«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
Henry M. Wodson, The Whirlpool: Scenes From Toronto Police Court, Toronto: 1917. pp. 28-29 (The arithmetic of Denison‘s claim casts some doubt on his assertions. Assuming Denison sat for fifty five-day weeks a year = 250 days (11,000 court days over 44 years) x 2 hours per day = 22,000 hours = 1.32 million minutes/650,000 cases = 2 minutes average per case.) Denison, Recollections of a Police Magistrate, p. 9 Denison, Recollections of a Police Magistrate, p. 12 Gene Howard Homel, ―Denison‘s Court: Criminal Justice and the Police Court in Toronto, 1877-1921,‖ Ontario History, LXXIII, No. 3, September 1981, p. 174 Quoted in Berger, p. 18 Dearborn Independent, December 27, 1919, clipping in George Taylor Denison III fonds, MG29-E29, Scrapbook, 1909-1925, LAC Canadian Courier, November 7, 1912, clipping in George Taylor Denison III fonds, MG29-E29, Scrapbook, 1909-1925, LAC George T. Denison III died in June 6, 1925 shortly after his retirement from the bench.
He was buried at St.John‘s-on-the-Humber, the private family cemetery overlooking the banks of the Humber River in Weston, his cenotaph in a command position over the many other distinguished ranks of the Denisons interred there.
His The History of the Raid on Fort Erie was a well researched work of history but it was tainted by author‘s role as a protagonist not only in the events but in the investigation of the events. It was biased in its conclusions. When Denison in 1901 wrote about aftermath of the battle of Ridgeway stating, ―The striking feature to me was the falsification of history that was taking place all around me,‖ he made no mention of his own role in that falsification as the presiding officer of the two Courts of Inquiry that whitewashed the history clean from our national memory.55 George T. Denison was both historian and anti-historian, no less and no more than Somerville had been. Each succumbed to their opposing passions that blinded them as objective historians—Denison for galloping on horseback in defence of the old order—Somerville for writing in the defence of the new one. In that ride through life from start to end, Denison got the further and the better end of it in the lies, than Somerville ever did in the truths, which might be the only regret this history has; if only history could have regret.
“Only heroes lead forlorn hopes.” The trials of forty of the captured Fenian prisoners began on October 6, 1866 and dragged on until January 29, 1867, followed by appeals. They were charged in regular criminal court with the capital offence of ―Levying War‖ under the Lawless Aggressions Act of Upper Canada which Macdonald had extended to Lower Canada on June 8. The law was specially tooled to George T. Denison, Soldiering in Canada, Toronto: George L. Morang & Co., 1901. p. 117 contain the death penalty provisions of treason which would have been diplomatically a problematic charge to prefer against former British subjects naturalized as American citizens.56 At first the press eagerly returned to the subject of the Fenian raids in October, following the trials and reporting on them in detail but after the first few defendants were convicted the public‘s interest quickly waned.57 Under the terms of the secret Anglo-American Fenian containment agreement58 it was clear within days of the battle to everyone but the public that the captured American citizens would never be executed. Back on June 11, the British envoy in Washington, Sir Fredrick Bruce reminded Canada‘s Governor General Lord Monck ―the future relations of Canada [with the United States] and its deliverance from any chance of becoming a battlefield of Fenianism will depend in a great measure on the tact and temper with which this question of the prisoners is managed.‖59 On June 13, Frederick Bruce had counselled the Foreign Office ―Let the prisoners be tried by the ordinary forms of law, and let these trials be postponed as long as possible in order to allow the present excitement to abate. If possible no blood should be shed.‖60 Almost everyone from the Foreign Office in Britain to the colonial authorities in Canada were in agreement. Twenty-two of the accused were found guilty and several were sentenced to death but nobody in charge wanted martyrs or vengeance and the death sentences were commuted to twenty years hard labour or life imprisonment in Kingston Penitentiary. None of the convicted R. Blake Brown, ―‗Stars and Shamrocks will be Sown:‘ The Fenian State Trials, 1866-67,‖ in Barry Wright and Susan S. Binnie, eds., Canadian State Trials, Volume III: Political Trials and Security Measures, 1840-1914, Toronto: University of Toronto Press and the Osgoode Society, 2009. pp. 35-84 George R. Gregg and E. P. Roden, Trials of the Fenian Prisoners at Toronto, Toronto: Leader Steam-Press, 1867.
For the most recent account of the trials, see: R. Blake Brown, ―‗Stars and Shamrocks will be Sown:‘ The Fenian State Trials, 1866-67,‖ in Barry Wright and Susan S. Binnie, eds., Canadian State Trials, Volume III: Political Trials and Security Measures, 1840-1914, Toronto: University of Toronto Press and the Osgoode Society, 2009. pp.
35-84 Peter Vronsky, ―The Secret Anglo-American Fenian Containment Policy 1865 – 1866‖, www.petervronsky.org/thesis-references Bruce to Monck, June 11, 1866, FO, 5/1338, cited in Jenkins, Anglo-American Relations, p. 162 Bruce to F.O., A Files 157, cited in Ó Broin, p. 69 Fenians served the full sentence—except for one who died in prison, they were all quietly released between 1869 and 1872, with the last, David Whalen emerging on July 26, 1872.61 By then the Fenians in Ireland had attempted an uprising. Then bombings, murders, assassinations and prison breaks followed. In Canada habeas corpus was again suspended in November 1867 after renewed fears of a Fenian invasion and was used after D‘Arcy McGee‘s assassination in 1868 to detain twenty-five suspects.62 In the U.S., John O‘Neill was elected to head the Fenian Brotherhood. Two more Fenian raids of Canada would be undertaken—both led by John O‘Neill—in 1870 across the Vermont border into Quebec again, and in 1871 into Manitoba where the Fenians had unsuccessfully hoped to unite with Louis Riel‘s Métis rebels.
These raids were nowhere as threatening or spectacular as the raids of 1866 and at Manitoba, O‘Neill‘s force totalled only 35 men.
By the 1880s a new generation of Fenians targeted the British directly in London with a series of bombings and assassination plots including one against Queen Victoria. The Special Branch of the London Metropolitan Police was formed to deal with them, a permanent domestic intelligence agency that the British had so long resisted establishing. In Canada the Toronto Police were called out in February 1883 to guard the Parliament buildings in Ottawa against threatened Fenian bombings. The bombings never came and in May the Toronto cops were sent home.
The last Fenian Convention was held in November 1885. There were 132 Fenians in attendance.63 Fenianism was moving to Britain and Ireland with diminished direct American participation and in a more radical form, under a different name—the Clan-na-Gael. Later, the Niedhardt, pp. 107-108 David A. Wilson, ―State Security, Civil Liberty And The Fenians In Canada‖, 2008 Irish Studies Symposium, http://www.lac-bac.gc.ca/ireland/033001-1001.01.1-e.html D‘Arcy, p. 407 Irish Republican Army—the IRA—would take up the mantle. The last report of Fenian invasion threats against Canada came in 1900, allegedly planned by Fenians in Boston, but that was impossible; the American Fenian Brotherhood had vanished in 1886.64 By then John O‘Neill was long dead. After his last failed raid of 1871, he settled in Holt County, Nebraska where he organized a settlement of Fenian families which eventually became the town of O‘Neill, officially declared by the Governor in 1969 as ―The Irish Capital of Nebraska‖ and where today the Battle of Ridgeway is remembered on June 2 in a way that it is not in Canada.65 John O‘Neill died in on January 7, 1878 at a comparatively young age of 44.66 On October 28, 1919, the exiled president of the newly founded Irish Republic, Éamon De Valera travelled to Omaha, Nebraska where O‘Neill is buried to attend the dedication of a monument to ―General John O‘Neill: The Hero of Ridgeway and Limestone Ridge.‖ E. H. Whelan, chairman of the monument committee concluded his dedication address by saying, ―Only heroes do what O‘Neill did on June 2nd, 1866, at Ridgeway. Only heroes lead forlorn hopes…‖67 John O‘Neill‘s heroism at Ridgeway was far more easily and gracefully recognized than that of the Canadian soldiers who fought him. Recognition for them was going to be a more difficult and slower process in the decades immediately following the battle.
After Somerville published his history in September 1866, nothing new would be printed about Ridgeway anywhere for the next thirty years other than McCarroll‘s 1868 fictional account Ridgeway: An Historical Romance of the Fenian Invasion of Canada. Everything known and D‘Arcy, p. 408 Brigittine M. French, ― ‗We‘re All Irish‘: Transforming Irish Identity in a Midwestern Community‖, New Hibernia Review/ Iris Éireannach Nua, 11:1 (Spring/Earrach, 2007), pp, 9-24; John Kay and Mary Findlay, Nebraska Historic Buildings Survey Reconnaissance Survey Final Report of Holt County, Nebraska, Nebraska State Historical Society-State Historic Preservation Office, June 1, 1988, p. 11; http://www.cityofoneill.com/history.htm C.P. Stacey, John O‘Neill, DCB Unveiling of Monument to General John O‘Neill, http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Lobby/8151/oneill.html (accessed 2008-04-09) said of Ridgeway in the 12 weeks after the battle was sealed and frozen as if into a time capsule, awaiting revival in its imperfect and falsified form sometime in the future.
Chapter 11: „Righteousness Exalteth a Nation‟: Memory and Remembrance 1866 - 2010 The battles at Limestone Ridge and Fort Erie left in their immediate wake 13 dead (7 killed in action and 2 dead of wounds from the QOR and 4 from disease (1 from QOR, 2 from 13th Battalion and 1 from 10th Royals) and 72 wounded, injured or felled by sickness. Of those, 18 were classified as ‗second class‘ wounds or bouts of sickness resulting in permanent disability and a lifetime pension (10 wounds/8 sickeness.) An additional two privates died of disease in Lower Canada, M. Prudhomme of the Hochelaga Light Infantry and P. Charron of the Ste.
Therese Corps, bringing the immediate death total to 15 dead if one includes the Lower Canada fatalities.1 In early 1867, the calculated pensions, twenty-cents a day here and there, the lump sum payments for loss of limbs and the doctors‘ fees for amputating them, added up in total to $15,986.02 or $426,826.73 in current dollars. Of that sum, $4,960.50 ($132,445.35 today) would be pensions, paid annually to the wounded and to the families of the dead.
Two years later, the Militia Department added 16 more dead from disease contracted during the weeks of frontier duty and 31 more wounded and sick, including a female civilian shot by accident. The newly listed dead came from a range of places and units: Belleville, London, Sarnia, Windsor, Brockville and remain unacknowledged and unknown as casualties in our history to this day, as that statistic never appeared anywhere in the public record. Twice as many died of disease than of combat, a statistic relatively comparable to the pattern in Crimean War and American Civil War casualty reports. The final total in the Fenian raid was 31 dead and Statement of Militia pensions and gratuities awarded, Receiver General‘s Department, Ottawa, February 1, 1967, FRSR, Volume 32, LAC 103 wounded and sick—with an additional $7,115 in lump sum payments, $904 in medical expenses, and $19 in annual pensions.2 “Let Canada flourish by the preaching of the word.” Everyone remade their experience at Ridgeway in their own image, shape and meaning. For the Queen‘s Own Rifles Adjutant, William Otter, it became his baptism of fire shaping the rest of his distinguished military. He fought in the North-West Rebellion and the South African War and in 1908 was appointed as Canada‘s first native-born Chief of the General Staff, head of the Canadian Army before retiring in 1910. During the First World War he returned from retirement to command enemy alien internment system in Canada. He died in 1929.3 For the young Methodist chaplain Nathanael Burwash, Limestone Ridge became the crossroads of his faith. The dying ensign McEachren‘s last words to him, ―Pray that I may have brighter evidence‖ were a Methodist transfiguration of Burwash‘s doubts in his faith. For the rest of his life, as Burwash became Chancellor and Dean of Victoria College at the University of Toronto, he would often lecture on the fundamental theology of Methodism in the ―witness of the Spirit‖ and the necessity for its conscious awareness as he had had experienced it while ministering to the dying Wesleyan ensign on Limestone Ridge.4 Nathanael Burwash died on March 31, 1918, and Victoria College‘s Burwash Hall is named in his memory.
Presbyterian Reverend Dr. David Inglis, the other chaplain at Ridgeway, took away a different lesson from his experience at Ridgeway. On December 6, 1866 he gave a Thanksgiving sermon at his McNab Street church in Hamilton, which in the following weeks was reprinted and distributed in the province ―from the conviction that, at this crisis in our List of Pensions, Gratuities and Amounts for Medical Services, Department of Militia and Defence, June 21, 1868, FRSR, Volume 32, LAC Desmond Morton, The Canadian General Sir William Otter, Toronto: Hakkert, 1974. Canadian War Museum historical publication Burwash Collection, Box 28, file 630, chapter x, p. 15, UCAVC.