Today, June 18, marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, in which Napoleon’s troops were defeated by a coalition of forces led by the Duke of Wellington and Prussian General Gebhard von Blücher. A number of Canadians will be participating in a massive re-enactment of the battle in Belgium on June 19-20. At least two soldiers from what was then British North America fought in the original battle, including Private Job Gibbs from Newfoundland.
Gibbs was born in St. John’s. He was baptized on Jan. 31, 1790, at the Anglican church (now cathedral) of St. John the Baptist. His parents were Benjamin and Mary Gibbs. Job’s mother may have died when he was young, as a Benjamin Gibbs married Ann Murray at the same church on Aug. 12, 1797.
In 1813, Job Gibbs enlisted as a private with the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards at Bristol in the U.K. His pension papers credit him with five and half years of service as a private and almost seven years of service as a trumpeter or drummer. He also had two years of service added for his participation in the Battle of Waterloo.
During the battle, the 2nd battalion of the Coldstream Guards was deployed to defend Hougoumont Farm, the vital right flank of the British and allied forces. The British held the farm throughout the day’s fierce fighting. The Duke of Wellington later said, “The success of the battle of Waterloo … turned upon the closing of the gates of Hougoumont.” The battalion took part in the subsequent occupation of Paris, remaining in France until the summer of 1816.
Job Gibbs was discharged in November 1825 for “lameness, depending upon chronic rheumatism,” with the note that “he was wounded in the left thigh at Waterloo.” His general conduct as a soldier was noted as “good.” Gibbs was described as being about 33 years of age, 5-8 tall, with dark hair, hazel eyes and a sallow complexion. His occupation was given as shoemaker. It’s not clear what became of Gibbs after that.
The other confirmed Canadian at the battle, Captain Alexander Macnab, was actually born in Virginia. He fled to Lower Canada with his Loyalist family sometime around 1776 and later moved to Upper Canada. Macnab joined the British army in 1803 and served in Ireland, Spain and Portugal.
When exiled French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from Elba in 1815, Macnab’s battalion was part of the force organized to combat him. Macnab was seconded as an aide-de-camp to General Thomas Picton, one of the Duke of Wellington’s best senior officers. Macnab may have been with Picton at the Battle of Quatre Bras on June 16, 1815. Two days later, during the Battle of Waterloo, Picton was shot through the head while leading his men against a French attack. Macnab was also fatally wounded and buried on the battlefield. There is a plaque sacred to his memory in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
A number of other Waterloo veterans later moved to British North America and played significant roles in Canadian affairs in the years leading up to Confederation.
Shannon Selin is the Vancouver-based author of “Napoleon in America,” which imagines what might have happened if Napoleon had escaped from St. Helena and wound up in North America in 1821. She blogs about Napoleonic and 19th-century history at shannonselin.com.