«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
Catharines. His arm remained misshapen for the rest of his life.193 John O‘Neill found Lt. Percy Routh lying on the floor of a cabin with his horrific chest wound—he had been abandoned for dead. The Fenian commander, according to Routh, was concerned that Routh‘s sword and belt were causing him discomfort and tenderly removed them.
Routh offered to surrender his sword to O‘Neill, who refused to accept it saying, ―No, I will not take it; its possession may be a solace to you. I will leave it by your side.‖ Routh replied, ―thank you but some one less kind may come and take it.‖ O‘Neill instead carefully hid the sword under Routh‘s blanket before bidding him farewell.194 Mackenzie, Hamilton Herald, June 27, 1927 Mackenzie, Hamilton Herald, June 27, 1927 Somerville, p. 114 Dr. Brewster recalled, ―Very few of the inhabitants of the village remained in their homes, but went with the crowd, and so gave the Fenians full liberty; but they took very little from the houses, chiefly handkerchiefs, stockings and little items to keep as souvenirs.‖195
The Fenians, except in so far as they were wrong in invading a peaceful country, in carrying on an unjustifiable war, behaved remarkably well to the inhabitants. I spent three weeks in Fort Erie and conversed with dozens of people of the place, and was astonished at the universal testimony borne by them to the unvarying good conduct of this rabble while among them. They claimed food and horses, but they can hardly be blamed for that as an act of war, but can only be blamed because the war itself, which alone could give them the right to take these things, was unjustifiable and wicked. They have been called plunderers, robbers and marauders, yet, no matter how unwilling we may be to admit it, the positive fact remains, that they stole but a few valuables, that they destroyed, comparatively speaking, little or nothing and that they committed no outrages on the inhabitants but treated every one with unvarying courtesy.
On taking a number of.... prisoners they treated them with the greatest kindness, putting the officers under their parole and returning them their side arms...196 Limestone Ridge may have been the first modern battle fought by Canadians, but it was probably the last fought with old-world gallantry.
The Toronto Leader journalist all that afternoon attempted to find a horse and wagon to evacuate the wounded but most of the locals had fled driving their horses away. Calling on different houses in the area, he found increasingly more wounded volunteers sheltered in them.
Eventually the journalist found a horse and returned to Port Colborne in the late afternoon, reporting the presence of abandoned wounded at Ridgeway. Dr. Clark, of St. Catharines; Dr.
Eraser, of Fonthill; Dr. Downie and Dr. Allen, of Brantford, immediately rushed by wagon to Ridgeway getting there in the evening and began rendering aid to the wounded who would be evacuated by train the next morning.
Brewster, p. 79 Denison, The Fenian Raid, p. 63-64; also quoted in Somerville, p. 114 Behind them were coming a team of surgeons and physicians from the Toronto area. The news that a battle had taken place reached Toronto within several hours and at 1:00 P.M. eight physicians immediately left by railway for Port Colborne where they arrived at 9:00 P.M. One of the physicians was Dr. Tempest, who upon arriving discovered that his son William had been killed in the battle.197 The journalist returned in the evening with the doctors from Port Colborne to collect the dead, departing at dawn the next morning. The anonymous correspondent wrote, ―We arrived at Port Colborne with our melancholy burden, about six o‘clock a.m. on the 3rd. I may mention that two of the wounded men, whom I left alive in the afternoon, were dead when we returned in evening. Thus terminated the day of horrors. God grant that it may never be my lot to relate similar experiences.‖198 As the Fenians marched back towards the Niagara River flush in their victory, the day of horrors for the seventy-one men and seven officers under Lt. Colonel Dennis aboard the W.T.
Robb at Fort Erie was only about to begin.
Captain Macdonald, p. 54; Globe, June 4, 1966 Captain Macdonald, quoting Toronto Leader report, pp. 59-61 Chapter 8: The Stand at Fort Erie, Afternoon, June 2, 1866 On the morning of Saturday, June 2, as Booker was embattled on Limestone Ridge, back in Toronto Major George T. Denison, the impatient young attorney and commander of the Governor General‘s Body Guard was waiting at the docks with his fifty-five horse cavalry troop.
The departure of the steam ferry Toronto was delayed to complete the loading of supplies for the front. Since the Fenian landing early Friday morning, Denison had been relentlessly lobbying General George Napier in Toronto, commander of British forces in Upper Canada, to deploy his cavalrymen.1 Years later Denison would write, ―The idea never entered my head that the authorities would send infantry without any cavalry whatever. I should have known that infantry officers would probably forget all about the cavalry, but I must confess I never thought of such a thing. I do not blame myself for not foreseeing this, for I was still a young man, only twenty-six, and I had not then that confidence in the average stupidity of officials which, through long experience, I have since acquired.‖2 Late on Friday afternoon, Denison finally received orders to mobilize his men and join Peacocke‘s forces. Denison transferred his outstanding law cases to his partners and ordered his cavalry to gather at the Exhibition grounds that night. At dawn on June 2, they rode down to the Toronto docks.3 After the supplies were finally loaded the ferry departed Toronto at 8:00 A.M.
bound for Port Dalhousie thirty miles across Lake Ontario.4 Booker by now was in the heat of battle at Ridgeway.
Denison, Soldiering in Canada, pp. 53-55; Peacocke, Report, June 4, 1866 Denison, Soldiering in Canada, p. 88 Denison, Soldiering in Canada, p. 88 Denison, Soldiering in Canada, p. 93 Denison complained, ―We had no haversacks, no water bottles, no nose bags. Some of us had small tin cups fastened on our saddles. We had no canteens or knives or forks, or cooking utensils of any kind, or valises. We had no clothes except those on our backs (I had an extra flannel shirt and one pair of socks in the small wallets in front of my saddle). We had no tents and no blankets.‖5 On board the ferry Denison requisitioned from the supplies on their way to Port Colborne a barrel of hardtack biscuits and distributed one to each of his men. He recalled, ―Some wags bored holes in them, hung them around their necks and wore them as medals.‖6 Peacocke‟s Stalled March Colonel George Peacocke, the British commander of the Niagara campaign, in the meantime after having telegraphed Booker orders to delay his advance by at least an hour then provided breakfast for his reinforcements. At about 7:00 A.M. Peacocke left from Chippawa with his mixed force of 1,600-1,700 British regular troops and Canadian volunteers and six artillery pieces, towards Stevensville where he planned to join Booker‘s brigade to his own growing force sometime around 11:00 A.M.7 Peacocke only had a ten mile-to-an-inch scale postal map of Upper Canada, torn from an almanac that showed post offices and mail routes but indicated no roads or terrain. John Kirkpatrick, the Reeve of Chippawa had a detailed county map (as did the Fenians) but he assumed that Peacocke had a superior military map and did not think of offering his own map to Denison, Soldiering in Canada, p. 98 Denison, Soldiering in Canada, p. 98 Barlow Cumberland, ―The Fenian Raid of 1866 and Events on the Frontier.‖ Royal Society of Canada Proceedings, Vol. 4, Sec. 2 (1910), p. 91 him. Peacocke found himself relying on several anonymous locals to guide him from Chippawa to Stevensville who promptly took him on a circuitous route much longer than necessary.8 Instead of advancing from Chippawa south along Sodom Road directly to Stevensville, a distance of about 7 miles, the guides took Peacocke along a meandering road that followed the Niagara River to Black Creek, a distance of 11 miles before the circuitous route finally arrived at Stevensville—4 to 5 more miles further than necessary. The guides had claimed that Sodom Road was impassable to Peacocke‘s artillery. In fact the road was in better condition than the river road. Denison who rode down it several hours later that day, reported, ―Strange to say, along this road we met scores of vehicles of every description belonging to people of the neighbourhood, who had by this time discovered that the Sodom Road was the best way home, and were using it to get back.‖9 Denison suggests that the guides feared that the Fenians might move up from Black Creek into Chippawa along the river road and were acting in what they thought were Peacocke‘s best interests.10 Journalist Alexander Somerville, on the other hand, argues that the guides were leading the troops along the river road to ensure that their own property along the route was cleared of Fenians and protected from looting. Recalling the incident of the scout who the night before had offered his services to Peacocke and then rode a horse issued to him over to the Fenians and reported on the British position to them, Somerville hinted that perhaps the guides were Fenian sympathizers.11 In the end the choice of this river route was never adequately explained. Peacocke himself merely stated in his report, ―Guides took us by a road much longer than necessary.‖12 Denison, Soldiering in Canada, p. 99; Peacocke to Napier, June 7, 1866, Frame 827-830, MFRP Denison, Fenian Raid, p. 50 Denison, Fenian Raid, p. 50 Somerville, p. 75 Peacocke, Report, June 4, 1866 At 11:00 A.M. when Peacocke had originally anticipated joining with Booker in Stevensville, Peacocke was still some three miles away from the destination.13 According to him it was at this time that he received a telegram from Booker that he had engaged the Fenians.
Peacocke insisted that the telegram was written at 7:30 A.M. (Booker claimed the telegram had been written at 9:30 A.M. reporting that he made contact with the enemy at 7:30 A.M.)14 Peacocke continued, ―At the same time I received information that he had retired on Ridgeway.‖15 With the receipt of that telegram Peacocke would have at that moment known that Booker was retreating away from him and the location of the Fenian army: about six miles away to the south west towards Ridgeway between him and Booker‘s retreating force. Yet Peacocke chose not to pursue the Fenians or come to Booker‘s aid at this critical moment.
According to Denison, ―Saturday the 2nd June was the first really hot day of the season, there was hardly a breath of wind stirring and the heat of the sun was excessive. The men were all warmly clad, and it being the first hot day, they suffered far more seriously from it than if they had become inured to it by a succession of warm weather. After marching some miles the men began to fall out from fatigue and exhaustion caused by the heat, the regulars suffered more and fell out to a greater extent than the volunteers, on account of being heavily loaded with knapsacks.‖16 Ironically, the men of the British Army being better supplied than the Canadians were suffering more in the heat under the weight of their full issue of supplies. A Canadian volunteer in the 10th Royals, Barlow Cumberland recalled how the roadside was strewn with British Peacocke, Report, June 4, 1866 Booker Inquiry, p. 204; Booker Narrative Peacocke, Report, June 4, 1866 Denison, Fenian Raid, p. 50 infantry men prostrate from heat exhaustion. 17 One British soldier died, Corporal Carrington, the only known British casualty in Upper Canada during the Fenian Raid. 18 As the men began to drop from heat stroke and exhaustion, Peacocke rather than advancing further, now marched them west inland to a small crossroads called New Germany, (near the corner of the present Sodom and Netherby Roads) a mile and half short of his destination of Stevensville.19 There Peacocke halted at noon to rest and feed the men and inexplicably planned on spending the night there!20 Cumberland described how as the Fenians after driving the Canadians off Limestone Ridge were sweeping through Ridgeway, Peacocke‘s column concerned themselves with foraging for lunch at nearby farms and sponging and pricking their bare blistered feet under the shade of trees. Peacocke now sat at New Germany doing absolutely nothing for the next five hours while the Fenians regrouped and turned back towards Fort Erie.
According to Peacocke, at 4:00 P.M. after receiving intelligence that the Fenians were returning to Fort Erie, he immediately started to march there. ―At the moment of starting,‖ Peacocke claims he was joined by Denison‘s troop of cavalry, suggesting as if he began marching at around 4:00 P.M.21 Denison and Cumberland, however, both report that Denison and his cavalry arrived only at 5:30 P.M. just as Peacocke‘s column was starting to move out of New Germany.22 Cumberland, pp. 91-92 Grand River Sachem, June 20, 1866 Peacocke, Report, June 4, 1866 Denison, Soldiering in Canada, p. 94 Peacocke, Report, June 4, 1866 Denison, Fenian Raid, p. 52; Cumberland, p. 93. One should take this corroboration with a grain of salt.
Cumberland‘s precise ―5:30‖ and his reminiscences of Colonel Dennis‘s arrival in Peacocke‘s camp the next morning, smack of Cumberland perhaps reviewing Denison‘s published accounts to remind himself of what happened before making his presentation to the Royal Society in 1910.
Denison indeed had a long day: after assembling his men all night and then crossing the lake by ferry they landed at Port Dalhousie at approximately 12 noon and then had to load their horses onto a train which took them to Port Robinson, about half way down the Welland Canal.
There Denison detrained, fed both the men and horses and then rode to Chippawa, getting there at about 2:00 P.M. The battle at Ridgeway had already concluded nearly four hours ago.