Despatch from Lieutenant Governor Arthur Gordon to Right Hon. Edward Cardwell (21 November 1864)
By: Arthur Gordon
Citation: Despatch from Lieutenant Governor Arthur Gordon to Right Hon. Edward Cardwell (21 November 1864) in Journal of the Legislative Council of the Province of New Brunswick (1865).
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Fredericton, 21st November, 1864.
SIR,—I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your Despatch (marked “Separate”) of the 1st ult., relating to the Militia Force of this Province.
2. I regret to perceive from that Despatch that Her Majesty’s Government are dissatisfied with the progress which has been made towards the reorganization of the Provincial Militia.
3. I am quite aware that increased exertion will be necessary to give efficiency to this force, and that its present condition is not one in which it could long be suffered to continue with credit to the Province; but at the same time I must confess that the progress which has been made during the last three years appears to me very considerable.
4. I have been myself so largely engaged in carrying out the details of the partial reorganization which has been effected, that I have perhaps shrunk too much from writing Despatches liable to the construction of having been framed for the purpose of self laudation; but you will, I am sure, now permit me to trouble you with a brief recapitulation of the steps already taken, and in progress, with a view to increase the efficiency of the Militia and Volunteer Force of New Brunswick.
5. On my arrival just three years ago, I found the whole of the Militia system of the Province in a state of almost complete disorganization. For more than ten years the Militia Law had been wholly suspended; and for all practical purposes the Militia consisted only of the remains of various very imperfectly organized Volunteer Companies. Of these a certain number had been hastily formed on the occasion of the visit of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to North America; but in accordance with no system—subject to no uniform rules, even if they had rules at all—they seldom met for drill—they were uniformed in every variety of clothing—and too often used their arms for their own private purposes.
Other Companies had subsequently been accepted in rural districts. These Companies were neither uniformed nor drilled, nor inspected; and their Captains were often men totally unfit from education and position to exercise command. Several of them refused to turn out for inspection when directed to do so by my predecessor. There were, in short, no returns, no regular inspections, no regulations, no uniform, no system of any kind.
6. The Head Quarters Staff was in a by no means efficient state; the Officers upon it having long held their posts, and being but imperfectly acquainted with modern systems of Drill and organization.
7. It was evident to me that, before taking any further steps, it would be necessary to effect a reorganization of these Departments. I endeavoured to do this in such a manner as should not wound the feelings of those whom I displaced, and I thought the best means of accomplishing this object was by introducing the rule limiting the duration of Staff appointments to five years, which has been established in Her Majesty’s Service. I also secured the services of a highly competent officer to fill the post of Adjutant General, although it was at that time doubtful whether the Province would consent to pay him any adequate salary.
8. I next turned my attention towards the possibility of effecting an improvement in the condition of the Volunteers. It was manifestly requisite to diminish the confusion, irregularity and insubordination which prevailed among them; and yet it was necessary to do this without creating such dissatisfaction as would defeat my own ends. I saw at once that time, and a considerable time, would be required to effect any permanent improvement; as the result of changes too suddenly introduced would inevitably be the dis- solution of existing Companies, and an unwillingness among the people to form others in their place.
9. I had commenced this reorganization before the Session of 1862, by cautiously introducing a few uniform rules, applicable to all Companies, with reference to the custody of their arms, the regulation of their meetings, and the number of their Drills. In the course of the Spring, however, my hands were greatly strengthened by the passage of an Act by the Legislature for the partial revival of the Militia. This Act passed both Houses of the Provincial Parliament easily enough, but its introduction in the first instance had been attended with considerable difficulty. The measure, though very imperfect, was, however, far from useless, as it called into being once more a skeleton at least of the Militia force,—authorized me to employ the Drill Instructors furnished by Her Majesty’s Government,—to appoint Inspecting Field Officers in different districts of the Province, and generally gave me authority to reduce the Volunteer Corps to a condition of system and uniformity.
10. Since the passage of that Act, I can truly say that my attention to the condition of the Militia, and my endeavours to carry out its reorganization to the furthest extent which the means at my disposal permitted, have been unremitting. I will briefly recapitulate what has been done since the Summer of 1862; and will commence with the Volunteers.
11. The first effect of even a slightly increased stringency of regulations was, as I had anticipated, to break up the rural Companies. The number of Volunteers has not, however, undergone any diminution, as there has been an increase in the towns. I do not regret this result, for the rural Companies generally cost more than they were worth. You are aware of the great difficulty that is experienced even in England. in keeping alive Volunteer Companies in purely rural districts, and of course this difficulty is much more strongly felt in a Country where population is so widely scattered, and where attendance at Drill would frequently necessitate miles of toilsome journeying over tracks of deep soft mud or through storm and snow drifts. Practically, the rural Companies did not meet. t was forced to admit that it was unreasonable to expect them to meet; and consequently the time of the Drill Instructors and the money of the Provincial grant appeared to me to be better employed in quarters where there was a promise of more satisfactory results.
12. My first anxiety was to introduce some system of uniformity and subordination among the different Companies, which had been accustomed to do wholly what is right in their own eyes. I introduced gradually regulations which when once introduced were not relaxed; but took care not to press novelties upon them too hastily. With the new Companies I had of course less difficulty, and I may say that now something of regularity and discipline has been introduced-some method in keeping accounts and making returns has been effected. The Volunteers have been uniformed in one Provincial uniform (scarlet), the cloth for which has been gratuitously furnished by Government, and made up at a cheap rate for Companies applying for it. Each Company receives moreover from the Government gratuitously its Drill Instruction and sixty rounds of Ammunition per man. In money each Company receives $80 for care of arms and drill room; a sum which, as the Companies are rarely above forty strong, amounts on an average to ten shillings currency per head. I own this appears to me, with the addition of iron targets when wanted, to be quite as much assistance as the Government are called upon to render to Companies of Volunteers, and it is not on this head I should wish further expenditure to be incurred by the Province. I have inspected every Volunteer Company in the Province—most of them more than once, and can testify to their great improvement in appearance, and efficiency, and I can at all events safely assert that, though the result may appear trifling, it has not been obtained without a most incommensurate amount of labour and care; and here I cannot refrain from bearing testimony to the skill and patience displayed by my late Adjutant General, (Lieutenant Colonel Crowder), in reducing to order the elements with which he was called upon to deal.
13. I cannot quite concur in your remark as to the smallness of the number of Volunteers in New Brunswick, (“only 1,738”). Roughly speaking, that number forms one in 25 of the whole male population between the ages of 18 and 45, and I cannot consider it a very small proportion, especially when the circumstances to which I have alluded, of the impossibility of assembling Volunteers in the rural districts, is taken into account; which, of course, considerably augments the proportion of Volunteers in more settled districts.
14. With respect to the Militia at large, as opposed to the Volunteers, a good deal more has been done than at first sight appears to be the case. No list of officers of Militia had been published since 1851, and that list was not official or correct. Since that time, though occasional appointments and promotions had been made, there was no authentic record of the numerous resignations, removals, or deaths.
In many Battalions it was impossible to say who was the Commanding Officer; in others, the Senior Officer was opposed to any revival of the Militia; in almost all there were few remaining Company Officers, and of these few, a great proportion were from age and infirmity incapable of performing the duties of their posts. Before any thing else could be done, it was necessary to find Commanding Officers and Adjutants. There are 38 Battalions of Militia in the Province: to 18 of these I have appointed new and efficient Lieutenant Colonels since the close of 1862. Of the remaining twenty, fourteen were already commanded by Officers more or less efficient—some very much so. The other six are as yet, with one exception, vacant, owing io my inability to find any persons within the respective districts, both able and willing to undertake the duties of the post.
The revision of the list of Officers, and the verification of the different Battalion and Company districts took a great deal of time and labor, and until it was accomplished it was idle to think of calling out a Battalion even for one day’s muster. The task was, however, at last accomplished, and last year the Battalions were generally called out for muster. The same course bas been pursued during the present year. I have attended some of these musters, and have witnessed with surprise the aptitude of those assembled at learning the more elementary formations, and the regularity and ease with which, when under the command of an efficient officer, the different Companies of the Battalion marched, formed square, &c. &c.
15. It is true that all the Law requires of the Militia is this one day’s muster, (though it should be borne in mind that, failing the Volunteers, a thousand men are liable to be drawn by ballot for more lengthened drill,) but it must be remembered that the law applies to the whole male population under 60 years of age, and that to call the whole male population together for any long period, the rich merchant from his counting house—the needy settler from his half cleared farm—the lumberer from the woods—the ploughman from the field—the boatman from the river,—would be as oppressive as it is in fact impracticable. As it is, the pecuniary sacrifice entailed by one day’s muster is great. But though the law requires no more, a good deal is being done.
The new Colonels whom I have appointed, and those who are efficient among the older ones, require their officers to learn their Drill, and to uniform themselves. For the purpose of instruction I have issued, on application, Rifles to the Officers commanding Battalions, on Bonds similar to those given by the Captains of Volunteer Companies; and the nearest Drill Instructor of Volunteers teaches their use, and drills the Officers on those days when his services are not elsewhere required. To these meetings of Officers I am happy to say the Non-Commissioned Officers of the Militia Battalions in many instances now resort; and if the Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers of the Militia become a trained and instructed body, far more good will be attained than by assembling a large and untrained body of men once a year for two or three days. Some of the Lieutenant Colonels encourage their Officers to add Target Practice to their Drill; and I have witnessed the Officers of one Battalion, neatly uniformed in scarlet shell jackets, paraded to fire, and shooting quite as well as the practised shots of an average Volunteer Company. I am convinced that as regards organization, such a beginning bas been now made as requires only care and watchfulness to develope itself, without the need of direct action on the part of the Government. Money, however. no doubt is greatly wanting, and I trust this want will next year be in some degree supplied.
16. I perceive from your Despatch that you labor under a mistaken impression in supposing that the sum annually allotted to the Militia is fixed in the Militia Law. It is annually voted by the Legislature, and nay be indefinitely diminished or increased. The Grant is always opposed, and opposed with energy; and though the Government have always maintained the vote at the amount first fixed, a considerable minority of the Assembly have always called for its reduction. I was, however, last year informed by the leading Members of my Executive Council, that if I were successful in shewing an improvement in the Militia, and an apparent desire on the part of the people at large to develope the system, that a vote of at least double the amount should be proposed for 1865, and I have no reason to suppose that this pledge will be evaded.
17. It is my intention to propose to my advisers before the next meeting of the Provincial Parliament a scheme, the details of which I hope shortly to lay before you, and which will have for its object the training of a certain portion of the Militia for several consecutive days in each year.
18. When I have the honor of forwarding this scheme for your consideration, I shall accompany it by a few remarks on the question of the defence of the British North American Provinces generally. It is no doubt true that much more than is done with this object might be done by the Provinces themselves,-bat on the other hand I feel constrained to admit that the language held by an influential portion of the English Newspaper Press on this subject appears to me unreasonable and over-strained. Self-defence is no doubt a duty, but there must, in the first place, be something to defend; and though I am aware that high authorities consider that Military defence should always form the chief item in the expenditure of a country or a Province, yet it must be remembered that the very maintenance of self-existence imperatively requires the outlay of the greater part of the Provincial Revenue on objects and institutions which, in an older country, have been already established, or are maintained by private enterprize.
I have, &c. (Signed) ARTRUR H. GORDON.
The Right Hon. Edward Cardwell, M. P. P., &c. &c. &c.
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