«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
Booker was anxious to leave Port Colborne by 5:00 A.M. He was wound up and ready to lunge at the enemy by deploying his troops quickly by train to a position that the Fenians could not outflank on foot or horseback. A successful auctioneer and merchant, Alfred Booker Beatty, Fenian Raid 1866, p. 21 Beatty Ms., p. 21 Booker, Narrative, p. 6 Peacocke to Napier, June 7, 1866, Frame 829, MFRP was sensitive to the ebbs and flows of transporting merchandise by rail. He maintained a rapid cycle of goods moving in and out of his auction hall in downtown Hamilton. That volume of trade and his reach through rail, telegraph and newspaper advertising—was the key to his success. Booker was an entirely modern man. He was confident that the train‘s unmatched speed would give him equal success in modern battle. He might have studied how five years before Confederate troops deployed by train at Manassas turned a Union victory into a disastrous defeat. Or how in September 1863 U.S. Secretary of War Stanton relieved a besieged Union Army in Tennessee, moving by railway a relief force of 25,000 troops, 1,100 horses, 9 artillery batteries and hundreds of wagons, tents and supplies from northern Virginia to Chattanooga, 1,200 miles away—in five days—an extraordinary achievement even by today‘s standards.40 In the terms of modern mobile warfare, Booker‘s thinking was very sound; it was the ambition lurking behind it that was not.
The reinforcements Peacocke had been awaiting began to arrive in Chippawa at 4:30 A.M., but now the men required breakfast. According to his report, ―the volunteers being unprovided with means of carrying provisions and of cooking them, had not been able to comply with an order I had sent the previous evening that they were to bring provisions in their haversacks.‖41 Something as simple as a lack of haversacks took on a monumental bad turn. Peacocke now postponed his departure by an hour to 7:00 A.M. and immediately telegraphed Booker John F. Stover, History of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, West Lafayette, Ind: Perdue University Press, 1987 pp. 110-112; All before our age of cell phones, internet, satellite, jumbo cargo aircraft, amphibious hovercraft and helicopters, during which the U.S. administration was incapable of relieving New Orleans for an entire two days after Hurricane Katrina.
Peacocke to Napier, June 7, 1866, Frame 827-830, MFRP instructing him to delay his departure by an hour as well.42 But eager Booker‘s brigade had already left by train for Ridgeway at 5:15.43 Peacocke‘s telegram arrived at 5:20, five minutes too late.44 Denison argues in his book
Booker would later cling to his claim to the bitter end that he was ordered, ―Move no later than 5.30 – 5 if bread be ready.‖46 In his statement to the inquiry, Booker insisted
A journalist reported something entirely different. Upon arriving in Port Colborne Booker demanded that the reeve supply the Hamilton 13th Battalion with rations. The reeve demanded an official requisition for the supplies. Booker haughtily replied, ―No, I think the least the municipality can do is to provide us with rations.‖ 49 Several more diplomatically skilled officers managed to procure some bread and cheese for the men‘s supper that evening.
A second transport from Toronto consisting of 125 men from Queen‘s Own Rifles was expected to arrive in Port Colborne, and those men would also have to be fed. After being Peacocke, Official Report, Frame 812, MFRP Charles Clarke to McMicken, report, June 5, 1866, MG26 A, Volume 237 [Reel C1663], p. 103940, LAC Somerville, p. 77 Denison, Fenian Raid, p. 31 Globe, November 9, 1870 Booker, Narrative, p. 3 Booker, Narrative, p. 6 Somerville, p. 76 disembarked from the ferry boat Toronto at Port Dalhousie in the evening, they were immediately loaded on a waiting train. There was no time or rations for dinner.50 The train was scheduled to arrive at Port Colborne at about 4:00 A.M. and the men had not been fed since leaving Toronto in the afternoon of the previous day.
According to Somerville‘s controversial history, at about 3:00 A.M. an officer called on Booker about arranging breakfast for all the men before departing Port Colborne. He found Booker seated with a dish of hot beef-steak before him. Booker replied to him, ―I am very tired.
Go see what you can get from the reeve or anyone in the village.‖ The unnamed officer, accompanied by the quarter-master from the QOR, went to wake up the reeve who angrily, standing in his window, sent them away telling them, ―You got all the bread I had hours ago.‖ 51 The officers managed to find rations of dried crackers and salted red herring which were distributed unevenly to the men for breakfast. The salted herring would trigger a raging thirst in all who ate it, but only a handful of men were issued with canteens to carry water with them into the hot day.52 Booker was taken to task for his testimony implying he left at Port Colborne at 5:00 A.M. because bread had been ordered at 3:00 and was presumably ready by 5:00. As Somerville would point out, ―As there was no bread to wait for, Booker left Colborne at  a.m.
Twenty minutes afterwards the telegram arrived from Col. Peacocke ordering him not to move until 7.‖53 Booker was overeager to get into action.
The second item of criticism directed at Booker has to do with Ridgeway as the destination. The safest route to Stevensville, as ordered by Peacocke, away from possible danger of Fenians, lay Chambers, p. 61 Somerville, p. 76 Somerville, p. 77; Hamilton Herald, June 29, 1927;
Somerville, p. 77 along a diagonal road from Sherk‘s Crossing, a railway stop half way between Port Colborne and Ridgeway. From Sherk‘s Crossing a march to Ridgeway would start further west away from suspected Fenian positions. Again, Peacocke and Booker‘s lack of suitable maps may account for how Ridgeway was chosen to be the disembarkation point for the brigade.54 Other contributing factors were Booker‘s belief in the intelligence he had on the supposed vulnerability of the Fenians and his own ambitions. Ridgeway was the last and closest point before Fort Erie where Booker could disembark for a planned junction with Peacocke, while at the same time, if fortunate, brush against the Fenians moving westwards from where he believed they were camped. If this could happen before he joined up with the British, the glory of defeating the Fenian enemy could be his alone—there could even be a knighthood in it.
Booker claimed that Captain Akers explicitly told him that Peacocke wanted him to disembark and march his soldiers from Ridgeway. Peacocke contested that assertion
The first detachment of QOR, 356 men who had arrived in Port Colborne with Dennis at around 1:00 P.M. were lucky. They got both billets and meals. 56 The men of the 13th Battalion from Hamilton were a little less lucky. They had been billeted first in Dunnville and had sat down to Denison, Fenian Raid, p. 24; See map in: MG29 E29 Vol. 43, File No. 1, LAC Peacocke to Napier, June 7, 1866, Frame 827-830, MFRP McCallum, p. 26 dinner when they were ordered back on the trains to proceed to Port Colborne at around 9:00 P.M. When they arrived at 11:00 P.M. there were no more billets available, nor was there much to eat. It was probably for them that some cheese was procured and the last of the bread in town and the notorious salted red-herring for breakfast. One of the volunteers in frustration pinned a herring to the side of a railway car with his bayonet.57 They remained all night aboard the parked train, those who could, sleeping fitfully while those who could not, loudly told stories, smoked, joked and sang. Later many could not even remember halting at Dunnville or Port Colborne—it was all one big stop-and-go blur for them between bouts of sleep and hunger until they got to Ridgeway.58 The second detachment of QOR from Toronto which arrived last was the least lucky.
They had not eaten since their departure the previous afternoon and had spent a restless night on the train rumbling towards their destination. They pulled into Port Colborne at dawn, too late for many to even partake of the salt herring breakfast (although they would be spared the raging thirst that tortured those who had eaten it.)59 William Tempest, the medical school student from Toronto who had left with the first transport without his fellow volunteers of the University College Rifle Company and had been forced to attach himself to the unfamiliar boys of Trinity College Company, now broke away from them and rejoined his own unit and his friends who had just arrived in the nick of time.60 The last thing that needed to be done was to supply the men with an adequate amount of ammunition. The riflemen of Queen‘s Own Rifles, except for Company No. 5, arrived with only Greenhous, p. 56 See: George A. Mackenzie; ―Young Adventurer in ‘66 Tells Story of Raid‖, Hamilton Herald, June 27, 1927;
―Shed New Light on Famous Battle With Fenian Raiders, Hamilton Spectator, June 2, 1936 Ellis, p. 199 Dr. Tempest to Gillmor, p. 76-A five rounds of ammunition each. Booker now issued them an additional thirty rounds from his own stores.61 Methodist minister Nathanael Burwash and Presbyterian Reverend David Inglis, who had been elected by the Hamilton Ministerial Association as provisional chaplains for the troops, had found themselves at first trapped in Brantford in the evening when trains were cancelled. They attached themselves to Lieutenant Gibson and Captain Askin from Hamilton who were also trying to get to their battalion. At around midnight, the two officers got aboard a train carrying a repair crew and rolls of telegraph wire bound for Port Colborne, but the two chaplains were not allowed on board. After the churchmen bribed the repair crew with $5, they were given a place in a boxcar sitting on the coils of cable. Departing at midnight they arrived in Port Colborne just in time to catch the troop train about to leave for Ridgeway. 62 Preceded by a single pilot engine to ensure that the railway tracks had not been sabotaged by the Fenians during the night, the troop train of nine flatcars of troops and a mail car with the horse and officers, departed for Ridgeway at 5:15 A.M.63 Booker estimated his force at ―say 840 of all ranks.‖64 Booker indeed had 841 Canadian militia officers and men: Queen‘s Own Rifles (481 officers and men);65 13th Battalion (16 officers and 249 men); Caledonia Rifle Company (4 officers and 44 men); York Rifle Company (3 officers and 44 men.)66 Booker Inquiry, p. 218; p. 223 Burwash Collection, Box 28, file 630, chapter x, p. 11, UCAVC.
Larmour Part 1, p. 228 Johnston, Narrative, p. 84; Charles Clarke to McMicken, report, June 5, 1866, MG26 A, Volume 237 [Reel C1663], p. 103940 LAC Booker Inquiry, p. 203 Illustrated Historical Album of the 2nd Battalion Queen‘s Own Rifles, Toronto: Toronto News Company, 1894.
p.15 Reid, p. 380.
There were also two Frontier Constabulary detectives, customs inspectors, armed magistrates, constables and local volunteers and auxiliaries, the two volunteer chaplains, several armed civilians and an unidentified journalist from the Toronto Leader (perhaps Canada‘s first war correspondent) and civilian onlookers, all who would eventually attach themselves to Booker‘s column.67 They arrived at the Ridgeway railway stations at around 6:00 A.M. 68 The third early criticism of Booker was about the route chosen by him from Ridgeway. As the pilot engine followed by the locomotive pulling the troop train rumbled into Ridgeway, Sam Johnston who had tracked the Fenians all night and morning was galloping into town. He had sighted the Fenians approaching along Ridge Road about two and half miles back. Johnston says he galloped in just between the pilot car and the troop train as they rolled into Ridgeway, reining his horse to a halt on the other side of the platform. He eventually found Colonel Booker and informed him that Fenians were in strength just up the road. Booker asked if they had artillery and Johnston replied they did not. Did they have cavalry? Johnston said they had some mounted scouts but without saddles and swords. When he was asked how many men they had, Johnston ventured there were 1500 Fenians.69 Booker asked if there was anyone present who could identify and vouch for Johnston.
Peter Learn, the Justice of the Peace in Ridgeway who knew Johnston well, stepped forward and did so. Booker then asked Learn and his son Alanson, to ride up Ridge Road and scout out if there were indeed any Fenians there.70 Captain Macdonald, p. 58; ―The Good Samaritan of Ridgeway‖, Hamilton Spectator, November 6, 1965; Globe, June 15, 1866 Booker Inquiry, p. 202 Johnston, Narrative, p. 84; see also, ―Original Account Tells of Fenian Invasion‖, Fort Erie Times Review, November 12, 1980, p. 13 Johnston, Narrative, p. 84 Sam Johnston had seen a lot of combat in the Civil War. He had joined the 50th New York Volunteer Engineer Corps ―Serrell‘s Engineers‖ in General Ulysses S. Grant‘s Army of the Potomac. Johnston had fought in some of the Civil War‘s bloodiest battles, along the Rappahannock in Virginia in 1864-1865 and later with Sheridan‘s cavalry in the Shenandoah Valley.71 On his way into Ridgeway, Johnston noticed a dense pine thicket big enough to give cover for a battalion, paralleled by a rail fence overlooking Ridge Road. To Johnson‘s experienced eye this was ideal ground upon which to ambush the approaching Fenians and he had no hesitation in voicing his opinion to Booker. According to Johnston, ―I spoke to him then and used these words: ‗Why not ambush them?‘ He wore glasses and instead of looking through them, he looked over them, with the expression, ‗Are you in command or me?‘‖72 Johnston claims he was dismissed by Booker and that five minutes later, loud bugle calls sounded out, for sure alerting the Fenians on the road to the column‘s arrival.