- Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation by John Boyko
Blood and Daring looks at Canada’s involvement in the American Civil War from a variety of angles. The book is at its best in telling the stories of individuals caught up in the conflict and in introducing readers to the relationship between the creation of Canada and the Civil War. Unfortunately, these strengths are undermined by numerous errors on the U.S. side of the story.
John Boyko, who has previously written on twentieth-century Canadian history, uses six protagonists to shed light on different aspects of Canada’s role in the Civil War. The book begins with John Anderson, an enslaved Missourian who killed his owner during his escape attempt and subsequently sought refuge in Canada. Boyko considers the diplomatic wrangling over British intervention in the Civil War through the life of U.S. secretary of state William Seward. In a chapter on the lives of ordinary Canadians who fought in the Civil War, Boyko oddly singles out the wellknown and exceptional case of Sarah Edmonds, a New Brunswicker who impersonated a man in order to serve in a Michigan regiment. The Confederacy’s botched efforts to attack the Union via Canada are related through Jacob Thompson, Jefferson Davis’s agent in Upper Canada. The career of George Brown, the editor of Toronto’s leading newspaper, illuminates the story of Canadian confederation, a project Brown championed but that his Conservative Party rival John A. Macdonald completed in 1867. Macdonald’s defeat of American attempts to annex the entire country in the late 1860s closes out the book.
As have other scholars, Boyko explains Canadian confederation as a reaction to the threat of American power. Those threats included Union sabre rattling during the Civil War as a deterrent to British aid for the Confederacy and, in 1866, cross-border raids by Fenian paramilitaries [End Page 597] hoping to use Britain’s American colonies as bargaining chips for Irish independence. In response to U.S. pressure, the British government sent several thousand troops to defend Canada. The difficulties of that deployment— the Saint Lawrence froze in winter, and there was no railroad connecting the port of Halifax to Upper and Lower Canada (today’s Ontario and Quebec)—highlighted the need for better coordination by British colonists for their own defense.
For Boyko, the Treaty of Washington, signed in 1871, marked the final act of Canadian independence. In a bid to settle outstanding claims against Britain for building Confederate raiding ships, the United States offered to take Canada, or at least British Columbia and fishing rights off Canada’s Atlantic coast, in lieu of money. Canadian delegates managed to stop these schemes, notwithstanding the readiness of some British officials to sacrifice North American claims for other imperial interests.
As an introduction to the Canadian experience in the Civil War, Blood and Daring is a good starting point. It covers several important themes of conflict in accessible prose. Experts in the field will compare it to Robin Winks’s 1961 classic, The Civil War Years, which laid out many of the same arguments about the importance of the Civil War for confederation and the formation of a Canadian national identity around resistance to American aggression.
The book will also please readers seeking a heroic account of Anglo- Canadian nationalism. Macdonald, described as a “determined and visionary leader,” represents Canada’s Abraham Lincoln (304). Like the Lincoln of such popular histories as Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, which Boyko frequently cites, Macdonald emerges as the consummate pragmatic idealist, able to sacrifice principle in the short term in order to achieve nobler goals for the long run.
The weight given to Macdonald, Brown, and Anglophone Canada in general overshadows the role of Francophone Canadians in the Civil War. This omission is especially telling in respect to the Confederacy, which had several connections to Montreal. Readers will wonder why not...