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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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Personal reconnaissance by the author; Sketch of Field Limestone Ridge enclosed in Durie to MacDougal, June 29, 1866, Frontier Service Reports 1865-1867, RG9 IC8, Volume 8, LAC; see also maps in Denison, Fenian Raid, (adopted later by both Queasly and Senior ); map in Chewett, p. 96; in Somerville, p. 2; Captain Macdonald, p. 49 and p. 51; and maps in Reid, p. 162, p. 169, p.173 and p. 174 ridge further north of Bertie Street, O‘Neill made his headquarters. There he held the centre with the main Fenian force of about 450 men consisting of his own Thirteenth Regiment of Nashville plus Fenians from Memphis, Tennessee, Terre Haute, Indiana, and New Orleans, (―Louisiana Tigers‖). The Seventeenth Fenian Regiment of Louisville, Kentucky, led by Lieutenant Colonel George Owen Starr spread out along the crest of the tree-covered ridgeline and deployed skirmishers and scouts below to the southern bottom of the field near the Garrison Road fence.114 Thus from Garrison Road to the barricades on Bertie Street, the battlefield was approximately 850 yards in length—with O‘Neill‘s main forces hanging back in the centre a further 200-300 yards north of that. The effective range of the rifles that both sides carried was approximately 500 yards, with 100-200 yards the preferred ―kill box‖ range with a 100 to 80 per cent hit ratio. But even at 1,000 yards, a rifle bullet could still penetrate four inches of pine board, although it was difficult to hit targets at will with any degree of accuracy.115 As later described by Denison the battlefield was a broad expanse of level unbroken country forming ―a glacis that would not afford the slightest cover to an attacking force against the heavy fire that might be brought to bear against them.‖116 Booker arranged the column moving up Ridge Road in the following order: Captain Edwards leading No. 5 Company of Queen‘s Own Rifles armed with Spencer rifles as the advance guard;

followed by the rest of the QOR under the command of Major Gillmor and the York Rifles under Captain Davis in their support; behind them followed the 13th Battalion in reserve. It has been assumed that Major Skinner was in command of the 13th Battalion, but one source convincingly Reid, p. 162 Griffith, pp. 145-150 Denison, The Fenian Raid p. 62 argues that Booker kept command of both the brigade and the battalion.117 Finally, the Caledonia Rifles under Captain Jackson, were deployed in the rear guard of the marching column.118 In the centre of the column, Booker rode in command, accompanied by Major Gillmor, second-in-command and leading the QOR, along with the 13th battalion color party acting as a visual point of reference for all the units in the field and fifteen-year old George C. Carlisle, one of the several bugle boys who would signal out Booker‘s commands.119 Twenty-one year-old Lance Corporal William Ellis, a chemistry student in No. 9 Company University Rifles QOR, recalled it seemed as they were out on vacation hike on a June weekend Saturday morning in Niagara country: ―It was a beautiful day—the trees were clothed with the tender, delicate foliage of early summer, and the fields were green with young crops.‖120 The column first spotted the Fenians at approximately 7:25 A.M. 121 Before turning to the battle itself, one remaining controversy over the issue of timing remains to be dealt with. Colonel Peacocke in Chippawa had delayed his scheduled 6:00 A.M. departure for Stevensville by an hour to 7:00 instead. He telegraphed Booker ordering him to adjust his departure from Port Colborne by an hour accordingly. But telegram did not arrive in Port Colborne until 5:20 A.M.—five minutes after Booker‘s train had left for Ridgeway.122 Captain McGrath, the general manager of the Welland line in Port Colborne immediately recognized the significance of the message and accompanied by another railway employee, Mr.

Somerville, p.95 Booker Inquiry, p. 203 The Spectator, April 10, 1929 Ellis, p. 200 McIntosh, p. 3 Somerville, p. 77 Stovin, went off with the message on a hand car towards Ridgeway. About half-way there, they encountered the train returning from Ridgeway. McGrath returned with the train, but ordered Stovin to continue into Ridgeway on the hand car and deliver the message to Booker and to carefully note the time of its delivery.123 Some sources insist that the message was delivered to Booker at 7:30 A.M. just as the battle was beginning. According to Somerville, Booker upon reading the message asked Frontier Detective Armstrong to ride back and ensure his reply was delivered to Peacocke. Booker said, ―Tell him how I am situated.‖ Armstrong replied, ―You must write it.‖ Booker began fumbling about his pockets to discover he had no paper or pencil and told Armstrong again, ―tell him that.‖ Armstrong again insisted that Booker‘s reply be put in writing. At this point a civilian by the name of Lawson offered Booker some paper and a pencil, although Armstrong would claim he offered the paper. Apparently Booker asked what time it was, and all three, Stovin, Lawson and Armstrong said, ―7:30.‖ Armstrong is quoted as stating that, ―7:30‖ was the only legible part of Booker‘s message to Peacocke.124 Booker, however, will claim that he did not get Peacocke‘s telegram until two hours later—at 9:30 A.M. when the battle was nearly over and that he wrote in his response that he was attacked at 7:30, not that he received the message at that hour.125 Colonel Peacocke disputed Booker‘s assertion, writing ―At about 11 o‘clock, I received a few words from Lieut Col Booker written at 7.30 o‘clock to the effect that he had just received my telegram, but that he was attacked in force by the enemy at a place 3 miles south of Stevensville.‖126 Somerville, p. 72; Denison, Fenian Raid, p. 30 Somerville quoting Armstrong, p. 93 Booker Inquiry, p. 204 Peacocke, Report, frame 813; Later he would claim ―about 10:00‖ (see below) Booker did claim a month later, contradicting the story that he had to be handed blank paper, ―I wrote on the telegram I had just received, to the effect that the enemy had attacked us in force at 7.30, three miles south of Stevensville.‖127 It is entirely plausible that Peacocke upon reading it was mistaken as to what ―7.30‖ referred to, confusing the hour of the reception of his telegraph by Booker with the hour he is reporting the attack began.

And there we are stuck. If Booker learned at 7:30 that Peacocke would be delayed by an hour, then his subsequent advance on the Fenians in full knowledge that there would be no support from Peacocke was reckless and stupid, if however, he received the message only at 9:30 long into the battle as he claims, then Booker is absolved and a victim of Peacocke‘s last minute change in departure time and breakdown of communications.

There is certainly an inordinate time lag between the exchange of messages: Peacocke‘s 5:20 telegram takes two to four hours (7:30 to 9:30) to be delivered to Booker, depending upon whose version we believe, and likewise, Booker‘s response also takes one and half to three and half hours to reach Peacocke (between 10:00 and 11:00)128 again depending upon whom we believe. The message from Peacocke, we know was physically taken in a hand car from Port Colborne up the railway line in pursuit of Booker. Did it take until 9:30 to be delivered on the field? Considering there was a battle underway, perhaps. But if indeed Booker received and responded to the message at 9:30 as he claims, then it took only ninety minutes for Booker‘s response to be delivered by Armstrong on horseback all the way to Peacocke by 11:00AM on his march from Chippawa—an unlikely scenario as Armstrong would have had to ride a huge circle around the battle and the Fenian forces that stood between Booker and Peacocke.

Booker Inquiry, p. 204 Peacocke to McMiken, June 19. 1866, MG26 A, Volume 237, pp. 104166-104169 [Reel C1663] LAC Then there is the question of whether as reported, Booker had to ask somebody for a piece of paper to write his response, or whether as Booker claims, he wrote the response directly on the telegraph he was handed. According to the account by Somerville,

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The original telegraph as received by Peacocke was never entered into evidence at the Inquiry and has not survived while Booker strangely did not call Armstrong, Stovin, Lawson as witnesses to testify as to the arrival time of the message nor did he pose the question to Major Gillmor at the inquiry to whom Booker claims he showed the message upon its arrival at 9:30.

In the end, Booker called no one to testify in his defence as to the hour the telegram from Peacocke was actually delivered to him.

In their 1866 histories of the battle, Alexander Somerville and George Denison concluded Booker received the telegram at 7:30 A.M., condemning Booker, while Captain Macdonald in his 1910 study took Booker‘s side of 9:30 A.M., as did the Court of Inquiry, paradoxically chaired by George Denison who had settled nevertheless on 7:30 A.M. in his own history.130 Somerville, p. 94 Somerville, p. 93; Denison, Fenian Raid, p. 43; Captain Macdonald, p. 48 Chapter 7: Limestone Ridge, Morning, June 2, 1866 The battle began at 7:30 A.M.1 Captain John Gardner in command of Company No. 10 Highlanders QOR had a very simple recollection of the ebb and flow of combat once it began, ―Firing commenced by two or three shots being fired on the left of the road, and almost immediately the enemy opened upon us a regular volley from our front. Our men then returned the fire, continually advancing until they occupied the ground from which the Fenians first fired upon them.‖2 As soon as the Fenians opened fire, Booker scrambled off his horse.3 Booker‘s orderly took charge of it.4 Booker would remain dismounted throughout the battle without the advantage of mobility and unable to oversee the battlefield from the higher vantage point of horseback as was expected of field officers in that era. In the end, however, nobody in their right mind begrudged his decision not to present himself high in his saddle as a target.

As the firing began, Booker deployed the Queen‘s Own Rifles and the York Rifles in extended skirmishing lines across Garrison Road and into the fields ahead of them while keeping the 13th Battalion and Caledonia Rifles to the rear in reserve advancing cautiously in column formation up the centre on Ridge Road. It was a textbook perfect deployment. The reserve infantry companies could now be ‗fed‘ up towards the front of the column, where they would be ordered as needed to extend out to the left or right or continue advancing up the centre on the road. [SEE BATTLE MAP 1] The QOR were deployed as follows: On the left (west) of the road, No. 1 Company, backed by No. 4, swept west along Garrison Road before doubling back across the field to Ridge Booker Inquiry, p. 235 Booker Inquiry, p. 235 Booker Inquiry, p. 203 Booker Inquiry, p. 219 Road and taking positions on the right (east) side of it. Company No. 7 Educational Department and No. 8 Trinity College Rifles (only a section, about twenty boys) remained on the far left (west) to wheel and advance through open ploughed fields.5 The York Rifles were also deployed to the left in support of No. 8 Trinity Company which remained on the left throughout the battle.

On the right (east) side, the advance guard of No. 5 Company with Spencer rifles led the attack, with No. 3 behind them and No. 2 to their rear right backed by No. 6. They were soon joined by No. 1 and No. 4 returning from the left fields.6 If we are to believe a reminiscence of the battle, eventually No. 7 Company was swung around from the left flank to the far right coming near the rear of No. 5.7 At the center, No. 9 University College Rifles and No. 10 Highland Company were held in reserve at first, followed by the 13th Battalion and the Caledonia Rifles advancing along the road in column.8 Later No. 9 and No. 10 were deployed to skirmish on the right, then withdrawn to the rear, and then redeployed again to clear the ridge on the far right. That approximately was the movement of the troops in the first thirty to forty minutes of the battle. The battle would be fought along Ridge Road and in the fields on both its sides, but the fighting would be particularly heavy in the right field and along the ridge above it further to the right.

Alexander Somerville visited Ridgeway several days after the battle, soon enough to be still able to track the movements of soldiers and Fenians through trails of broken fences, trampled grass and crops.

He left for us the best surviving description of the battlefield terrain [See Terrain Map on www.fenians.org/maps]:

Crossing a rail fence from the Garrison road, a person tracing the movements of the combatants enters a field, which in June bore a crop of young wheat. Let this Somerville, p, 83 Reid, p. 169 A.G. Gilbert quoted in Chewett, p. 43 Somerville, p. 83

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