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Canadian Volunteers Promptly Respond to the Call of Duty
The First Alarm--Canadian Volunteers Promptly
Respond to the Call of Duty--The Campo Bello Fizzle--Fenians Gather
on the Border--Operations on the Niagara Frontier
Early in the month of March, 1866, considerable
activity was observable among the Fenians in both the United States
and Ireland, and it became known to the authorities that a "rising"
was contemplated, to occur on St. Patrick's Day. That a simultaneous
raid on Canada had been planned was evident, and as the Government
maintained a force of secret service agents in the principal
American cities to keep watch on the movements of the Fenians,
reliable information was furnished which was regarded of sufficient
importance by the Canadian authorities to warrant prompt action in
putting the country in a state of defence. Accordingly on the 7th of
March a General Order was issued by Col. P. L. Macdougall,
Adjutant-General of the Canadian Militia, calling out 10,000
volunteers for active service. The summons was flashed across the
wires to all points in the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, and
fourteen thousand men promptly responded to the call. By 4 o'clock
on the following day these forces were all assembled at their
respective headquarters, awaiting further orders. So eager were the
young men of Canada to perform their duty in those trying times that
a force of 50,000 could have been raised as easily as the number
called for. Most of the companies and battalions were reported "over
strength" when the returns were received at headquarters, and the
Government decided to retain the whole 14,000 on service pending
developments of the enemy's movements. Lieut.-General Sir John
Michel (then commanding Her Majesty's forces in North America) was
placed in supreme command, with Major-Gen. James Lindsay in command
of the troops in Canada East, and Major-Gen. G. Napier, C.B., in
charge of the forces in Canada West.
On the 8th of March, the following companies were ordered to report
for duty to Major Crawford at Brockville for the purpose of forming
a Provisional Battalion:--
||Perth Rifle Company--Capt. Edmund Spillman.
Gananoque Rifle Company--Capt. Robert McCrum.
Carleton Place Rifle Company--Capt. James Poole.
Perth Infantry Company--Capt. Thomas Scott.
Almonte Infantry Company--Capt. James D. Gemmill.
Brockville Infantry Company--Capt. Jacob D. Buell.
The above units promptly reported, and the
organization of the Battalion was effected by a mergement of them
with the Brockville Rifles, which was placed on full service and
divided, the right half forming a company of 50 men under Capt. W.
H. Cole, and the left half (50 men) placed in command of Lieut.
Windeat. Lieut. Robert Bowie was appointed Adjutant of the new
Battalion thus created.
Thirty Spencer rifles were issued to the Brockville Rifles, and
given to Capt. Cole's company. That officer compiled a drill manual
which instructed the men armed with the repeating rifles to act on
the same words of command issued to those who had the muzzle-loading
Enfields, which was so excellent in practice that he was afterwards
highly complimented by Major-General Lindsay when the Battalion was
inspected by him in the following May. This Battalion remained on
duty at Brockville until about the 16th of May, when they were
released from further service and permitted to return to their
For several weeks the country was kept in a state of feverish,
excitement, as all sorts of rumors of intended raids at different
points were prevalent. Constant drilling and vigilance was
maintained, and all the avenues of approach to the frontier towns
and exposed points were closely guarded. The weather was very severe
that winter, especially during the period the troops were on duty,
and many of the survivors of those eventful days will doubtless
remember the frost-bites they received while pacing their dreary
beats on guard duty, and the many other discomforts which fell to
The 17th of March passed without the anticipated attacks being made,
however, and the fears of the people were gradually allayed. The
Fenians had evidently reconsidered their plans so far as Canada was
concerned, as the Frost King held sway with rigid severity, and
decided to delay their invasion until early summer. On the 28th of
March the force on active service was reduced from 14,000 to 10,000
(the original prescribed number), and on the 31st of March all were
relieved from permanent duty with the exception of the advanced
frontier posts, but were required to parade and drill on two days of
each week at local headquarters.
Meanwhile the Fenians kept up their drill and warlike preparations.
Immense quantities of arms and ammunition were purchased and shipped
to various points in the United States contiguous to the Canadian
frontier, where they could quickly be obtained by the invaders when
During the early part of April a number of Fenians gathered in the
towns of Eastport and Calais, in the State of Maine, with the avowed
purpose of capturing the Island of Campo Bello, a British possession
at the mouth of the St. Croix River, on the boundary line between
the Province of New Brunswick and the United States. This expedition
was under the direction of "General" Dorian, Killian, who was one of
the leading lights of the O'Mahony faction of the Fenian
Brotherhood. This move was made contrary to the fixed policy of the
Stephens-O'Mahony wing of the Fenian organization, but something had
to be done to satisfy the impatient people who were providing the
funds to inaugurate the war and were clamoring for immediate action.
So after considerable deliberation and hesitation, General O'Mahony
gave his consent to the proposed invasion, and preparations were
hurriedly made. A vessel was chartered at New York, and being loaded
with arms and ammunition, sailed for Eastport, Maine. The rank and
file of the Fenian force gathered quietly at Eastport, Calais and
adjacent towns, and awaited the arrival of their armament. In the
meantime the Canadian military authorities were getting ready to
meet the filibusters, and strong forces of volunteers were posted
along the New Brunswick frontier to watch events and be prepared for
action as soon as the Fenians attempted to make a landing. Three
British war vessels steamed quietly into the St. Croix River, ready
for instant service, and a couple of American gunboats were also on
guard to prevent a crossing. General Meade, with a battalion of
United States troops, arrived at Eastport, with orders from the
American Government to see that a breach of the Neutrality Act was
not committed. On the same day the vessel with arms for the Fenians
sailed into Eastport harbor and was promptly seized by the United
States officials. This was "the last straw" to break the hopes of
the Fenians, and they left for their homes without accomplishing
anything, utterly dejected, hungry and weary, and bitterly cursing
their leaders, and the American authorities particularly, for
preventing them from crossing the line. This fiasco was a mortifying
blow to General O'Mahony and his supporters, and the cohorts of
Roberts and Sweeny gained more confidence and support as the star of
the Stephens faction grew dimmer.
The remainder of April and the month of May passed away quietly, and
the people of Canada had almost dismissed the Fenian "bugaboo" from
their minds, and were enjoying a period of peace and prosperity,
when again the Demon of War loomed up on the border more terrible
than ever. This time it was the Roberts-Sweeny section of the Fenian
Brotherhood who were bent on making trouble for Canada, and if
possible carry out their elaborate plan of campaign for conquering
our Provinces. All during the winter and spring the Fenian leaders
had been secretly and sedulously at work making preparations for
simultaneous raids on Canada at different places, and towards the
end of May the Irish Republican Army began massing on the border for
that purpose. At strategic points all along our extensive frontier
the Fenian forces were quietly gathering, evidently with the purpose
of trying to work out the wide scheme of Gen. Sweeny to capture
Canada and hand us over body and bones to the United States.
At St. Albans, Vermont, and adjacent villages, a large force
gathered for the purpose of making a raid from that quarter, in the
possible hope that with the reinforcements they expected, they might
be able to hold that section of country and operate against the City
of Montreal with some degree of success, in conjunction with two
other columns which were expected to carry the St. Lawrence line.
At Malone, New York, another strong force assembled under the
command of the Fenian Gen. M. J. Heffernan, who announced his
intention of making an attack on Cornwall. Gen. Murphy and Gen.
O'Reilly, both veteran officers of the Union Army in the Civil War,
were attached to this column, and were very assiduous in their
efforts to make it an efficient fighting force.
At Ogdensburg, New York, Gen. Sweeny personally supervised the
mobilization of a large contingent of his warriors. This column was
organized for the purpose of attacking Prescott, Brockville, and
other points along the St. Lawrence, and after taking possession of
the Canadian shore and the Grand Trunk Railway, be available for his
plan of sweeping the whole country east as far as Montreal, and join
with the other columns (which were to start from Malone and St.
Albans) in capturing that city.
Cape Vincent, Oswego, Rochester and other points along the Upper St.
Lawrence and Lake Ontario were places of rendezvous for the Fenian
troops who were steadily arriving from the interior of New York
State, while the Western and Southern contingents gathered at
Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Erie and Buffalo.
As the Niagara frontier possesses many attractions for an invading
force (as in the days of 1812 and 1814), it was decided to again
make that historic territory one of the arenas for hostile
operations. Gen. Sweeny fondly nursed the hope that while our forces
were busily engaged there, that he would be able to make crossings
at two or three other points along the border. As the scene of the
first active operations was presented on the Niagara Peninsula, I
will relate those events first, and then return to a description of
what was occurring on the St. Lawrence and Vermont borders.
For some days previous to the 31st of May large numbers of
mysterious strangers were noticed to be gathering in some of the
towns and cities adjacent to the Niagara frontier. In Buffalo
particularly this mobilization of men with a purpose was observable,
but so reticent were they, and so careful of their movements causing
comment, that suspicions were partially disarmed. Yet these
strangers were all Fenian soldiers, who were silently and quickly
gathering from various States of the Union with a determined
intention to make a quick dash on Canada, which they hoped to
capture, and set up their standards upon our soil. All preparations
for the coup had been made, and yet the people of Canada
seemed to dream not of their peril.
Towards midnight on the 31st of May those strangers in Buffalo were
noticed to be assembling in groups, squads and companies, and moving
as if by a pre-arranged programme in the direction of Black Rock,
two or three miles north of the city, on the Niagara River.
Suspicious-looking waggons and furniture vans were also moving in
the same direction. These were loaded with arms and ammunition for
the use of "the Army of Conquest," but no attempt was made by the
United States authorities to stop the expedition, although it was a
clear breach of the Neutrality Act then in force between the two
countries. At the hour of midnight, when the peaceful citizens on
the Canadian side of the Niagara River were slumbering in their
beds, the Fenian hordes were steadily gathering on the other side of
the shimmering stream and making preparations to effect a crossing.
Two powerful tugs and several canal boats had been chartered to
convey the Fenians across to Canada, and these were quickly and
quietly loaded with men and munitions of war, As the grey dawn of
day was breaking on the morning of the 1st of June, the Fenian
transports started across the river. The troops consisted of one
brigade of the Irish Republican Army, under command of Gen. John
O'Neil, a veteran soldier who had seen much active service and hard
fighting in the American Civil War. This brigade was composed of the
13th Regiment (Col. O'Neill), from Tennessee; 17th Regiment (Col.
Owen Starr), from Kentucky; 18th Regiment (Lieut.-Col. John Grace),
from Ohio; the 7th Regiment (Col. John Hoye), from Buffalo, N.Y.,
and a detachment of troops from Indiana. The whole number was
estimated to be about 1,500 men, who were principally veteran
soldiers of the Northern and Southern armies.
This was the "forlorn hope" who were expected to make the first
landing and hold the country until sufficient reinforcements could
be rushed across the border to enable them to make a success of the
campaign. Buffalo was full of Fenians and their sympathizers at that
time, and thousands were coming into the city every day to take part
in the invasion.
It was an opportune time for such a movement, as the popular feeling
of the American people was not altogether amicable or friendly to
the British nation, and it was the hope of the promoters of the raid
that something might occur which would give them the countenance and
support of the United States. It is a well-known fact that under the
political system of America the Irish vote is a dominant factor in
elections, and all classes of citizens who aspire to public office
are more or less controlled by that element. Consequently the
vigilance of many of Uncle Sam's officials was relaxed, and they
winked the other eye as the invaders marched towards Canada, instead
of endeavoring to stop them from committing a breach of the law of
nations in regard to neutrality.
It was asserted in the public press of the United States and
proclaimed by the Fenians themselves at that time, that Andrew
Johnson (who was then President of the United States) and Secretary
of State Seward openly encouraged the invasion for the purpose of
turning it to political account in the settlement of the Alabama
Claims with Great Britain. In view of the fact that he held back the
issuance of his proclamation forbidding a breach of the Neutrality
Act for five full days after the Raid had been made, there
was manifestly some understanding between President Johnson and the
Fenian leaders, as the American authorities were perfectly cognizant
of what was intended long before Gen. O'Neil crossed the boundary,
and might have been prevented from doing so, had the United States
officials at Buffalo exercised such due vigilance as Gen. Meade did
in the Campo Bello affair.
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Troublous Times in Canada, A History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870
Fenian Raids of 1866 - 1870