William Jervois, Report on the Defence of Canada (1864)

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Date: 1864-11-10
By: William Jervois
Citation:William Jervois, Report on the Defence of Canada (London: G.E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode, 1864)
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Quebec, 10th November 1864.


IN reply to your letter of the 18th, containing several questions relating to the defence of Canada, upon which the Executive Council request my views in writing, I have the honour herewith to transmit a Report for the information of the Government of Canada, embodying the answers to those questions.

Annexed is a copy of the questions, and opposite each is noted the paragraph in the Report in which the answer to it may be found.

In a previous Report on the defence of Canada, dated February last, which has already been laid confidentially before the Council, the defensive measures proposed extended only as far westward as Montreal, whilst the present Report includes a scheme for the defence of the western districts.

It should, therefore, be observed that the circumstances under which the first Report was prepared differ from those which now exist.

Last year there appeared to be no probability that measures would be taken by which a Naval force could be placed on any of the lakes, and without such force it would be impossible to suggest any plan for the defence of Upper Canada.

Now, however, it is understood that the Government of Canada contemplate making provision for a fortified Harbour and Naval Establishment at Kingston, with a view to a Naval force being placed on Lake Ontario for tie protection of the western districts,—a plan of defence for which is therefore included in the present Report.

I have the honour to be,


Your most obedient servant,


The Hon. Wm. McDougal,
Provincial Secretary

Secretary’s Office, Quebec,
18th October 1864.


REFERRING to the interview which took place on the 14th instant, between yourself and the members of the Executive Council, when the question of the Defences of Canada was discussed, I am directed to inform you that there are several important points connected with that question upon which the Government would be glad to be favoured with your views in writing. The principal points referred to are involved in the list of queries herewith submitted.

1. In the event of a war between Great Britain and the United States being seriously threatened, what preparatory steps for defence should be taken by the people of Canada?

2. What do you consider the principal points of strategic importance in Canada?

3. You appear to consider Montreal as the key to the defence of Canada. Please state briefly your inclusive.reasons for so regarding it.

4. At what point or points in Canada would the main attack of the enemy be probably directed?

5. What are the principal points at which defensive works should be erected in Lower Canada?

6. State the nature and probable cost of the works required at each point, and the probable extent of land necessary at each?

7. What number of troops would be required to defend these works, and what proportion (if any) should be regular troops?

8. Under ordinary circumstances how long might Montreal (with the requisite works and a sufficient force) be expected to hold out against such force as the Americans would be likely to bring against it?

9. Is it probable that an attack would.be made on Quebec before or at the same time with Montreal? If both cities were attacked at the same time what force would the enemy require for both operations?

10. Would not the defence of Upper Canada depend mainly upon our having the Naval command of the Lakes? If so what measures should, be taken to secure, that end?

11. What Naval Depôt or Depôts should be established on the Lakes? What works would be necessary at such Depôt or Depôts, and what would be their probable cost? What class and what number of’ vessels would be required, and what would be their probable cost?

12. Which are the principal points of strategic importance in Upper Canada?

13. Do you not consider Kingston an important point in the defence of Upper Canada, both in Military and Naval point of view?

14. Assuming the answer to the foregoing query to be in the affirmative, what additional works, if any, and what naval force would, in your opinion, be required to insure the command of Lake Ontario.

15. What number and description of troops would be required for the defence of Kingston with such additional works, &c.

16. Assuming the necessary fortifications erected at Kingston, together with a sufficient naval forcet com. aond the Lake wat steps could be taken to defend the Western Pninsula, and to secure thesafety of the forces engarcd there in the event of their afcionmg pelled té retire on aamiltonor Toronto ?Par. 50, &e. ManW ould it l possible by holding ringston to protei the naval force employed on Lake OntarioPar. 15 & 16. And for what length oftime might Kongston be expected to hold ort, supposing ccmmunication t beeut off fro Montreaand Kingston itself invested?Par. 2. 18. Would an eneriy ce able to maintain higself forcset, during the winter before Montreal orertaîny. Kingston, or would bwe hceo mpepl led to retire? In tbe event of the ene y retiring, would the forcessuppsed to e fon ontrea and Kingston Le able unaided to re-open their communications between the.two cities either directly or by the Rideau Canal?19. Should the enemy desire to drevent the forces at Montreal and Kingston from thus re-openingtheir communications, wha probableK amount of force would he be obliged to maintain u tnh e districtbet-ofeen those two cities?,Par. 20. 18. Were an American army to cross the Unes between Windsor or Amhertsburg and Port Sarnia,What steps could be taken to’oppose their advance into the country ? Supposing a sufficient body ofMilitia to be available, were would be the best poit for first offring resistance to the eneyiy, andsvat works would e required at that point?Par. 20. 21. If drivieb ack from that point, in what direction shouid the Canadian force retire? And whereouglt its next rallying place to bev? Whatdefensive orks would b reKqu ired at that point?Par. 20. 22. Were an American arrny to cross the lines at Niagara, vinat ste s could be taken to oppose theiradvance into the cointry? Where would be the best point for first offering resistance ? What worksshould wb erected therei On wat place should the force, if defeated, fal back?19. aar2. 3. Would Ila anW imhnpioltrowtnan ut point of defence in Upper Canada? If se, what works wouldbe required there, and what would be their probable cost ?Var. 19. 24. Would Toronto be an important point of defence, and, if so, what works would be requiredthere, and what would be their probable cost ‘Par.19 and 20. 25. Would it be, in your opinion, possible with the troops and resources at the command of theGovernment of Canada, to devise a plan of defence for the Western Peninsula, by which the enemycould be met at the frontier, and by which the Canadian force, if defeated, could fall back from pointto point on a concerted ling of communication on its own base of supplies ?This question 26. If the defence of the whole Western Peninsula, as proposed in the last question, be impracticable,is dealt with to what point should the defensive measures of the country be mainly confined?enerally in the ist and 2nd I have the honour tto be,parts of the Sir,report. Your most obedient servant,(Signed) Wu. McDOJGALL,Secretary.REPORT ON TIE DEFENCE OF CANADA.1.-PROBABLE NATURE OF THE MILITARY OPERATIONS OF AMERICANSAGAINST CANADA.L To arrive at a conclusion as to the ineasures which should be adopted for the defence of Canada,it is necessary first to consider what aggressive operations the enemy would most probably undertake.2. The frontier of Canada, from the point where it commences to run along the 45th parallel of xtent oflatitude, (to the eastward of which the country bordering on the frontier is wild and but thinly settled.) Frontor.extends over about 1,000 miles, divided approximately as follows ;-viz: 167 miles of imaginaryboundary along the 45th parallel of latitude to southward of Montreal and Quebec; 110 miles alongthe river St. Lawrence to eastward of Kingston ; 25 miles along the Niagara Frontier, between LakeOntario and Lake Erie; 105 mues along the Detroit Frontier, between Lake Erie and Lake Hu:nthe remaining 600 miles along the shores of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and Lake Huron.3. Attacks may be made upon any of these sections of the frontier; in the first four cases by land Attackibe atforces and in the last case either by vessels of war, or by the landing of troops on the shores of the a ari .Lakes.4. The enemy’s principal base of operations would no doubt be at Albany, a central point where there Base of operaisan arsenal from whence his expeditions may be supplied, and to which there is.access by the Hudson tions of Umey.River for large steamers from New York, and by road and railway frora all quarters. There is also acanal connecting the Hudson River with Lake Champlain, where under cover of the work at Rouse’sPoint, commanding the northern entrance to the Lake, the Americans could collect a large force within40 miles of Montreal, and between that place and Rouse’s Point the country is so flat and open that tothe westward of the Richelieu River (which connects Lake Champlain with the St, Lawrence, at a pointabout 35 miles below Montreal) there is no obstacle to the advance of an eneiy, in the summer season,over any part of it.5. Montreal being moreover at the head of the sea navigation of the St. Lawrence, and the focus of aIl Montreal thecommunications by land and water between the Eastern and Western Districts, as well as between strategical asUpper Canada and the Maritime Provinces of British North America, is both the comnmercial and caitalcapital of the country. If Montreal were taken, the whole ofWestern Canada would be cut of Canada.Off froml cuppuit, eiitherinom Lowver Canadla or fromn the iMaritIie Provinces.6. The enemy holding that place, and in communication with Lake Champlain, would then on the Auack onone side proceed against any force that might be. operating for the protection of the frontier, on the montreal andUpper St. Lawrence, whilst on the other side lie would direct an attack against Quebec, withî a view of Quee.obtaing possession of the key of the St. Lawrence, and of the expulsion from the country of the troopsof Great Britain. On the supposition that \Iontreal were incapable of being defended, the enemny wouldmost probably attack that place first and thon proceed against Quebee, but in case Montreal were byany means enabled to hold out, lie would probably attack both places simnultaneously, in order that hemight have the greater chance of taking one or the other, or both, before the winter seasoi rendered itimpossible for him to remain in the fleld.7. If both these places were pût in a proper state of defence, the enemy would be obligod, in a cmigat the severance of the cornmuniicatioi between Canada and Great Britain, or betwen Canada and theMaritime Provinces, to carry on two extensive expeditions simultaneoisly, eaci of them involving thenecessity of a protracted siege, and, considering the short period during which mTilitary operations 0on alape scale can be carried on in this country, there would be every probability of successful resistance tosuch attacks.On the other hand, if no previous steps were taken for the effectual protection of Montreal andQuebec, and those places were left as at present without any efficient mneans of’ defence, there wold beno possibility of holding them should a war occur with the Northern States. Then Upper Canadavould have no communication with the sea; the trunk of the tree would he) cut away, and the greatbranches-the Western Districts-must fall. There cannot be a doubt that upon Lower Canuada, atMonîtreal and Quebec, the chief attack of the enemy would b directed.8. In connexion vith the main direct operation fron Lake Champlain against Lower Canada, lh Mtak onwould most probably send a large corps by railway, eitlier from Albany or Rouse’s Point, or from both Wngston, &e.those places, to Ogdîensburg, to cross the Upper St. Lawrence, at or near that place, and operate in,the Peninsula between the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers cither against Montreal, Ningston, orOttawa.9. Ottawa, from its position and froni its heing the future seat of government, is an important point,but the chief attack of the enemy upon th centre of the country would most probably be directcdgaimst Kmrston.10. Kingston, with its fine harbour, if effectually defended, woul be the best point for a Naval Ottawa.Station on Lake Ontario. Suchi a statiou is ncessarv for the maintenance and protetion of a Naval Xingsuon imnfoi·ce on that Lake, the conniand of which is essential to the defenée of Upper Canad: withont it portint as i.,the troops employed in that portion of the country would be liable to be overwhelmed by thé cnemîny Vsatl ation, e t.forces coming upon theni fromn every side, and ail possibility of vctiring or of rmoeiving succour undghtbe cut off.I-respective of the value of Kingston as the head quarters of a Naval force on Lako Ontat o, itis,from its position ncar tle head of the St. Lavrence, and at the jtmiction of the Rideau’Canal whichconneets the Ottawa with Lake Ontario, an importaît sttrAat2eg ricca l poýinîtt, ýboo th for , the Navaal avn d Militarrydefence of the central part of the country, and in this respect it has Advantages that are not possessedby any other place on the Lake that could be selected as a Naval Station. Vessels of war issuing fromthe harbour would command the Upper St. Lawrence, whilst troops acting from Kingston as a súppowouId be available for the defence of a certain portion of the lcft bank of that river.Next to Montreal and Quebec, Kingston is therefore the place of vhich the enerny would most desireto obtain possession.Enemy might 11. At the same time that the enemy made an attack upon Lower Canada and upon Kingston, he ,miake a diver- might make a diversion upon the Niagara frontier (to which there is a communication both by railwayon on Nia.~ and canal from Albany), or upon the Detroit frontier, with a view of drawing off a portion ofrao’t sDetroithe Canadian forces froni the main scene of operations. It is more probable that le would niake suchdiversion upon the former than the latter, as the Niagara frontier is so much nearer his base atAlbany.Or land troops 12. in connexion with either of these attaclis upon the Western Peninsula, the enemy, as beforeon shores of observed, might land troops from steam vessels upon the shores of the Lakes, and take in reverse the JLakes. forces defending the land frontiers.II.-GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS RESPECTING THE DEFENCE OFCANADA.Attacks could 13. In considering what forceswould be necessary for the defence of the country to meet any of these ut be resisted attacks, it is obvious that it would beout of the question to resist with a hope open of success in the open field. field the armies that might be employed by a State, whose population is about five times as great asthat of the territory to be cdfended, and which, acting frio the centre at Albany against a long straightline of frontier without any natural advantages for defence, might concentrate a large proportion of hisl forces upon any vital point.i rtifications 14. It is only by availing .ourselves of the advantages of works of fortification that we ean provideimerefore ne- against the Canadian forces being overpowered.

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