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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 Fenians were a dauntingly elusive enemy to the Canadians pushing uphill laden down with gear all exposed in the open fields. Private McIntosh was acutely aware of the Fenians‘ skills Somerville, p. 81 Gilbert quoted in Chewett, p. 43 and wartime experience, ―The Fenians in the meantime formed in skirmishing order all along the top of the hill which formed a sort of half moon, it was easy to see that most of them were old soldiers of the American army by their perfect formation and the position they had taken up.‖11 Private Thomas Kilvington, 13th Battalion was frustrated by not being able to take aim at the enemy, ―their breastworks were built of fence rails, sloping from the ground and banked with sods. The Fenians were cowards. They did not expose themselves long enough to take a good aim. We saw their heads behind the defences ducking up and down, and all their shots were going high.‖12 One of the Fenian officers, Captain John S. Mullen, a veteran who had been wounded in the battle of Missionary Ridge in Tennessee recalled of the Canadians, ―To most of us, who had been in the war, it was plain that fighting was new to them. They exposed themselves unnecessarily, which trained men never do. About all they could see of us was a line of flags, about the biggest display of green flags I ever saw, each with a sunburst on it, no harps.‖13 Canada‟s First Casualty The advance party of Company No. 5 of the QOR would face the opening volleys of Fenian rifle fire. McCallum recalled, ―Suddenly while we were on rather high ground, in the middle of a wheat field, the Fenians opened fire on us. With this baptism we doubled up to the cover of a snake fence, and there we opened fire. Our officer told us to sight our rifles at 600 yards. Here the first casualty occurred.‖14 McIntosh, p. 3 Hamilton Spectator, June 2, 1936 Quoted in Greenhous, p. 60 [nb] McCallum, p. 27 Private McIntosh wrote, ―I remember there were several fields of long grass all wet with dew and several fences we had to jump before we got within range. At the last fence we were afraid they would open fire on us while jumping the fence but there being a little rise in the ground where the fence stood we all lay down and opened fire. It was here that Ensign McEachren fell—I believe the first. He was using a rifle and was a good shot, he got up on his knees to pull a rail out of the fence to get a better sight and was shot through the body.‖15 Thirty-five year-old Ensign Malcolm McEachren, the Sunday school teacher and a recent convert to the Wesleyan Methodists, with five children and a $250 life insurance policy had led his section up to a fence line. He took a direct hit through his abdomen. McEachren cried out, ―I am shot!‖ and then slumped to the ground on a broad flat stone near the fence.16 The.58 calibre 510-grain (one ounce) Minie ball (or ―mini-ball‖ as it was pronounced by Americans) that tore through McEachren‘s bowels was a particularly nasty piece of ordinance. It was almost identical in weight and size to the large.577 thumb-tip sized ammunition carried by the Canadians.17 Adopted by most modern armies by the mid-1850s, the Minie ball (which was not actually a ball but bullet shaped) was named for its designer, French army Captain ClaudeÉtienne Minié who was seeking to solve a particular problem created by the introduction of rifled barrels. In order for the rifling to work, a ball had to fit snugly against the sides of the barrel, but that made it difficult to insert it down the muzzle when loading. Ammunition had to be literally hammered down the barrel, making the loading process too long to be of any use in combat.

McIntosh, p. 3 Chewett, p. 51; Dunn, p. 53 The Fenians carried an assortment of weapons, but most commonly were armed with the 1863 Springfield.58 calibre percussion rifled musket—both weapon and ammunition similar to what the Canadian troops were carrying.

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/visibleproofs/galleries/technologies/patterns_image_4.html (Retrieved June 22, 2009) Claude Minié designed the now familiar lead cylindro-conoidal bullet with one major difference—it was hollowed out at its base. The hollow was key to producing a bullet that was marginally smaller than the diameter of the barrel and thus easily inserted down the muzzle but when fired, gas from the discharging gunpowder would fill the hollow base and expand the soft lead projectile forcing it outwards against the twisting grooves of the barrel, which could now tightly grip and guide it on its path out the barrel with increased range, power and accuracy.18 There was an unintended side effect: when the hollow-based soft lead bullet hit something, it flattened out, or ―mushroomed‖, into a jagged heavy metal lump. The effect on the human body was devastating. The slug left fist-sized exit wounds. A mere clip by the bullet across the top of the skull—a so-called ‗keyhole‘ wound—on exiting cracked the bone into pieces and hooked half the skull away with it.19 On impact, a flattened Minie ball shattered bone into a pink mist of tiny irreparable shards and splinters. Traces of rotting animal fat with which cartridges were greased were carried by the projectile into wounds, infecting them.

Amputation was the only known treatment for these kinds of wounds—preferably in the first twenty-four hours before infection set in. In 1866 medical science had not yet identified bacteria as the source of infection and therefore there was no theory of antisepsis. Surgical tools and operating surfaces were not routinely cleaned between amputations, water was not changed and dressings were sometimes reused. ―Laudable pus‖ was thought to be the lining of dead tissue expelled in a healing process and was encouraged to fester.20 Infection and disease were believed to be caused by bad smell—―effluvias‖ or ―miasma‖—and the only antiseptic measures taken consisted of opening windows to air the smell away. In the American Civil War, one‘s chances of surviving enemy fire were much better than surviving one‘s own surgeons.

Greener, pp. 629-633 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/visibleproofs/galleries/technologies/patterns_image_2.html [Retrieved June 22, 2009] https://www.grhsonline.org/file/CivilWarMedicineJuly2008.pdf [Retrieved June 22, 2009] At the end of the nineteenth century, international law prohibited the use in warfare of soft-nosed, hollow point or any ―bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body.‖ 21 The prohibition is in force to this day when ostensibly only ―clean‖ full metal-jacket nonexpanding ammunition is permitted on the modern battlefield. But at Ridgeway in 1866, both sides viciously peppered each other with this ultra-lethal ammunition.

In Civil War photographs of casualties one can occasionally see corpses whose clothing appear in a state of disarray, as if somebody had been going through their pockets. That was caused by the men themselves, tearing away at their clothes to see if they had been ‗gut-shot.‖22 Every soldier knew that after an initial minute of numbness there was no more painful way to die, than to be shot through the abdomen or stomach. Almost nobody survived an abdominal wound like McEachren‘s. It was a soldier‘s worse nightmare.

Captain J. Edwards at first decided it was too dangerous to move the wounded McEachren while they were under fire and called out, ―Surgeons to the front.‖23 The battalion assistant-surgeon, Dr. Samuel P. May of No. 7 Company QOR, ran forward to the skirmish line, waving his hat and sword and then throwing it down as a signal to the Fenians that he was a noncombatant.24 But firing continued unabated, with the Fenians perhaps not seeing Dr. May‘s desperate signal.25 McEachren‘s sword and belt were removed from his body and laid against a corner of the fence.26 After examining the wound, Dr. May ordered McEachren to be carried to a nearby log house on the other side of Ridge Road. Seventeen-year old George A. Mackenzie and his Hague Declaration Concerning Expanding Bullets of 29 July 1899 Ken Burns, ―A Very Bloody Affair‖, The Civil War, Episode 2, Florentine Films-PBS, 1990.

Booker Inquiry, p. 220 J.T.R. Stinson, ―The Battle of Ridgeway, or Lime Ridge,‖ Journal of Education for Upper Canada, Vol. 19, no. 6 (June 1866) p. 89 Chewett, p. 47 Captain Macdonald, p. 36 company of 13th Battalion soldiers were formed up in reserve on the road waiting to be deployed into the fight when Captain Edwards and several QOR soldiers rushed by them bearing McEachren across the road. One of the waiting soldiers fainted at the sight of the gapping exit wound exposing the bloodied slippery interior of McEachren‘s abdomen.27 Captain Edwards with tears streaming from his eyes asked the two chaplains, David Inglis and Nathaniel Burwash to attend to the evidently dying ensign.28 McEachren who remained conscious dictated to Edwards a farewell message to his wife Margaret. Inglis later wrote in a letter to the Globe, ―Dr. May was in attendance, but a glance at the wound shewed that it was mortal, and it fell to me to inform him of that fact. He received the intelligence as a Christian soldier, informing me that his faith rested in the Lord Jesus Christ.‖29 Burwash would write in a letter a week later, that when the dying McEachren discovered that he was a Methodist minister, he ―threw his cold arms, all blood, around my neck‖ and whispered, ―Pray that I may have brighter evidence.‖30 Fred McCallum who helped carry McEachren off the field, heard the Wesleyan ensign utter his last words before dying, ―Jesus, I have often dreamt of dying thus.‖31 For the young Wesleyan minister who had been at a crossroads in his faith, it was a seminal moment of assurance as to the possibility of the reality of vital religious experience. For the rest of his life, in lessons and sermons Nathaniel Burwash would frequently refer to the ―witness of the Spirit‖ and the necessity for its conscious acuity as he had experienced it while tending to the dying McEachren on Limestone Ridge.32 George A. Mackenzie, Hamilton Spectator, Nov 27, 1926.

Chewett, p. 51; McCallum, p. 28 Inglis quoted in Chewett, p. 51 Burwash Collection, Box 28, file 630, chapter x, p. 15, UCAVC.

McCallum, p. 28, Chewett, p. 51 Burwash Collection, Box 28, file 630, chapter x, p. 15, UCAVC.

McEachren died twenty minutes after being shot on the field.33 As a member of the Queen‘s Own Rifles, a unit still serving today since 1860 without interruption in the Canadian Armed Forces, Malcolm McEachren is the Canadian army‘s first combat casualty and its first officer killed in action.

Battle The Canadians fought that day for approximately two hours, advancing up the road, along the open fields flanking the road and through the forested ridge on their right. The column of companies pushing up the road were deployed one by one into skirmishing order, some holding the road, while others were sent off into the fields to relieve the first line of companies. It was a slow and steady advance upslope over 1,000 yards and the combatants‘ reminiscences as to the timing of events in the battle are completely contradictory and distorted by the heat of action and by the physical distance between the various units—they often did not see each other and did not know what was happening on other parts of the battlefield. One thing, however, is patently clear—the Canadian were moving forward and it gave them the impression that they had the Fenians on the run.

The problem is that the Canadians had been fighting only the Fenian advance skirmishers and the first line of defence behind the barricades on the south side of Bertie Road. They had not yet encountered the main Fenian battle group under O‘Neill, consisting of approximately 450 men with plenty of ammunition, waiting about 300 yards north of Bertie Road. The Fenians were not retreating but luring the Canadians into the effective range of the rifles of the waiting main battle group. The Fenians were fighting in the way they learned to fight in the Civil War— Booker Inquiry, p. 240 by drawing their enemy forward across open ground which the Fenians chose and carefully prepared.

Company No. 5, after losing Ensign McEachren, began to rapidly return fire with their Spencers. As expected, the inexperienced riflemen mad minute cranked and burned and blasted off their measly twenty-eight rounds of defective ammunition in about five or ten minutes.34 Now Company No. 5 needed covering fire support from the rear to get out and retire back for more ammunition (had there been any) while another unit could advance into their place.

As the fire intensified, QOR No. 9 University Rifle Company and No. 10 Highlanders which had been held in reserve on the road were ordered into the field on their right. After about fifteen minutes of skirmishing, they were withdrawn and now sent to the rear towards Garrison Road.35 The University Rifles took cover behind a low pebbly rise with a row of maple trees. 36 Taking fire from the Fenians, No. 10 Highlander Company was ordered to proceed east along Garrison Road and to take cover behind a schoolhouse (today near the Canada Parks historical battlefield monument.) Behind the schoolhouse the terrain sloped up northwards to the forested Limestone Ridge.37 The battle began to break apart into four distinct sectors: the farm fields on the left side of the road, the road itself in the centre, the fenced fields and orchards on the right side of the road, and the forested ridge that loomed above furthest to the right. The terrain was uneven and shrouded by barns, fences, orchards, groves of trees and bushes.

Booker and the colour party consisting of the two flags carried by ensigns and the buglers, advanced in the centre of or close to Ridge Road. Booker could not see what was Booker Inquiry p. 223; 231 Booker Inquiry, p. 235 Ellis, p. 200 Booker Inquiry, p. 235 happening in the different parts of the battlefield unless he mounted his horse but that would have been suicidal. Booker had to rely on verbal reports flowing in from Major Skinner and Major Gillmor, who themselves also had limited sight-lines of the battlefield. Nobody really knew from left to right and vice-versa what was happening on the field next to them. Nor did they have clear sight ahead either.

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