«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
Somerville gives voice, unlike the other sources, to the rank-and-file frontline soldiers‘ experience in the battle. It is, however, Somerville‘s assessment of Booker that appears at first as controversial and problematic as this is where his text was manipulated by his patrons. This thesis scrutinizes Somerville‘s account and places into context the material which he later claimed in his memorandum was inserted over his objections, while restoring the remainder of his valuable account to the historical record.
Alexander Somerville and George T. Denison III essentially are the two ‗historians‘ who, along with the press and the inquiries, shaped our knowledge of the battle of Ridgeway, but as this thesis will show, their accounts of the battle were influenced not only by their own extraordinary and controversial biographies, but by their roles as ‗hired guns‘ for the rival factions battling over the history of Ridgeway—Denison as a military judge, Somerville as a crusading journalist and pamphleteer.
Over the two years following the battle four additional items, although not exclusively focussing on the battle, would be added to the contemporary bibliography of Ridgeway and the Fenian raid into Canada West. In 1867, Toronto Leader journalists George R. Gregg and E. P.
Roden produced Trials of the Fenian Prisoners at Toronto, an account of the trial of the forty captured Fenians.43 The British and Canadian governments would publish two reports on the Fenian crisis consisting of dispatches and correspondence mostly related to claims against the U.S. government44 and an Irish-Canadian journalist, James McCarroll, who joined the Fenians in Buffalo as the editor of the Fenian Volunteer would publish in the United States under the pseudonym Scian Dubh, Ridgeway: An Historical Romance of the Fenian Invasion of Canada, a semi-fictionalized account containing some salient factual elements.45 The history of warfare often has contributions from both sides of the conflict, but in the case of Ridgeway, there is very little coming from the Fenian side, and what does is of tenuous reliability. John O‘Neill made several speeches on the battle later published but these were often self-serving and tended to exaggerate the numeric strength of the Canadians while underestimating the size of his Fenian force.46 Brereton Greenhous, Kingsley Brown, Sr. and Jr.
in Semper Paratus: The History of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry offer some passages on the battle from a Fenian officer serving under O‘Neill.47 The remaining Fenian sources consist of quotes in newspapers of dubious veracity and reliability. The Fenian side of the battle remains Gregg, George R. and Roden, E. P. Trials of the Fenian Prisoners at Toronto, Toronto: Leader Steam-Press, 1867 Correspondence Respecting the Recent Fenian Aggression Upon Canada, London: 1967 and Correspondence Relating to the Fenian Invasion and Rebellion of the Southern States, Ottawa: 1869.
Scian Dubh [James McCarroll], Ridgeway: An Historical Romance of the Fenian Invasion of Canada, Buffalo, NY: McCarroll & Co, 1868 John O‘Neill, Address of General John O‘Neill President F.B. To the Officers and Members of the Fenian Brotherhood On the State of its Organization and its Disruption,[New York, Feb. 27, 1868], New York: [s.n.] 1868; John. O‘Neill, Official Report of the Battle of Ridgeway, Canada West, Fought on June 2, 1866 (June 27, 1866), New York: John A. Foster, 1870 Greenhous, Brereton; Brown, Kingsley Sr. & Brown, Kingsley Jr. Semper Paratus: The History of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, Hamilton, ON: RHLI Historical Association, 1977 largely untold and unrecorded, not surprising for an underground insurgent force against which the United States government contemplated taking action after the raid.
Except for newspaper and magazine articles of various degrees of reliability and veracity published in 1866, the above is the sum total of the contemporary bibliography on Ridgeway.
For the next twenty-five years the battle would not be talked of, written about or commemorated until the early 1890s when aging veterans began to organize and lobby the government in Canada and Britain to recognize their service. When this recognition finally came to them in 1900, a new stream of magazine articles, reminiscences and newspaper reports began to appear, although frequently the material was based again on the original 1866 published reports.
Nonetheless, some new information began to surface from new sources, most prominently in a series of articles and reminiscences in Canadian Magazine in 1897-1911.48 From this Canadian Magazine series, John A. Cooper‘s 1897 article ―The Fenian Raid of 1866‖ was the first attempt at a cohesive new account of the Battle of Ridgeway since 1866 although unfortunately it has few citations, and when it does, it refers the reader to the contemporary sources described above.
A small 40-page vest-pocket-sized pamphlet published in 1910 on the battle of Fort Erie, Fenian Raid 1866 with Lt. Colonel J. Stoughton Dennis at Fort Erie by John Beatty, a gunner who fought there, was the first and only publication focused on that battle but it revealed little of what was suppressed in the classified transcripts of the Dennis Inquiry. 49 Canada Archives has John A Cooper, ―The Fenian Raid 1866‖, The Canadian Magazine, Vol. 10, no. 1 (Nov. 1897); Robert Larmour, ―With Booker‘s Column‖, [Part 1] Canadian Magazine, Vol. 10, no. 2 (Dec. 1897); [Part 2], Canadian Magazine, Vol. 10, no. 3 (Jan. 1898); William H. Ellis, ―The Adventures of a Prisoner of War‖, Canadian Magazine, Vol. 13, No. 3, July 1899; David Junor, ―Taken Prisoner by the Fenians‖, Canadian Magazine, May 1911.
Stephen Beatty, Fenian Raid 1866 with Lt. Colonel J. Stoughton Dennis at Fort Erie June 2, 1866, St. Catharines, ON.: The Star Journal, 1910; [Hereinafter ―Beatty, Fenian Raid 1866‖] Beatty‘s original manuscript, which while more detailed in its account of the period preceding the battle, offers no any additional information on the battle itself.50 Among material published in the subsequent twenty-five years was a 1910 address by Canadian historian Barlow Cumberland, who served as a volunteer in the British column near the battle,51 and a series of articles published in 1926 by the Welland County Historical Society, which included another comprehensive new account of the battle by E.A. Cruickshank, who was a noted historian of the War of 1812, Brigadier-General in the Canadian army and member of Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.52 Cruickshank was an eleven year-old farm boy at Ridgeway during the battle, and some of his account is based on his own recollections and subsequent conversations with relatives and local residents near the battle site where he grew up.
Typically Cruickshank lacks citations.
This second wave of histories includes the fifth and last book-length study of the battle to be published. Captain John A. Macdonald, Troublous Times in Canada: The History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870 was published in 1910.53 Macdonald‘s 255-page book also covered the 1870 Fenian raid, but added absolutely nothing new to our knowledge of the battle of Ridgeway. Macdonald‘s account was almost entirely based on familiar and previously published sources and basically repeated the story as described by the Booker Inquiry, reproducing the complete transcript of the testimony in a 58-page appendix. With its large printing run and early twentieth-century publishing date it is a book that is still available in many Stephen Beatty, Reminiscences of the Fenian Raid 1866, Manuscript, John Colin Armour Campbell fonds, (R9262-0-2-E), Notes on Military Affairs, MG29-E74, File Folder 4, LAC. [Hereinafter ―Beatty [ms]‖] Barlow Cumberland, ―The Fenian Raid of 1866 and Events on the Frontier.‖ Royal Society of Canada Proceedings, Vol. 4, Sec. 2 (1910) Cruickshank, E. A. ―The Fenian Raid of 1866‖,Welland County Historical Society Papers and Records, Vol 2, Welland Canada: 1926 Captain John A. Macdonald, Troublous Times in Canada: The History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870, Toronto: [s.n.] 1910.
libraries and easily found in second-hand bookstores and on the internet, guaranteeing its continued service to this day to historians as the definitive ‗last word‘ on Ridgeway.
In addition to E.A. Cruickshank‘s study, numerous chapters and articles, including several in Ontario History,54 were published on Ridgeway in the ensuing century, but absolutely nothing new had been said or written on battle over the century since with the exception of two recent publications. David Owen‘s 1990 pamphlet, The Year of the Fenians, unfortunately lacking citations, deserves acknowledgement for some of the new insight into the battle he offers and his geographic analysis of belligerents‘ movements. Owen suggests that perhaps the Canadians were lured by Fenian skirmishers into an ambush by a larger waiting Fenian force.
This is a highly plausible scenario when taking into consideration the Civil War battlefield experience of the Fenians and their practical understanding of the range and capability of the new rifled musket technology with which both sides were armed.55 In 2000, military historian Brian Reid attempted to solve some of the unresolved questions about the battle, contributing a 48-page heavily referenced chapter on Ridgeway in Fighting for Canada: Seven Battles, 1758-1945.56 Reid made some important new observations on the battle—especially on the confusion in the officers‘ knowledge of the local geography and on the distribution of casualties by company, but he was prevented from exploring the battle in any depth by the limited length and scope of a one-chapter treatment. Nonetheless, Reid‘s chapter is the first professional history of any worth published on the battle since Denison‘s 1866 book.
Justus A. Griffith, ―The Ridgeway Semi-Centennial‖, Ontario Historical Society Papers and Records, Vol. 15, 1917, pp. 18-27; F.M. Quesley, ―The Fenian Invasion of Canada West‖, Ontario History, Vol. 53 (1961), No. 1.
David Owen, The Year of the Fenians: A Self-Guided Tour of Discovery and an Illustrated History of the Fenian Invasion of the Niagara Peninsula and the Battle of Ridgeway in 1866, Buffalo, NY: Western New York Heritage Institute, 1990. p. 14
Brian A. Reid, ―‗Prepare for Cavalry!‘ The Battle of Ridgeway‖ in Donald E. Graves (ed), Fighting for Canada:
Seven Battles, 1758-1945, Toronto: Robin Brass Studio, 2000.
As for the battle at Fort Erie, nothing except for John Thornley Docker‘s recent Dunnville Heroes: The W.T. Robb and the Dunnville Naval Brigade in the 1866 Fenian Invasion has been published since Beatty‘s 1910 pamphlet.57 Docker‘s 62-page pamphlet, published in 2003, is an excellent account of the history of the tugboat and its owner and builder who transported the detachment of troops to the battle at Fort Erie and who fought there, but again it, tells us little of the battle itself.
Buried in this 144 year historiography of derivative literature are a few small gems, mostly in the form of published individual reminiscences and interviews in newspapers, articles in specialized journals, publications of historical societies or in letters to the editors from soldiers who fought at the battle.58 Few of these fragmentary sources, however, offer any historical analysis or in any manner represent a cohesive and definitive study of the battle.
In sum, aside from the two military boards of inquiry, attempts at a conclusive comprehensive history of the battle of Ridgeway consist of the three books-pamphlets by Denison (1866), Somerville (1866) and Macdonald (1910), and the articles or chapters by Cooper (1897); Cruickshank (1926); Owen (1990) and Reid (2000). With the exception of Somerville, who challenges the findings of the Booker Inquiry, and to some extent Reid recently, the remaining literature heavily relied on the report and transcripts of the inquiry as a definitive source of information and offered little or no information on the battle in Fort Erie. This leaves us with the many unanswered questions.
Docker, John Thornley Dunnville Heroes: The W.T. Robb and the Dunnville Naval Brigade in the 1866 Fenian Invasion, Dunnville, ON: Dunnville District Heritage Association, 2003.
For example: J.T.R. Stinson, ―The Battle of Ridgeway, or Lime Ridge,‖ Journal of Education for Upper Canada, Vol. 19, no. 6 (June 1866); George A. Mackenzie, ―What I Saw of the Fenian Raid‖, The Hamilton Spectator, November 27, 1926; George A. Mackenzie; ―Young Adventurer in ‘66 Tells Story of Raid‖, Hamilton Herald, June 27, 1927; G.C. Duggan, ―The Fenians in Canada: A British Officer‘s Impression‖, The Irish Sword, (Winter 1967.);
Fred H. McCallum, ―Experience of a Queen‘s Own Rifleman at Ridgeway‖, Third Annual Report of the Waterloo Historic Society, Berlin [Kitchener]: Waterloo Historic Society, 1915; Bertie Historical Society, Battle of Ridgeway: Stories and Legends of the Fenian Raid, June 1976.
This thesis argues that there exists no authentic history of the Battle of Ridgeway because political and private interests falsified the history for their own immediate goals and ambitions by using the authority of two military boards of inquiry to create a falsified body of testimonial evidence in one case, while suppressing it entirely in the other, and by corrupting the only published account that challenged the government version of events. The challenge is that in order to argue that a history was falsified, one needs to offer some semblance of an alternative restored authentic one.