A synopsis of a paper by
MAJOR JAMES C. WEIR,
(Retired List, Canadian Militia)
THE first matter I desire to put on
record is that of some extracts from a single page of a diary kept by my
great-grandfather, William McCrae, who located and settled about four
miles down the Thames River on the Raleigh side, about the year 1797, and
whose brother, Thomas McCrae, was an M.P.P. for the Western District, 1801
to 1805. The extracts are as follows:
Thursday, April 8th, 1813.
Colonel Jacobs brought Colonel Baby’s orders for drafting two-thirds of
the Militia to march to Sandwich by the 12th inst., and to form an
expedition to go to the foot of the rapids on the Maumee River.
Friday, April 9th.
*Tommy went up the river last evening with Colonel Baby’s orders to
Captains Dolsen and Shaw to muster the Militia, and for Sergeant Arnold to
muster and draft my Company of Howard and Harwich militia.
Saturday, April 10th.
*Billy, Sergeants Arnold and Shapely with 22 men arrived here on their way
to Sandwich, two of them got sick here, viz: John Cull and Randy McDonald.
(* Sons of William McCrae)
Sunday, April 11th.
Captains Shaw and Dolsen started this morning in two boats with companies
for Sandwich. Tommy started this morning on horseback, he belongs to I.
Dolsen’s Rifle Company, and Billy to bring back the horses.
The foregoing items are intermingled
with remarks concerning the weather, the condition of the river,
apparently at high flood at the time, and domestic topics. I regret to say
that this one leaf is all that can be found of this diary, and we can now
feel its loss as it would undoubtedly have contained most interesting
passages relating to General Procter and the Chief Tecumseh passing
through this district in the following autumn, also to Harrison’s army
both in going and retiring.
After this, peace and quietness
settled over the country, until the troublous times of the Rebellion of
1837-38, when the loyal men of Kent were once more called to duty.
On account of a gathering of
self-styled "Patriots" at Detroit, threatening to make an invasion of our
borders, a Company of Militia Volunteers was raised in Kent under the
command of Captain Bell, one of the Lieutenants being the late Thomas
McCrae, afterwards Police Magistrate of Chatham for a number of years.
During their service at the front a
detachment of them crossed on the ice and dispersed a body of rebels who
were occupying Fighting Island, in the Detroit river, and captured a small
field gun, which they brought with them to Chatham and named ‘the Rebel
Pup.’ This small cannon is now on Waterworks Park.
The Company was honored on their
return by ladies of the neighborhood presenting them with a flag made by
their own hands, and bearing the words ‘Kent Volunteers.’
The next movement of any military
importance was in 1857 or 1858, at the time of the Mutiny in India, when
the late Walter McCrae, afterwards Judge of the District of Algoma, raised
a company of Riflemen in this town and was given the command of it as
Captain, the late James G. Sheriff being one of the Lieutenants. This
Company was only in existence for a short period, or during the war in
India. and was then disbanded.
Our quiet was not again disturbed
until 1861, when the Mason and Slidell affair so nearly caused a
declaration of war between Great Britain and the United States, and all
through the Canadas the Sedentary Militia was mustered, and a company of
volunteers called for from each township. It was at this time that your
humble servant first became a Canadian Volunteer, the men of the Township
of Raleigh under the command of Colonel Toll, of the Lake Shore, mustering
at the township Hall on the Middle Road, Raleigh Township, near Buxton,
the requisite number of Volunteers being secured without trouble.
This difficulty having been settled
between the two Nations, peace again hovered over the country, but a
martial spirit had been aroused, an infection probably from the Civil War
then going on in the United States, and organizations were formed in the
different Cities and Towns throughout the country for the purpose of
gaining a knowledge of military drill. Such was the case in Chatham, a
number of the citizens meeting once each week for drill, under the
instruction at first of Mr. Thomas McCrae, and afterwards of Mr. David
Smith, an ex-member of the London Horse Guards, who after a time was the
first Lt.— Colonel of the 24th Battalion of Infantry, Kent.
In the latter part of the year,
1862, it being considered probable that our frontier might be troubled by
incursions of parties of disbanded soldiers and other vagrants from the
States at the close of the Civil War, the Canadian Government authorized
the formation of Volunteer Companies in Canada and a number of Sergeant
Instructors from the Regular Army were sent out to take charge of the
instruction in drill of the Companies so raised.
And so, under these conditions, at a
meeting held in the old Royal Exchange Hotel, (the site of the present
Victoria Block, corner of King and Fifth Streets), Chat-ham, about the
middle of December, the No. 1 Company of Infantry, Chatham, came into
being, and was accepted and formally gazetted by a Militia Order dated the
26th December, 1862, with a strength of non-commissioned officers and men,
and three commissioned officers, viz
Lieutenant—A. B. Baxter
Ensign—Simeon M. Smith
This was followed on the 16th
January, 1863, by the formation of No. 2 Company of similar strength, the
Lieutenant—James G. Sheriff
One of the Drill Instructors
mentioned was at once despatched to Chatham in the person of Sergeant R.
C. Brown, who took up quarters in the old Barracks, situated in the
central part of what is now Tecumsch Park, and there we were diligently
instructed in the complications of Company drill, from the position of a
soldier, on through the troubles of the goose step to the formation of a
Company line or column.
In the latter part of the year 1864,
the prospect of raids having become more threatening, the Government
decided to call out and station a number of the Volunteer companies at
different points along the frontier as a measure of protection, and during
the winter of 1864-65 some four or five companies from Quebec and Montreal
were stationed at Windsor and Sandwich, while here in Chatham, as supports
we had a company of infantry from St. Catharines and one of Rifles from
These were withdrawn in the spring
and their places taken by others, and in the shuffle our time came,
Captain Smith receiving orders to increase the strength of No. 1 Company
to 65 rank and file, and entrain for Sherbrooke, Lower Canada, which he
proceeded to do at once, and we left Chatham on the afternoon of the 28th
of April, 1865, and arrived at Sherbrooke on the evening of the 30th. On
our return from Frontier service about the 10th of July the ladies of
Chatham presented No. 1 Company with a silk flag, which accompanied the
company on all its services at Camp for years and was used to indicate the
quarters of the commanding officer.
The Chatham Volunteers were then
allowed to take up their ordinary vocations again, but only for a short
time, for, before long, rumors arose of a threatened invasion from the
United States of large bodies of the Fenian Societies, who had been openly
drilling in the Cities of the States with that avowed object, and who had
as officers, men who had seen service in the American war.
So once more the war alarm came to
Chatham and both Nos. 1 and 2 Companies were on the 8th of March, 1866,
sent to the front at Windsor, where with some four or five other
Companies. from different parts of Canada, we watched the frontier
opposite Detroit, expecting the enemy to attempt to cross at almost any
We were held at Windsor until almost
the middle of May, when the route for home was received.
We had hardly settled down when on
the 2nd of June, 1866, we were again called to arms, the reason being that
a body of Fenians had at last crossed the Canadian frontier, the point
chosen being on the Niagara River, opposite Buffalo. On their attempting
to march inland they were met by Regular and Militia troops who soon put
them to the right about, and they fled to their homes, excepting those
that had been captured and held as prisoners. During the two weeks that we
were on service at this time we were stationed here in Chatham.
These constant raid scares
determined the government to arrange the Militia on a better footing, and
then commenced the work of organizing the Volunteer Companies into
Battalions, and the genesis of the 24th Regiment, or as it was then
called, Battalion. By a General Militia Order of the 14th September, 1866,
the 24th Battalion of Infantry, Kent, came into existence, composed of
From this time onward until its
disbandment in 1892, the 24th had no very remarkable occurrences; its
history may almost be said to have been already made. The usual annual
drills in camp were carried out at different places, such as Thorold,
Sarnia, London, Windsor and sometimes at Headquarters in Chatham. In 1891
on the return of the Battalion from Camp at St. Thomas, the ladies of
Chatham provided a set of silk Colours for the Battalion.
In 1886, Major M. Martin was
promoted to Lieut.-Colonel, and assumed the command and retained it until
its last days in 1892, when, owing to the impossibility of keeping the
Battalion recruited to even a small proportion of the requisite strength,
the Battalion was disbanded. We were then without any Military
organization in either county or city until in the year 1900 the question
of raising a new Regiment became a live topic, and Major J. B. Rankin was
freely spoken of as the most likely person to undertake the project. I am
happy to state that the energetic efforts of Major Rankin were most
successful, and the new 24th Kent Regiment was duly accepted by the
Militia Department and gazetted under a general order of the 1st January,
1901, under J. B. Rankin as Lieutenant— Colonel.
During the years 1906-7, the old
frame Drill Shed was dismantled and the present commodious brick Armouries
erected in its place, containing such necessary apartments as were
necessary for the establishment.
Note :—Major Weir’s valuable paper
was included in the papers of the Kent Historical Society published in
1915, and would include only the story of the Regiment up to the beginning
of the World War. The part played by the 24th Kent Regiment in that
momentous struggle will be for some historian to give us in a later volume
of papers of the Kent Historical Society.