Woodstock has always been something of a garrison town. The earliest settlers were mostly disbanded soldiers of Delancey’s Brigade. In the early development of the area the rnilitary establishment was more important to the settlers than we realize. We live in a day and age when many calamities have befallen the world. But one calamity which seems to be beyond the scope of even imagination is any form of armed conflict between our country and the United States.
Such was far from being the case in the early days of New Brunswick’s settlement. The constant possibility of invasion and even of conquest from our larger neighbour hung over not only the early colonists but over their children and their children’s children. In those days the numbers of soldiers, whether regular or militia, stationed in the area was one of vital importance.
I am not going to make any attempt to deal with the military establishment of the early days. Neither will I make more than passing reference to the later days of the militia in this area, or the evolution from the early militia of such fine local units as the Brighton Engineers, the 89th Battery or the Carleton Light Infantry.
I would point out, however, that relations between the militia and the purely civilian population of Woodstock and Carleton County has always been close, Possibly closer in the recent past than it is today.
I am sure most of us here can readily remember the place that used to be filled in the life of our community by the present armouries. Prior to the last war the young — and not so young — people of the area played badminton there three or four times a week and the Saturday afternoon teas were a regular feature. The older men of the town belonged to the garrison club which used the officers’ mess almost to the exclusion of the officers. Both the town and school basketball teams played all their games and held all their practices there. All the big dances were held there. And all this was in addition to the numerous military and semi-military activities. In short the armories were the community centre of Woodstock and the surounding area.
Many of can remember that winter day in 1930 whern the armories were gutted by fire, and the gap that was left in the life of the town until the building was reconstructed a year or two later.
Times change and the activities formerly carried on in the armories still go on in other buildings probably more suited for the purpose. But I am sure many of us still miss our frequent vists there.
But in the early days things were not so well organized and the first units of the New Brunswick militia did not have well equipped armories and drill halls. In fact they did not have much of anything.
In fact the scarcity of military equipment and proper buildings to accommodate them is the subject of comment by Peter Fisher, New Brunswick’s first historian. Writing in 1825 Mr. Fisher strongly advocated the construction of arsenals, especially in the larger centres, and of arms to store in them.
According to Mr. Fisher the New Brunswick militia of that day had an enrolment of some 12,000 men. They were divided into twenty-three battalions, each composed of six, eight or more companies according to local circumstances. The companies consisted of one captain, two subaltern officers, three sergeants and sixty rank nn! file, except for the flank companies — whatever they may have been — who were allowed four sergeants.
Where districts were remotely situated and could not supply the men for two companies but did have more than sixty the cvompanies were allowed to enroll as many as eighty rank and file.
The battalions were called on to drill two days a year and in addition were called together in a general muster once a year for inspection by a field officer.
Mr. Fisher described the young men of the militia as docile, orderly and capable of being trained into efficient units. But without going into detail he laments the lack of proper weapons and equipment. Pointing out that after all the primary purpose of a militia is to be able to meet and repel a hostile force he advocated that the men be trained in the use of arms and field exercizes rather than being exclusively taught parade ground movements and the proper way to receive an inspecting officer.
He goes on that in practically every district in the province there are former officers and N.C.O.’s well qualified to train the militia, but that the lack of weapons and training in their use was a considerable damper to the military spirit; and he advocated that if the Imperial government will not make available sufficient funds for the pruchase of weapons then the government of the province should do so.
From Mr. Fisher’s comments it would appear that the early New Brunswick militia were not tthe most competent body of men in the world. None the less the very fact that they were there at all had a very considerable effect on the security of the province. Certainly their presence was a deterrent to forces which would probably have been little if any better trained and equipped than they were. Also police organization was in those days far from extensive and the militia could if and when necessary be called upon to maintain internal order.
As a matter of fact, while this has nothing to do with the militia, at one time in its early history it was found necessary to station troops in Woodstock to restrain rioting. Lumbering was in those days even more important to the economy of the area than it is now. Armies of lumberjacks worked in the woods in winter and came out in the spring to spend their money.
Some of them were lusty brawling fellows who when they got a few drinks in them were quite capable of terrorizing the community and at times they did just that. In the spring of 1837 there was so much trouble from these gentlemen that the magistrates requested the government to send troops here. A Company of the 33rd Regiment were sent here and on at least one occasion were called out to quell a riot which had broken out in Water (now King) Street. On that occasion they advanced in line along the street with fixed bayonets and the rioters did not wait to make contact and order was quickly restored.
I do not know how long the troops were kept here but it may have been for a period of several years. Whether their residence here was continuous I have not been able to find out, but certainly there was a company of the 33rd here on July 12, 1847, ten years later, on the occasion of the famous Orange Riot. On that occasion fifty members of the 33rd, with loaded muskets and fixed bayonets watched the fight between the rival factions. They took no part in the action but undoubtedly their presence had a quieting effect on both sides, and probably kept matters from going much farther than they did. On that occasion several of the combatants on both sides weere severely wounded but so far as our early historians were aware there were no deaths. Had the soldiers not been present that July 12th could easily have become the blackest day in the history of Woodstock.
The threatened invasion of New Brunswick from the State of Maine during the so-called Aroostook War evidently threw something of a scare into the authorities at Fredericton, and shortly thereafter a Carleton County Militia was organized. It consisted of one company under the command of Major John Dibblee, whose staff consisted of R. Woodward, adjutant; J. R. Tupper, paymaster; LeBaron Botsford, surgeon; and Frank Murphy, quartermaster.
Captains in the new company were T. G. Cunliffe, James Ketchum, William McKenzie, C. MacLauchlan and M. Giberson. Other officers were Lieuts. R. Ketchum, J. A. C. Phillips, R. D. Beardsley, William McDonald and Henry Baird, and Ensigns G. Wolhaupter, G. McKenzie, A. C. Bull, Charles Upton and G. S. Tompkins.
Thee company seems to have been in much the same condition as the Indian village, of who one of the old warriors complained “Too many chiefs. Not enough Indians.” In spite of its formidable array of officers the unit mustered only about thirty privates. One of the privates was W. T. (later Lieut. Col.) Baird. But as the new officers had little military experience or knowledge and Mr. Baird had for some years been a member of the militia at Fredericton he was pressed into duty as drill instructor and not long afterwards was promoted to commissioned rank.
Col. Baird did not have too high an opinion of the military efficiency of his charges in the early days and comments that about the best they could do in the way of drill was attempt to move from column into line.
The company was issued with arms and accoutrements but had no uniforms. This was perhaps their own fault. They were issued with what Col. Baird describes “a distasteful dark green coat, swallow tail, with pants, forage cap and a stiff leather stock for the neck.” This the men refused to wear. But apparently they provided themselves with uniforms more to their own liking, as a short time we find them parading in scarlet tunics.
There was about the same time a volunteer troop of cavalry and a battery of artillery, but I was not able to learn much about them. At the same time a company of regulars, which as previously mentioned had been despatched from the 33rd Regiment to keep order in the community, were still in Woodstock, and the town boasted a band, so that on the Queen’s birthday and other high occasions the military was able to present quite an imposing appearance.
The military duties of the militia for the next several years do not appear to have been too strenuous. They held muster parades two or thee days year and on occasion were called out for ceremonial parades. They got a practical test, however, during the American Civil War, in what was known as the Trent affair.
Two southern agents, Mason and Slidell were taken off a British ship by an American man of war. The British demanded their release and the Americans refused. During the subsequent negotiations the two countries came to the brink of war. British troops were landed at Halifax and moved on to the Canada, their route lying through Woodstock. At this time the Americans were offering large bonuses to any who would enlist and also sending agents to New Brunswick to try and entice the troops passing through the province to desert and join the northern forces.
To foil these efforts the militia were called out and military posts established at Richmond Corner and several up river points including Florenceville and the mouth of Tobique. The move was very successful and few if any deserters got across the line although several of them tried it.
The crisis ended when the Americans agreed to release Mason and Slidell and things returned to normal.
Col. (then Captain) Baird was in charge of this operation and for his services was at that time recommended for his lieutenant-colonelcy.
In the meantime there had been some improvement to the condition of the militia which had been re-organized in 1858. The old “Brown Bess” muskets had been replaced by new breech-loading rifles, apparently an early version of the Enfield. The company was by this time properly uniformed their tunics and trousers being of Oxford grey cloth with the tunics faced with scarlet for the men and silver for the officers.
Shortly after this the Prince of Wales visited Fredericton. The Woodstock company fifty strong proceeded to the capital where, on account of their precision in parade ground movements they were given the position of honour at the right of the line.
The following year Woodstock was visited by Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred. Again the company was called out to form a guard of honour, and again they won the Royal praise for their efficiency. In fact the Duke requested another parade as he returned down river at which he again complimented the troops.
In the same year there was another notable incident. That year the railway from St. Andrews reached Richmond Corner. The railway employed several hundred workmen, and they had not been paid. When the line reached Richmond the men took over, seized the railway and its rolling stock and would not let any of the railway officials approach.
Again the Woodstock Company was called out and issued with sixty rounds of live ammunition. The following day the governor, Honourable Arthur Hamilton Gordon reached Woodstock by steamer from Fredericton with another detachment of troops. The governor left the soldiers at Woodstock while he went out to Richmond to confer with the strikers. He succeeded in reaching a settlement with them, it was said at considerable financial sacrifice to himself, and blood shed was averted.
The next year the governor with several military dignitaries again visited Woodstock. On this occasion Captain Baird was made a lieutenant-colonel and given command of the Carleton County Militia.
Considering that most of the officers were past middle age and that a new drill and new weapons had been introduced, the new commanding officer’s first act was to call all his officers together and ask for their resignations. Younger officers were then selected, apparently from the rank and file of the regiment. These appointments worked out well and Col. Baird comments that seventeen years later all companies of the regiment, then the 67th Regiment, Carleton Light Infantry, were commanded by officers he had then appointed.
Following the close of the American Civil War fears of a war with the United States continued high. Those fears were shared by Col. Baird. The Colonel gave as his opinion that so long as the United States was dominated by its native stock Canada had nothing to expect but friendship and kindness. However, he laments, American women had ceased to nurse their babies and as a result the race was dying out and was being replaced by immigrants from the south of Europe. These, he opined would shortly take over the country, and then anything might be expected.
In order to be prepared for any emergency the tempo of training was stepped up and a big summer camp was held at Fredericton. This camp opened early in July and continued until almost the end of the month, and apparently the men were really worked. The militia were trained together with troops of the regular army and progress was rapid.
In this camp, although numerous regiments were represented, the militia were divided into two battalions of seven companies each. No. 1 Battalion was commanded by Lieut. Col. the Hon. L. A. Wilmot with Lieut, Col. Otty and Major Simonds acting as senior and junior majors. The second battalion was commanded by Lieut. Col. Baird with Lieut. Col. Wetmore as senior major and Lieut. Col. Hurd Peters as junior Major. Capt. C. W. Raymond was adjutant.
A list of the units represented at the camp, which was held on the exhibition grounds, makes interesting reading. Saint John City Rifles; Queen’s Now Brunswick Rangers; Saint John City Light Infantry; 1st Battalion York County Militia; New Brunswick Regiment of Artillery; 1st Battalion Carleton County Militia; 3rd Battalion Kings County Militia; 2nd Battalion Charlotte County Militia; Saint John Volunteer Battalion; 1st Battalion York County Militia (?); New Brunswick Yeomanry Cavalry.
Incidentally the Carleton County troops returned to Woodstock by steamer. Considering that this was the end of July the natural stream flow of the river must have been considerably greater than it has been in recent years.
In 1865 there was another scare. Fenians were gathering along the Maine coast with the obvious intention of invading New Brunswick. Preparations were made to repel the expected invasion and orders were issued to the officers of the Carleton County Militia to enrol a force of home guards.
Ten companies were organized, at the following points: Woodstock, Capt. George Strickland; Richmond North, Capt. J. Kilburn; Richmond South, Capt. J. Y. Hoyt; Waterville, Capt. Charles Burpee; Williamstown, Capt. A. Lindsay; Jacksonville, Capt. H. Emery; Victoria Corner, Capt. G. E. Boyer; Upper Northampton, Capt. Capt. G. E. Shea; Lower Northampton, Capt. G. S. Baird.
The troops were kept under arms all winter. Finally in April word was received that “the Fenians are coming.” The companies were marched in to Woodstock and a train prepared to take them to the border, while orders were received that they should hold themselves ready to move at a moment’s notice.
In the meantime ships of war had been ordered to St. Andrews and the Charlotte County countryside fairly bristled with bayonets of New Brunswick troops. This show of force caused the Fenians to think better of their enterprise.
There was no invasion and the services of the Carleton County Volunteers were not required.
Now I have barely touched on a few of the high lights of early days of Carleton County’s military forces. But this brings us down to Confederation and as this paper is getting pretty long, and as I am a firm believer in the adage that the mind can only absorb what the seat of the pants can endure, perhaps this is as good a place as any to stop.
1. Paper written by Ken MacLauchlan and read before a meeting of the Carleton County Historical Society, December 8th, 1967.