«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
Charles Boustead, Medical Board Report, October 13, 1866: FRSR, Volume 30, pp. 272-281, LAC Booker Inquiry, p. 214 Booker Inquiry, p. 222 Booker, Narrative, p. 13 Booker Inquiry, p. 213; p. 219 Captain Macdonald, p. 56 Statement of Militia pensions and gratuities awarded, Receiver General‘s Department, Ottawa, February 1, 1967, FRSR, Volume 32, LAC The rattle of rifle fire had been easily heard in the village of Ridgeway. Upon hearing the familiar sound, Doctor Brewster who served as a surgeon in the U.S. Army in the Civil War,
decided to set out for the battlefield. He gathered up what was left of his military surgical kit:
instruments, bandages, adhesive plaster, chloroform, a canteen full of whiskey and another of water. Brewster would later recollect
Some of the volunteers escaped into the side roads and bushes, but most made their way down into Ridgeway as far as the railway station. From there, they began following the railway tracks westwards, back towards Port Colborne from where they came. Booker rode with his men but eventually gave his horse to a wounded man to ride.174 They would be picked up by a train from Port Colborne and be brought back.
At 12:00 P.M. an urgent telegram from an unidentified party in Port Colborne reported:
* William Russell was The Times correspondent in the U.S. during the Civil War and witnessed the panicked retreat of Union troops intermingled with civilian onlookers and dignitaries from Washington DC at the Battle of Bull RunManassas in June 1861, the Civil War‘s first major battle.
Brewster, pp. 75-76 Booker Inquiry, p. 218 Reel C-4300, Frame 352, MRFR, LAC At 12:15 P.M. a telegram was received by Lt. Colonel C.J. Brydges,176 managing director of the Grand Trunk Railway and commander of the Grand Trunk Brigade and confidential aide de camp to John A. Macdonald.177 It was from the B&LH Railway route supervisor, Robert Larmour reporting that he had returned to Port Colborne for ammunition and reinforcements and was returning to Ridgeway with two flatcars of militiamen178 Larmour rode up front with the engineer on a jump seat in the open locomotive cabin, smoke and wind rushing through his hair. As Larmour‘s train left Port Colborne behind them, it rolled into eerily empty countryside. All the homes and farmsteads appeared to have been shuttered and abandoned, no smoke rising from their kitchen chimneys. Occasionally Larmour would spot small ghostly parties of armed horsemen ominously flanking the train in the distance.
They would melt away into the countryside as fast as they appeared.
The train was half way to Ridgeway when it suddenly began to brake. Looking ahead of him, Larmour must have seen a huge mass of dark green and scarlet red moving towards them below the horizon line through a thick soup of heat waves rising from the scorched railway track bed. Hundreds of volunteers in disarray, their uniforms torn and soiled, stained wet in sweat, some in blood, the whites of their eyes blinking from faces powder-stained black and indigoblue. Larmour would recall, ―The railway track ahead of us was crowded from fence to fence, and in the fields on each side of the track they were scattered as far as could be seen. The train was brought to a stand, the whistle blown to attract attention.‖ The company of militia Larmour had been transporting now quickly deployed from the flat-cars. They took a position forward of the train and across the tracks to stem the wave of Larmour to Brydges, June 2, 1866, telegram, Frame 360, MRFR; LAC C.P. Stacey, ―A Fenian Interlude: The Story of Michael Murphy,‖ Canadian Historical Review, 5 (1934), p. 148 Larmour to Brydges, June 2, 1866, telegram, Frame 360, MRFR; LAC Robert Larmour, ―With Booker‘s Column‖ [Part 2], Canadian Magazine, Vol. 10, no. 3 (Jan. 1898), p. 229 terrified men rolling towards them. It proved a failure. Thirty-two years later in 1898, Larmour would vividly describe it in Canadian Magazine as if it had happened only yesterday, ―Like a stream of water they parted in front of the company, passed around its flanks, and again closed in the rear. As many as could get a foot-hold clung to the engine and two flat-cars. The scene that I witnessed from the foot-place of the engine was painful in the extreme. Some of the men were so utterly exhausted that they dropped in their tracks, and lay there as if dead. Many were without their arms and accoutrements. Some were weeping, while others tramped on in sullen silence, and yet others were cursing. Someone had blundered!‖179 At 1:30 P.M., Isaac Buchanan in Hamilton, the former commander of the 13th Battalion, telegraphed Sir John Michel, already suggesting his idea as to who might have blundered Telegraph from Port Colborne says that for want of support our volunteers are retreating disastrously. There must have been a want of experienced officers and ignorance of locality.180 The pointing of fingers had begun within three hours of the battle. Within six hours, the cover up would begin. A 4:00 P.M. the following telegraph circulated on the military communications net In a private message to [illegible] the following paragraph occurs, ―Volunteers badly beaten at Fort Erie left many dead and wounded on the field.‖ I have suppressed this paragraph and sent on the business part of the message.181 The immediate toll that morning at Limestone Ridge was seven volunteers killed and twentyeight wounded. Two more would die of their wounds over the next forty-eight hours followed by a third. The dead were all from the Queen‘s Own Rifles. (Of the 28 wounded, 20 QOR, 6 Robert Larmour, p. 229 Reel C-4300, Frame 364, MRFR, LAC Reel C-4300, Frame 374, MRFR, LAC 13th Battalion; 2 York Rifles.)182 Somewhere between six and eight Fenians are believed to have been killed—the number is difficult to fix as some were buried by local villagers while other casualties were evacuated by the Fenians and some later died of their wounds in the United States.183 One of the Fenian casualties would be mistaken for a Queen‘s Own Rifle and brought back to Toronto and laid out for the funeral in a casket draped with the Union Jack before anybody noticed the mistake.184 More casualties would be added to that figure in the battle that would take place in the afternoon at Fort Erie. In the scope of military history, even Canada‘s relatively short one, the casualty rate at Limestone Ridge was but a footnote. Within the territory of Upper Canada, in its communities, however, the impact of the battle was nonetheless substantial and in some cases even catastrophic. It was also about to become very political and very embarrassingly controversial.
The Taking of Ridgeway An unidentified journalist from the Toronto Leader, caught up in the retreat was asked by one of the volunteer medical orderlies to help him with the wounded. He found himself with several wounded soldiers in the Hofmann Tavern which had been made into a make-shift hospital when the Fenians overran his position. Several Fenians burst into the tavern and assuming he was the owner began to demand alcohol. He managed to find some rye whiskey in the basement.
The journalist and a volunteer attempted to give aid to the wounded men, among whom was Private Charles Lugsdin, from QOR Company No. 4, gravely wounded through the lungs and shoulder. A Fenian officer (Captain Lacken) eventually chased the drinking Fenians out of Captain Macdonald, pp. 52-53; Statement of Militia pensions and gratuities awarded, Receiver General‘s Department, Ottawa, February 1, 1967, FRSR, Volume 32, LAC Sherk, p. 61; Bertie Township Council Minutes, January 21, 1867 in Bertie Historical Society, p. 5 Interview with Peter Simundson, Curator Queen‘s Own Rifles Regimental Museum, September 17, 2009;
Hamilton Evening Times, June 14, 1866 the tavern and took the volunteer orderly prisoner. The journalist protested being left alone with all the wounded and the Fenian officer assigned to him one of his own men to help.
As the Fenians were approaching, James Johnson the civilian armed with a sword who had helped Routh off the field into a house, took Routh‘s watch which had been hanging out of his pocket by its chain and attempted to secret it in the fireplace but was unsuccessful.
Convinced that Routh was dead, he hid the watch in his boot intending to save it from being taken by the Fenians. As a civilian he found it easy to slip across the Fenian lines.185 The journalist then went out into the field. Approximately one hundred yards from the Hofmann Tavern he found Lance-Corporal Mark Defries from QOR Company No. 3 lying face down near a fence shot through the back but still conscious, ―He knew that he was dying. He requested me to take a ring from his finger and send it with a message to a young lady in Toronto. He also requested me to take his watch and send it to his father, whose address he gave me. This I attempted to do, but he could not endure to be touched. He told me it would do to take it after he was dead.‖186 In another farmhouse, he found two severely wounded volunteers, Vandersmissen from the University Rifles, shot through the groin and Corporal Lackey from QOR Company No. 2, shot through the mouth. After doing everything he could for the two wounded men, the journalist then found a Fenian officer, a Major McDonnell who gave him a written pass to move around the Fenian positions. The journalist returned to help the dying Defries but discovered that his body had been moved. He found Defries dead in a back room at the tavern. When he attempted to remove Defreis‘ watch he found that it was now gone, presumably stolen.
Globe, June 15, 1866 Captain Macdonald, quoting Toronto Leader report, pp. 59-61 In several houses in the area, the journalist found numerous wounded soldiers. In one house he found John Mewburn in a state of convulsions, either suffering from heat stroke and dehydration or from a blunt trauma to his head. Mewburn would soon die. There in the same house he found Rupert Kingsford, also a student from Company No. 9, wounded in the leg and lying on a lounge but ―remarkably cheerful.‖ A Fenian by the name of John Gerrahty from Cincinnati was brought in, severely wounded in the side by accident by one of his comrades. A crucifix was held before him for as long as he could see. He died thirteen minutes later. Outside laying in the road, the journalist came upon a Queen‘s Own soldier shot dead through the head and a Fenian badly wounded in the hip being aided by three of his comrades.
A pall of smoke hung over the battlefield as the dry grass along the slopes of ridge was ignited by smouldering scraps of cartridge wadding fired from the rifles. Henry Teal a local farmer hitched a plough to several horses and risking losing them to the Fenians, he ploughed a series of furrows around the field to prevent the fire from spreading.187 Dr. Brewster had arrived on the battlefield from Ridgeway in the last minutes of the fight and circled around to the rear of the Fenian lines. He identified himself as a former U.S. Army surgeon and was allowed by the Fenians to move about freely aiding both Fenian and Canadian wounded. Observing several Fenians in the uniform of the U.S. Army, Brewster was told by a Fenian captain that he had not taken off his uniform since the war ended. Brewster scolded him that ―it was time he did, as this was no place for it, and that I thought too highly of that uniform to see it worn in such a cause, as I had myself worn it for three years.‖188 Brewster had collected a list of names of Canadian and Fenian casualties he found in the vicinity. He later lost the list
but recalled it consisted of twenty-six names including two dead Canadians and four Fenian dead. 189 By now the Fenians were returning from Ridgeway and regrouping on the corners of Garrison and Ridge Road. On a slight rise across the road from the tavern, a Fenian green flag with a golden harp or sunburst was fluttering in the breeze. A Fenian officer advised the journalist that there were two injured volunteers lying in the road towards Ridgeway. The journalist asked for some men to help carry the injured away but before any could be assigned, a bugle signal was given and the Fenians now began moving east along Garrison Road towards Fort Erie. The journalist found himself alone with a volunteer from the QOR wounded in the wrist (probably Private Copp QOR No. 5 Company.) The two of them were unable to move the two men in the road when they found them. The men appeared to be suffering from heat stroke and the journalist gave them some water and using greatcoats he found abandoned in the field, he built a small tent to shelter them from the sun.190 Private W.R. Hines of No. 8 Company QOR was taken prisoner and his rifle was seized from him. A Fenian officer swore that the rifle would never be used again against Irish and smashed it butt down against a boulder. The cocked and loaded weapon discharged, the bullet hitting the Fenian officer into the throat and exiting out the back of his head, killing him instantly. He was the last of the six or eight Fenians believed killed in the battle of Limestone Ridge.191 Private George Mackenzie, whose arm had been shattered by a Minie ball was helped by two men off the field during the retreat but upon crossing the railway tracks in Ridgeway, he could not go any further and took shelter in an abandoned house along the road. Private Alfred Brewster, p. 77 Captain Macdonald, quoting Toronto Leader report, pp. 59-61 Chewett, p. 54 Powis remained with Mackenzie, laying him out in a bed in one of the bedrooms. Eventually they heard the Fenians approaching the town, and Powis climbed a ladder to an attic loft and hid.
Because of his wound, Mackenzie could not climb up with Powis and he remained below in the bed. Mackenzie awaited the arrival of the Fenians with trepidation
After the Fenians left to return to Fort Erie, Mackenzie remained in the house, with Powis tending to him. Powis shot a chicken with his revolver and made a failed attempt to cook it, Mackenzie complaining it was too tough to eat. Powis and Mackenzie remained there all night until the owners returned in the morning the next day. Later in the day Mackenzie was carried to a train and transported to Port Colborne and subsequently hospitalized for six weeks in St.