Border Crossers: Canadians Who Fought in the US Civil War

Besides the original combatants, there were others who sided with either the North or the South who didn’t appear to have a stake in the conflict.

It’s estimated that over 40,000 British North Americans (BNA—the name for what is now Canada since it was a British colony until 1867) fought for the Union in the North or the Rebels in the South. It’s estimated the ratio was 12 to 1 for the North, where 36,000 joined the fight for the Union and 3,000 for the South. The question is: Why did these Canadians fight in a war not their own, and why did they join one side or the other?

Some suggested reasons are:

• Monetary bounties to join were paid by various State militias. One in Michigan offered over $400 to join up for the Union, In today’s money, that would amount to $4200, a significant sum.

• One destination for runaway slaves from the South was Canada. Over 30,000 made it to that haven. One of the principal means of escaping was the Underground Railroad, a network of routes and safe houses in the United States run by abolitionists to help African-Americans escape into both free states and Canada. Many were recruited to come down and join Colored Union regiments to fight and free their relatives in the South.

• Some Canadians raised their own companies to come and fight for the Union.

• Many families emigrated from Canada to the U.S. Canadian relatives came down and joined and fought on whichever side their families were on.

• Many American families went north for free land offered by the Crown in Canada West, Ontario. Regardless of their oath to the Crown, they returned and fought for either the North or the South.

• Canadians who were in the South and had commitments there when war broke out, stayed and fought. The protagonist of my historical fiction novel underway, The Confederate Canuck is an example of one of the many Canadians sympathetic to the South.

• Other Canadians from the Maritime provinces of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia had family ties to the South–the Acadians, the French Canadians who were forcibly removed in 1754 and later by the British to Louisiana. Their Canadian relatives came in support of family for the South.

• Some came for either side just for the adventure of it.