A Decade of Turbulence

An Improved Volunteer Militia

Corporal,  Royal Guides, circa 1866

Caption: Corporal, Royal Guides, circa 1866

The Canadians gained military knowledge from the Fenian raids. They learned, for example, that the manner in which rural volunteers were organized, into hundreds of independent companies, made their deployment complicated. Adjutant-General Patrick MacDougall ordered that henceforth they be grouped into battalions, the practice followed by urban companies since 1859. It was also noted that corps of volunteers placed in brigades with regular British troops were clearly superior, because they served side-by-side with professional soldiers and learned a great deal about military cunning. Eight-day training camps were therefore held in the summer, with the help of the British regiments, to teach these battalions the essentials of the art of war. This led to the formation of seven brigades, each consisting of three battalions of volunteers and one British battalion. The Canadians welcomed this innovation because "they knew that they would be properly led, that they were under the command of professional soldiers, and would have the advice and assistance of men whose trade was war." 129

It was noted that the weapon used by the Canadian volunteers, the rifled-barrelled, muzzled-loading Enfield, was out of date and needed to be replaced by a breech-loading weapon like that used by many Fenians. In 1866 only a few regiments in the regular army had begun to receive weapons with the Snider-Enfield system. In the second half of the year the government purchased approximately 6,000 breech-loading rifles. Then in September it ordered the manufacture of 3,000 Peabody rifles; however, because of production delays these were not delivered until the spring of 1867. Some 30,000 Snider-Enfield rifled weapons were sent free of charge from England that summer, and these were also issued to the infantrymen and artillerymen. Mounted troops used the Spencer cavalry carbines until 1872. The Canadian volunteer militia was thus very well armed, equipped and trained for its time. 130

Additional Images

The Montreal Volunteer Cavalry in winter dress, 1865-1866
Gunner and officer, Royal Regiment of Artillery, 1860s
Kettledrummer, 13th Hussars, circa 1873