New York Volunteer Infantry
The Fenian Raid and Battle of Ridgeway June 1-3, 1866
Special Note: The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ridgeway/Fenian Raid is being commemorated with a reenactment at Fort Erie, Ontario June 11-12 2016.
by Benedict Maryniak
A Fenian invasion of Canada was not a ludicrous proposition in 1866. There were large numbers of unemployed ex-soldiers available for Fenian recruitment. Toleration of Fenian activities during the Civil War when the Brotherhood had been permitted to construct its own military framework within that of the US, their purchase of war surplus arms, and the federal government's silence toward their filibustering plans were all interpreted as governmental approval. The Fenians also took comfort in America's case of Anglophobia, generated by Britain's recognition of the Confederacy's belligerent rights during the Rebellion. Even under stable political conditions, this widespread negativity toward England and the weight of Irish ballots would have encouraged Congress and the Executive to handle Fenians with care, but with these two branches of government at loggerheads over Reconstruction, the political importance of the Irish vote was greatly exaggerated. Finally, a majority of Americans were then "continentalists" who anticipated Canada's future annexation.
O'Mahony fielded the first Fenian force during April of 1866, hoping to beat Roberts to the punch. His group attempted to seize Campo Bello Island, situated at the mouth of the St Croix in the entrance to Passamaquoddy Bay. Whether or not his raid succeeded, O'Mahony reasoned that the island's unresolved ownership (claimed by New Brunswick and Maine) would bring about a clash between Britain and America. Gunboats appeared from both countries to successfully interdict the Fenians, but nothing more. The Fenian commanders withdrew, having to "beg their way home" because no provisions had been made for such a contingency. "The Campo Bello fizzle" embarrassed all Fenians.
Roberts' raid, planned by Civil War general "Fightin' Tom" Sweeny, was set on its way during May of '66. In a nutshell, Sweeny planned to seize some Canadian land along the St Lawrence River which would then be used as a base for privateers to prey upon British shipping. It was hoped that the harassment of shipping would bring concessions to part/all of Ireland from British control. Sweeny planned to divert opposition from the St Lawrence River with movements upon other parts of Canada.
340 Men on a Train
The force was now only a few miles west of Buffalo, having left drab mercantile Cleveland before dawn. The rain, light but insistent, had continued all morning. The dawn-lit countryside here was unexciting and there was little conversation in the passenger coach. Captain Shields seemed lost in thought, a group of men at one end of the car were engaged in some sort of card game, an orderly dozed, a young lieutenant made entries in a journal he carried, and a sergeant snored like a beached walrus, awakening now and then to gulp down some of the cheap whiskey he had bought in Cleveland. John O'Neill was starting his fourth day of train-riding. He and 150 men, comprising the Irish Republican Army's 13th Regiment, had left Nashville early on May 27. At a stop in Louisville, Colonel George Owen Starr and 150 members of his 17th IRA Regiment came aboard to join Colonel O'Neill's party. Another stop brought Captain James B Haggerty and a hundred more Fenian troops. This trainload of "railroad laborers" -- they had been instructed to wear work clothes -- pulled into Cleveland late in the evening on May 28. O'Neill and Starr expected to find Fenian General Wm Francis Lynch with boats to carry them to Canada. Lynch was a brevet brigadier general of US Volunteers from the Civil War, having led the 58th Illinois in fighting at Shiloh's Hornet's Nest as part of Tom Sweeny's brigade. Many of the Fenian officers had held commissions during the war -- O'Neill had been a lieutenant in the 5th Indiana Cavalry and captain with the 17th USCT, Starr had attained lieutenant colonelcy of the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry (US) thanks to the high casualty of that regiment's officers.
But there were no Fenian boats in Cleveland, according to Captain Wm J Hynes, a staff officer sent by the absent General Lynch. O'Neill and the others were billeted in warehouses on the Cleveland waterfront while Fenian Senators Michael Scanlan, JW Fitzgerald, and Patrick Bannon attempted to communicate with overall commander Tom Sweeny or his subordinates -- General Lynch in Cleveland, General Charles C Tevis in Chicago, General Samuel P Spear in St Albans VT, or General Michael C Murphy in Malone NY. Bannon finally received word from Sweeny during the evening of May 29, ordering the force, along with Colonel John Grace's 18th Regiment of Ohio Fenians, to Buffalo. They were on eastbound trains by 10 PM.
Rolling through the outskirts of Buffalo, O'Neill's train slowed so men could jump off along the tracks. An earlier wire had warned the Fenians that city police were awaiting their arrival at the Exchange Street station. As Buffalo Circle members led these Irish soldiers to halls, warehouses, and barns throughout South Buffalo, the gunboat USS Michigan steamed into Buffalo harbor with her Marine guard on deck. Later that day, ammunition was surreptitiously loaded into furniture wagons from a train in the Buffalo freight yard. Fenians were said to be on the move all over New England and along the Great Lakes, and US officials were attempting to confirm such reports. Fenian commander Sweeny later explained that he had sent his forces on several contradictory paths, hoping to confuse US and British spies. Groups of Fenian soldiers left Cleveland by train in all directions, wearing conspicuously-uniform green caps other emerald-tinted accessories. A Syracuse newspaper reported Fenians "moving both ways" through the city railroad station.
During Thursday, May 31, it became apparent that Fenian forces were massing in the area of Malone and St Albans for a push across the Canadian border. There was also overwhelming information pointing to a crossing of the Niagara River from Buffalo. British army units in Canada were alerted and the Volunteer Militia of Upper Canada had also been called out. Militia at Toronto and on the Niagara peninsula were ordered to Port Colborne.
As the sun went down, Captain Hynes brought Sweeny's written order that John O'Neill was to lead the Buffalo expedition across the Niagara River into Canada. Although he received no maps or additional information, O'Neill was to have Buffalo's 7th IRA Regiment as part of his force. Barges had been positioned at the Pratt Blast Furnace dock in Black Rock NY, just north of Buffalo, and steam tugs were to take these across the river on the morning of June 1.
They had told O'Neill he was in command now; now that Canadian forces had begun moving to meet him; now that the Michigan was intent to stop unusual traffic on the river; now that city authorities would move to interdict Fenian movement.
If O'Neill had come to command this raiding party, it was more by natural gift and by his superior's default than out of any overt desire on his part. And yet he was in command, however tentatively. So it would be as he moved onward into Canada. He would take one step at a time. The future would unroll in its own true course, as it had done since he came to America.
He stood on a small dock peacefully for some minutes, staring out across Buffalo's harbor toward the lake, a green expanse, squinting as though if he tried hard enough he could see around the bend of the globe to Ireland. But of course there was no seeing the isle from here. Ireland seemed unreal for a moment. What seemed real was the Buffalo waterfront, the hotel where he had slept, the breakfast food, his men, the other units and their leaders. All else was mere mirage.
Before dawn on Friday, June 1, O'Neill had his force of a thousand men poised for a quick march from Buffalo to the Black Rock dock. A wagon train bearing his arms and ammunition was also ready to go. Other Fenian groups were also moving around Buffalo, confusing the observations made by police and US soldiers from Fort Porter. Just as the US District Attorney ordered the Michigan's captain to stop all movement across the Niagara River, the Fenian force was crowding into the barges at Pratt's dock. The canal boats had been rented to take a foundry's employees to a picnic on a river island. O'Neill's men were given traps and ammunition as they moved from dock to barge, rifles would be waiting for them on the Canadian shore.
While awaiting their river crossing, a portion of the Fenian men had donned uniforms of sorts though the majority were in civilian togs. O'Neill wore a gray set of clothing with a green-decorated military cap. One veteran commented that O'Neill appeared to wear the light blue uniform of the Veteran Reserve Corps, but most accounts specify a gray outfit. There were a number of black slouch hats. Many of Starr's Louisville men wore blue army jackets with green facings and a good number of Grace's Ohio regiment green shirts and green caps. Officers had swords and pistols. There were five banners, as well, all of six-foot-square regimental size: two US national and three green. Two of these green banners sported the golden sunburst and one reportedly bore a harp.
O'Neill had given command of his Tennessee regiment to Captain Shields. Starr would command his Kentuckians and the Indiana detachment. He was to make quickly for the ruins of the old military emplacement called Fort Erie, south of the same-named village. Starr would seize any railroad rolling stock he might find, cut telegraph wires, and destroy track leading to Port Colborne so there would be no troop trains rushing in from that direction. O'Neill would use the New Yorkers, Ohioans, and Tennesseans to secure Fort Erie village and establish a defensive perimeter. Everybody was told to take possession of horses they might encounter.
Steam tugs took the Fenian canal boats across the swift Niagara at about 3:15 AM.
The Canadian Shore
As members of the Queen's Own Rifles marched through Toronto on their way to the lake steamer City of Toronto, John O'Neill's Fenians were receiving their rifles on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. These rifled muskets had been purchased that April in Pennsylvania at Barton H Jenks' Bridesburg Arsenal. Once the Civil War had ended, weapons and ammunition were being sold by weight rather than count or quality. O'Neill noted that the men looked very cheerful for the most part, the long column of laughing and talking Fenians winding endlessly along, following the riverbank southerly toward the Village of Fort Erie. In addition to a mount, scouts had also brought O'Neill news of troops on their way to meet his force. The opposition could amount to as many as three thousand, including British regular troops and a battery of artillery.
Good to his word, Starr had a Fenian banner flying over the crumbling walls of Fort Erie by 5 AM and Kentucky Captain Geary was on his way along the rail line to Port Colborne searching for a bridge to destroy. Other parties had been put to work tearing up track and cutting telegraph lines. O'Neill's column soon arrived in Fort Erie and village reeve Dr Kempson was ordered to provide food enough for a thousand-man breakfast. Scouts ranged over a five-mile radius on the horses that could be found, bringing their observations back to O'Neill. A group of men cleared ground and erected defensive works at the Newbigging farm on Frenchman's Creek just north of the village. By noon, the US District Attorney and Buffalo's British Consul stood the USS Michigan's deck with her commander, trying to make sense of the Fenian activity they observed on the opposite riverbank. At noon, the Michigan's six 24-pounders roared a salute in honor of General Winfield Scott, recently deceased. Other sailors were moving boat howitzers onto steam tugs which would patrol the river as picket boats.
Frenchman's Creek, flowing south along Newbigging farm and then east into the Niagara River, combined with that river to form a U-shaped patch of ground protected on its west, south, and east by water. The Fenians transformed the farm into an armed camp with a row of "bullet screens" along the top of the "U." These bullet screens had been used often by Starr's men during Billy Sherman's March to the Sea. A sort of lean-to was built by laying fence rails or other lengths of wood along a stretch of fence, from ground to top rail. Clods of dirt were thrown atop the slanted rails for added screen. The slanted rails of the Newbigging screens were laid northerly, toward the railhead of Chippawa, where O'Neill imagined some of his adversaries would detrain and come at him.
In an unhurried way John O'Neill led his men through the routines of entrenching and establishing a defended camp. It would have been easy enough to move them faster, but beyond doubt the enemy was watching and he wanted to give them plenty of time to observe his actions and take the necessary countermeasures. Later in the day he stepped-up the pace, for now the scouts returned with word that reserves were indeed in position along the river to the north, beyond Black Creek. Trains were busily moving more men and equipment into Chippawa, as well.
"We are likely outnumbered twenty to one," O'Neill said. "I find that encouraging. A force that size ought to be unwieldy enough to make life easy for us." He tapped the crude map before him. "The redcoats are camped here, near Chippawa, and surely they will know it the instant that we begin marching toward them. They'll expect us to go north along the river bank and that area will have the heaviest guard. We will indeed go toward Chippawa along the Niagara." The Colonel heard a gasp of dismay and looked up to see some expressions of sudden pained surprise. Untroubled, he went on, "and as we do, the redcoat reinforcements will be sent in that direction. Once they've begun to move toward our force along the river it should be difficult for them to redirect themselves. As they start in motion, we will swing back inland, march straight for Port Colborne, cutting through anyone we might find. We will block the Welland Canal unhindered and still have our escape over the lake at hand. Questions?"
"What if another army is waiting for us besides the forces we know of?"
"Ask me that again when we get to the canal. Other questions?" O'Neill glanced around. No one spoke. "Good. Let's get to it, then!" O'Neill smiled and added, "They're falling into our hands." Word suddenly circulated through camp that they were to pull up and take to the road again after dark, leaving all fires burning. The Fenian colonel sensed the news flashing among his men and grinned. "Let them think their colonel's a genius, and they may make him into one."
The Michigan steamed into the middle of the Niagara River around 3 PM, acting as a base for her armed sentry boats which began stopping cross-river traffic. In another hour or so, men on watch reported activity at the Fenian camp on Frenchman's Creek. Regimental banners had been unfurled -- three green flags with gold sunbursts -- and men were forming up as if for an inspection.
As darkness fell, word reached O'Neill that enemy troops had indeed arrived at Chippawa and a force of militia were massing at Port Colborne, to the west. No further orders, however, had come across the river to the Fenian commander from his superiors. O'Neill was on his own as leader of the Brotherhood expedition. When he was only O'Neill the colonel, significance had been insignificant to him; each day had a path of its own, and he had no worries about larger patterns, only to increase the skill of a soldier from one day to the next. But when these new responsibilities had been visited upon him, he had been forced to consider dreary long-range matters of purpose and destiny and the route on which he was bound. He had no liking for that. Already he tasted a keen nostalgic sorrow for the good old times of a few days past, when he had wandered busy Buffalo in happy aimlessness.
At 9 PM, a member of the Michigan deck watch shouted that the Frenchman's Creek bridge was ablaze. Indeed, it was. O'Neill had piled three hundred rifles atop the tiny span and set fire to the lot -- he didn't have that many men with him, and, thanks to the USS Michigan, no more would be crossing the Niagara. Besides, the roaring fire would attract more attention to his column as it left the Newbigging camp, moving north along the river in the direction of Chippawa. The feint was on.
Reports did indeed reach the British commander at Chippawa, alerting him to the approaching Fenian attack. Black Creek, south of Chippawa, would be the obstacle where the Fenians would be met. British regulars and militia were deployed to support the Black Creek defensive line. At Port Colborne, militia leaders from Hamilton and Toronto were imagining how they might catch the invaders between their bayonets and those of the boys at Chippawa. Aboard the Michigan, Captain Bryson ordered his guns loaded with shrapnel-producing shell. He expected the US revenue cutters Commodore Perry and Fessenden at any moment, but wanted to be prepared if he was to handle a crisis alone.
During the night, O'Neill reached a point just short of Black Creek and then turned his column west, inland. After resting his men, the Fenian commander again set them in motion, this time for the only visible high ground -- an elevation called Lime Ridge about a mile north of the sleepy hamlet of Ridgeway.
The British-Canadian Pincer
Tom Kilvington, Company #2, 13th Battalion of Canadian Volunteers, from Hamilton, remembered his ride to the famous fight at Ridgeway as several hungry hours spent sweating in the black unlit interior of a boxcar. They were on the train for hours -- first from Hamilton to the Welland Canal and then south along that waterway to Port Colborne -- jammed together on the wooden floor, stale sweat in armpits, groin, and feet, a smoky smell of urine where some idiot had pissed into the wind. Although an officer had been careful to verify that each man had received twenty rounds of ammunition, no one had mentioned food or water. A man was nearly murdered when a fight broke out over some herring.
By nightfall June 1, a force of nearly a thousand militia had gathered at Port Colborne, on Lake Erie, at the south end of the Welland Canal. Queen's Own Rifles Lt Colonel J Stoughton Dennis was commander of the military district and consequently of the Port Colborne force, which was comprised of his unit, the 13th Battalion, and a few other companies. A force of British and Canadian troops (1450 infantry, 6-gun battery, 55 cavalry) was also massing at Chippawa under Colonel George John Peacocke, Commander of Niagara Forces. Peacocke had planned that the Chippawa and Port Colborne forces would move toward Stevensville on June, thereby creating a kind of pincer movement which would encounter the Fenians and then envelop them. Dennis, however, decided to hold the majority of his force at Port Colborne while, on the steam tug WT Robb, he took about eighty men to Fort Erie with the aim of blocking any Fenian retreat. He assumed Peacocke's Chippawa force would engage the Fenians and drive them toward Fort Erie. He wired this idea to Peacocke and set out aboard the Robb at 3:30 AM on June 2 without waiting for his superior's reply. Peacocke's unqualified disapproval of Dennis' plan reached Port Colborne long after the Robb steamed off, and 13th Btn Lt Colonel Albert Booker, a professional auctioneer from Hamilton who had been left in command of the volunteer column, was told to proceed with the planned move toward Stevensville.
June 2 saw Peacocke get off to a late start because he initially expected to make a stand along Black Creek. When the Fenians were not to be seen at Black Creek, the Chippawa force began to prepare for the move toward Stevensville. Aboard the Robb in the Niagara River, Lt Colonel Dennis found nothing but "Fenian stragglers" at Fort Erie and the Frenchman's Creek camp. Booker's volunteers took a train to Ridgeway, from where they planned to march for Stevensville and link up with Peacocke's units. With earliest light of June 2, however, Fenian Colonel John O'Neill had brought his men to Lime Ridge's heights north of Ridgeway and there he awaited the volunteer column, hoping to defeat the militia before dealing with the force he knew to contain British regulars and field artillery.
Soon after, I saw that some of our men had taken possession of the buildings on the corners at the first cross road north of the village, then owned by old Joseph Danner, and were gallantly trying to hold the enemy in check. How I wished there were even a few veterans, tested in battle, among them to hold them steady. But it was not long until I saw wavering among them, and soon they broke and continued their retreat.
to the Niagara River
Unsure about the location of other Canadian forces in relation to his, O'Neill split the Fenian force and led half back east toward Fort Erie while Starr did the same on a parallel road south of Garrison. The USS Michigan deck log notes that a large Fenian force entered the village of Fort Erie at 4 PM on June 2, thereby triggering a skirmish in the streets of that settlement. O'Neill's men had accidentally encountered Lt Colonel Dennis and his band of militiamen aboard the tug Robb!
During the fight at Ridgeway and through the afternoon of June 2, the WT Robb had been cruising the banks of the Niagara between Black Creek and Fort Erie, acting as a floating holding pen for suspected Fenians overtaken by parties of the Dunnville Naval Company and cannon-less Welland Canal Garrison Battery who had come off the Robb to patrol the Canadian shore. Having tied up at the Fort Erie dock around 2 PM, the militiamen from Dunnville and Welland disembarked, leaving 58 captives in the hold of the Robb.
When Fenians began to appear, it is likely that the Canadian soldiers thought that their fellows were closely behind these Irishmen. An exchange of volleys began in Fort Erie, to the enthusiastic cheers of hundreds lining the US shore in Buffalo. The Robb pulled into the river with seven men on board in addition to their captives, while the 76 militiamen ashore began to fall back before the waves of attacking Fenians. It was in one of these Fenian rushes that Lt Colonel Michael Bailey of Buffalo's 7th IRA Regiment was shot from his horse, speared by a forgotten Enfield ramrod. When half the Canadians piled into the Lewis house, which sat across the street from the dock where the Robb had been stopped, the other group of Canadians continued to retreat northerly under the command of Dunnville Captain Lachlan McCallum. The Lewis house group were soon forced to surrender, but McCallum's group was picked up by the Robb, which then returned to Port Colborne.
Witnesses later claimed that the Fort Erie fight had gone on for no more than thirty minutes, but casualties on both sides were high.
End of the Niagara Expedition
Though victorious in all tests of arms, John O'Neill soon began to realize his situation was hopeless. The Niagara River was achurn with the USS Michigan, her sentry tugs Harrison and Farrar, and the US revenue cutter Fessenden. There would be no reinforcements even if Buffalo was teeming with them. Colonel Peacocke's force was nearby, though scouts reported it camped for the night on the Bowen farm, near the point where O'Neill had first landed. It was just a matter of time before a new column moved toward him from Port Colborne.
O'Neill released his prisoners and moved his force to rocky hill of ruins at old Fort Erie, saying he would make a final stand there if such a sacrifice would do some good for the Fenian cause. Somehow, Wm J Hynes managed to communicate with O'Neill about a group of 350 Fenians waiting at the foot of Genesee Street to cross the river in a canal boat, hoping to reinforce the Irish expedition. Colonel Henry Rutgers Stagg led these men, and Hynes quoted his remark about seeing "the dawn of Ireland's freedom" and "rushing to see the sunrise." But no amount of eloquence could change O'Neill's mind about the futility of further fighting on the Niagara peninsula. The enemy was building in numbers and the Fenians had no ammunition. The British field guns would be able to kill them all from a mile away and there would be no glory in that. There was to be another Fenian push across the St Lawrence from northern New York, and O'Neill figured he had bought them enough time.
Stagg's canal boat was towed over, empty, for the evacuation of O'Neill's men. Aboard the scow AP Waite, O'Neill left the Canadian shore at approximately 2 AM on June 3. Within minutes, a twelve-pound boat howitzer sent a shell across the path of the tug Doyle, as it hauled its Fenian cargo toward Buffalo. It was the tug Harrison, crewed with men from the Michigan. O'Neill felt it was as safe a haven as he good expect under the circumstances -- not Brits, anyway.
By noon of June 3, Fort Erie village was filled with British soldiers, Canadian militia, and hundreds of souvenir-seekers. While O'Neill and the Fenian officers were arraigned by federal officials, about five hundred Irish soldiers were crammed aboard the AP Waite, tied behind the Michigan as she stood in the Niagara River below Buffalo's Fort Porter. Company C of the Fourth US Infantry arrived to reinforce Fort Porter and guard the Fenian captives.
On June 4, the captured Fenians began to arrive in Toronto. Cuffed in pairs to a length of chain, they were led from their train to the city jail through city streets. Huge crowds of citizens pelted them with all manner of garbage.
By June 6, the Fenian officers had all been released on their promises to appear later before the Federal circuit court at Canandaigua. Their soldiers were paroled and given free railroad transportation back to their homes, on their promises not to again illegally cross international borders.
The following letter is one of several written by Fenian senators immediately after the June 1866 raid, when they were asked to begin again with matters of Brotherhood business. This one went from Louisville merchant Patrick Bannon to Phildelphian John Gibbons.
Louisville, June 25 1866
I received your dispatch this morning to attend Senate meeting on Wednesday. Circumstances prevent my attending. I have dispatched to that effect and, laying my resignation of Senator and State Centre before you, you will of course accept it, as I will not serve longer in that position. I will work at home for the Brotherhood, if anything can be done. My friends look to me for information every day, thinking, from my position, that some person should let me know what was going on and what the prospects now. I simply tell them that I get all the news I receive from the newspapers, which is not satisfactory.
Our career, in a military sense, has been nothing but a series of blunders since I left New York. Our Colonel had orders to leave on the 25th. I sent a man to Cincinnati to see about transportation, when he was told by Mr Fitzgerald that we should be in Cleveland on the night of the 28th after dark. I went to Indianapolis and made arrangements accordingly. Once got to Cleveland on Monday night, the 28th, no arrangements there to go further. By then I had spent 20 hours with 300 men. Got orders from headquarters to go to Buffalo. Got there Wednesday evening. Got orders there from Hynes to cross the river on Thursday night, which we did, and, as the sequel shows, made a beautiful fight of it. Our men were made into a forlorn hope - some in prison, some in strange locales wounded, and some killed. The balance got home again. We have no plan nor programme to follow. Done as best we could, thought we were doing right but probably done all wrong, for all we know. The people here blame me for not being better-posted and refuse to give another dollar. Left all on my shoulders. We ran short in furnishing transportation, as we did not expect to have to go to Buffalo and consequently got me for nearly $1000 in the trip.
As I have said, the people here have let down and are dispirited, and I decline to go in the dark. If anything turns up in the future, I may go again if it looks all right.
I have not sold any bonds. I would not offer them for sale until something would be done that looked like a victory. The consequence is I have $10,000 worth of them and will return them when called upon.
Your Senate should have met in Washington and hurled your anathemas against those who deceived and betrayed us, and demand of them to pursue the dismissal of every Cabinet officer that made a catspaw of us, and to lash him.
Hoping your councils may tend to good results. You have been faithful to your trust and I hope you will have the reward you deserve.
Kentucky will now have a chance to stay at home and leave the management of affairs to more able and wiser ones. Believe me ever your kind and affectionate friend, Bannon
On June 6, 1866, a Fenian force led by US Army general Samuel Spear crossed into Quebec and held ground north of St Albans, Vermont, until surrendering to US forces on June 8. No more than fifteen lives had been extinguished on either side during the early June 1866 actions, including one woman who accidentally wandered into Canadian line of fire during the Quebec affair.
Formal inquiries into Ridgeway were quickly conducted in Canada. Albert Booker was found to have handled his volunteers poorly, and J Stoughton Dennis was run out of the service due to his apparent dereliction of duty. When the fighting in Fort Erie broke out late on June 2, Dennis disappeared, only to later turn up in Colonel Peacocke's camp clean-shaven and wearing civilian clothes.
The captive Fenian suspects were held in Toronto and about a third of these 117 individuals were put on trial during the Fall of 1866. Twenty-one were found guilty of participation in the illegal invasion of Canada, and seven were sentenced to be hanged on December 13, 1866. A Roman Catholic priest, Father John McMahon, was among the seven. None of the death sentences were carried out, however, though Father McMahon was the last prisoner to be released.
John O'Neill was appointed a general in the Fenian military organization and soon rose to its presidency. He led two more raids into Canada -- May 1870 and October 1871 -- neither of which were successful but did demonstrate that Canada had improved its ability to respond to such threats.
The federal government did not press any action against the Fenian officers at the Canandaigua circuit court. Seeking to manipulate the Irish vote, politicians and government officials assumed many odd positions. On December 4, 1866, for example, the crew of the USS Michigan returned weapons confiscated June 2 from O'Neill's men. The ghastly-looking Michael Bailey, slowly dying due to the hole made in his chest at Fort Erie, led a sort of Fenian victory parade away from the US gunboat. Bailey finally succumbed to his raid wound during January, 1868.
The Fenian Brotherhood attempted to achieve its objectives during the political and social turmoil following the Civil War. Though unsuccessful, they certainly cannot be faulted for not trying. General "Fightin' Tom" Sweeny often said, "If I had done this in some other country, I would be a hero. But here, here I am just one of the boys, prowling the night with the other highwaymen."
of Battle - Battle of Ridgeway
Additional Resources by David J. Bertuca
155th New York
Last modified: 1 July 2014
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