Dioramas at Crysler’s Farm National Historic Site – Battle Memorial Building
by Robert Henderson
Two life-size dioramas are now in place at the Battle Memorial Building, one depicting the morning of the battle on Nov. 11, 1813 and the other the afternoon of the same day.
Scene 1: Morning of the Battle
Story: A Royal Artillery Gunner has stopped to get a drink from a Canadian Fencible Regiment Drummer. Both had advanced from the garrison at Prescott shading the American invasion force and may have known each other (the interaction is not documented but adds some drama) . In the meantime, Lt John Sewell of the 49th Regiment is toasting a piece of pork for breakfast (true event). Also warming himself by the fire is Captain William Mulcaster, who has come ashore to meet and coordinate with British Army staff (fiction).
1.1 Royal Artillery Gunner
The Gunner wears the 1813 dress of the Royal Artillery who is serving an artillery piece. His only weapon is his Royal Artillery Gunner’s sword. Early in the war, the RA turned in their muskets and bayonets, so they could be issued to the militia and were instead armed with swords. The wearing of Grey trousers was standard in the winter months for Canada since the 1790s. The dark blue of his coat is has been the standard colour of the Royal Artillery since the early 18th century and was selected because the black powder filth from working an artillery piece did not show as much on that colour. He also wears the new Belgic Shako which arrived for the Royal Artillery in early 1813. He is not wearing a foul weather cover because there was a shortage. As a gunner his job was as a glorified workhorse, dragging the gun into position and loading the piece in battle. The more complicated jobs of aims, measuring fuses, etc were left to the bombardiers, NCOs, and commissioned officers. While more educated, Royal Artillerymen tended to get into trouble more often likely due to the greater freedom they had in the fulfillment of their Ordnance duties.
1.2 Canadian Fencible Drummer
This character is a young drummer of a Battalion company of the Canadian Fencible Regiment. A detachment of two companies of this regiment, from the garrison at Prescott served at the battle. The average age of the regiment’s drummers was sixteen and their duties included: 1. Duty beating (the alarm and day planner of the regiment); 2. musical entertainment and 3. Administers of punishment (the lash). For example just prior to the detachment departing Prescott, two Canadian Fencibles had been whipped severely for stealing peas. The Regiment is noted as charging the American artillery during the battle and suffering one of the highest casualty rates on the field that day. The Drummer wears a yellow coat in the tradition of “reversed facings” were the coat is the colour of the cuffs and collars of the private’s coats. The decorative lace has been reproduced from an original sample in the Canadian War Museum. His drum display the same badge that was borne on the colours of the regiment (original colours also in the Canadian War Museum). The red and white shako tuft and the colouring of his coat’s shoulder wings shows him to be a member of a Battalion of centre company of the regiment. His only defence was his drummer’s pattern sword, with a shortened blade because of the shorter height of young drummers. In 2012 this regiment received the highest infantry unit distinction possible, a battle honour, for their service at Crysler’s Farm. Today the regiment is perpetuated by the Royal 22e Regiment because the unit was embodied in Lower Canada (Quebec) and over half of the corps was made up of francophones.
1.3 Lieutenant John “Jack” Sewell of the 49th Regiment of Foot
LT Sewell famously was cooking a piece for pork just before his company commander ordered: “Jack, drop cooking, the enemy is advancing!” Sewell wears the undress frock of a 49th officer. This is noted by the button twist on his blueish Green cuffs, and lapels opposed to richly embroidered square loops of gold. Three undress coats have survived from this regiment and were used in making this reproduction. Over his shoulders is a greatcoat, worn by most of the ranks of the regiment because of the damaged state of their dress clothing from months of hard campaigning in the Niagara peninsula. He uses his 1796 pattern infantry officer’s sword to cook his piece of pork. This would have been quite damaging to the tempering of the blade. Interestingly enough he began his army career in 1811 as an ensign in the 89th Regiment (the other British Regiment present) before transferring to the 49th Regiment. Twenty-two year old Sewell had served at Frenchman’s Creek in 1812, then Fort George, Stoney Creek, and the numerous skirmishes around Niagara-on-the-Lake. When he retired from the Army in 1829 he returned to Canada and settled in Quebec City. During the Rebellion of 1837 he commanded the Quebec Light Infantry. He passed away in 1875. His role at Crysler’s Farm was to march on the left front row of the company and when his company commander has hit (stationed on the right), he took over command.
1.4 Captain William Howe Mulcaster
In charge of the gunboat fleet from Kingston and Prescott, Mulcaster had the local rank of Captain. Like Sewell His dress reflects both his rank, the time of year and the condition of the service. He wear the undress frock of a Naval officer with a unit raise and fall collar. This design is based on an original from the National Maritime Museum in the UK. He sports also navy blue winter trousers and Hessian style officer boots. This look is was quite popular with naval officers at the time and is directed in a number of Navy officer portraits. A simple Chapeau bras completes the look. His sword is the 1805 pattern for the Royal Navy at this time with its appropriate sword knot, and he wears the more convenient black leather sling waistbelt. This rank is evident by the two gold epaulets on his shoulders.
SCENE 2: Left of the Line, approximately 3:00pm
Story: The 89th Regiment has just broken the American flanking attempt and in the chaos a Mohawk of the Six Nations has captured a private of the 14th Regiment of US Infantry. The prisoner has taken a musket butt to the head during his capture. Skirmishing with the Mohawk is a French Canadian Voltigeur. He has caught the attention of a Irish Sergeant of the 89th Regiment of Foot and is in the process of turning him over to the Sergeant’s charge. Compensating the Mohawk warrior with either money or presents would be expected latter.
2.1 Mohawk Warrior
From the Six Nations reserve of Tyendinaga just west of Kingston, 30 Mohawks fought at the battle. The figure head has actually been cast from a Mohawk of the Six Nations with a strong traditional blood line. During the casting we asked the subject to assume a facial expression like he is contemplating striking the captive again if he tried to escape. Black and red face paint has been utilized, typical colours for warrior in this time period. His musket is trade musket pattern provided to native allies by the British Indian Department. He also sports a tomahawk. During this time, the war club was no longer a practical weapon in warfare, and the tomahawk had almost universally replaced it. Surviving war clubs from this time period were likely only for ceremonial or dance use. Historic battle accounts only reference the use of tomahawks and illustrates the increased availability of manufactured goods particularly from England. His clothing is based on watercolours natives from the time and is light for mobility and range of movement. Blankets, capots, and other heavy garments were often stashed away before battle. He also wears a selection of trade silver popular with native warriors. All the garments and native equipment displayed were manufactured by mohawks of the six nations.
2.2 Canadian Voltigeur
The head has been selected because of its French Canadian figures. The Canadian Voltigeurs were from the garrison at Prescott and were heavily engaged in the woods during the battle. The technique of skirmishing was the fire and retire technique adopted from the natives and a staple of bush fighting with French Canadians since the beginning of the 18th century. Each voltigeur was trained by their regimental commander, Charles-Michel de Salaberry to fire in many positioning including lying down. He wears the unique uniform of the his unit. The use of dark grey was due to experiments on colour as camouflage by the British Army. It had been found when comparing red, green and grey that grey was the hardest to hit. The silver barked trees of the area, illustrated in the backdrop, only enhanced this advantage. The unique fusilier-like bearskin is based on the only sketch of it from the time period. His face is smudged with black powder from biting black powder cartridges during the battle. He does not have his knapsack because they were typical ditched before battle in North America. However he still has his haversack with cooked rations and canteen issued to him out of Commissariat stores at Prescott. Today the Canadian Voltigeurs are perpetuated by the Canadian Army’s Primary Reserve Regiment, Les Voltigeurs de Quebec. This regiment was awarded the battle honour “Crysler’s Farm” in 2012 for the service of its predecessor.
2.3 Sergeant of the 89th Regiment of Foot, Battalion Company
The facial features of this figure are Irish, reflecting the ethnic makeup of this regiment. His coat is red faced black and is decorated with pointed loops of white lace in pairs. While the men had colours stripes in the lace, one of the marks of a Sergeant was the wearing of white lace. The quality of the red wool used in the coat is also superior to that of the men. The marks of his rank are the three chevrons on his sleeve (introduced in 1800 as a rank distinction) and his sash with one stripe of the facing colour through the middle. Another mark of his rank is the long pike he carries. When a Sergeant was stationed in the rear of the company he could use it to push the rear into a tighter formation so the hearing of the front rank would not be harmed by discharges of the rear rank muskets. The pike was also used in punishment when a number of them were used to create a tripod. Lastly he carries a simplified version of the 1796 pattern infantry sword. His red and white plume and having chevrons on one arm marks him as a member of a Battalion company. A soldier was then tied to them when he received the lash. Today the British Army’s Royal Irish Regiment carries on the history and heritage of the 89th Regiment of Foot.
2.4 Private of the 14th Regiment of US Infantry
Recruited in Maryland, the 14th Infantry had not had a good year in 1813. After suffering defeat at Stoney Creek, most of the regiment was captured at Beaver Dams after Laura Secord’s famous trek through the woods. The detachment at Crysler’s Farm had avoided Beaver Dams disaster, having been stationed at Sacket’s Harbour. They would redeem themselves somewhat in 1814 at the Battle of Cook’s Mills in the Niagara peninsula. The uniform of the 14th Infantry was brown or drab coats faced red and drab or grey trousers. This clothing had been issued to the regiment in the winter of 1812-1813 and would not have been in the greatest of shape by the battle of Crysler’s Farm. On the ground is his long-lasting but uncomfortable Model 1813 leather shako. His accoutrements and musket have been stripe from him (indicated by his unbuttoned shoulder straps) denoting he is a prisoner. He has most likely been plundered of any money he might be carrying but American troops were notoriously in arrears with regards to pay. Today the history of the 14th US Infantry is part of the lineage of the 4th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army.