«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
‗Where is the cavalry?‘ implying that I saw none.‖108 Captain Henery, on the left wing of the skirmishers, also testified, ―There was then a cry of ‗Cavalry!‘ from my right rear. I was on the road with the left of No. 2 Company on the line of skirmishers. I looked and saw two or three horses, and cried out that there was no cavalry.‖109 Their testimony suggests that the cry of ―cavalry‖ came from the rear of the skirmishers—from somebody in Booker‘s column, not from the skirmishers in the front as alleged—or from somewhere in between the column and the skirmishers—possible from the section of QOR Company No. 6 which had remained on the grounds of the Angur farm and was now retiring back to the column at the centre. (The other section of QOR/6 had advanced with 13th Battalion No. 3 Company diagonally across the corners of Bertie and Ridge Road to the north-west corner onto Stoneman‘s farm.) Another problem is the issue of when precisely the bugle signalled the order to ―retire.‖ Ensign Maclean, for example, said he heard it before the cry of ―cavalry.‖ Fighting in QOR No.
6 Company, Maclean testified
Booker Inquiry, p. 228 Booker Inquiry, p. 220-221 Booker Inquiry, p. 238 Frontier Police Detective Charles Clarke likewise testified that several horses suddenly appeared on the crest of Ridge Road north of the crossroads. He heard shouting ―Prepare for cavalry‖ and saw the men form into a square. Then he said
It is interesting to compare the views of the two senior commanders in the field—Booker and Gillmor as given in the reports they sent shortly after the battle, before they had much time to think about it. Booker writing that same day in the evening reported
Arthur James Moody a seventeen year-old private in the Queens Own Rifles wrote in his diary entry for June 2 Booker Inquiry, p. 211 Booker, Official Report, Frame 848 Gillmor to Napier, June 6, 1866, pp. 2-3: United Canada Subject Files, Frontier Service Reports, RG9 IC8, Vol.
There is even a possibility that the cheer heard was actually coming from the Fenians as they counter-attacked. Captain Gardner, commanding QOR Company No. 10 on the far front right flank at Bertie Road testified
In his history of the battle, journalist Somerville argues that it was not the cry of cavalry that triggered the panic, but the bugle calls to ―retire.‖ Somerville maintains that O‘Neill at first thought the bugle call to retire was a trick to lure him back towards the Canadian lines. And perhaps as O‘Neill probed the Canadian line several riders might have ridden out towards the Arthur James Moody Tenny Diary, 2 June 1866, Jacqueline Thoms to Ridgeway Battle Museum, fax, July 27, 1999, FEHM Booker Inquiry, p. 236 crest of Ridge Road. Without knowing why, O‘Neill would have observed the Canadians wavering in confusion. In response the Fenians now launched a well timed and massive counterattack which would drive the Canadians back.116 The testimony from the skirmishers at the crossroads was that when they came under counter-attack by the re-grouped Fenians and fell back, they discovered that Booker and the reserves had ran off abandoning them. Skinner testified
“„A compound comminuted fracture,‟ as I afterwards learned to call it.” Prior to launching their counter-attack, the Fenians had regrouped into a tight formation. It was here at this juncture in the battle that most of the Canadian casualties were inflicted. The Fenians fired rapid volleys at the Canadians. Not only were they experienced and cool under fire, but they were also highly skilled riflemen, able to reload their weapons so quickly that many of the Canadians would later be convinced that they came under fire from repeating Spencer Rifles.118 Somerville, p. 91 Booker Inquiry, p. 228 Booker Inquiry, p. 212; Booker, Report, June 2, 1866, Frame 848, MFRP, LAC The Canadians now in a state of confusion and panic found themselves caught in a hailstorm of Minie balls pouring down on them from the Fenian lines.
Unlike today where a supersonic bullet kills long before the sound of the gunshot that sent it is heard, hollow lead Minie balls travelled at a relatively slow subsonic velocity—950 feet per second.119 The bullet tumbled as it flew, its hollow base emitting a whirring-buzzing sound.
It was like getting hit by a combination sledgehammer and power-saw flying at 647 miles per hour—the wounds inflicted were frequently described as ―crushing‖ and ―tearing‖.
The heavy round was clumsy in how it did its damage. If it hit on the sharp nose end of its tumble it could cleanly bore its way through human flesh leaving a neat quarter-size tunnel wound, as long as it passed through soft tissue. It would take forever to heal. Post-Civil War era photographs show veterans some fifteen years after the war standing before a mirror passing coat-hanger wire in and out through their torsos down unhealed hollow tunnels traversing their body.120 But if the Minie ball hit something harder—muscle, tendon, cartilage or bone or if it hit on the flat side of its tumble—not only did it ‗mushroom‘ and tear open huge ugly gaping wounds but the misshapen chunk of lead bounced and tumbled about inside the body in crazy random directions ripping and crushing everything in its path.
The Minie ball was at its worst when it hit bone dead on. It inflicted what was called a ‗compound comminuted fracture‘: the bone was shattered into minuscule razor-sharp shards which were often blown out through the exit wound, tearing and slicing flesh along the exit path and sometimes dragging the stump of the bone out with it exposing it. There was no splinting or reconstructing a bone injury like that. One was lucky if they got to keep their deformed limb.
For comparison, the Russian AK-47 fires a 7.62 mm (.30 calibre) steel jacket round at 2,300 feet/second while the current standard U.S. rifle M4A1 fires a 5.56 mm (.233 calibre) round at 2,900 feet/second http://nmhm.washingtondc.museum/collections/archives/agalleries/civilwar/NCP3787.jpg [retreived July 7, 2009] Amputation was frequently necessary. At one point surgeons experimented in keeping the limb intact by clearing away the remaining bone grist in the gap of the bone in a procedure known as ―resection‖ but the resulting useless flapping flipper-like boneless limb that remained drove men so mad that they often asked for it to be amputated.
The two men that Skinner describes in his above quoted report, Stuart and Powell who were hit near the Angur barn, were some of the wounded lucky few. Nineteen-year old Private James Stuart was a $21/month grocery clerk in Hamilton. He was shot through the clavicle bone in his shoulder with the bullet deflecting up into his neck and exiting harmlessly behind his left ear. Stuart was evacuated to a hospital in St. Catharines on June 3. Remarkably he was back at work in the grocery store ten weeks later. He received $20 a week in missing wages for ten weeks and a one-time lump sum payment of $50 to defray his medical costs.121 It was a magic bullet; gods and bullets do things like that sometimes.122 Twenty-three year old Private John George Powell of No. 3 Company, 13th Battalion was a coach maker earning $1.75 a day. He too was near the Angur barn when he was hit in the back of the leg just above the knee and felt the bullet smash into his bone and lodge there.123 The bullet remained in his leg and Powell was permanently disabled. A year later Powell could only move about on crutches and was unable to work in his trade as a coach maker.124 He received $1 James Stuart, Compensation Application, November 7, 1866: FRSR, Volume 31, pp. 683-693, LAC.
In 1991 I saw a fellow TV cameraman shot in the front of the head by AK-47 while filming, a common occurrence as sometimes combatants mistook for rocket launchers our huge Betacam video cameras held on the shoulder. The illuminated tracer round—probably the lighter commando 5.56 mm version, yawed along the curve of his forehead beneath the skin of his scalp pressed against his camera and the surface of his skull. The bullet circled his head that way and popped out harmlessly at the nape of his neck. It tore a deep furrow through his scalp that needed numerous stitches but he was back at work the next day. He shared with us the most extraordinary piece of video footage once his powdered dried blood was carefully brushed out of the videocassette it had poured into.
Bullets and gods do things like that sometimes. See: Peter Vronsky, Mondo Moscow: The Art and Magic of Not Being There, feature-documentary, TV Ontario-Ocean Corporation, 1991.
John George Powell, Compensation Application, November 7, 1866: FRSR, Volume 31, pp. 721-739, LAC Ibid., p. 738 a day for seven months, totalling $168 (Sundays excluded) plus $65.35 for his physician‘s fees.125 As there were no stretchers to carry the wounded to safety, doors were ripped down from the hinges of nearby houses and barns and used to carry some of the wounded away.126 A small field hospital was set up in a nearby log house where the wounded were tended to by a local farmwoman Mrs. Jaboc Danner and her granddaughter, Georgia Beam.127 At one point as the little girl was rushing a bucket of water to some thirsty soldiers, a bullet zinged through it draining the water. The girl was reported being completely unfazed, only saying, ―Grandma‘ the bucket won‘t hold water.‖128 Many of the farm families were caught up in the battle. Mary Mellisa Teal, a three yearold orphan taken in by her grandmother and aunts would later recall huddling with her baby cousin on the bedroom floor as bullets riddled the walls of their log cabin. Her young aunts eventually rushed her and her cousin out across the back fields to safety but not before she caught a glimpse of a dead or wounded soldier on the ground near their porch. The family‘s widowed matriarch Phebe Teal chose to remain at the house and is reputed to have joined in the fighting because according to her grandson ―the old lady was the only one who knew how to handle a muzzle-loader.‖129 Men were hit standing in the square and in the fields as they were retreating. It was here during the retreat on the left flank, that Percy Routh was shot through the back and out his chest as he attempted to rally his men. James Johnson of Bradford was a civilian who did not belong Ibid., p. 721 Booker Inquiry, p. 229 Dunn, p. 54 Captain Macdonald, p. 57
Bertie Historical Society, Battle of Ridgeway: Stories and Legends of the Fenian Raid, June 1976, p. 1:
mimeographed pamphlet in the collection of the Fort Erie Historical Museum, Ridgeway, Ontario.
to any volunteer company but came just the same that day. Unable to find a rifle he armed himself with an old sword and joined Booker‘s column looking more a Fenian than a soldier.
Johnson was near Routh when he was shot and helped another soldier to carry him into a house.130 It was also here in the retreat, that seventeen-year old George Mackenzie, a college student serving in the 13th who was not particularly impressed with Routh‘s martial enthusiasm earlier, was also hit by a Minie ball. Mackenzie was seventy-seven years old when he described being shot to a reporter from the Hamilton Spectator in 1926, ―I was retiring, with the tide of men flowing in the wrong direction, and was carrying my rifle in my left hand. Suddenly the rifle flew from my hand and my arm swung helpless at my side. A bullet had passed clean through my arm between the shoulder and the elbow, shattering the bone; ‗a compound comminuted fracture,‘ as I afterwards learned to call it.‖131 Four months after the battle, in the autumn of 1866, Mackenzie was back in Toronto at Trinity College. In a painfully Victorian form letter, Mackenzie petitioned the military medical board for compensation
Globe, June 15, 1866 Mackenzie, Hamilton Spectator, Nov 27, 1926 George Mackenzie, Compensation Application, November 7, 1866: FRSR, Volume 30, p. 229, LAC The words ―compound comminuted‖ are carefully inserted in Mackenzie‘s own hand. The military medical board found his wound ―equal to the loss of the arm.‖133 He was awarded a pension of 20 cents a day ($73 a year or $1,949.10 in today‘s dollars) for the rest of his life.134 Corporal Francis Lackey, Company No. 2, QOR fared much worse. In an unusual lack of reticence a newspaper article reported ―the ball had passed into his head through the upper jaw, breaking three of the front teeth and the bone of the palate, and lodging near the base of the brain. The ball was of a conical shape and very much bruised by striking against the bones of the head. Much difficulty was experienced in breathing, and there was a considerable loss of blood.‖135 Jane Lackey, his twenty-six year old destitute widow received an annual pension of $146 ($3,898.20 in current dollars.)136 Sergeant Hugh Matheson of No. 2 Company QOR, an assistant pharmacist in his father‘s York Street drugstore, was shot through the knee and hospitalized at St. Catharines. The wound became infected and on Friday his leg was amputated. It did not help—Matheson died three days later attended to by his brother and sister.137 No compensation was sought.
The worst fell on the two QOR companies that had fought on the far right flank on the ridge and ended up descending ahead of the main column. Company No. 9 University Rifles, who advanced the furthest that day, took the brunt of the Fenian counter-attack when it came. Some eight hundred Fenians rolled over the twenty-eight university students from Toronto.