March 22, 2004


Colby Cosh's find of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography online is truly a treasure... particularly because the search is not just name-only, but full-text. So you get the fun of typing in organizations, such as military regiments, and seeing who was working together when, and how they ended up in the history books.

Take for instance the 49th Regiment of Foot... Brock's unit, which came with him as its commander to Canada in 1802, and formed the linchpin of Upper Canada's defence in 1812-1813 (the 41st Foot, the other British regiment in what is now Ontario, is generally conceded to have been of rather lower quality, partly because it had been in the colony even longer... more on that another time).

There's a historical novel somewhere in the early years of the 49th before it and Brock's date with destiny... it shows up continually in British interwar history, Zelig-like... in Holland as part of Sir John Moore's brigade... back before Moore became famous as the trainer-in-chief of what would become Wellington's army; on the boats with Nelson as marines in the Battle of Copenhagen, etc. Then to Canada, and immortality, of a sort.

Coming over in 1802 you have, in no particular order (all from their DCB bios):

Senior Lt. Col. Isaac Brock, aged 33, already commander of the unit for the last 5 years, wealthy, tall, ambitious, "attractive and compelling," and suicidally reckless. He would of course, win at Detroit and die at Queenston;

Junior Lt. Col Roger Sheaffe, 39, joined the unit only four years ago, an American loyalist, cautious, haughty, cold. He would win at Queenston, and lose at York in 1813, ending his career;

Senior Maj. John Vincent, 38, with the unit for 19 years already, like Brock strangely uninterested in women, and already passed over by the younger, wealthier man, competent but limited. After succeeding Sheaffe in overall command he would lose at Niagara in 1813, then win at Stoney Creek despite falling off his horse in the dark and getting lost, finally being relieved of command when some more experienced general officers became available;

Junior ensign Frederick Heriot, 16, also never to marry, otherwise a typical English gentleman, a horseracer. He would later help raise the Voltigeurs, superb Quebecois light infantry, and fight with them (alongside his old British unit) at the Crysler's Farm victory. He would grow old and die a wealthy Quebec landowner;

Sgt. Maj. James Fitzgibbon, 22, deeply, deeply Irish, soon to take a promotion from the ranks, pushed by Brock (who it would seem was neither classist nor prejudiced in this); like his CO full of personal initiative, and with a penchant for scouting enemy positions in disguise. He would take the American surrender at Beaver Dams as a lieutenant, before leaving the unit to join another of the native Canadian regiments, the Glengarry Light Infantry. He would later become an adjunct member of the ruling Anglican elite of what is now Ontario.

A young dynamic CO, with a cranky old Yankee second-in-command, a jaded major, a boyish ensign, and a Mick sergeant-major as his pet personal growth project... all going off to Canada together to find their fortunes. That would have been an interesting officer's mess to take dinner with, don't you think? Even if they hadn't been running into Nelson, and Moore, and Tecumseh, and fighting Americans, and all that.

This is why it's a shame there's no Canadian war movies. The base material's actually pretty good.

UPDATE: A couple other ideas for DCB-related lines of research, while I'm thinking of them: in terms of leadership quality, the American army in 1812 was to their Revolutionary predecessors as the British army in 1776 was to that same American garrison in 1755-60. Discuss.

Also, those crazy white guys who made up the British Indian Department 1760-1813, basically going native (Girty, McKee, Caldwell, Elliott, Johnson, etc.), what's their story, anyway? How do you end up deciding to do THAT with your life? And why did they and their ostensible white soldier allies who only FOUGHT like Indians, the rangers (Butler, Rogers, etc.), never seem to get along with each other? (The Spencer Tracy biopic of Rogers, Northwest Passage, captures his antipathy for Johnson and his men vividly.) And why were the largely Swiss soldier-emigres who made up the Indian-fighting 60th Royal American Regiment generally unimpressed with either of them? Throw in the Scottish clique, which seemed to hate everybody, and the English regiments that were, you know, the only real English in this whole frontier equation, and it's not just a miracle that the British finally defeated the French, it's a miracle they managed to keep from killing each other in the process.

SECOND UPDATE: I was remiss in not mentioning another member of the 49th who made the mil. hist. books, but didn't rank a DCB entry... the giant Scottish sergeant Alexander Fraser, 19, who captured the American brigadiers Winder* and Chandler single-handed at Stoney Creek after, along with the 49th's then-acting CO, Plenderleath, and Fraser's younger brother William, overrunning the American guns by themselves and creating their own personal Jet Li action scene.** I've commented before that so many heroic British officer tales from this period involve some slight little minor noble with a fencing hanger being backed up by some behemoth NCO swinging a pole-axe/ramrod/asses' jaw, what have you, that I'm almost convinced it was an unwritten expectation among the better officers that you gave some stripes to the toughest mofo in the battalion, regardless of any other virtues or faults in their character, in anticipation of just such occasions. Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books got that one right, anyway.

*Winder is of course, the same William Winder who was also in charge of the failed defenses of Washington D.C. in 1814... the British wisely traded him back in a prisoner exchange so he could royally screw up twice in the same war.

**Of 55 American casualties in this entire Stoney Creek action, 11 were at the hands of the Fraser brothers in this one isolated melee. Plenderleath was badly wounded in the charge, which in addition to the two generals also captured 2 U.S. cannon. It's one of those rare documented cases in history where a single NCO's act of desperate bravery not only won a local fight, but changed a strategic situation; the leaderless Americans retreated the next morning, and would never advance that far up the Niagara peninsula again for the rest of the war. (Which of course begs the question why Fraser's not in the DCB, I suppose.)

Posted by BruceR at 07:05 PM


That's two civil aviation heads shot dead in two years. A saner country would just impose term limits, but I guess the old ways still have their charms.

Posted by BruceR at 01:44 PM


"An Israeli security official said that there are no immediate plans to kill the Palestinian president..." --The Globe, today

Posted by BruceR at 01:41 PM


The second think-piece on the CASR site about alternatives to the tank in general, and the 105mm wheeled Mobile Gun System (MGS, or Stryker MGS) in particular, is up. Particularly notable is the comparison of the profile between a modified vehicle-MGS and a hypothetical MGS designed from scratch.

Posted by BruceR at 01:21 PM


You may have noticed the contretemps between Tacitus and Charles Johnson over the weekend. You may not have noticed my calling Charles on another of his factually misleading posts from late last week (actually, one three posts away from the one Tacitus picked on).

People used to say of Johnson that his commenters were vile, but he was still a news source worth reading. I don't think you can say that, anymore: he seems to have lost any personal desire for the pursuit of objective truth, at least when it comes to Muslims or what he sees as Muslim-enablers (Canada, the UN, etc.).

Or, as David Warren might say, "Screw truth."

UPDATE: Johnson is now posting links to the "best" photos of the corpse of Sheikh Yassin. The word choice is significant... especially when you consider this is the same site that regularly calls Palestinians "Paleos" for taking an admittedly-at-times-unseemly interest in touching the remains of their people killed in the recent violence. At least in the past when it was Israeli casualties Charles showed his graphic pictures of, there was a political point; this is just ghoulish voyeurism. But I guess they have their ghouls, and we have ours.

SECOND UPDATE: There's now a thread dedicated to this blog at LGF, in which, after some prodding, Johnson says he was only joking when he said twice the UN had evacuated its civilians from Kosovo at the first sign of trouble last week. Joking. Check.

Posted by BruceR at 12:39 PM