Canadian militia attire in the War of 1812 is a confusing subject. In attempting to put together a unit to represent the Lincoln and York Militias at the battle of Lundy's Lane, I turned first to standard wargame references such as Renee Chartrand's excellent Osprey volume on Canadian troops and Stuart Asquith's more recent uniform book. As good as these references are, it wasn't until I had consulted reenactors portraying the Lincoln militia that I felt I could confidently field a wargame unit.
Note: This unit should not be confused with the Incorporated Militia posted on the British left at Lundy's Lane, a unit which more closely resembled British regulars and which will be the subject of a future post.
My first question was whether the Lincoln and York militia men wore uniforms or civilian clothes. It turns out that although they very much wanted to present a uniform appearance, it was very rarely achieved. Throughout the war, red coats with yellow facings, green coats with red or yellow facings, castoffs from the 41st Foot, and the ubiquitous "gunmouth" blue trousers were sporadically issued to the militia. The troops who came the closest to military uniformity were the flank companies, who tended to have uniforms, including lace and possibly wings. These troops served (or were "embodied") for longer tours of duty than the center companies (a term which was not used in the militia), which tended to be sedentary militiamen called away from their farms and businesses only during times of dire emergency. The latter only sometimes had uniforms. If no uniform was available, the sedentary militiaman was instructed to report for battle turned out in a coat made of a dark cloth, and to avoid grey, which was the color frequently used by the Americans.
I next asked what headgear should be worn, and specifically if the Belgic shako was in use at Lundy's Lane. I thought this would be the more difficult question, but it turns out there was broad consensus that all the regular troops and most of the incorporated militia had been issued the Belgic by this time (the incorporated militia was made up of volunteers from the other militia formations and served for longer periods of time). The sedentary militia, however, had to content themselves with castoffs from the regulars, and if they had any military headgear at all, probably wore stovepipe shakos, even at Lundy's Lane in 1814. The remainder of the men would have turned out in a variety of headgear, including straw hats, civilian round hats, tams, fatigue caps, or wool caps of various sorts. Officers in the militia by 1814 would have been expected to report for duty in red coats with blue facings and scarlet sashes, but many militia commanders still preferred the round hat.
Some of the sedentary militia
were instructed to tie white cloth
to one arm to identify them
as King's troops.
In portraying the Lincoln and York Militias on the wargame table in the Niagara campaign, a mix of figure types should be used. Here are the figures I will be using to create my 36-man unit (I'm partial to the big battalions!):
CANADIAN SEDENTARY MILITIA ADVANCING
LOWER CANADA MILITIA COMMAND, ROUND HATS
UPPER CANADA MILITIA ADVANCING
I've tried to make these figures compatible with the newer plastic figures, so you could augment these with figures from other manufacturers, or wait for my upcoming releases. More uniformed flank company figures are on the sculpting table right now and will be available soon.
Here is a very helpful discussion from an 1812 reenactors site. It explains how the Upper Canada militia was uniformed throughout the war, and the research all comes from primary documents.
If you are not completely decrepit, don't mind sleeping rough in order to reap the reward of a night singing old songs around a snapping campfire, and have a few bucks left to throw around when you're finished filling your Knuckleduster shopping cart, please consider reenacting the War of 1812.
All the best,