African Canadians in Union Blue: Volunteering for the Cause in the Civil War/Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation

By Turing, John | British Journal of Canadian Studies, July 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

African Canadians in Union Blue: Volunteering for the Cause in the Civil War/Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation


Turing, John, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Richard M. Reid, African Canadians in Union Blue: Volunteering for the Cause in the Civil War (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2014), 308 pp. Cased. £68.95. ISBN 978-0-7748-2745-4. Paper. $32.95. ISBN 978-0-7748-2746-1.

John Boyko, Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation (Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin Random House Canada, 2014), 355 pp. Cased. $35. ISBN 978-0-3073-6144-8. Paper. $21. ISBN 978-0-3073-6146-2.

The studies by these two historians address an important but undervalued subject - the role of Canada in the American Civil War. Richard Reid has examined the role of African-Canadian soldiers fighting in the civil war. John Boyko has attempted to provide a more general account of Canada's experience of the civil war through the stories of six different Canadians.

Richard Reid has made a meticulous study of the federal pension records and enlistment records to provide an account of African-Canadian experience in the American Civil War. He has taken on the daunting task of calculating the number of African-Canadians who actually participated in the war. Through painstaking research, he has identified 2,500 African-Canadians, resident in Canada, who fought for either the Union Army or Navy. Reid has demonstrated that Canadian participation was roughly equivalent to that of the New England states. Previous historians have portrayed the role of Canadianborn soldiers in the civil war as either mercenaries or victims of crimping (the illegal recruitment of soldiers through kidnapping or coercion). Reid amply demonstrates, at least in the case of African-Canadians, that this simply was not the case. He shows that the monetary benefits available for black soldiers through pay and bounties were unlikely to exceed what one could make by remaining in Canada, particularly for those with families. Furthermore, the timing of African-Canadian enrolment did not at all coincide with increasing bounties. Far more important in their decision-making was the equitable treatment of black soldiers. When black soldiers were first allowed to enrol, they found themselves limited by unequal pay, prevented from obtaining commissions and subject to excessive fatigue duty. There is little to object to in Reid's new book. Perhaps one could have asked for a more in-depth account of how these black Canadian soldiers interacted with their American-born counterparts, and ideally he would provide more detail on how these soldiers related back to their friends and family in Canada, but the fragmentary nature of the source material likely makes such an endeavour unreasonable.

Despite the seemingly narrow focus of the title, this book sheds light on a number of important issues: the issue of race in mid-nineteenth century North America; the porous border between the United States and Canada; and the importance of transnational ideologies and identities in the pre-Confederation era. Through a chapter on African-Canadian doctors, he tells the story of how blacks were able to break through into the medical industry in Canada more easily than in the United States. Later he demonstrates that the story does not simply end in 1865, as their war experiences influenced their lives long afterwards. …

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