«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
Ensign Whitney had already become aware that his company was alone in the field and assumed that the bugle call to retire was a summons to rejoin the rest of the battalion. None of George Mackenzie, Compensation Application, November 7, 1866: FRSR, Volume 30, pp. 219-229, LAC Statement of Militia pension and gratuities, FRSR, Volume 32, LAC Chewett, p. 76 Francis Lackey, Compensation Application, November 23, 1866: FRSR, Volume 30, pp. 50-56, LAC Chewett, p. 76 the men thought that anything was wrong, other than that they had advanced too far ahead of the rest of the column. As the company began to withdraw, they realized to their horror that the entire Fenian army was following them, firing massive volleys into their small group.138 The University Rifles now withdrew back south west, towards the crossroads of Bertie and Ridge Road. When they arrived there, they found themselves alone—the rest of the brigade had withdrawn back towards Ridgeway. The boys now took up positions at the crossroads and attempted to return fire from behind the fences at the advancing Fenians. It was hopeless.139 Private Edgar J. Paul, a nineteen year-old student was shot in the upper part of the back of his leg, the Minie ball tearing a two-and-half inch wound through his thigh muscle. His wound was declared ―slight‖ and he was given $70 for seven weeks of ―loss of time‖ plus $10 for his physicians fees.140 But his wound would not heal.
Private Ephrain G. Patterson, a twenty year-old student with an annual scholarship of $35 was shot through the muscle of his forearm; he received $36 for six weeks incapacitation and $5 Ellis, p. 201 Ellis, p. 201 Edgar J. Paul, Compensation Application, October 24, 1866: FRSR, Volume 31, pp. 505-520, LAC Ibid., pp. 519-520 Rupert Kingsford, Compensation Application, October 1866: FRSR, Volume 31, pp. 442-476, LAC for his surgeon‘s fees.143 William Vandermissen was gravely wounded in the groin, receiving $200 for twelve months disability and $83 in physician‘s and surgeon‘s fees over which the doctors also quarrelled with the government for compensation.144 John Harriman Mewburn, twenty-one years old, from Stamford, Ontario, also a scholarship student at University College, died in Fenian custody several hours later under unclear circumstances. According to George Denison, Mewburn was ―struck by a rifle bullet on the temple, which fractured the inner plate, and produced delirium and convulsions. He was made prisoner by the enemy, robbed, and very roughly if not cruelly treated by them. He hands were bound behind him and he was thrown on his face, but at the earnest request of a wounded comrade, M. Rupert Kingsford, he was turned on his back, and his hands unbound half an hour before he died.‖145 Mewburn‘s body was thrown into the kitchen along with that of a dead Fenian. Dr. Brewster from Ridgeway who attended to some of the wounded, however, wrote ―One of the Canadians died from heat and exhaustion in my presence, being not wounded, a student of the University of Toronto, and a member of the University Rifles—brought in from the field while still living.‖146 An anonymous correspondent with the Toronto Leader who also found himself with the wounded soldiers overrun by the Fenians, reported that, ―There lay another soldier on the floor, in strong convulsions, and evidently in a dying state. But, strange to say, without a wound on his body.‖147 The bullet perhaps glanced against his head causing internal injuries without immediately visible external wounds.
E.G. Patterson, Compensation Application, October 1866: FRSR, Volume 31, pp. 484-497, LAC
of Names of Claimants for Pension and Gratuity, FRSR, Volume 32, p. 14, LAC Denison, Fenian Raid, pp. 69-70 [quoted in Somerville, pp. 114-115.] ; ―Facts connected with the death of John Harriman Mewburn‖, June 16, 1866, Department of Justice, RG13, Vol. 15, file 656, LAC Brewster, p. 77 Quoted in ―The Good Samaritan of Ridgeway‖, Hamilton Spectator, November 6, 1965, p. 70; Chewett also reports that Mewburn died of ―exhaustion‖, Chewett, p. 54 Chemistry student Ellis and medical school student William Tempest saw a massive wave of Fenians advancing at them from the north. Exposed at the most advance point of the attack that day, they made a dash back over the snake fences and into Bertie Road running to the intersection at Ridge Road. When they got there they realized that the rest of their column had vanished down the road back towards Ridgeway—they were cut off. Ellis described what happened next, ―In the cross road Tempest was next to me. Just after firing a shot he rose to his feet. He was a very tall fellow, and presented a conspicuous mark above the fence. Next moment I heard the sound of a dull, heavy blow, and saw him fall forward on his face. I ran to his side and found a small, round hole in his forehead. He had been shot through the head, and the bullet, after penetrating the brain, had broken the bone at the back of the skull. Of course he died instantly. As soon as I saw that nothing more could be done for him, I looked about me and found that I was alone on the road.‖148 Ellis now decided to run for cover into the brick house on the corner. As he approached it he saw troops in dark uniforms in the orchard and assumed they were Queen‘s Own. They were Fenians. Ellis realized his mistake too late and was captured. He was taken into the house and put under guard.149 The fact that the Fenians were already in the orchard and holding the brick Angur house at the crossroads by the time Ellis reached it, is indicative of just how far the University Rifles had advanced before they turned back. The University Rifles suffered three killed and four wounded—the highest casualty rate of any unit in the battle.150 QOR Company No. 10 Highlanders who were supporting the University Rifles on the ridge but only advanced as far as Bertie Road, did not hear the bugle call to retire. Alexander Muir Ellis, p. 201 Ellis, p. 201 Reid, p. 178 recalled that they saw the advancing lines of the 13th Battalion suddenly waver and then observed a large formation of Fenians sweeping down from north of Bertie Road.
As the brigade began to retreat, the Highlanders from their positions opened fire two or three volleys into the Fenian flank to cover the retreat of their comrades below. Muir observed the flank pull back towards its centre. The Highlanders split into two sections—the left section under Captain Gardner took the field below while the section on the right under Ensign Gibson retired back along the ridge. Sergeant Bain on the ridge above observed the Fenians massing for another attack and shouted down to the left section of the Highlanders in the field below to get out. They traversed the fields and joined the retreating column on Ridge Road. The right section with Muir turned back the way they came and withdrew over the ridge. Emerging at the schoolhouse on Garrison Road to their surprise they saw the brigade falling back down Ridge Road towards Ridgeway. The Fenians by then were occupying the same position where QOR Company No. 5 had originally sighted the enemy for the first time. Muir estimated their number to be at 600 to 700.151 The Highlanders fought their way back to the crossroads of Garrison and Ridge Road and taking up positions behind the fences there, they opened up several volleys against the Fenians.
They were the last to withdraw from the field.152 Color Sergeant Forbes McHardy and Private John White were wounded on Garrison Road in the final stand by the Highlanders before leaving the field.153 McHardy was wounded in his arm, the bullet ripping ―downwards, backwards, and inwards through the biceps and emerging two inches above internal condyle‖ near his elbow.154 He was twenty-eight years old and unmarried, an eight-hundred dollar a year store clerk in Booker Inquiry, p. 236 Booker Inquiry, p. 208 Booker Inquiry, p. 217 Forbes McHardy, Compensation Application, October 17, 1866: FRSR, Volume 31, pp. 329-339, LAC Toronto. McHardy remained in a St. Catharines hospital until the 22nd of June and was disabled for four months and was still in pain when he applied for compensation in October of 1866. The medical board awarded him ―$250 say 1/3 of $800.‖155 Private John White was also wounded in the arm but more severely. His arm had to be amputated.156 White received thirty cents a day pension for the loss of his arm and a lump sum payment of $50.157 The Retreat The retreat was both bloody and chaotic and its history became a rancorous blame game, with the Queen‘s Own Rifles denouncing the 13th Battalion skirmishers as ‗Scarlet Runners‘ while the QOR were nicknamed ‗Quickest Outta‘ Ridgeway by the 13th. Nobody was sure which came first, the cheering at the sight of the appearance of redcoats in the mistaken impression that they were British regulars and then a panic when it turned out they were not, or the sight of horsemen and the call to form a square and the rout after the Fenians charged. At the inquiry, Major Gillmor the QOR commander testified the square came first, then the Fenian volley and followed by the appearance of the redcoats, and as a result, only then the cheering and panic
Ibid., p. 329 Captain Macdonald, pp. 52-53 Statement of Militia pensions and gratuities awarded, Receiver General‘s Department, Ottawa, February 1, 1967, FRSR, Volume 32, LAC Booker Inquiry, p. 210 Reverend Inglis testified that he saw both, red and green uniformed men retreating
O‘Neill very laconically reported, ―We gave them a volley and then charged them, driving them nearly three miles through the town of Ridgeway. In their hasty retreat, they threw away knapsacks, guns and everything that was likely to retard their speed... I gave up the pursuit about a mile beyond Ridgeway.‖159 The bayonet charge had been the decisive moment of warfare between men armed with firearms for centuries. With the development of the percussion cap which increased the rate of fire and rifling which increased the range, bayonet wounds became rare—but not bayonet charges. They now became animalistic, like a gorilla‘s feigned charge to face down a rival. As Paddy Griffith explains, ―A bayonet charge could be highly effective even without any bayonet actually touching an enemy soldier, let alone killing him. One hundred per cent of the casualties might be caused by musketry, yet the bayonet could still be the instrument of victory. This was O‘Neill, Official Report, p. 39 because its purpose was not to kill soldiers but to disorganize regiments and win ground. It was the flourish of the bayonet and the determination in the eyes of its owner that on some occasions produced shock.‖160 There was nothing in the Canadians‘ drill, in their officers‘ training school curriculum or in their lives that could have prepared them to face a bayonet charge—and certainly not the savage one that the Irish Fenians in particular were about to unleash. Some six to eight hundred Fenians now assembled in force, let loose one last volley and then rushed forward with fixed bayonets, some charging barefoot crazy, headlong down slope at the Canadians screaming the ‗rebel yell‘ and ―Erin go bragh!‖ [―Ireland Forever‖]161 O‘Neill would later say, ―It was my opportunity and just at the psychological moment I gave the order to charge. My men gave the old Union yell and some southern vets gave the Rebel yell, Yi-Yi-Yi in the well-remember high key and you know the result.‖162 Fenian Captain Mullen recalled, ―We ran fast, many of us being barefoot after the march the night before, but they ran faster, a confused crowd of red and dark green, throwing away their muskets, knapsacks and overcoats. We pursued them for three miles, into the town of Ridgeway, and found the place deserted by all save one man. Their dead and wounded lay along the road and in the fields.‖163 The retreat was so panicked that Captain Charles Boustead in command of No. 3 Company QOR was knocked down by frightened men and trampled into unconsciousness so severely that he had to be carried off the battlefield by Private Isaac Greensides.164 Boustead Griffith, p. 141 Scian Dubh [James McCarroll], p.206 Dunn, p. 52 Greenhow, p. 64 Globe, February 19, 1900 was transported back to Port Colborne in a wagon.165 The thirty-three year-old officer was a merchant in Toronto earning about $1,000 a year and had a wife and two children. Boustead was listed among the wounded, officially reported to be suffering from ―contusion‖ and hospitalized for two weeks. His medical diagnoses read, ―Internal contusion to the left side and shock to the general system.‖ 166 Boustead did not file a claim for compensation.
Seeing the confusion unfolding, Booker realized he was losing control of the men. He was overheard to say, ―Oh God! What is this?‖ Booker made several attempts to stop the retreat.167 He ran to the rear on foot (to the front of the retreat) and waving his sword urged the men to turn back, ―For God sake, men, don‘t make cowards of yourselves.‖168 At some point he mounted his horse and rode off after his retreating men, attempting to get ahead of them and turn them back.169 To the skirmishers in the front ranks of the battle it must have appeared as if Booker was fleeing in fear and leaving them behind.
Booker dismounted again and gave his horse back to his orderly. Lieutenant Arthurs of the QOR mounted it and also made a futile attempt to turn the retreating men back at the point of a revolver. Shortly afterwards Booker took back his horse again and rode back and forth in his futile attempt to rally the troops. 170 One of the last to be hit was Ensign William Fahey of No. 1 Company QOR, wounded in the knee. He was carried to one of the houses near Ridge Road and left there to be captured by the Fenians.171 He remained disabled for 18 months.172 Chewett p. 52;