that it was the first SIGNIFICANT national memorial. The later I tend to agree with.
The South Western Ontario Civil War Round-table, possibly with assistance from the American Civil War Historical Society and others, unveiled this monument at Rockton Ontario's Westfield Heritage Center in August of 1998, predating the Cornwall Ontario monument by 19 years.
While I continue to salute the work done by the Blues and Grays of Montreal, facts, as someone once said.. are still "stubborn things."
See you next week.