«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
railway. That would give a total of about 1,338 Fenians landed that morning. His count nearly squares with Thomas Newbigging‘s testimony that he did not think the number of Fenians landing with O‘Neill‘s main body ―exceeded one thousand men.‖43 O‘Neill himself claimed that he mustered 800 men at the wharf on the American side, of whom he had to leave 200 behind on the initial crossing for lack of space.44 They would have crossed in the next wave. It is unclear again, if O‘Neill includes Owen Starr‘s advance party of 244 in his count. When O‘Neill arrived in Fort Erie early that morning, he would order the villagers to prepare breakfast for 1,000 men.45 The Fenian tugs continued to tow barges with supplies and reinforcements back and forth across the river until their last departure from Pratt‘s Wharf at 11:00 A.M., twenty minutes before the gunboat U.S.S. Michigan would finally begin moving towards a position at Lower Black Rock to intercept further Fenian reinforcements. Despite the fact that the Michigan had Thomas L. Newbigging, Testimony, The Queen v. Robert B. Lynch, DFUSCT Roll 1 R. A. McKelvie, ―Sam Johnston, Eighty-One Year Old Hero of the Fenian Raid, Now Living in Hut at Rock Creek B.C.‖, Vancouver Province, circa 1925, quoted by Louis Blake Duff, ―Sam Johnston, Smuggler, Soldier and Bearer of News,‖ Welland County Historical Society Papers and Records, Vol 2, Welland Canada: 1926. p. 87;
Sam Johnston in letter to Louis Blake Duff, circa 1925, quoted by Duff, p. 87; Sam Johnston, Sam Johnston‘s Own Narrative, in Duff, p. 83 Arthur Molesworth, testimony, Queen v. Robert Lynch, DFUSCT roll 1 Thomas L. Newbigging, testimony, Queen v. Robert B. Lynch, DFUSCT roll 1 O‘Neill, Official Report, p. 38 Somerville, p. 19; Blake to Seward, Secretary of State, June 20, 1866: DFUSCF roll 1; Tupper to McMicken, June 11, 1866, MG26 A, Volume 237, pp. 104072-104074 [Reel C1663] LAC been put on alert the day before, its deployment against the crossing was sabotaged by one of the many Fenians who served on its crew. On the night of the invasion, 2nd Assistant Engineer James P. Kelley, a Fenian, delayed the ship‘s river pilot Patrick Murphy from reporting to duty by plying him with whiskey and the attentions of ―a lady friend.‖46 The two staggered aboard the Michigan only at 5:00 A.M. after the main body of Fenians had successfully finished crossing the Niagara River. Both were arrested and Murphy was not trusted to pilot the vessel to the area where the Fenians were crossing. It was only after another river pilot was brought on board later that morning that the Michigan finally steamed out at 11:20 A.M. and took its position at Pratt‘s Wharf at Lower Black Rock to blockade any further Fenian reinforcements. 47 The next and last attempt to re-supply the Fenians was made by a tug towing a barge at 2:50 P.M. but it was promptly intercepted, boarded and seized by the Michigan.48 Thus armed reinforcements continued to arrive in Canada until at least noon of June 1.49 And we do not know if Johnston‘s count even takes in the Fenian Seventh Regiment of Buffalo consisting of at least 100 men (but probably more), which was deployed north away from Lower Ferry and Fort Erie to take a position towards Black Creek along the river road towards Chippawa.50 They might not have been in the column counted by him.
Another forty men ―completely clothed in Federal blue uniforms came down the river in row-boats from Buffalo and joined O‘Neill in the early morning.‖51 The Frontier Police James P. Kelley, Report to Commander Bryson, [enclosure] in Andrew Bryson to Gideon Wells, June 2, 1866, Commanders‘ Letters: Letters Received by Secretary of the Navy from Commanders, 1804-1886, Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, 1691-1945, RG45; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M147, roll 85, Item 209) National Archives Building, Washington, DC. NARA. See also: Rodgers, pp. 244-248.
Bryson to Wells, June 1, 1866; Bryson to Wells, June 2, 1866, Commanders‘ Letters
Logbook Entry, Friday, June 1, 1866, USS Michigan Logbook No. 16, July 24, 1864 to August 30, 1866:
Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships, 1801 – 1940, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1798 - 2003, RG24.
(National Archives Building, Washington, DC) NARA.
Thomas L. Newbigging, testimony, Queen v. Robert B. Lynch, DFUSCT roll 1 Cruikshank, p. 28 Cruikshank, p. 21 detective Elon Tupper stationed in Fort Erie was unable to escape cross-country through the Fenian lines, but found the ferry to Buffalo still running. Tupper overheard O‘Neill ordering the one thousand rations in the town and estimated he saw two hundred suspected Fenians disembark from the ferry as he boarded it.52 As the passenger ferry at Fort Erie continued to operate hourly, enterprising reporters from Buffalo had no problems crossing on it.53 Presumably unarmed Fenians could have just as easily crossed on the public ferry to be issued weapons once they arrived in Canada. Tupper crossed into the USA and double-backed into Canada later that morning over the Suspension Bridge at Niagara Falls. All these fragmentary reports nearly square with the reports of the precise total of 1,340 Fenians cited in some sources.54 As for the battle at Ridgeway itself, O‘Neill in his 1866 report claims to have fought there with a force of ―about four hundred.‖55 Two years later he revised the figure to ―about 500 men.‖56 The problem with O‘Neill as a source is that he tends to exaggerate upwards the size of the Canadian forces while diminishing the size of his own forces in the face of the enemy. In his Official Report, O‘Neill claims to have faced 5,000 troops and killed thirty of the enemy and wounded one hundred.57 Overall, O‘Neill‘s report was cursory and frequently simplified and confused the chronology of the Fenian operation. For example, he states the Fenians landed in the village of Fort Erie and that Owen Starr‘s advance party used two of the four barges to cross first at 3:30 A.M. This version is contradicted by the hue and cry raised the fishermen and the alarm in the village over Fenians approaching along the road hours much earlier than 3:00 A.M.
Furthermore, O‘Neill‘s chronology hardly gives Starr‘s unit enough time to appear at the Tupper to McMicken, June 11, 1866, MG26 A, Volume 237, pp. 104072-104074 [Reel C1663] LAC Cruikshank, p. 26 Chewett, p. 30 O‘Neill, Official Report, p. 39 Address of General John O‘Neill President F.B. To the Officers and Members of the Fenian Brotherhood On the State of its Organization and its Disruption,[New York, Feb. 27, 1868], New York: [s.n.] 1868. p. 17 O‘Neill, Official Report, p. 42 G.T.R. spur at daybreak on the far side of the village to give chase to the departing train. It is possible that O‘Neill might have wanted to share in the distinction of leading the force that raised the Irish banner first in Canada, rather than surrendering that honour entirely to an advance party led by Starr two hours earlier. Further diminishing the veracity of O‘Neill Official Report, is the distinct possibility that he deliberately inserted misinformation into the chronology to obscure the presence of Fenian spies on the Canadian side, including some who might have been intercepting telegraph communications.58 The most recent study of the battle of Ridgeway by Brian A. Reid argues that only ―600 actually crossed into Canada.‖59 But Reid relies on O‘Neill‘s report as the basis of his assertion.
Aside from the problems with O‘Neill‘s reporting, again it is unclear whether the O‘Neill figure included Starr‘s advance unit already on the Canadian side. Reid then inexplicably underestimates the size of Starr‘s unit at 110 men, and does not appears to account for their crossing several hours in advance of the main force.60 O‘Neill‘s Report claims that the number of Fenians captured with him by U.S. authorities during his return from Canada and held on a barge by the gunboat U.S.S. Michigan in the middle of the river as 317.61 Reid accepts this figure and argues that therefore the Fenian force at Ridgeway could not have exceeded 600 men at most and were likely to have been closer to 400, the original figure reported by O‘Neill.62 But the British Consul in Buffalo reported that the last of the Fenians evacuating out of Canada numbered 850, while the Commander of the Michigan telegraphed Washington for instructions as to what to do with the 700 of them that he
Brian A. Reid, ―‗Prepare for Cavalry!‘ The Battle of Ridgeway‖ in Donald E. Graves (ed), Fighting for Canada:
Seven Battles, 1758-1945, Toronto: Robin Brass Studio, 2000. p. 153 Reid, p. 381, n. 1 Reid, Appendix C, p. 378 O‘Neill, Official Report, p. 40 Reid, p. 381, n. 1 had captured and was now holding prisoner on a barge—including John O‘Neill.63 In his recollections, a British officer Garnet Wolseley, who arrived at Fort Erie on the morning on the morning of June 3, writes, ―I was astonished to see a United States gunboat anchored in midstream with a huge barge astern of her that was crowded with Fenians, as we afterwards ascertained to the number of about six or seven hundred.‖64 A Canadian prisoner of the Fenians in Fort Erie reported that he was told that in the battle in the town on the afternoon of June 2, 640 Fenians fought below in the streets while 260 were held in reserve on the hill above it—a total of 900 men.65 These additional 100-200 men could have been serving as pickets throughout the territory and might have rejoined the main force returning to Fort Erie without having fought at Ridgeway. Another report claims that 150 Fenian pickets were left behind in Canada to escape by their own means when O‘Neill withdrew in a huge tugged scow in the early morning of June 3, which tallies closely with the 700 reported aboard the barge as prisoners.66 According to Macdonald‘s personal spy inside the Buffalo Fenians,67 former Niagara Falls deputy-sheriff Alexander Macleod of the 1838 Caroline affair fame, 750 Fenians were captured by the Michigan while ―there are still I believe from 150 to 200 on our side in the woods.‖68 And we must account for the 57 Fenian suspects who had been H.W. Hemans to Lord Monck, telegram June 3, 1866, in [s.n.] Correspondence Relating to the Fenian Invasion and Rebellion of the Southern States, Ottawa: 1869. p. 142; also Colonel Lowry, Report, 4 June 1866, Miscellaneous Records Relating to the Fenian Raids, British Military and Naval Records "C" Series, RG8-1, Volume 1672; p. 882 [Microfilm reel C-4300] [hereinafter ―MFRP‖] LAC Field Marshal Viscount Wolseley, A Soldier‘s Life, Volume 2, Toronto: The Book Supply Company Ltd, 1904. p.
Captain Macdonald, p. 76 Captain Macdonald, p. 90 Peter Vronsky, ―The Secret Anglo-American Fenian Containment Policy 1865 – 1866‖, www.petervronsky.org/thesis-references McLeod to Macdonald, June 3, 1866, MG26A, Volume 57, p. 23098; [Reel C1508] LAC captured in Fort Erie by Canadians landed from the steamboat W.T. Robb on the morning of June 2.69 Reid argues that the Fenian force ―shrunk [sic] to 500 before the march to Ridgeway began in the evening of June 1.‖70 He points out that that the Fenians on the eve of the battle camped out in a field under an acre in size (an acre is roughly 70 square yards) and that according to William Otter‘s The Guide, a Manual for the Canadian Militia (Infantry), 480 men in tents required a field of 160 x 246 yards and that an infantry battalion of 850 men without tents, as the Fenians would have been, required 75 x 105 yards ―or 1.5 acres‖ and therefore the Fenians camped on one acre on the eve of the battle must have numbered about 500 maximum.
It is a clever argument but only if the Fenians actually laid-out camp according to Otter‘s Canadian militia manual.
Reid further cites a report by Detective Clarke that estimated 450 Fenians camped out the evening before the battle, but he overlooks Clarke‘s statement in the same report that an additional 200 reinforcements were to join O‘Neill at 3:00 A.M.—bringing the total number to at least 650 marching towards Ridgeway by Clarke‘s estimate.71 George Whale, a local farmer testified that at around 11:00 P.M. a force of 500 to 600 Fenians appeared at his door and forced him to accompany them all night guiding them crosscountry to Limestone Ridge.72 Again, if they were joined by 200 men from Black Creek at 3:00 A.M. it suggests the number of Fenians at Limestone Ridge to be 700 to 800 men.
Finally, we have a dispatch sent by O‘Neill across the river to Buffalo on the evening of June 1 which Alexander Macleod managed to get a look at. O‘Neill apparently reported, ―he Beatty [ms], pp. 21-22, LAC. McCallum, Report, [frame 862], MRFR Reid, p. 381, n. 1 Charles Clarke to McMicken, telegram, June 2, 1866, MG26 A, Volume 237 [Reel C1663], p. 103878, LAC George Whale, testimony, Judge Wilson‘s Notes in Queen v. John Quin, DFUSCT.
was promised 3,000 men, he has only 1000. He has 100 Thieves, Buffalo roughs and 150 lads unfit for the field.‖73 The numbers in O‘Neill‘s dispatch, again correspond to approximately 750 to 800 fighting Fenians at Limestone Ridge if we subtract the 250 men O‘Neill feels are unfit.
It appears that the traditional figure of 1,000 therefore would be the most likely correct minimum number of Fenians crossing into Canada in the first twenty hours of June 1 and perhaps as many as 1,350 to 1,500 Fenians maximum, of whom some 600 to 800 fought the Canadian forces at Ridgeway on the morning of June 2 and in Fort Erie in the afternoon—the typical wartime average actual strength of two seasoned American Civil War infantry regiments—two formidable killing machines.74 That number conforms to the 850 later reported by the British Consul in Buffalo as being the last to withdraw from Canada and of whom 700 were reported as captured by the U.S.S. Michigan.