MILITARY: War of 1812

Battle History

The population of Canada in 1811 was about 77,000 men, women and children. Many were recent American immigrants, British sympathizers, who had fled the colonies from the south at the end of the American Revolution, attracted by the offer of 200 acres of free land.

The US declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812, the news of which reached Montreal  by the 24th, where the head of the British military forces were stationed.  The  soldiers of the 41st and 49th British Regiments were the real line of defense 10 years after the American Revolution.  There were four companies of artillery and six Regiments of Foot. These soldiers were stationed in both Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada  (Quebec) and immediately were mobilized, while about 800 men of militia units were also called out to fight to supplement the army. At first the British concentrated their forces at Fort George, Chippewa and Fort Erie.  Meanwhile, the US colonies sent 3 frigates from New York to attack British ships. 

The principle objective was to occupy Upper Canada and as much of the St Lawrence River as possible.

A large army  of  Americans crossed the Detroit River in July 1812 and occupied the town of Sandwich (today’s Windsor). The British retaliated by seizing the American post of Michilimackinac, and demanded the surrender of the American army at Sandwich on August 16th. The Americans turned their attention to the Niagara Peninsula instead, and invaded October 13th. They were defeated. However, the British leader, Sir Isaac Brock, was killed when leading a charge up Queenston Heights (at Hamilton). The Americans  made another abortive strike at Fort Erie that failed, and by late November all conflicts ended.

The Americans returned  April 27, 1813 to attack York (Toronto) occupying the area for a few days. The British retired to Kingston. A month later, Fort George in Niagara was also taken by the Americans, and the British forces withdrew towards Burlington. At Stoney Creek the Americans were finally repulsed during a night attack on June 6th. The Americans withdrew, blowing up Fort Erie as the retreated. The British pushed back into the  Niagara Region to camp at Niagara. Other American strikes along the St Lawrence River collapsed with defeats at Chateauguay and Chrysler’s Farm.

In 1814 major actions occurred near Niagara Falls, Chippewa and Lundy’s Lane. By then the British had a new leader, who had strengthened  the British forces throughout the region. Following a seige at Fort Erie, the American army withdrew at the end of October.

Understanding Canada’s Militia

Typical milita regiments in Upper Canada comprised of all eligible men between ages 16 to 60 living within a defined geographical boundary, which was divided into 10 companies, each commanded by a Captain. A Company had no more than 50 privates and no less than 20. Quakers, Mennonites and Friends, clergymen, crown officials or millers and ferrymen were not expected to bear arms, but had to pay a substantial fee.  Militia men had to provide their own rifles and ammunition.

Each Regiment was designated by the name of the county within which it was based, and commanded by a Colonel or Lieutenant Colonel, who was assisted by a Major.

Annual pay, after deductions for rations, was six pence a day, which was not enough to support a family. Many soldiers deserted, with many surrendering to the Americans or returning to their farms. The highest paid officer received 17 shillings, the equivalent of 34 days’ pay of a private. Often pay was months, even years in arrears. If a milita man was killed or died on active duty, his widow and family were eligible for an annual payment of 55 pounds.

After the war there was annual training for militia. The Captains called out their companies at least two to four times a year for training.  The rank and file in 1812 was 11,650 men, which dropped to 9, 455 by 1814.

Soldiers Identified

137 Gillespie have been identified as involved in this war. They were from the states of Ilinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsyvania, Virginia, Tennessee.  From the pay files in Kew, England are these Gillespies:

Francis Gillespie, Private, 13th Regiment of Infantry, Battle of Queenston Heights, US Army Personnel, Pay & Munster Roll

Hugh Gillespie, Private, 49th Regiment of Foot, Queenston Heights, 30 Sept 1812, Regular British Army Personnel

Michael Gillespie, Corporal, 41st Regiment of Foot, Fort George, Regular British Army Personnel Sept 30, 1812

Robert Gillespie, 17851863, Ensign, Lieutenant, Montreal British Militia Feb 15, 1811 Lower Canada (Quebec) Voluntary Calvary. Note: Robert was from a mercant family in Scotland, whose family history is the Archives of this library).

William Gillespy, Private, 2nd  Norfolk, Flanker, London District (William 1781-1867 born UC, s/o William Gillaspy Sr & Anne Everingham who were originally from New Jersey and had settled in Walsingham Twp of Norfolk County, in Upper Canada. William Jr married Harriet Monroe of United Empire Loyalist father Lieutenant John Monroe). The Gillespies were of Scottish origins.


British officers in the War of 1812 were the following:

Hugh Rollo Gillespie, second lieutenant Royal Artillery Dec 1, 1811, first lieutenant Royal Artillery Dec 20 1814, half pay Feb 1, 1918, first lieutenant Royal Artillery April 1, 1819, second captain Royal Artillery May 7, 1833. retired full pay Oct 22, 1840. Died Oct 1, 1842 at Forres, Morayshire, Scotland. Present Nov 1813-Feb 1915.

William Gillespie, quartermaster 29th Foot June 13, 1805, retired full pay May 23, 1822. Died Feb 17, 1824 at Windsor, England. Present Aug 1814-Feb 1815. Actions Penobscot campaign. Castine.

Although a regiment was headed by a colonel, this officer never served with it. The next junior rank, a lieutenant-colonel was the regiment’s real commanding officer. Immediately below him was a major who maintained discipline. These were field officers. A regiment had four or five troops.  The company was the smaller formation in the infantry, and each battalion had ten. Troops and companies were normally commanded by officers with the rank of captain. By 1812 most cavalry regiments had ten captains on their books and most infantry battalions ten to eleven. There were also administrative staff responsible for drill and discipline, a paymaster, a quartermaster responsible for provisions and equipment, a surgeon, assistant surgeons, and in a calvary regiment a veterinary surgeon.”

Anyone wanting to be appointed an officer had to direct an application to the Duke of York and his staff. Many who received an appointment were civilians with no military training and experience. Over 60% in the War of 1812 were given a commission  free of charge. The largest group were officers of part-time country militias of Great Britain and Ireland, who volunteered for the regular army, and they received a cash bonus when they did. Then there were gentlemen volunteers who applied to serve as a soldier in a regiment until a commission became available. Finally a small number of people bought their commission from another man who had himself bought it.


Source of Records: Mormon website; Book His Majesty’s Gentlemen: A Directory of Regular British Army Officers of the War of 1812 by Stuart Sutherland.

Notes: ” There were approximately 2,900 commissioned officers of the British regular army who served in North America during the War of 1812. When the United States declared war on Britain June 18, 1812, the British army had been engaged in an almost continuous struggle with revolutionary France, and then Emperor Napoleon of France and his allies, for 19 years. However, the army of 1812 was different than that of 1792 “

Website for Gillespie records world-wide