The Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812

Mobilization in Lower Canada

An Army for Lower Canada

Faced with this prospect, Lower Canada decided to raise its own small army. In March and April 1812 the Assembly approved the creation of a light infantry regiment of volunteers and four line infantry battalions to be conscripted from the militia owing to a shortage of volunteers. Some 2,000 officers and soldiers were thus mobilized and divided among the four battalions of the Lower Canada Select Embodied Militia in the spring and early summer. They had to be between the ages of 18 and 30 and serve for three months, but "in time of war" they could "be required to serve for two years." 62 They were posted primarily south of Montreal.

They would be clothed and equipped similarly to regular infantry soldiers - that is, in red. Traditionally, French-Canadian militiamen preferred blue. Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Baptiste-Melchior Hertel de Rouville, commander of the 2nd elite militia battalion, confided to the Adjutant-General of the militia: "I am convinced, based on the prejudices that I am aware of among the inhabitants, that the red uniform is not the most appropriate at this time if the proper effect is to result." 63 In spite of his opinion, the Select Embodied militiamen of 1812 wore the red uniform, as would many other militiamen when Governor General Prevost pointed out that otherwise they could be confused with the enemy American infantry, which also wore a blue uniform!

The light infantry regiment of volunteers was called the Canadian Voltigeurs, a name which, like that of its commander, Charles-Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry, was to become famous in our military heritage. The Canadian Voltigeurs consisted of six companies recruited by the regiment's officers. They spread out through the towns and countryside to convince men between the ages of 17 and 35 to wear the grey and black uniform of the Voltigeurs. They were so successful that recruiting had to be stopped in June because the province was close to bankruptcy due to its military expenditures.