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«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»

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The other 300 to 600 Fenians who landed on June 1 but did not fight at Ridgeway, continued to hold scattered positions early morning June 2 along the Niagara River and its outlying roads in the interior from Black Creek in the north to Fort Erie in the south, while many deserted by the end of the first day by returning to Buffalo or surrendered or were captured the following day by advancing British and Canadian troops.75 The remainder trickled over to Buffalo undetected after the battle while others hid in the surrounding countryside—some possibly with sympathetic locals. At least one, twenty-four year old Patrick J. O‘Reilly of Buffalo, was reported to have later eloped with a farmer‘s daughter who without her family‘s knowledge had hidden him in a barn for a week and nursed his wound before helping him escape McLeod to Macdonald, June 6, 1866, MG26A, Volume 57, p. 23126, [Reel C1508] LAC Paddy Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. pp. 92-93 (Griffith reports that the theoretical size of a Civil War regiment was 1000 men, but the actual battlefield size averaged between 300 and 400 and its lightness was a tactical advantage making for ―a very handy and maneuverable fighting unit.‖) Beatty [ms], LAC, pp. 21-22; McCallum, Report, [frame 862], MRFR across the river.76 Another was rumoured to have been held secretly captive by a farmer as an unpaid hand.77 In the end, however, it unlikely that the exact number of Fenians crossing over will ever be conclusively determined.

The Fenian movements June 1 The Fenians occupied the town of Fort Erie and took its officials prisoner, ordering them to have the townspeople prepare 1,000 rations of breakfast78 for which they offered to pay in Fenian bonds, but the offer was refused.79 Adult males in the village were rounded up, and read the Fenian proclamation assuring them that their fight was with the British Crown and not with Canadians. Afterwards the males were sent home under house arrest. A villager later testified at the Fenian trials

–  –  –

Despite rumours that the Fenians were killing all the town officials, women and children,81 their behaviour was largely impeccable towards the civilians and officials of the town and no property George Wells, ―A Romance of the Raid‖, Welland County Historical Society Papers and Records, Vol 2, Welland Canada: 1926. pp. 80-81 Reid, p. 381, n. 1 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; George T. Denison, The Fenian Raid at Fort Erie and an Account of the Battle of Ridgeway, [original manuscript] George Taylor Denison III Fonds, MG29-E29, Volume 43, File 1, LAC. p. 10 [hereinafter Denison, The Fenian Raid] Captain Macdonald, p. 29 Joseph Stevens, Testimony, Judge Wilson‘s Notes, The Queen v. Robert B. Lynch, 24 October 1866, DFUSCT roll 1 Evening Times, [5:00 P.M. edition] Hamilton, June 1, 1866; Larmour [Part 1], p. 122; M.G. Sherk, ―My Recollections of the Fenian Raid‖, County Historical Society Papers and Records, Vol 2, Welland Canada: 1926. p.

other than food, liquor, 82 horses and tools was seized or damaged by them (other than the cutting of telegraph lines.)83 The Fenian army with its arms and ammunition, its plundered horses, chickens, tools and other provisions now moved out of Fort Erie around 10:00 A.M. heading back north down the Niagara Road and a few hundred yards past their landing site at Lower Ferry. They stopped at Joseph Newbigging‘s farm on the southern bank of Frenchman‘s Creek, a deep, sluggishly flowing body of water approximately 70 feet across emptying into the Niagara River.84 There O‘Neill believed that the British and Canadian forces would logically approach from Chippawa to attack him.

Seizing the 80 foot bridge across the creek, O‘Neill positioned his forces in Newbigging‘s apple orchard and wheat field on a ―U‖ shaped bend in the creek.85 With his back towards the Niagara River, this gave O‘Neill an unobstructed view of cleared farmland approximately 800 yards in the direction of Chippawa. The creek which bent around the northern, southern and western flanks of this ground afforded O‘Neill an additional fortified barrier of water between himself and any attackers coming across the open fields. Before allowing his men to rest and get some sleep, O‘Neill had them dismantle wooden rail fences in the vicinity, known as ―snake fences‖. A quarter mile of fencing in each direction from their position was taken down.86 The rails, mostly made of oak about six inches thick were then used for the construction of breast works along the perimeter of their position.

Somerville, p. 20; Alexander Milligan, testimony, Judge‘s Notes [Wilson] Queen v. John McMahon, DFUSCT Somerville, p. 19; Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, June 1, 1866.

O‘Neill, Official Report, p. 38 Captain Macdonald, p. 29;Maryniak & Bertuca; Microsoft, Streets &Trips 2006 Copyright © 1988-2005 Microsoft Corp Thomas L. Newbigging, Testimony, Judge‘s Notes, The Queen v. Robert B. Lynch, 24 October 1866, DFUSCT roll 1 The defences were not laid out in a single row but in a broken checker-board pattern alternating at a distance of twelve to twenty yards in advance or to the rear of each other and scattered in an irregular pattern, which would have limited the damage done to them by artillery fire. More fence rails were piled up on the bridge in prepared pyres in case the bridge needed to be destroyed in the face of an oncoming attack.87 John O‘Neill with his four years of combat experience in the Civil War could not have chosen better ground to repel an attack nor could he had prepared it any better or more efficiently. It is very likely that this position was a choice that was well reconnoitred days, if not weeks and months earlier—perhaps by Canty the Fenian spy. For all the raucous drinking that might have gone on in Fort Erie, when it came to prepare for fighting, his experienced Fenian infantry was digging in like a well-oiled and disciplined military machine; there was nothing farcical about it.





Inquisitive Canadians and townspeople and reporters from Buffalo began arriving at Frenchman‘s Creek to look over the Fenian camp. John Cooper, the postmaster from Chippawa rode in on his horse without being challenged by Fenian pickets. He inspected the camp and estimated there were some 500 men there. He noticed several wearing Confederate uniforms and was told by them they were veterans of the Louisiana Tigers from New Orleans. Cooper had a harder time getting out of the area as some Fenians attempted to seize his horse, but he managed to break-away and return to Chippawa to report everything he saw.88 Late in the afternoon Canada West Frontier Constabulary agent Charles Clarke infiltrated the camp as well, was introduced to O‘Neill and remained spying in the camp until 10:00 P.M.

He had been sent by a Canadian officer who had already arrived with his force at Port Somerville, p. 32 The Irish Canadian, June 6, 1866. p. 3 Colborne.89 Clarke would report the next day (a little too late to be of any use) his estimate of Fenian strength in the camp at 450 but warned that an additional 200 would reinforce them during the night.90 The Fort Erie customs officer Treble was inside the Fenian camp as well. At around 6:00 P.M. he introduced his superior, customs inspector Richard Graham into the camp.91 This introduction would have significant consequences on the events that were to transpire over the next twenty-four hours.

Dennis to McMicken, telegram, June 1, 1866, MG26 A, Volume 237, p. 103871 [Reel C1663] LAC Charles Clarke to McMicken, telegram, June 2, 1866, MG26 A, Volume 237 [Reel C1663], p. 103878, LAC Dennis Inquiry, p. 256 Chapter 5: The Military Response in Upper Canada, Afternoon-Evening, June 1, 1866 As O‘Neill was digging in his force at Newbigging‘s farm, Canadian and British troops were already deploying in the Welland-Niagara region. The accumulating reports of trainloads of Fenians arriving in Buffalo from McMicken‘s agents, from the British Consul, from the Buffalo Mayor and U.S. Attorney and from numerous newspapers, finally spurred the Canadian government to commit to a troop deployment. During the day of May 31, John A. Macdonald instructed Gilbert McMicken to start sending duplicates of all incoming reports directly to General George Napier in Toronto, commander of British forces in Upper Canada.1 The same day D‘Arcy McGee telegraphed McMicken informing him that the ministers were leaving for Ottawa that night and to forward all information there with duplicates to Sir John Michel, the commander-in-chief of British troops in Canada.2 Some time in the afternoon of May 31, a decision was made to call-out the militia.

British Army Colonel Patrick L. MacDougall, the Militia Adjutant-General and overall commander of the Canadian Militia, ordered that a provisional battalion of 400 men be assembled in Toronto and dispatched to the Fort Erie region—in other words, that an improvised force be formed from an array of various units that might not have operated together previously.3 This was not an auspicious decision with which to inaugurate the operation.

The Assistant Adjutant-General Militia (AAGM) in Toronto, Colonel William Smith Durie rather than assembling a new unit piecemeal as ordered, instead called out en masse the volunteer militia unit he had previously commanded: the 2nd Battalion ―Queen‘s Own Rifles‖ Macdonald to McMicken, telegram, May 31, 1866: MG26 A Vol. 237, p. 103854 [Microfilm Reel C1663] LAC McGee to McMicken, telegram, May 31, 1866, ibid. p. 103855 George T. Denison, Soldiering in Canada, Toronto: George L. Morang & Co., 1901. p. 89 (QOR).4 While in this case Durie‘s unilateral decision was a wise one, it would characterize the upcoming campaign in which subordinate Canadian officers unilaterally modified orders from their British superiors, as we shall see in the debacle that Ridgeway will become.

At 6:00 P.M. Major Charles T. Gillmor, the recently appointed commanding officer of the QOR received orders to assemble 400 men by 5:00 A.M. in the recently constructed Simcoe Street drill shed and to proceed to the Toronto docks where at 6:30 A.M. they were to board the steamer City of Toronto for a three-hour trip across Lake Ontario to Port Dalhousie. From there they were to continue by railway to Port Colborne on Lake Erie. 5 Church and fire bells throughout Toronto began ringing that evening alerting volunteers to report for duty. The battalion adjutant, Captain William Otter, found a large number of QOR men at a banquet, which made the task of assembling the troops easier. The soldiers were presented with lists of names and sent out to find and alert the other members of their unit.6 Fred McCallum, a fifteen-year-old volunteer in QOR‘s No. 5 Company was at a soldiers‘ bazaar that evening at the former Governor‘s residence at King and Simcoe Streets. He was admiring a hanging quilt in a military pattern made from patches of different coloured uniforms when at about 9:00 P.M. a sergeant tapped him on the shoulder informing him the battalion had been called out to Niagara. He was handed a list of volunteers and told to tell them to report to the drill shed by 5:00 A.M. Afterward McCallum went home to get a few hours sleep. Worried that his parents would not let him go, he snuck into the house without waking them. Early in the Denison, Soldiering in Canada, pp. 88-89 Ernest J. Chambers, The Queen‘s Own Rifles of Canada, Toronto: E.L. Ruddy, 1901. p. 59 Andrews, p. 167 morning he dressed in his uniform and left quietly without having breakfast lest he might awaken his parents. He would later regret not having brought anything to eat from home.7 Ensign Malcolm McEachren also from No. 5 Company, anxiously reported to duty at the drill shed early in the evening. McEachren, thirty-five years old, was older than the average militia volunteer. Born in Islay Scotland and raised in Lower Canada, he came from a humble background and originally had wanted to be a minister of the church. Born a Presbyterian he had only recently joined the Wesleyan Methodists and was a Sunday school teacher.

McEachren was married to Margaret Caroline aged thirty-one and the couple had five children—two boys aged 8 and 12 and three daughters, 2, 4 and 6 years of age. He was a store manager in Toronto with an annual salary of $900 plus free rent for the family in an apartment above the store. McEachren was sufficiently organized to have purchased life insurance but not sufficiently wealthy to acquire more than a $250 policy—in today‘s dollars worth approximately $6,675.8 (One Canadian dollar in 1870 had the purchasing power of $26.70 in 2005.)9 Malcolm McEachren was the ideal lower middle-class Upper Canadian, described at the time as ―studious, circumspect, and industrious in his habits, and moreover possessing an unobtrusive and amiable disposition... He sought as a Christian to be useful... In his commercial relations he was regarded as a man of strictest integrity; he was industrious and painstaking and hence he had the confidence of all who knew him in this department of life... one capable of varied and prolonged activities, and as eminently qualified, in this particular, for the part he essayed in the defence of his country. He had disciplined himself to integrity and a high sense of honour, and was one to whom the honour of his country had long been a sort of passion. Not Fred H. McCallum, ―Experience of a Queen‘s Own Rifleman at Ridgeway‖, Third Annual Report of the Waterloo Historic Society, Berlin [Kitchener]: Waterloo Historic Society, 1915. p. 24 Captain J. Edwards to Colonel Gillmor, October 16, 1866, FRSR: Volume 30, p. 45., LAC.



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