«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
In his personal life, Alfred Booker was no doubt a typically pompous Victorian gentleman making his way up the social ladder through community service, church and volunteer military duty. He was remembered by one Hamiltonian who was his son‘s boyhood friend as ―a clever and versatile Englishman, an auctioneer by calling, fluent of speech and somewhat florid in manner. In private life he was good-natured and kind, and sometimes amused us boys in his own house by ingenious marionette shows of his own constructions and tricks of ventriloquism.‖74 How much blame for the ill-equipped state of the 13th Battalion can be laid on Booker is debatable. The QOR, most of its men armed with only five rounds of ammunition each were in even worse condition than the 13th. But Booker himself was ill-prepared departing without a Reid, p. 167 Quoted in Greenhous, p. 33 Mackenzie map or even a pencil or paper with which to issue orders and without his horse. Only one of the sixteen officers was mounted—Major Skinner.
Appointed ―chaplain‖ along with Reverend Dr. David Inglis of the McNab Street Presbyterian church, the two men would be the first chaplains in Canadian military history to accompany troops into combat.84 Their only problem was how to get to the front. With the telegraph lines cut at Fort Erie and the whereabouts of the Fenians unknown, the two churchmen got only as far a Brantford, when in the evening all the trains were cancelled. They began earnestly to search for a way to catch up with the 13th Battalion.85 The British: Colonel George J. Peacocke Hamilton, Ontario, the largest city in the vicinity of Fort Erie was the nearest place with regular British troops: the Bedfordshire Regiment (16th Foot, Right Wing), consisting of four companies of 200 officers and men under the command of Colonel George J. Peacocke. In view of the alarming news from Buffalo, Peacocke confined the regiment to barracks at 4:00 P.M. on May 31.86 Peacocke was a professional and able British officer thought highly of by his fellow officers and liked by his men. He was not overly insistent on military ceremonial protocols and surprised a fellow officer by shaking hands with a volunteer private he encountered on the road during the operation. When the officer asked him about this breach of military protocol, Peacocke replied, ―When I am in Hamilton I am often at that young man‘s home. I dine often with his father and family, and meet him there. He is a young man of good social position, and because he puts on a uniform and shoulders his musket to defend his Queen and country, should that degrade him? I think I should shake hands with him all the more on that account.‖87 Duff Crerar, Padres in No Man‘s Land: Canadian Chaplains and the Great War, Montreal-Kingston: McGillQueen‘s University Press, 1995. p. 4 Burwash Collection, Box 28, file 630, chapter x, p. 11, UCAVC.
Wolseley, p. 157; Graves, p.378; Somerville, p. 49 Denison, Soldiering in Canada, p. 109 Early in the morning, General George Napier, the British commander of Upper Canada, headquartered in Toronto, appointed Peacocke Commander-in-Chief of the entire Niagara region operation but failed to give him any specific orders. Napier has been described by Wolseley as ―not a shining light… In private life a charming man, he was quite useless at all times as a commander.‖88 As volunteer troops from Toronto and Hamilton steamed out towards the Lake Erie region of the Welland Canal, British troops in the Hamilton area remained in their barracks with no orders to move.
Major George T. Denison, the twenty-seven year old attorney and commander of a Toronto troop of volunteer cavalry originally founded by his grandfather, had been following the Fenian reports from Buffalo for days, expecting to be called out soon. He made calculations of the possible Fenian movements from Buffalo, their probable routes of march and travelling distances and expected to be mustered with his cavalry unit shortly. When he was awakened by his brother on the morning of June 1 and informed that the QOR had been sent out overnight, he was surprised that there were no orders to assemble his horsemen.
Frustrated, Denison went to his Jordan Street law office. At about noon he received a message asking him to report to Napier at his headquarters. When Denison arrived he was shocked to find Napier completely ignorant of the geography of the Niagara region and lacking any maps other than a large-scale map of Upper Canada hanging on his office wall. Napier knew that Denison was familiar with the Niagara frontier region and began to pepper him with questions. From the nature of the questions Denison began to surmise that Napier intended to send Peacocke‘s forces in the same direction he had sent the Canadian volunteers—towards Port Colborne, leaving critical bridges at Clifton and Chippawa undefended and exposing the Welland Canal to the Fenian forces. Denison pointed out to Napier the vulnerability of the Wolseley, p. 160 bridges89 and Napier then telegraphed Peacocke ordering him to proceed to St. Catharines, make his headquarters there and at his discretion deploy troop throughout the Niagara region as he saw fit.90 To Denison‘s disappointment, however, when he asked to be deployed with his troop of cavalry, Napier replied he had ―no permission‖ to order out his cavalry units. Denison returned to his office seething in frustration.91 Peacocke did not get moving until 2:00 P.M.92 He attached his 200 men of the 16th to two British units from Toronto: a battery of Royal Artillery and a contingent of 200 men from the 47th Regiment. This formation now moved to St. Catharines where they planned to pick up seven companies of volunteers of the 19th Battalion under Lt. Colonel James G. Currie. Under Peacocke‘s command were also Booker‘s 13th Battalion still waiting at Dunnville and the 2nd Battalion QOR and Welland companies already at Port Colborne under Dennis.
Upon arriving at St. Catharines at about 4:00 P.M., Peacocke received mistaken intelligence that the Fenians were headed in force towards the suspension bridge at Clifton and decided to quickly push forward and secure the bridge without stopping to pick up Currie‘s 19th Battalion.
Once in Clifton at approximately 5:00 P.M. he deployed some troops there to protect the bridge and telegraphed messages back to Toronto calling for more reinforcements. There he received further intelligence that the Fenians had not yet arrived at Chippawa. Leaving behind some troops on the bridge, Peacocke now decided between 7:00 and 7:30 P.M. to leave for Chippawa five miles away.93 The infantry went by train while his artillery had to make their way Denison, Soldiering in Canada, pp. 90-91 Peacocke Report, June 4, 1866 in MFRP Denison, Soldiering in Canada, p. 88 Peacocke, Report, p. 1 Irish Canadian, June 7, 1866. p. 3 by road ―in consequence for the want of platform accommodation at Chippawa station.‖94 The lack of artillery and of horses on the battlefield is blamed on the need for platforms and ramps at railway stations several times in reports and testimony. During the Inquiry when Major Gillmor of the QOR was asked why he had not brought his horse to Ridgeway, he replied, ―I could not get him off the cars at Ridgeway without breaking his legs, there being no platform.‖95 Somerville later commented that all this was nonsense: ―Since the time and events persons have spoken largely as to how quickly they would have provided platforms had they been consulted.‖96 And indeed, the testimony as to why only Booker will be mounted at Ridgeway is contradictory. Booker himself stated, ―The only horse on the cars belonged to Major Skinner, 13th Battalion, who had kindly offered him for my service. I expressed a desire that the field officers of the Queen‘s Own would take their horses, but was met by the reply that they would be of no use in the woods where we should likely be and that it was thought best not to take them.‖97 Gillmor‘s testimony followed Booker‘s, but nobody asked how Booker got Skinner‘s horse off the train at Ridgeway while Gillmor could not get his off. Nor does it make sense that this was the first time those railway stations were ever used to disembark horses or vehicles from a train. Nor is it clear how is it that the QOR officers were so sure they would be fighting in woods considering that open fields and farms were as much part of the Niagara terrain as woods.
According to Somerville there was another issue: the 19th Battalion under Currie had been ―kicking its heels‖ in St. Catharines ready to march since 10 A.M. while Clifton and Chippawa remained unprotected all day—they could have been easily deployed on the bridges Peacocke Report, June 4, 1866 in MFRP Booker Inquiry, p. 211 Somerville, p. 65 Booker Inquiry, p. 202 nearby in Clifton and Chippawa. Instead the 19th remained in St. Catharines until 9:30 P.M.
when they boarded a train coming in from Toronto with a second contingent of troops from 47th Regiment and 10th Royal Grenadiers. The train proceeded only as far as Clifton where they arrived at 11:00 P.M. Then inexplicably they halted with the troops remaining aboard the cars until 4:00 A.M. when they started towards Chippawa.98 This would have fatal consequences the next day on the timing of the combat at Ridgeway because when the men joined Peacocke‘s force they had to be fed before their joint force could proceed further.
Peacocke arrived at Chippawa by 8:00 P.M. and perhaps as late as 9:00 P.M. (he himself reports that it was dark when he got there but some press reports have him arriving as early as 7:30.)99 Once in Chippawa, Peacocke disembarked his infantry and attempted to determine the precise location of the Fenians. The Fenians had dug in at Newbigging‘s Farm at Frenchman‘s Creek at noon, but O‘Neill sent out mounted scouts northward in the direction of Chippawa as well.
Early in the afternoon, Captain Donohue of the Eighteenth Fenian Regiment ―Cleveland Rangers‖ rode out with a small scouting party as far as Black Creek—about half-way to Chippawa from the current Fenian position, some five miles north-west of their fortified camp on Newbigging‘s farm on Frenchman‘s Creek. There Donohue encountered civilian mounted scouts approaching across the fields from the north. After turning them away with several volleys of fire, Donohue sent word of his encounter back to O‘Neill at the Fenian camp.