Library and Archives Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Institutional links

ARCHIVED - Canadian Confederation

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.

Towards Confederation

Influence of the American Civil War

Some Little-Known Stories

Source: Anxious for a little war: the involvement of Canadians in the Civil War of the United States by Tom Brooks and Robert Trueman. Toronto: WWEC, c1993.

Some 40,000 to 50,000 Canadians are estimated to have taken part in the American Civil War. The following are some of their stories.

Portrait: Newton Wolverton


Newton Wolverton in the uniform of the 22nd Oxford Rifles, Canadian militia.

Newton Wolverton

When Newton Wolverton, born at Wolverton, Ontario, was 15 years old and working as a teamster in Washington, he presented a petition for peace to President Lincoln from a committee of Canadians at the time of the Trent affair. President Lincoln said to him:

"Mr. Wolverton, I want you to go back to your boys and tell them long as Abraham Lincoln is President, the United States of America will not declare war on Great Britain."

On July 20, 1861 Wolverton enlisted in the Northern army. He returned to join the Canadian militia to protect the border after the St. Albans Raid and during the Fenian War. He later became principal of Woodstock College and received an honorary doctorate from McMaster University in Hamilton.

Portrait: Sarah Emma Edmonds


Sarah Emma Edmonds dressed as a man.

Sarah Emma Edmonds

Sarah Emma Edmonds of New Brunswick enlisted in the Union army under a man's name in 1861. Masquerading as a "he," she served as a nurse, spy and general's aide for two years. She fought in the cavalry at Antietam and went on to fight with the western armies until she became sick. She then lived in St. Louis, a city full of Confederate spies, whom she in turn spied upon for the North. She married and settled in the United States where her comrades-in-arms found out her true identity at a regimental reunion in 1884.

Calixa Lavallée

Calixa Lavallée, the composer of O Canada, was born at Verchères, Quebec, in 1842. He left for the U.S. in 1857 and lived in Rhode Island where he enlisted in the Northern army. During and after the war he moved between Canada and the United States developing his career in music. He died in Boston in 1891 and his remains were brought to Montreal in 1933.

Jock Flemming

Jock Flemming was a Halifax harbour pilot in August 1864 when the Confederate commerce raider CSS Tallahassee visited port at the end of a run along the U.S. east coast. The ship needed fuel and repairs. Nova Scotia was a neutral colony and not involved in the U.S. Civil War, so after causing a minor diplomatic incident the Tallahassee was ordered out of port. Flemming piloted the warship out of harbour through the narrow, shallow and dangerous Eastern Passage so the captain could avoid the Northern warships rumored to be waiting outside. This feat of skilled harbour piloting made Flemming famous.

Jerry Cronan

Private Jerry Cronan died of wounds suffered in the Battle of Spotsylvania. He is the only Canadian Confederate who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Shortly after he was buried it became a cemetery for Union soldiers. Private Cronan has a dual claim to fame, as a Canadian and as a Confederate buried among the victorious enemy.