Turns out, the theme of this blog was too constricting for my wide-ranging interests. I’m moving to a new blog, on a new platform, with a broader mandate. Check it out here: Our Old Wars.
The phrase “fresh water seas” in my title is from Moby Dick. I wanted to use Melville’s passage as an epigraph for the blog, but it’s too long. So, here it is in its own post:
“For in their interflowing aggregate, those grand fresh-water seas of ours—Erie, and Ontario, and Huron, and Superior, and Michigan—possess an ocean-like expansiveness, with many of the ocean’s noblest traits; with many of its rimmed varieties of races and of climes. They contain round archipelagoes of romantic isles, even as the Polynesian waters do; in large part, are shored by two great contrasting nations, as the Atlantic is; they furnish long maritime approaches to our numerous territorial colonies from the East, dotted all round their banks; here and there are frowned upon by batteries, and by the goat-like craggy guns of lofty Mackinaw; they have heard the fleet thunderings of naval victories; at intervals, they yield their beaches to wild barbarians, whose red painted faces flash from out their peltry wigwams; for leagues and leagues are flanked by ancient and unentered forests, where the gaunt pines stand like serried lines of kings in Gothic genealogies; those same woods harboring wild Afric beasts of prey, and silken creatures whose exported furs give robes to Tartar Emperors; they mirror the paved capitals of Buffalo and Cleveland, as well as Winnebago villages; they float alike the full-rigged merchant ship, the armed cruiser of the State, the steamer, and the beech canoe; they are swept by Borean and dismasting blasts as direful as any that lash the salted wave; they know what shipwrecks are, for out of sight of land, however inland, they have drowned full many a midnight ship with all its shrieking crew.”*
Florid, romantic, brooding, sublime. Thank you, Mr. Melville.
In the same chapter, Melville presents ‘Steelkilt,’ his Lakeman hero. I tried to find a way to use that name in the title of this blog, but it’s just too ridiculous. Instead, Steelkilt is my handle on the wargamers site, The Miniatures Page.
*Moby Dick, chapter 54, “The Town-Ho’s Story.”
I was looking for evidence of service in the War of 1812 by Erastus Cleaveland (1771-1858) and turned up this history of Oswego County, New York, at the much-loved Internet Archive. The mention of Col. Cleaveland was brief, but the chapter had this illuminating story:
“The only other event of 1813 which need be narrated at any length partook somewhat of the ludicrous order. William Cooper, a brother of Fenimore Cooper, was a rather eccentric genius, who then made his home about Oswego. He undertook to build a floating battery, which was to be taken to Sackett’s Harbor, and used to defend that post from the British. Full of faith, Cooper went to work at his own expense, the government agreeing to pay him sixteen thousand dollars for the battery when it should be completed and had proved actually capable of of being floated to Sackett’s Harbor. It was nearly square, about sixty feet across, and rose some four or five feet out of the water. It was made of large logs hewed partially square, and Mr. E. W. Clarke describes it as looking like a big, low, half-submerged log house.
“Whatever name the inventor might have given it, nobody else called it anything but “Cooper’s Ark.” There was a mast in the middle, and when the things was done Cooper placed it in charge of a Captain Gould, who boldly spread a large sail, and with a few men started for Sackett’s Harbor. The guns were to be put on board at the latter place. The ark had gone but a short distance (being somewhere off New Haven, as near as we can learn) when the wind rose slightly; the log craft became unmanageable, and soon went to pieces. Fortunately, all the men escaped to shore without serious injury. Cooper had used up his means on this curious contrivance, and his loss, together with the ridicule to which he had subjected himself, soon caused him to leave this part of the country.”
A day after my historic walking tour of Toronto (see Part 1 and Part 2) I attended an open house at the Napoleonic Miniatures Wargame Society of Toronto. I was pleased to play my first tabletop wargame with such a distinguished –and patiently helpful– crew.
The game was The Battle of Quebec 1759, using the new ruleset Ruse de Guerre authored by our host, Glenn Pearce. What struck me right away was how small 6mm miniatures are. They are really tiny! For the regular units, there are 24 figures on a base measuring 30 x 60mm. Yet Glenn had his painted so that even the facings on the tiny uniforms were painted in colours appropriate to the regiment.
I was also surprised at how much happens at once during play. We had seven players and two referees. I suppose I imagined that two people would play Wolfe and Montcalm, as in chess, while the rest of us… moved the figures and fetched coffee? No: We had three player-commanders under Wolfe, and two under Montcalm. I was Brigadier-General George Townshend. I had to quickly get used to taking the initiative and making decisions, while Wolfe, Murray, and Mockton were all busy with tactical decisions of their own.
Our starting position was just as diagrammed at top. Townsend is defending the British left flank from skirmishing Indians and habitants. Unlike in recorded history, the French forces did not charge down the hill into the maw of the British army, waiting with their double-charged muskets. Instead, the British charged up the hill at the French and were largely decimated by the time I’d wheeled my three battalions, forded a brook, and was engaging the leery militiamen. By lunchtime, Montcalm had pretty securely preserved Canada as a French possession for all time.
Townshend’s forces, making their historic wade across some brook:
And here we get a sense of the epic battle just before the climactic engagement:
From Glenn’s battle report: “Since Townshend was not deployed for his attack, it took some time for him to adjust his alignment and push forward. Harassed by Indians he finally came to grips with two battalions of French militia. The militia put up a good fight but were finally swept away by his steady regulars.” Well now, all I can say is, I’m no hero. I just did what any 18th century Marquess would have done, under the circumstances…
I’m also pleased to report that I have passed muster with the Society, and been admitted as a veteran member. I can now look forward to sharpening my martial prowess at wargames yet to come!
I want to dedicate this weekend’s activities to my lovely and talented wife, the world’s newest ‘wargaming widow.’ Thanks, Love!
After walking along the lakeshore (see Part 1) I arrived at Old Fort York, with no expectations beyond exploring the site and its exhibits. I hadn’t visited since an elementary school sleepover there in the mid-1980s. Happily, it was Battle of York Weekend, the annual event commemorating that battle, so there was a lot to see.
This is the site, nestled among Toronto’s mushrooming condominiums and the Gardiner Expressway:
This was my first clue that something was up:
I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Star-Spangled Banner flown before, with its 15 stars and 15 stripes. And there wasn’t a redcoat in sight; this was a commemoration of the US occupation of York in April 1813.
Next time I’m photographing the use of long guns, I’ll remember to stay on their right side. All my pictures show the soldier’s backs, as they’re twisted away to fire from the right shoulder.
After the demonstration of musketry, I spoke with the two participants in blue coats here:
The one on the right was outfitted as a pioneer, with axe, saw, and faschine knife. From them, I learned about the reënactments that happen around the region over the summer. I was surprised that there is a reënactment of the Battle of Culloden in Ontario. Disappointingly, I was not allowed to handle a musket, even to gauge its weight, owing to the limitations of their insurance policies.
I call this image “The Littlest Marauder”:
This is an image of Douglas Coupland’s sculpture, near Fort York, entitled “Monument to the War of 1812”:
In an editorial dated November 5, 2008, The Globe and Mail said Coupland’s piece “makes vividly the point that the British and Canadians won the three-year war against American aggressors –thereby escaping annexation– yet does so with humour and good grace.” I aspire to achieve that humour and good grace in this blog, though I court the danger of sliding into the glib or merely clever!
Coupland’s work is also the perfect segue to Part 3 of this post, wherein I describe my first effort at wargaming, courtesy of the good people at the Napoleonic Miniatures Wargame Society of Toronto… coming soon.
On Saturday last, I took a walk along Toronto’s lake shore looking for historic markers, without any particular plan. Although I’ve lived in the city my whole life, I don’t often take the time to explore it.
First find: Royal Canadian Legion branch 344, Queen’s Own Rifles, at 1395 Lake Shore Boulevard West:
“Prime Minister of Ontario”? I’d never heard that before. My grandmother’s notes tell me we have a genealogical connection to the Hon. Ferguson, but I haven’t explored it yet, so I leave that for a future post.
Next, closing in on Exhibition Place, I found the site of the old French Fort Rouillé:
The original placement of the walls are marked by a concrete walkway, which gives a great sense of presence. I arrived as a batch of cadets received a lesson, but I didn’t press closely enough to overhear.
Next to the fort is Scadding Cabin:
Which the plaque informs me was built in 1794, and moved to its present location from near the Don River in 1879.
Crossing Exhibition Place, I was at The Princes’ Gate when the cadets caught up to me:
Given that this blog is largely intended as an exploration of the North American military heritage, with a Loyalist flavour, there was something satisfying in seeing this display through the gates first opened by the royals 90 years ago (even if the marching left a little to be desired).
Part 2 of this post will describe my visit to Old Fort York. On my way there, I passed by the Fort York Armoury and snapped this picture of the roof:
I have a genealogical interest in Butler’s Rangers, and I wasn’t sure of their connection to the Queen’s Rangers. From the Loyalist Gazette, reprinted on the United Empire Loyalists’ website, I learn there is no immediate connection, but the Queen’s Rangers are fascinating in themselves, with a continuous history back to 1756, first commanded by the famous ranger Robert Rogers. Even with the references I’d seen to Rogers’ trial for treason against the United States, I still thought of him as a US-American, rather than British-American, figure.