«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
In the meantime, No. 3 Company 13th Battalion pushed diagonally forward north-west from the Jim Angur brick house on the south-east corner, through the intersection, taking cover in a small orchard belonging to a farmer by the name of Stoneman on the north-west corner of Ridgeway and Bertie Road. They were accompanied by a section from QOR No. 6 Company led by Lt. Campbell and Ensign McLean that had been fighting from behind the barn on Angur‘s farm.75 These troops also advanced across the intersection approximately 50 to 75 yards into the Stoneman orchard north of Bertie Road to the west of Ridge Road. Together Company No. 3 13th Battalion and Company No. 6 QOR would have been the furthest that Canadian units advanced on the left and centre of the battlefield.
Now we turn to the far right rear, to the ridge, to QOR No. 9 Company University Rifles and No. 10 Company Highlanders. The Fenian plan to ambush the Canadians in a kill-box O‘Neill, Official Report, p. 39 Booker Inquiry, p. 233 Somerville, p. 86; Denison, Fenian Raid p. 43 crossfire from the ridgeline on the right failed when the Fenians opened fire too early and revealed their positions on the ridge. Booker ordered Major Gillmor to take the ridge.76 Gillmor now sent out the University Rifles and the Highlanders to move up along the ridge and clear the Fenians off it.77 The Highlanders under Captain John Gardner moved out from their position behind the schoolhouse on Garrison Road.78 From where the University Rifles began their advance is unclear, but it appears that they led with the Highlanders coming up behind them in support. Again, we are much in the dark about the precise movement of these two companies along the top of the forested ridge. The Highlanders fought through the woods to the rear and east of the University Rifles. Eventually the Highlanders, along with the University Rifles, cleared the Fenians off the ridge forcing them to rejoin the rest of their forces below and north across Bertie Road. The Highlanders emerged from the ridge to take positions in the field south of Bertie Road on the far right flank of the battlefield, to the right of No. 1 Company of the 13th holding the abandoned Fenian barricade.79 When we had last left the University Rifles they were sheltered behind a pebble ridge somewhere to the left front of the Highlanders. William Ellis, a corporal in the University Rifles states, ―We jumped up and advanced in skirmishing order, supported by No. 10 Company, the Highlanders, from whom, however, we soon became separated in the thick woods, through which our course at first lay.‖80 Company No. 9 consisted of twenty-eight college boys from the University of Toronto.81 Their officer-professors who recruited them into the company they founded—Captain Croft and Booker Inquiry, p. 208 Ellis, p. 200 Booker Inquiry, p. 216; p. 235 Booker Inquiry, p. 216; p. 236 Ellis, p. 200 Ellis, p. 201 Lieutenant Cherriman, never arrived to accompany the boys into battle. Neither did their ensign, Adam Crooks, a Toronto Q.C. (Crooks would later become the Ontario Minister of Education in the Mowat cabinet)82 although one source reports that that Crooks had resigned from the company in 1865 and had been replaced by Sergeant W.C. Campbell.83 According to one source, the officers were ―detained in Toronto in consequence of their academic duties.‖84 One is left to wonder what these urgent academic duties were, considering that most students had already written their exams and had gone home while the university waved the need to write exams for those students who reported for combat.85 Another sources claims, ―Captain Croft was not permitted to go to the front in June, 1866, as he desired to do, and was assigned duties at headquarters in Toronto‖86 while the Globe reported Croft had been put in charge of recruiting in Toronto and that Cherriman had gone to the front—after the fighting was over.87 At the last minute, an inexperienced officer-cadet who had only received his ensign‘s rank in March, George Y. Whitney from the Trinity College Company No. 8, was re-assigned to lead the University Company into combat, a task he would fulfill with distinction.88 University College students Corporal William Ellis, Privates Malcolm Mackenzie, John Mewburn and the medical student William Tempest along with the other college boys of Company No. 9, now found themselves fighting the Fenians through thick bush and forest along the ridge. Malcolm Mackenzie, a farmer‘s boy from Zorra in Oxford County, who leased his land and borrowed money to pursue a college education in Toronto, fell first in the company, shot dead through the heart during the fight in the woods. They fought all the way through the King, p. 141 The University College Literary & Scientific Society‘s Annual 1869, Toronto: Henry Rowsell, 1869. p. 44 Trinity University Review, 1902, p. 126 Trinity University Review, 1902, p. 126; Junor, p. 87; King, p. 145, n. 1 King, p. 144; J.O. Miller and F.B. Hodgins (eds), The Year Book of the University of Toronto, Toronto: Roswell & Hutchison, 1887, p. 92 Globe, June 6, 1866 Chambers, p. 150; King, p. 144; Junor, p. 87 forest and broke out into a field just south of Bertie Road, outflanking the Fenian defenders strung out along the road shooting at the main force of the Canadians advancing through the fields and the J. Angur orchard below to their left.
Finding themselves now in a crossfire between the 13th Battalion moving up from the Angur apple orchard and the Highlanders and University Rifles coming along the ridge from their left (east), this is where the Fenians abandoned the barricades on Bertie Road and fell back into the fields and orchards north of the road as described earlier. The University Rifles continued in their flanking movement, following them recklessly across Bertie road and into the fields to the north, leaving the rest of their brigade behind. This would make the QOR Company No. 9 University Rifles the unit that advanced the furthest against the Fenians in the battle.
In 1899 Corporal Ellis was a chemistry professor at the University of Toronto when he recalled their advance at Limestone Ridge in Canadian Magazine
By now the withdrawing Fenians had joined with their main battle group at O‘Neill‘s headquarters north of Bertie Road. The twenty-eight college boys were only one field away from the regrouped force of some 800 Fenians and were the only thing that stood between the enemy and their brigade behind them when they suddenly heard the bugle call to retire.
“Look out for cavalry!” Back in the centre, at the crossroads of Ridge and Bertie, Major Skinner and his three companies of the 13th and elements of QOR No. 6 Company were in the thick of a firefight around the brick Angur house. An officer from the QOR was positioned at the corner of the barn, firing rifles that several of his men behind him were loading and passing to him.90 Skinner, and the 13th Battalion Adjutant, Captain John Henery moved up and down the lines at the crossroads encouraging their men by patting them on the shoulders with, ―good boys, take steady aim; do not throw away your fire; do not expose yourself needlessly.‖91
Fighting on the far left flank in the fields, Captain Davis of the York Rifles testified Ellis, pp. 200-201 Somerville, p. 86 Somerville, p. 86 Booker Inquiry, p. 228
Captain Henery, a former Sergeant-Major of the Coldstream Guards and the 13th Battalion adjutant, had during the firefight drifted over to the left side of Ridge Road near the crossroads and the brick house. Henery testified
The canonical history of the Battle of Ridgeway argues that somewhere to the front of the advancing reserves with Booker‘s colour party in the middle of Ridge Road, somebody saw two or three Fenians on horseback and cried out ―Cavalry.‖ The alarm made its way through the Booker Inquiry, p. 233 Booker Inquiry, p. 220-221 Booker Narrative, pp. 11-12 [Booker Inquiry, p. 205] ranks down the road until it reached Booker and Gillmor approximately 150 yards south of the crossroads. Booker had taken cover behind a barn and was unable to see down the road from his position or view the field of battle.96 He blindly shouted out, ―Look out for cavalry!‖ and Major Gillmor then gave the order to form a square.97 The journalist Alexander Somerville who had frequently covered the activities of the 13th Battalion for Hamilton newspapers, recalled, ―It had been his custom on field days, and Hamilton holidays, to follow the call of skirmishers retire with form square; prepare to receive cavalry. My old note-books written when looking on, bear that record, so do the memories of his men.98 Perhaps, in this hour of his mental prostration he reverted to the old rotation of movements learned from a book and gave the order to the bugler form square. Charity would rather believe that he made that mistake in forgetfulness, than that his vision of cavalry, crossing a variety of fences, five and six feet high, in pursuit of the retiring skirmishers, whom he had called in, led to the formation of a square.‖99 Indeed, as the Booker Inquiry will conclude, the notion of Fenian cavalry, or any cavalry for that matter charging across that terrain was absurd.100 It was the reaction of an inexperienced amateur officer who had read too many romances of cavalry charges in days long past and not sufficiently enough of recent literature on just how cavalry had been transformed into scouts and mobile infantry which dismounted before going into battle on foot with carbine and rifle, not sword.
Somerville, p. 92 Booker Inquiry, p. 223 A search for Somerville‘s note-books proved futile and revealed previous equally futile searches by others, the last of which was made by Yale University‘s Joseph Hamburger in 1962. See further below.
Somerville, p. 93 Booker Inquiry, p. 243-244 As the men came into the tight square formation bristling with fixed bayonets designed to fend off a cavalry charge, the Fenian riflemen opened fire from their positions into the densely packed formation which presented a tantalizing target. Private Christopher Alderson of No. 7 Company ―Education Department‖ QOR was shot through the heart while in the square or attempting to enter it.101 He fell dead in the road. The thirty-eight year old Alderson was a $400 a year messenger, who exactly three months earlier to the day had married. His wife Janet had a nine-year old son from a previous marriage.102 She was left destitute and would receive an annual pension of $110.103 Booker, realizing his error, ordered the men to be redeployed into a column formation.
As the men were manoeuvring on the road back into a column while under fire, the skirmishers from the front came running in—some in answer to the bugle, others away from a massive Fenian counter-attack beginning to roll down at them. They collided with the reserves causing a congestion of confused men penned in by snake fences and a low stone wall skirting Ridge Road along the eastern side.
Booker now sounded the ―retire‖. This however became a retreat once the skirmishers came running in from the front. In his attempt to stem the retreat, Booker now sounded the ―reform column‖ and ―advance.‖ At the centre the order to advance was ignored in the panic, but officers on the left flank report turning around and pushing further forward towards the Fenians after hearing the order—they saw no Fenian resistance on their flank.104 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 Christopher Alderson [Janet Alderson], Compensation Application, October 18, 1866: FRSR, Volume 31, pp.
68-72, LAC Statement of Militia pension and gratuities, FRSR, Volume 33, LAC See Captain Davis testimony above. (Booker Inquiry, p. 233); Booker Inquiry, p. 231-232 Unable to regroup his panicked men at the centre, Booker sounded the ―retire‖ again, and as they came under another volley of fire from the Fenians, he added the urgent signal, ―the double.‖ This was a desperate call to retreat—everyone run for your life!
The Fenians seeing the Canadian lines waver, now began to push the advantage and form up to counter-attack. They advanced forward down slope firing volleys into the confused mass of men below them. The troops on the road wavered and then panicked as the dead and wounded began to fall around them.
Private Robert Maun, a medical orderly with the 13th Battalion testified
The Military Court of Inquiry would later conclude that Booker committed an error but did his best to correct it as soon as possible. It criticized him however, for believing ―the idle rumour that the enemy‘s force was partly composed of cavalry in a country where such an arm could be of scarcely any value in attack, or to assume, even for a moment, that a mounted corps which he could not see was advancing at such a rate as to render it necessary to give the words of caution which he used, was ill-judged, and was the first act which gave rise to the disorganization of his force, which then followed.‖106
The Court of Inquiry laid the blame for the debacle on the skirmishers fighting to the front of Booker‘s column who they said cried out ―cavalry‖ upon spotting a few Fenian horsemen— either scouts or Fenian officers, perhaps even O‘Neill himself.
This scenario immediately presents a problem. Major Skinner who was leading the skirmishers insisted that the cry of cavalry did not come from the skirmishers, ―I then heard Booker Inquiry, p. 243-244 Booker Inquiry, p. 243-244 someone on my left say, ‗Why, they are preparing to receive cavalry.‘ I looked around and said.