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The Identity of Canadian Soldiers in the War of 1812

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Most soldiers partaking in the War of 1812 did not previously have any military experience. Only a few senior officers had participated in the American War, which occurred 30 years ago, or they served in British regiments. Officially the militia was composed of all the able-bodied males, around the age of 16 to 60, available and could be called to serve. Within the regiment, a soldier’s duties usually rotated between cooking, cleaning, and mending equipment. Only a small portion of the soldiers in the militia gained any training; however, they were provided with little equipment. In addition to a lack of training experience and equipment, the soldiers in the War of 1812 also had personal issues that intervened during the war.

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There was a considerable amount of risk of losing family members and property during an invasion. The damage to civilian property would occur as soldiers from both sides would use fence rails for fires, use gardens to dig up holes or may steal food from the civilians. However, the government did provide compensation for the destruction of property. Additionally, many soldiers were originally farmers called for service; therefore, they had left their family and land. They often worried about the state of their farms and they needed time to go back to tend to their farms.

Most soldiers when traveling would take the way of water. Generally, the roads tended to be too narrow and would not support the transport of heavy loads. The soldiers mostly traveled by foot and sometimes weather conditions got harsh which forced the soldiers to travel in mud or snow. During their travels, the soldiers were also interacting with the civilians throughout the war. Their relationship wasn’t smooth as soldiers often felt that they were taken advantage of by the civilians because they were being charged high prices for supplies. Furthermore, the civilians didn’t trust the soldier since they had to protect their possessions from enemies and friends.

Many of the soldiers were not able to attain supplies that they needed for the war. There was a very high need for shoes, trousers, jackets, coats, and pantaloons. The soldiers often needed clothing for the cool weather, but these were in short supplies. The shortage of supplies occurred due to theft, poor infrastructure, and blockades of roads by the opposing side. Due to these issues, the soldiers did not always attain proper shelter, clothing, and nourishment.

Poor nourishment and living conditions also meant poor health for a soldier. The soldiers encountered harsh weather, malnourishment, and improper rest, which in return led to long sick lists. The soldier’s diet consisted of basic meals with bread and beef with available vegetables. One of the issues that led to most deaths was not in fact battle wounds but rather disease; therefore, the soldiers would often desert their posts or civilians would avoid signing up for military service. Desertion was one of the main problems that the military faced. As often as 8 to 10 men would leave their post in a day. Furthermore, soldiers were often weary of war and felt depressed. This is illustrated in the letter written by Thomas G. Ridout as he wrote, “I will remember the many happy evenings I spent by your fireside, when we had nothing to think of but play cards, drink whiskey & watch the old horse by the window. … But these days are gone perhaps never to return”. Additionally, the soldier didn’t have many activities to enjoy in the military. For enjoyment, they mostly smoked, drank and gambled, but the military was highly disciplined; therefore, they needed to be careful and avoid making mistakes due to the punishments.

Overall, a typical day for a soldier meant he had to wake up, get washed, get dressed eat, go to church and fulfill his duties in the regiment. However, he was away from family, he had a shortage of supplies, his family and possessions were in danger, he faced harsh weather, he had a lack of military experience, and he had to combat infectious diseases.

The War of 1812 was fought with the collective effort of many individuals with various backgrounds and working together a common goal helped develop the perception of “Canadian Identity”. When the war was announced people with different backgrounds felt differently about it. The Americans residing in Canada did not want to fight the Americans in the war. However, they did want to protect their families and lands in Canada. Moreover, in Lower Canada, the French-speaking population was not fond of the British, but they were promised freedom of religion and language. They also fought to protect their land and rights, since they did not know if Americans would grant them their rights. During the invasion, the American troops burnt and destroyed the communities which enforced the people that they needed to unite together to protect their land. Working together to protect their homeland against the Americans helped developed the Canadian Identity during the War of 1812.  

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