Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Canadien in the American Civil War

Many Canadiens fought in both the Revolutionary War and the American Civil War. Estimates for the number of Canadiens who fought in the latter conflict range as high as 20,000. A love of adventure and the desire for employment seems to have been the main motives for these very young men who heard the calls to arms in the 1860s.

Philibert Racine, the brother of two of my great-great-grandmothers (my grandparents were second cousins) was among these Canadien veterans of the Civil War. Philibert was born on June 20, 1845, and baptized at Saint-Pie, Bagot County, Québec (known as "Lower Canada" at the time).  Following his father Prudent Racine's involvement in the Patriotes War of 1837 (see previous post) the Racines lived briefly in Vermont before returning to the Eastern Townships region of Québec in the early 1850s where they settled eventually  at Roxton Falls.

Philibert Racine in his Union Army uniform (c. 1862)
(Courtesy of Michael Gilleland)
What caused Philibert to enlist in the Civil War is unknown but we do know that he duly enrolled in the First Vermont Battery Light Artillery, known as Hebard's Battery or Grey Horse Battery, on January 18, 1862 and was mustered in on February 18 of that same year at the age of 16.  Philibert enlisted from Hardwick, Vermont, along with a brother who called himself "George." 

Both Philibert and George anglicized their names. Philibert called himself "Philip F. Root."  There is no record of a Georges Racine anywhere.  I suspect that the "George Root" who enlisted with Philibert was the latter’s older brother Cyprien Racine, baptized May 30, 1843 at Saint-Damase-de-Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. I believe that "George" is Cyprien's alias because in the 1861 census of Roxton Falls, Québec, the listing for the Racine family claims that Cyprien was absent in les États-Unis as of that year which puts him at the "scene of the crime" within a year of "George's" enlistment.

Also, Cyprien was close in age to Philibert and would have been 18 when he enlisted which makes him the brother who was the most likely to be of enlistment age as of 1862.  Further, there's no decent Yankee equivalent of Cyprien.  Philibert was relatively easy to render into anglais as Philip. But Cyprien? These considerations are hardly probative but they're enough to suggest to me that "George" was Cyprien.

Philibert and Cyprien saw some action in the war in the Red River campaign in Louisiana. Philibert was wounded. His hearing and eyesight were damaged by artillery fire. "George" seems to have had a bit of trouble in the army. He was promoted but then busted down in rank for some indiscretion. The two intrepid brothers were mustered out of military service on August 10, 1864 and both returned to Canada. A year later, Philibert married Philomene Dupuis the widow of Michel Billette at the church of St-Jean-Baptiste, Roxton Falls, Québec.
Philomene Dupuis Racine with great grandchild
(Courtesy of Michael Gilleland)

Around 1867, Philibert and Philomene relocated to Brunswick, Maine.  Philibert Racine, under his alias Philip F. Root, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1876. One of the witnesses at his naturalization was his fellow Civil War veteran, Benjamin Greene, who was the wealthy manager of the Cabot Manufacturing Company, the textile mill that had brought the Canadiens to Brunswick. Traffic across the border between Québec and New England was swift in this period and Philomene, as well as other Racine relatives, lived in both Québec and Maine into the early 1900s. Philibert signed himself "Philip F. Root" on documents in both Canada and the USA.

Philibert Racine died in 1900. His wife continued to receive a pension from the U.S. government due to the disability he suffered in the Civil War.  He is buried in St. John's cemetery in Brunswick, the town where he and his family were among the early stalwarts of the Franco-American community in coastal Maine.

Military Pension record for "Philip F. Root"

More information about Canadiens in the American Civil War


  1. I reblogged your post.
    Great research.