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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Michigan Soldiers from Canada in the Civil War

by Gordon Thorsby

Wounded from Spotsylvania, 1864. Andress is prone and facing the camera. (photo M. Brady)


Canadians didn't have to join and fight yet they did. Approximately 40,000 Canadians served in 250 Union and 50 Confederate regiments in the Civil War. While they were a separate country, Canadian Nationals and Canadian immigrants played a significant part in the conflict.


The Third Michigan Infantry gathered a large number of Canadians crossing over from Ontario to Port Huron at the initial muster. There were the McKenzies originally from Cape Briton Island, Nova Scotia. Hector, 19, apprenticed as a tinner, joined the regiment in 1862 at the rank of Corporal. His brother, John joined the regiment in 1864 at twenty, and within months while bravely fighting at Petersburg, John was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. Both settled in Chesaning and Hector was the town sheriff for several years.


Large numbers crossed over from Quebec or Ontario and most joined New York, Michigan and Maine regiments. Michigan removed Indian reserves after tribes sided with the British in the War of 1812. Canadians moved to the new farmlands and were willing to live beside Native Americans who remained. Uncertain if full Indian, or of Indian/French Canadian extraction, Narcisse Louis “Nelson” Abar was initially rejected from enlisting in New York regiments because he was not white at16. His indigenous features were apparent when he tried the 16th New York Infantry and 14th New York Heavy Artillery but was accepted into the St Lawrence Company of entirely Canadians of the 142nd New York at 17 or 18 in 1862. From Quebec, his first battle was Gettysburg, but it was the second assault on Ft. Fisher in January 15,1865 that was important. The 142nd was in the first line when Narcisse was wounded. He survived and returned to Quebec. His band were later pushed out of Quebec and he settled in the Indian reserve near St. Charles. He is buried in St. Charles with other Native Americans.

Final assault on Ft. Fisher, 1865


Approximately 225,000 Canadians emigrated to the U.S. between 1840 and 1860. These immigrants were the fourth largest group entering the country behind Irish, German and English. Oliver Stevens of St. Charles, 19. settled in St. Charles somewhere in the mid 1850’s but they were originally from western Ontario near Lake Erie. He joined Co. D, 16th Michigan Infantry in August 1861 along with fifteen others from around the area. Ollie was wounded in the right wrist at the regiment’s first major battle at Gaine's Mill on June 27, 1862. A wrist wound might require amputation, but the photo below shows his signature. When some Americans went to Canada to avoid the draft, some Americans and now ex-patriate Canadians were caught up in the draft. Stevens had two brothers Charles, 24, and George (age unknown). When St. Charles fell short of the 1862 enlistment quota, the two became

nine-month draftees in March 1863. Their first engagement was Gettysburg and where they found themselves on the west slope of Little Round Top on July 2nd. Unfortunately for George, a ball entered this right lung during the chaos of fighting that afternoon. He was sent back to the First Division hospital at the Lewis Bushman Farm when the fighting subsided. He managed to survive until 7/10 when he passed. Eight days must have been slow and agonizing. He had company with thousands of others and many famous for their actions on July 2nd. He is buried in the National Cemetery on Cemetery Hill. Charles survived but was discharged in September after only six months. Specific reasons are not known.


Of the new immigrants from the north, less than half were French-speaking immigrants. Leaving Quebec was often for economic reasons because many were poor. Martin Barnhart was in Co. C of the 7th Michigan Cavalry fighting from the beginning. He was captured in the Dahlgren Raid of February 1864 and became ill probably while paroled in Baltimore. He died of smallpox awaiting exchange.


William Egbert Quebec was 25 and wounded at Spotsylvania in only his second major fight in the horseshoe salient. He moved to Michigan and enlisted on 11/25/63 in the 27th Michigan Infantry. He was discharged in November. These "Canadiens" spoke mostly French and were considered French by enlisting clerks. There was Edwin Andress who spoke French, Anishinaabe, German and English, and was from Quebec when he recruited Co. K, 1st Michigan Sharpshooters. Then there were the Gilletts- (pronounced (zsi-lo’). They settled on the Shiawassee River in the 1840’s. James, 17, David, 24, and William served in the 10th Michigan Infantry.

Not considered Canadian in a real sense, there were the Ojibway/Anishinaabe Indians who traveled back and forth between US and Canada. John Jackson’s origins are believed to have been Ojibway lands in Quebec. John was 28 and living on the Indian reserve of Pewanogoink when he enlisted with the 9th Michigan Cavalry and served in the west under Sherman through Georgia and the Carolinas. After the war he returned home to Michigan and migrated in the traditional Anishinaabe ways between Taymouth, the Mt. Pleasant, MI reservation and Canada. He is buried in the “Chippewa" Indian Cemetery in Taymouth, MI. His brother Henry served in Co. K 1st Michigan Sharpshooters. Before the war he migrated as did his brother, John. After the war, he simply vanished. One theory is he lived in the wilds of the Traverse Bay area at the time when he died in the woods somewhere. Nobody knows. The official report. is he simply vanished never to be heard of again.


If an enlistee originated from another country, it was rarely specified. Recruiting agents put their places of origin in towns to make their quotas. It is for descendants to trace their past.


The McKenzies are buried in Chesaning, Andress is buried in California. One Gillett is buried in New Lothrop, MI, a second in Cedar Bluff Iowa, and William who died of disease in 1863 during the war is buried in Smith’s Ferry TN.



Sources:

Gettysburg Times, “Canada makes Gettysburg connection during Civil War,” by Bruce Davis,

Apr 30, 2022.


"French Canadians and Franco-Americans in the Civil War Era (1861-1865)," Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College, Canada, 2001.



Find-a-grave.


Historical Data Sources, Inc., P.O. Box 24, Duxbury, MA 02331.


Chesaning Argus 1894.


GAR Book, "Paps Thomas" Post 121, River Rapids Library, Chesaning, MI.





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