Battle of Ridgeway
|Fenian Brotherhood||British Canada|
Between 1866 and 1871, the Fenian raids of the Fenian Brotherhood, who were based in the United States, on British army forts, customs posts and other targets in Canada, were fought to bring pressure on Britain to withdraw from Ireland. They divided many Catholic Irish-Canadians, many of whom were torn between loyalty to their new home and sympathy for the aims of the Fenians. The Protestants from Ulster were generally loyal to Britain and fought with the Orange Order against the Fenians. While the U.S. authorities arrested the men and confiscated their arms afterwards, there is speculation that many in the U.S. government had turned a blind eye to the preparations for the invasion, angered at actions that could be construed as British assistance to the Confederacy during the American Civil War. There were five Fenian raids of note.
Campobello Island Raid (1866) 
Led by John O'Mahony, this Fenian raid occurred in April 1866, at Campobello Island, New Brunswick. A Fenian Brotherhood war party of over 700 members arrived at the Maine shore opposite the island with the intention of seizing Campobello from the British. British commander Charles Hastings Doyle stationed at Halifax, Nova Scotia responded decisively. On 17 April 1866 he left Halifax with Royal Navy warships carrying over 700 British regulars and proceeded to Passamaquoddy Bay where the Fenian force was concentrated. This show of British armed might discouraged the Fenians, and the invaders dispersed. This action served to reinforce the idea of protection for New Brunswick by joining with the British North American colonies of Nova Scotia, and the United Province of Canada, formerly Upper Canada (now Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec), in Confederation to form the Dominion of Canada.
Niagara Raid (Battles of Ridgeway and Fort Erie) (1866) 
In 1866, the Fenians had split into two factions, with the original faction, led by Fenian founders James Stephens and John O'Mahony focused more on fundraising for rebels in Ireland. The leaders of the more militant "senate faction" led by William R. Roberts believed that even a marginally successful invasion of the Province of Canada or other parts of British North America would provide them with leverage in their efforts. After an April attempt to raid New Brunswick (see "Campobello Island Raid", above) that had been blessed by O'Mahony failed, the senate faction Fenians implemented their own plan for an invasion of Canada. The plan drafted by the senate "Secretary for War" General T. W. Sweeny, a distinguished former Union Army officer, called for multiple Fenian invasions at points in Canada West (now southern Ontario) and Canada East (now southern Quebec) intended to cut Canada West off from Canada East and possible British reinforcements arriving from there. Key to the plan was a diversionary attack at Fort Erie from Buffalo, New York, meant to draw troops away from Toronto in a feigned strike at the nearby Welland Canal system. This would be the only Fenian attack, other than the Quebec raid several days later, that would be actually launched in June 1866.
Approximately 1000 to 1,300 Fenians crossed the Niagara River in the first 14 hours of June 1 under Colonel John O'Neill. Sabotaged by Fenians in its crew, the U.S. Navy's side-wheeler gunboat USS Michigan did not begin intercepting Fenian reinforcements until 2:15 p.m.—fourteen hours after Owen Starr's advance party had first crossed the river in advance of O'Neill's main force. Once the USS Michigan was deployed, O'Neill's force in the Niagara Region was cut off from further supplies and reinforcements.
After assembling with other units from the province and travelling all night, the Canadians advanced into a well-laid ambush (Battle of Ridgeway) by approximately 600-700 Fenians the next morning north of Ridgeway, a small hamlet west of Fort Erie. (The Fenian strength at Ridgeway had been reduced by desertions and deployments of Fenians in other locations in the area overnight.)
The Canadian militia consisted of inexperienced volunteers with no more than basic drill training and primarily armed with Enfield rifled muskets comparable to the armaments of the Fenians. A single company of the Queen's Own Rifles of Toronto had been armed the day before on their ferry crossing from Toronto with state-of-the-art Spencer repeating rifles, but had never been given the opportunity to practise with them and were issued with only 28 rounds. The Fenian forces were mostly battle-hardened American Civil War veterans, armed with weapons procured from leftover war munitions, also Enfield rifled muskets or the comparable Springfield.
The two forces exchanged volleys for about two hours before a series of command errors threw the Canadians into confusion, which the Fenians took advantage of by launching a bayonet charge that broke the inexperienced Canadian ranks. Seven Canadians were killed on the battlefield, two died shortly afterwards from wounds, and four would later die of wounds and disease while on service and ninety-four were wounded or disabled by disease. That is comparable to eight Fenians killed and sixteen wounded.
After the first clash, the Canadians retreated to Port Colborne at the Lake Erie end of the Welland Canal, while the Fenians rested at Ridgeway briefly before themselves returning to Fort Erie. Another battle followed there that saw several Canadians severely wounded and the surrender of a large group of local Canadian militia that had moved into the Fenian rear. But after considering the inability of reinforcements to cross the river and the approach of large numbers of both militia and British regulars, the remaining Fenians chose to release the Canadian prisoners and return to Buffalo early in the morning of June 3. They were intercepted by the Michigan, and surrendered to American naval personnel.
It was alleged until recently that the turning point in the battle was when Fenian cavalry was erroneously reported and the command was given to form square, the tactic at the time for infantry to repel cavalry. When the mistake was recognized, an attempt was made to reform column but being far too close to the Fenian lines, attempts to reform were hopeless. In his recent new history of Ridgeway, historian Peter Vronsky argues that the explanation was not as simple as that. Prior to the formation of the square, confusion had already broken out on the field when a unit of the Queen's Own Rifles mistook three companies of redcoat Hamilton 13th Battalion troop arriving to take positions, for British troops. When the QOR began retiring to give the field to what they thought were British units, the 13th Battalion mistook the QOR retire for a retreat, and began to retreat themselves. It was at this moment that the infamous "form square" order was given, completing the debacle that was unfolding on the field. Regarding allegations to the misconduct of Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Booker (13th Battalion), upon whom command of Canadian volunteers had devolved, was determined by a Board of Inquiry to have "not the slightest foundation for the unfavourable imputations cast upon him in the public prints". These allegations dogged Booker for the rest of his life.
A second board of inquiry into the battle at Fort Erie, exonerated Lieutenant-Colonel J. Stoughton Dennis, Brigade Major of the Fifth Military District, although the President of the Board of Inquiry, Colonel George T. Denison, differed from his colleagues on some key points.
President Andrew Johnson's proclamation requiring enforcement of the laws of neutrality was issued five days after the beginning of the invasion, guaranteeing that it would not continue. Both U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant and U.S. General George Meade went to Buffalo, New York to assess the situation. In the meantime, following instructions from General Grant, General Meade issued strict orders to prevent anyone from further violating the border. General Grant then proceeded to St. Louis while General Meade, finding that the battle at Ridgeway was over and the Fenian army interned in Buffalo, proceeded to Ogdensburg, New York, to oversee the situation in the St. Lawrence River area. The U.S. Army was then instructed to seize Fenian weapons and ammunition, and to prevent more border crossings. Further instructions on 7 June 1866 were to arrest anyone who looked like they might be a Fenian.
Ironically, although they did not do much to advance the cause of Irish independence, the 1866 raids and the inept efforts of Canadian colonial troops to repulse them helped to galvanize support for the Confederation of Canada in 1867. Some historians have argued that the debacle tipped the final votes of reluctant Maritime provinces in favour of the collective security of nationhood, making Ridgeway the “battle that made Canada.”
In June 2006 the Ontario’s heritage agency dedicated a plaque at Ridgeway on the commemoration of the 140th anniversary of the battle. Many members of today's Canadian army regiment, The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, return to the Ridgeway battle site each year on the weekend closest to the June 2 anniversary for a bicycle tour of the battle sites.
A Fenian commander was Brigadier General Thomas William Sweeny who was arrested by the United States government for his involvement; however, he later served in the Regular Army until his retirement in 1870.
The final casualty figures for the Fenian Raids into Canada 1866, when including deaths from disease while on service in both Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec) were calculated by the Militia Department in 1868 as 31 dead and 103 wounded or felled by disease (including a female civilian accidentally shot by the militia.)
Pigeon Hill Raid (1866) 
After the invasion of Canada West failed, the Fenians decided to concentrate their efforts on Canada East. However, the American government had begun to impede Fenian activities, and arrested many Fenian leaders. The Fenians saw their plans begin to fade. General Samuel Spear of the Fenians managed to escape arrest. On June 7 Spear and his 1000 men marched into Canadian territory, achieving occupancy of Pigeon Hill, Frelighsburg, St. Armand and Stanbridge. At this point the Canadian government had done little to defend the border, but on June 8 Canadian forces arrived and the Fenians, who were low on arms, ammunition and supplies, promptly surrendered, ending the raid on Canada East.
Mississquoi County Raid (1870) 
This Fenian raid occurred during 1870, and the Canadians, acting on information supplied by Thomas Billis Beach, were able to wait for and turn back the attack at Eccles Hill.
Battle of Trout River 
Just days after defeat at Eccles Hill, more than 1,000 Fenians crossed the border again, led by General John O'Neill, but were defeated in a sharp skirmish at Trout River. O'Neill was arrested by American authorities after the battle.
Pembina Raid (1871) 
Fenian John O'Neill, after the failed 1870 Fenian invasion of Canada, had resigned the Senate Wing then joined the Savage Wing. In return he was given a seat on the Savage Wing governing council. In 1871 O'Neill and an odd character named W. B. O’Donoghue asked the Savage Wing Council to undertake another invasion of Canada across the Dakota Territory border. The Council, weary of Canadian adventures in general and O’Neill in particular, would have none of it. O'Neill's idea was turned down, but the Council promised to loan him arms and agreed they would not publicly denounce him and his raid. O'Neill resigned from the Fenians to lead the invasion, which was planned in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to invade Manitoba near Winnipeg. Around 35 men, led by John O'Neill, William B. O'Donoghue, and John J. Donnelly had hopes of meeting up with Louis Riel's French-Indian Métis. The O'Neill-led force managed to capture a Hudson's Bay Company post and a Canadian customs house just north of the international border on 5 October. Or so they thought: actually a U.S. border survey team had determined the border to be two miles further north putting the Hudson's Bay post and the customs house inside U.S. territory. O'Neill, J. J. Donnelly and ten more men were taken prisoner by U.S. soldiers under Captain Lloyd Wheaton near Pembina, Dakota Territory. The raid was doomed from the start: it took place inside U.S. territory, and the Métis under Riel signed a pact with the British just as the invasion was beginning. Riel and his Métis subsequently captured O'Donoghue and turned him over to the U.S. government. In a rather muddled federal response, O'Neill was arrested twice, once in Dakota and once in Minnesota, but released and never charged. The 10 men captured with O'Neill were released by the court as "dupes" of O'Neill and Donnelly.
Agitation in Pacific Northwest 
The Fenian Brotherhood organized openly in the Pacific Northwest states during the 1870s and 1880s, agitating to invade British Columbia. Although no raids were ever launched, tensions were sufficient that the British posted a number of large warships to the new railhead at Vancouver, British Columbia for the celebrations opening the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1886.
Results and long term effects 
Support for the Fenian Brotherhood's invasion of Canada fell and there was no real threat of any more raids after the 1890s. The raids, however, did have many lasting effects on Canadians.
The raids caused a marked anti-American feeling in Canada and the Maritimes due to the handling of the Fenians by the American government when the Fenians were in preparation for the raids. The raids also aroused a martial spirit among Canadians by giving their militia tests of strength. The militia improved after the raids thanks to the experience gained. This was achieved without the huge cost of a war. Perhaps the largest impact the raids had was their role in the development of Canadian nationalism and helping to lead the provinces involved into Confederation. The Fenian Raids helped to create feeling of nationalism in British North America in the 1860s. While this helped confederation, also necessary was the desire to survive and the need for self-defence; the raids were crucial in showing Canadians that safety lay in unity. The raids deserve to be seen as an important factor in the creation of what we now know as Canada.
- We are the Fenian Brotherhood, skilled in the arts of war,
- And we're going to fight for Ireland, the land we adore,
- Many battles we have won, along with the boys in blue,
- And we'll go and capture Canada, for we've nothing else to do.
- — "Fenian soldier's song"
See also 
- "Fenian raids". Dictionary of Canadian Biography (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 1979–2005.
- Dallsion, Robert L. Turning back the Fenians: New Brunswick's Last Colonial Campaign Goose Lane Edition. 2006.
- The Fenian raid at Fort Erie, June the first and second, 1866: with a map of the Niagara Peninsula, shewing the route of the troops, and a plan of the Lime Ridge battle ground. Toronto: W.C. Chewett & Co., 1866.
- Log Entry, Friday June 1, 1866, USS Michigan Logbook No. 16, July 24, 1864, to August 30, 1866: Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships, 1801–1940, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1798–2003, RG24.(National Archives Building, Washington, DC) NARA.
- E. A. Cruickshank, “The Fenian Raid of 1866”,Welland County Historical Society Papers and Records, Vol 2, Welland Canada: 1926. p. 21; 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. pp. 37–38
- O'Neill's strength in the Fenian camp at Frenchmen's Creek was estimated at 250 by a Canada West Frontier Police detective who infiltrated the camp. He also reported that later in the night an additional 200 Fenians joined the column from the camp, bringing the total to at least 450. See: Detective Charles Clarke to McMicken, telegram, June 2, 1866, MG26 A, Volume 237, p. 103878 [Reel C1663] Canada Archives.
- Peter Vronsky, Ridgeway: The American Fenian Invasion and the 1866 Battle That Made Canada, Toronto: Penugin-Allen Lane, 2011. pp. 46-47
- Fenian Brotherhood. Proceedings of the second National Congress of the Fenian Brotherhood, held in Cincinnati, Ohio, January 1865. Philadelphia: J. Gibbons, 1865.
- Abstract of Names of Claimants for Pensions and Gratuities, Fenian Raid Service Records, Adjutant General’s Office, United Canada, Pensions and Land Grants, RG9-I-C-5; Compensation of Injuries, Wounds, etc, Received on Active Service Fenian Raids 1866–1868 Volume 32, page 13, National Archives of Canada
- Peter Vronsky, Ridgeway: The American Fenian Invasion and the 1866 Battle That Made Canada, Toronto: Penguin-Allen Lane, 2011. pp. 141-145.
- Peter Vronsky, Ridgeway: The American Fenian Invasion and the 1866 Battle That Made Canada, Toronto: Penugin-Allen Lane, 2011. p. 261
- Neidhardt, W.S. Fenianism in North America The Pennsylvania State University Press. 1975.
- General O'Neill's Last Hurrah by Michael Ruddy [webpage with sources see External Links]
- Regan, Ann (2002). Irish in Minnesota. Minnesota Historical Society Press. pp. 44–45. ISBN 0-87351-419-X.
- John O'Neill's Last Hurrah by Michael Ruddy
- "Canadian General Service Medal – Veterans Affairs Canada". Retrieved 2010-05-17.
- Senior, Hereward. The Last Invasion of Canada: The Fenian Raids of 1866–1870 Dundurn Press. 1991.
Further reading 
- Vronsky, Peter Ridgeway: The American Fenian Invasion and the 1866 Battle That Made Canada., Toronto: Penguin Canada-Allen Lane, 2011.
- Senior, H. (1996). The last invasion of Canada: The Fenian raids, 1866–1870. Dundurn Press. ISBN 1-55002-085-4
- MacDonald, John A. Troublous Times in Canada, A History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870. 1910
- Dallsion, Robert L. Turning back the Fenians: New Brunswick's Last Colonial Campaign Goose Lane Edition. 2006.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Fenian Raids|
|Wikisource has several original texts related to: Fenian Raids|
- "Fenians.org" Peter Vronsky
- "Here Comes That Damned Green Flag Again" Michael Ruddy
- "Security-Intelligence Functions of the Toronto Police During the Civil War Era and the Fenian Threat"
- The Fenian Raids, 1866–1870 – Manitoba Historical Society
- "General O'Neill's Last Hurrah Michael Ruddy
- "Torn Between Brothers: A Look at the Internal Divisions that Weakened the Fenian Brotherhood" – Jean Turner for Villanova University's Digital Library