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History and Uniform of the
Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles 1812-1816
the Glengarry Light Infantry
The following is an extract from the book Military Uniforms in Canada, 1665-1970 by Jack L. Summers and Rene Chartrand (Ottawa: Canadian War Museum, 1981) and is reproduced here by the kind permission of the Canadian War Museum. Reprinting or duplication of the text or illustration without permission from the Canadian War Museum is prohibited.
When Sir George Prevost assumed his duties on 13 September 1811, the rumblings of impending war with the United States were clearly audible. Naturally, one of his first acts was to examine the forces available to him for the defence of British North America. In the Canadas he had 5,600 regular soldiers, of whom only 1,200 were in Upper Canada. With Britain heavily engaged in the war with France, there was no possibility of augmenting his meagre forces in Upper Canada with regulars from England.
In February 1812, without official approval, Sir George directed Colonel Edward Baynes to recruit a small battalion of fencible infantry from Glengarry County in Upper Canada. Glengarry was chosen because it had been settled by men of the Glengarry Fencibles, a unit raised in the Highlands for service in the British Army by the militant priest, Father Alexander Macdonell, later Bishop of Kingston. The regiment had been disbanded after the treaty of Amiens, and many of its members had emigrated to Upper Canada in 1804.
Early in the War of 1812, trained regular soldiers were scarce, and companies were assigned the work of battalions. Detachments of regular regiments like the Glengarry Light Infantry were sent to the various garrisons of Upper Canada as a disciplined nucleus around which the local militia could form.
The regiment was scattered from Quebec to Fort George. Two companies of the Glengarrys at Prescott were involved in an abortive attack on Ogdensburg on 3 October 1812. Together with 600 militiamen, the Glengarrys set out from Prescott to cross the St. Lawrence River. The American artillery quickly ranged on the boats and turned back the force before it was halfway across the river.
On 22 February 1813, Lieutenant-Colonel "Red George" Macdonell of the Glengarrys repeated the attempt on Ogdensburg. With 500 men, including a company of the Glengarry Light Infantry and a number of Glengarry and Stormont militia, Macdonell marched out on the frozen river. British soldiers performing drill on the ice were a common sight, so the American sentries gave little heed to the moving column until it had reached halfway across the river with no sign of wheeling about.
The alarm was given and the Americans opened fire; but Macdonell's troops completed the river crossing, urged on by the church militant in the person of Father Alexander Macdonell. After a brief resistance the Americans fled, leaving Ogdensburg in British hands. Macdonell's men withdrew to Prescott; but the people of Ogdensburg, anxious to avoid further attacks and to continue a clandestine trade with the British, asked Washington not to station another garrison in the town. The authorities complied, and Ogdensburg saw no more American troops until the end of the war.
Throughout the summer campaign of 1813 the Glengarrys fought in Upper Canada with some distinction, but little success. A company was at York when it was attacked and captured by the Americans. in April. Another company formed part of the garrison of Fort George on 27 May, when the position was attacked in strength by the Americans. Attempts to meet the enemy assault columns at the landing points were frustrated by effective covering fire from American naval forces. The British evacuated the fort and withdrew to Burlington at the head of Lake Ontario.
Later in May, a company of the Glengarry Light Infantry was involved in the confused British attack on Sackets Harbor, and, in June, it was engaged at Stoney Creek. Although it was a dismal year for the war, the regiment earned a fine reputation for its fighting ability. The Indian allies admiringly called it the "Black Stump Brigade" for both its dark uniforms and its skill in forest warfare.
The 1814 campaign saw an improvement in the fortunes of the Glengarrys. In May, the Light Company accompanied a battalion of Royal Marines in an assault-landing operation to capture Fort Oswego. The entire battalion fought together for the first time in July, when it was sent to York to reinforce Major-General Riall's Right Division of the British Army. As part of Riall's force, the Glengarry Light Infantry fought at the Battle of Lundy's Lane on 25 July 1814. The regiment also saw action at Fort Erie on 17 September, and on 17 October at Cook's Mills; it was commended for its performance on both occasions.
The unit was granted permission to emblazon the battle honour Niagara on its colours. The fact that the regiment had colours indicates that, though dressed like a rifle regiment, it was light infantry both in name and custom.
In view of its outstanding service record, it was hoped that the Glengarry Light Infantry would be retained on the regular establishment of the British Army. But the authorities decreed otherwise, and the regiment was disbanded in Kingston on 18 May 1816. Nevertheless, the name of Glengarry and the traditions of the Glengarry Light Infantry are perpetuated by the Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry Highlanders of the Canadian Militia.
The Glengarry Fencible Light Infantry was intended to be uniformed as a Highland corps. In 1811, Lieutenant-General Sir James Craig issued a letter of service on his own authority for the raising of the Glengarrys; and, as the new corps was to be based on the Glengarry Fencibles of the British Army, it would seem reasonable for the new regiment also to adopt Highland dress. But Craig was premature, and had to withdraw his authority because his "zeal had exceeded their ability" to raise men for the Glengarrys as quickly as had been expected.
In February 1812, Sir George Prevost reviewed the proposal to raise a fencible unit in Glengarry County to be uniformed like the 95th Rifles. The first documentation of Glengarry dress lists "white cloth jackets with green cuff and cape, and green foraging caps," a description that fits the undress uniform of the 95th.
A green uniform like that of the 95th Rifles was issued to the Glengarry Light Infantry. The jacket for the men was dark green with black collar, pointed cuffs, and turn-backs piped with white tape. Cloth pantaloons were green; shoulder-straps were black, piped with white, and ending in a black tuft. The most striking feature of the jacket was the three rows of twelve white metal buttons down the front of the breast.
The cap for both officers and men of the Glengarrys was the black felt "stove-pipe" shako, which remained the head-gear of rifle and light infantry corps even after the introduction of the "Wellington" shako. The officer's cap badge, a silver bugle with cords and the letters GLI, can be seen in the illustration. It is speculated that other ranks wore a cap badge of similar pattern in pewter. The cylindrical felt shako was trimmed with green cap cords and a black cockade; a white metal button in front held a green plume.
The Glengarrys carried the thirty-nine-inch barrel Light Infantry Musket, rather than the Baker rifle of the 95th.8 Accoutrements consisted of the standard cross-belt equipment of black leather, with regimental belt-plate.
The illustration depicts an officer of the Glengarry Light Infantry in campaign dress. The black collar of his dark-green jacket is laced with black braid, and has a silver button on each side. The rows of silver buttons on the jacket front are laced with black braid across the chest. The black leather cross-belt worn by officers, sergeants, and warrant officers incorporated a silver lion's head, chain, and whistle
The officer in the illustration wears his crimson sash across the right
shoulder. This was probably a regimental affectation to symbolize the Highland origin of the Glengarrys. His sword-belt is black leather with brass fittings; the sword is of the curved light-infantry pattern. Evidence suggests that the sword-knots of the regiment were of green and yellow silk.
It seems only fitting that the green uniform of the Rifles, which was later to figure so prominently in the dress of the Canadian Militia, was worn by one of Canada's first regular regiments.
war of 1812, war of 1812