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The Canadian Frontier Vigilantly Guarded

The Ontario Frontier Vigilantly Guarded--Volunteers on Service at Danger Points All Along the Line.


On the frontier of the Province of Ontario the danger of invasion was just as imminent as in the East, as Fenians were assembling at all points with definite objects in view. The invasion was well planned, but its execution was very poorly managed. It was not the intention of the Fenian leaders to bring on battles at either Eccles' Hill or Trout River unless success was well assured. These were only intended to be feints to draw the attention of the Canadians, while the main attacks were to be made at Cornwall and Prescott, with another heavy attack on the Niagara frontier if opportunity offered. Their object (as in 1866) was to destroy the St. Lawrence and Welland Canals and cut railway communication wherever practicable, thus preventing rapid concentration of Canadian troops while they proceeded to occupy the country. In conformity with their plans the Fenian troops gathered at convenient places to make their raids on the objective points in Ontario they had in view.

Owing to the extreme probability of an attack being made on Cornwall by the Fenians who had gathered at Malone, N.Y., it was deemed advisable by the Government to assemble a large force for the defence of that place as speedily as possible. Therefore orders were wired at 2 p.m. on May 24th to Lieut.-Col. F. T. Atcherly, Deputy Adjutant-General of the 4th Military District, to call out the militia force at Brockville and Prescott forthwith for active service. This was immediately accomplished and guards posted for the protection of these towns. On the following day he received instructions to proceed at once to Cornwall and assume command of the force there. He arrived at Cornwall that night with the Iroquois Battery of Garrison Artillery, and in conjunction with Lieut.-Col. Bergin, commanding the 59th Battalion, made all the necessary dispositions of guards for the protection of the town and the locks and bridges on the Cornwall Canal. In the meantime the entire 59th Battalion had been mustered, and on the following day his force was strengthened by the arrival of a demi-battery of the Ottawa Field Artillery, with two guns and 23 horses, under command of Capt. Forsyth, and also the Ottawa Brigade of Garrison Artillery, under Lieut.-Col. Forrest. About the same time the 18th Battalion began to arrive from L'Orignal, having been conveyed the whole distance in waggons. During the afternoon the 41st Battalion, under command of Lieut.-Col. Crawford, arrived by steamer from Brockville. In addition to this force, a corps of mounted scouts of about 60 men had been organized by Lieut.-Col. Bergin, and placed under command of Capt. Mattice. This company did most excellent service at night, patrolling along the banks of the canal from the guard lock at Dickinson's Landing to the village of Summerstown, a distance of about 21 miles. Strong pickets were posted every night to guard the culverts in the canal at various places. At the guard lock at the head of the canal, No. 5 Company of the 59th Battalion, under command of Capt. Bredin, was stationed, and did very excellent service. The town of Cornwall and the lower locks of the canal were so efficiently guarded and the surrounding country so thoroughly patrolled, that had an attack been made the invaders would certainly have met with a decidedly hot reception by Col. Atcherley's force.

While the land forces were so arduously performing their duties, the steamer "Prince Alfred" was employed in patrolling the river. She was manned by a detachment of artillerymen and sharp-shooters, who were unceasing in their vigilance to overhaul any craft that looked suspicious.

Lieut.-Col. W. H. Jackson, Brigade Major of the 8th Brigade Division, was in command of the force which assembled at Prescott, and performed the arduous duties required of him most efficiently. On the departure of Lieut.-Col. F. T. Atcherly to take command of the force at Cornwall, Lieut.-Col. Jackson was instructed to assume command of the forces which were concentrating at Preseott. A large body of Fenians had gathered at Ogdensburg, just across the river, and rumors were rife that they intended making a crossing. He accordingly took prompt precautions to place that important point in a state of defence. The troops at his command were one division of the Ottawa Field Battery, with two guns; the Ottawa Rifle Company (Capt. Mowat), the 43rd Carleton Battalion (Lieut.-Col. Bearman), and the 56th Battalion Lisgar Rifles (Lieut.-Col. Jessup). In addition he had two companies of Railway Guards, making his total force about 750 officers and men. With this command he thoroughly guarded, picketed and patrolled every important point east, west and north, and so keen was his vigilance that the enemy across the river could find no loop-hole for an attack and abandoned their intention. This force was kept on duty until the 3rd of June, when the danger having passed, they were relieved from further service.

The situation at Brockville was as grave as at other points along the frontier, owing to its close contiguity to the American shore. It was the headquarters of the 42nd Battalion, which was speedily mustered under command of Lieut.-Col. J. D. Buell. Several of the companies of this corps were located many miles from headquarters, but on receiving the call for active service they moved with remarkable activity, and arrived at the frontier within 24 hours after the summons had been sent forth. No. 4 Company (Capt. Allan Fraser), from Fitzroy, had about 80 miles to travel, partly by waggon and partly by rail. They quickly mustered at Kinburn and moved with such celerity that they reported at Brockville early the next morning. Such, indeed, was the spirit that prevailed among the volunteers everywhere, and to their promptness is due the defeat of the enemy's plans. The Forty-second did very great service in protecting the railway docks and other points of landing at Brockville, besides patrolling the river banks as far east as Maitland, thus keeping up a chain of communication with the garrison at Prescott. Several "scares" occurred during the time they were on service, which caused sleepless nights, but by their vigilance the Fenians were deterred from making an attack. All were prompt, willing and eager to obey every command, and were warmly commended for the soldierly manner in which they performed their duty.

For the protection of the Niagara frontier, all available troops in the immediate vicinity were called out for active service on the 24th of May. The Nineteenth Lincoln Battalion, under command of Lieut.-Col. J. G. Currie, the St. Catharines Troop of Cavalry under Capt. Gregory, and the St. Catharines Battery of Garrison Artillery, were quickly assembled and placed on active service. One company of the 19th was detached to guard the Suspension Bridge at Clifton, in conjunction with three companies of the 44th Welland Battalion. The remainder of the 19th Battalion were posted as follows:--Two companies (with regimental staff) consisting of 12 officers and 87 men, at St. Catharines and Port Dalhousie; one company (Capt. Upper) with three officers and 42 men at Niagara; three officers and 42 men at Port Robinson, three officers and 42 men at Welland, and three officers and 42 men at Allanburg.

The St. Catharines Troop of Cavalry (Capt. Gregory) was despatched to Chippawa to patrol the River Road between that point and Fort Erie--one officer and 13 troopers being stationed at Chippawa; one officer and 13 men at Black Creek, and one officer and 14 men at Fort Erie. This command maintained a complete system of patrols along the upper Niagara River. Two companies of the 44th Battalion were also stationed at Chippawa to guard the bridges and approaches to that place.

The St. Catharines Battery of Garrison Artillery (Capt. Thomas Oswald) was attached to the 19th Battalion, a portion of the Battery, under Lieut. J. G. Holmes, doing duty in guarding the locks on the Welland Canal at Allanburg, and the remainder being placed on board the tug "Clara Carter" with two field guns, which boat was employed to cruise Lake Erie and the Niagara River.

The Queenston Mounted Infantry, under command of Capt. Robert Currie, maintained an efficient patrol of the lower Niagara frontier, with two officers and 18 men at Niagara, and one officer and 18 men at Queenston.

The 37th Haldimand Battalion was ordered to Port Colborne, and also the Welland Canal, Field Battery, where they maintained a vigilant, guard on the entrance to the Welland Canal, which was threatened by an Fenian attack.

The United States gunboat "Michigan" was at Port Colborne on the 24th, and left on a cruise along the shores of Lake Erie with positive orders from the American Government to sink any piratical craft that might attempt to make a crossing. The Fenians assembled at Buffalo were anxious to get over into Canada, but could not get any ship owners willing to take the risk in face of such orders.

With the Niagara frontier thus protected and the remainder of the Active Militia in Toronto, Hamilton, Brantford and all other points in the Second Military District under orders to be prepared to move whenever their services might be required, the danger was averted, and the alarm of the people of that section soon subsided. The total strength of the force on active service on the Niagara frontier at that time (under command of Lieut-Col. Durie, D.A.G.) amounted to 1,159, consisting of 93 officers and 966 men, with 147 horses and four guns.

To guard the St. Clair River frontier, a sufficient force was placed on active service to keep in check any raiders that might attempt a crossing from the State of Michigan, while all of the troops in the First Military District were warned to be ready to move to the front when summoned. The troops called out were posted as follows:--

At Sarnia--London Field Battery, with two guns, three officers, 30 men and 25 horses, Lieut.-Col. Shanly commanding; Mooretown Mounted Infantry, three officers, 39 men and 42 horses, Capt. Stewart commanding; 27th Battalion of Infantry, 24 officers and 224 men, Lieut.-Col. Davis commanding.

At Windsor--St. Thomas Cavalry Troop (Capt. Borbridge), six officers, 42 men and 45 horses; Leamington Infantry Company (Capt. Wilkinson), three officers and 45 men; Windsor Infantry Company (Capt. Richards), three officers and 42 men; Bothwell Infantry Company (Capt. Chambers), three officers and 40 men; Lobo Infantry Company (Capt. Stevenson), three officers and 47 men.

Ceaseless vigilance was in evidence everywhere among the volunteers who guarded the points above mentioned, and the troops on duty were fully prepared for any invading force that might set foot on our soil. But fortunately the Province of Ontario was spared a repetition of the events of 1866, although it was not the fault of the enemy, who made strenuous efforts to get over the border. In 1870 President Grant took prompt measures to prevent unlawful expeditions from leaving the United States, and through the watchfulness of the American Government the designs of the Fenian leaders were defeated. Generals O'Neil, Starr, Gleason, O'Reilly, Donnelly and others had been promptly arrested by the United States authorities, and the rank and file soon abandoned their campaigns and returned to their homes.

Personal Reminiscences.

While perusing the fyles of the Toronto Globe in the Public Reference Library recently, my eye caught the following item in the issue of that journal dated June 1st, 1870, which brought back to memory personal reminiscences which may be of interest:

"The St. Catharines Journal says that three young Canadians in Corry, Pa., named respectively John A. and George Macdonald, of St. Catharines, and Thomas Kennedy, of Niagara, hearing that the Fenians were on Canadian soil, determined to be on hand in the hour of danger, and at once took train for home, arriving at St. Catharines last Wednesday night (May 25th). It is no small thing for a working man to throw up a situation and sacrifice all for their love of country, and Canada should be proud of such sons."

At the time the Fenians were getting ready to make their second invasion of Canada in 1870, the writer of this book was employed as a newspaper reporter in a town in Pennsylvania where Fenianism was rampant, and in the course of my daily duties had rare opportunities for gleaning information as to the intentions of "the Brotherhood." I noticed that preparations were being made with the utmost secrecy possible, and that those who were engaged in organizing the movement were men of the most determined and desperate character. I chanced to know some of them personally, and by a careful process of reportorial "interviewing," learned that a sudden dash on Canadian territory was to be made within a few days. The chief desire of the leaders was to keep their intentions from the knowledge of the United States authorities, and they were very averse to giving the least publicity as to their movements.

However, in a casual way I received information from a reliable source that large numbers of men were on their way from the southern part of Pennsylvania. Ohio. Indiana. Kentucky, Tennessee and other places, travelling as ordinary passengers, and that they would rendezvous at Erie. Dunkirk. Buffalo, Niagara Falls and other places along the border, where they were to receive their equipment. This news I duly communicated to my friends at home (St. Catharines) and gave them notice that trouble was impending.

The next day (25th of May) things were looking more serious. About 9 o'clock in the morning I went down to the railway depot on my quest for "news items." and found that two trains had just arrived--one from Pittsburgh and the other from Central Ohio, on which were an unusually large number of men, who were bound for Buffalo. They were swarming on the station platforms and patronizing nearby saloons and restaurants freely while waiting for train connections. I wanted more information, and mingled with them with the intention of getting it. Most of them were very reticent, but I finally found out, by judicious pumping of a burly fellow from Pittsburgh, that they were Fenians on their way to Canada. I instantly made up my mind that it was time for me to go home. I had previously written to the Captain of my old corps (in which I had served at Fort Erie in 1866) giving him "pointers" as to what the Fenians were doing, and notifying him that I would be home to fill my place in the ranks when occasion required. I considered that the time had now arrived for prompt action on my part, and as the train was due to leave within an hour, I hurried over to my employer and explained matters, resigned my situation, got my salary, secured my valise (which I had already packed), and was ready to leave in less than half an hour. My brother (George M. Macdonald), who was also employed on the same paper as myself, did likewise, and when we were leaving the office our employer very cordially commended our action and bade us "God speed" on our journey, at the same time handing us a roll of money "for present use," as he expressed it, and adding that when the trouble was over and we were ready to return, our situations would be open for us. Such generous kindness, and the warm words of appreciation of our services which accompanied the genial "good-by" of our employer, touched us both deeply, and have remained in my memory ever since as one of the bright spots in my life. On our way to the station we met another Canadian (Thomas Kennedy), whose old home was at Niagara, where he belonged to No. 1 Company of the 19th Battalion. He was greatly "worked up" when he saw the Fenian contingent getting ready to start, and when we informed him of our intentions, he resolutely remarked. "Boys, I'm going home, too; and as I haven't got time to go down to my boarding-house for my clothes, I'll go just as I am. We'll be in uniform in Canada to-morrow." So he came with us. By this time the train was ready to leave, and we managed to get a double seat in one end of the car. The coach we were in was soon filled with Fenians, and the vacant seat beside me was taken by a sturdy-looking fellow who confidentially told us that he was a Sergeant in a company from Cincinnati, and that a large force of "the byes" were proceeding to the frontier. From this soldier we got considerable valuable information as to the strength and composition of the troops on the train, and also those following, which was carefully stored in our memories and afterwards duly reported to the Canadian authorities. Two or three times this Sergeant inquired what company of Fenians we belonged to, but we artfully managed to evade a direct answer to his questions, and switched the conversation in another direction. Had he realized or became aware of the fact that we were Canadians on our way home to take up arms against him and his comrades, there is no doubt but that we would have had a very unpleasant experience on that car. Quite a number of the Fenians on board were under the influence of liquor, and as they pushed around their bottles of whiskey several of them forgot the lessons of caution that had been impressed upon them by their officers, and became very talkative as to their organization and intentions. Our ears were strained to catch every syllable, and we gathered considerable desired information that otherwise would not have leaked out. On arrival at Dunkirk our travelling companion (the Fenian Sergeant) left the train with about twenty men, bidding us a friendly farewell and saying that perhaps we might soon meet again, "in the camp or in the field." We hoped the latter, but did not consider it necessary to explain our thoughts. We were much pleased to lose this gentleman's company, as he had again began to persistently ask us awkward questions as to what Irish Republican Regiment we were in, and who were our officers; also what Fenian "circle" we belonged to, and who was the "Centre" of it. Such queries were so very pointed and direct that we were obliged to use all sorts of evasions and diplomacy to throw our interlocutor off his guard. Before we reached Buffalo another chap approached us, and began asking a series of vexing questions, but fortunately the conductor just then happened to come through the car, and we disposed of the inquisitive Fenian by halting the train official and asking him a lot of questions about railway connections for points east, and other matters, of which we knew as much as he did. The Fenian stood by for a while listening, until a comrade in the centre of the car called him to partake of some liquid refreshments. He promptly responded to the summons, and after a liberal libation from the neck of a bottle he seemed to forget all about us, for which we were duly thankful. A few moments afterward our Fenian friend broke forth into song in stentorian tones, in which the rest of his comrades joined in the rendition of "The Wearin' o' the Green." This diversion drew their attention from our direction until the train finally rolled into the Exchange Street Depot at Buffalo. We quietly slipped off the rear platform of the car, and were obliged to elbow our way through a throng of Fenians who had gathered to meet the new arrivals. On reaching the street we quickly proceeded across to the Erie Street Station, where we caught the evening train for Suspension Bridge. This train also was pretty well tilled with Fenians, but we were not bothered by any of them on the way. Soon after we crossed the Niagara River and were on Canadian soil. To express our gratification and pleasure to be once more at home in our native land, cannot be fully expressed in words, so I will leave the feeling to be imagined by the reader.

That night at 9 o'clock my brother and myself reported to Capt. Thomas Oswald in the Drill Shed at St. Catharines. The old St. Catharines Battery of Garrison Artillery was on parade, and when we made our appearance we received such a hearty reception and ovation that the ringing cheers of my old comrades and their spontaneous greetings still haunt my memory. We were immediately ushered into the Armory by the Quartermaster-Sergeant, who issued to us our uniforms and equipments, and in half an hour we were again in the ranks, ready for service in defence of Canada.

Both my brother George and Comrade Tom Kennedy have long since passed away to eternal rest, and as an affectionate tribute to their memory and worth, and in remembrance of their loyal devotion to Queen and country. I deem it fitting to here put on record this evidence of the high spirit of patriotism which inspired these noble boys to respond to the call of duty when dancer threatened their native land.


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Troublous Times in Canada, A History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870

Fenian Raids of 1866 - 1870

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