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Fenian Mobilization at Malone, N.Y., and Elsewhere

Fenian Mobilization at Malone and Elsewhere--Gen. Meade's Prompt Action Stops the Invasion--Arrest of Gen. Sweeny and Staff.


The principal points of rendezvous for the Fenians who were intended to operate on the St. Lawrence frontier were Ogdensburg, Watertown, Malone and Potsdam, in the State of New York, and at these places large bodies of men began concentrating during the first two or three days in June. General Sweeny was in personal command of the troops of the Irish Republican Army in that department, and had made every arrangement to invade Canada along that line, in accordance with his original plan of campaign. He made his headquarters at Ogdensburg for a time, and from there directed the mobilization of his columns for the contemplated attacks on Prescott, Cornwall and other points on the Canadian border.

Meanwhile Gen. Michael J. Heffernan, Gen. Murphy, and Gen. O'Reilly, were at Malone, N.Y., perfecting the military organization of the column which was intended to attack Cornwall. These officers were all old soldiers, who had held commands in the United States service during the Civil War, and were well posted in the business they had on hand.

While the Fenian leaders were thus employed in getting their forces ready for the movement across the line, Major-General Geo. Meade (the commander of the United States troops) was equally active and vigilant in his determined efforts to stop the promised invasion. He ordered the seizure by the United States officials of all arms and ammunitions of war intended for use by the Fenians that could be located on American territory, and forbade the railways and other transportation companies from carrying further supplies of such material to the frontier. These orders were rigidly complied with, and seizures of arms and ammunition were made at Rouse's Point, Malone, Potsdam, Ogdensburg, Watertown, St. Albans and other places, which considerably disconcerted Gen. Sweeny's plans and thwarted his whole scheme. The presence of United States troops, which had been moved north from various military stations to support Gen. Meade in his efforts to prevent another breach of the Neutrality Act, also had a deterrent effect on the Fenians, and they became disheartened.

On the afternoon of the 4th of June, Major-General Meade ordered the United States Marshal at Watertown, N.Y., to intercept, seize and hold two carloads of Fenian war material which were on the way from Rome to Potsdam Junction and Malone. On arrival of the train at Watertown the Deputy Marshal was in waiting and promptly carried out the instructions. A carload of Fenian soldiers who were on the same train got off the car and angrily remonstrated with the officer when they learned of the seizure, but he was obdurate and retained possession of the two cars, which he had side-tracked. The Fenians remained at Watertown and began plotting for the recapture of the arms and ammunition. Not realizing that any interference with the majesty of the law would be attempted, the Marshal did not deem it necessary to place a strong guard over the two cars, and the Fenians determined to re-possess them. On arrival of the evening express train from the south they gathered around it and captured not only that train, but their two cars of supplies, and taking charge themselves, ran the whole outfit off to De Kalb Junction before they were recaptured. Several other instances of defiance of lawful authority were reported, but Gen. Meade meant business, and these infractions of his orders and the laws of the United States only served to make him more determined than ever to strangle the hopes of the Fenians before they had an opportunity of carrying out their designs.

President Johnson's Proclamation.

The tardy proclamation of President Johnson was finally issued on the 6th of June, almost a week after the Fenians, under Gen. O'Neil had crossed over the Niagara. Its delay seemed significant to the Canadian people, as the President and his Cabinet were fully aware that the Fenians had been making active preparations for months previously to invade Canada, and made no secret of their intentions. The following is the text of the proclamation:--


By the President of the United States of America--A Proclamation.

Whereas, it has become known to me that certain evil-disposed persons have, within the territory and jurisdiction of the United States, begun and set on foot, and have provided and prepared, and are still engaged in providing and preparing, means for such a military expedition and enterprise to be carried on from territory and jurisdiction of the United States against colonies, districts and people of British North America within the dominions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with which said colonies, districts, and people, and kingdom, the United States are at peace; and whereas, the proceedings aforesaid constitute a high misdemeanor, forbidden by the laws of the United States as well as by the laws of nations;

Now, therefore, for the purpose of preventing the carrying on of the unlawful expedition and enterprise aforesaid from the territory and jurisdiction of the United States, and to maintain the public peace, as well as the national honor, and enforce obedience and respect to the laws of the United States;

I, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, do admonish and warn all good citizens of the United States against taking part in or in anywise aiding, countenancing or abetting such unlawful proceedings; and I do exhort all judges, magistrates, marshals and officers in the service of the United States to employ all their lawful authority and power to prevent and defeat the aforesaid unlawful proceedings, and to arrest and bring to justice all persons who may be engaged therein, and in pursuance to the Act of Congress in such cases made and provided.

I do further authorize and empower Major-General G. G. Meade, Commander of the Military Division of the Atlantic, to employ the land and naval forces of the United States, and militia thereof, to arrest and pre vent the setting on foot and carrying on the expedition and enterprise aforesaid.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done in the City of Washington the sixth day of June, in the year of our Lord 1866, and in the independence of the United States the 90th.

Andrew Johnson.

By the President, WM. H. Seward, Secretary of State.


Although President Johnson did not issue his neutrality proclamation until the 6th of June, orders had previously been issued to United States officers to stop further invasions, and Gen. Meade exhibited great energy and promptness in carrying out instructions so far as his Department was concerned. Fenians were gathering in thousands, with the understanding that their equipment would be at the border on their arrival, but the bulk of the coveted armament was prevented from falling into their hands owing to the watchfulness of Gen. Meade's staff of officials. This action on the part of the United States authorities deeply incensed the Fenian leaders, and they were disposed to resent any interference with their plans. During an interview between Gen. Meade and the Fenian Generals Heffernan and Murphy, at Malone, the former complained of the interference of the United States Government, and bitterly remarked: "We have been lured on by the Cabinet, and used for the purpose of Mr. Seward. They encouraged us on to this thing. We bought our rifles from your arsenals, and were given to understand that you would not interfere. But this thing is not dead yet. We will succeed. We have our orders from General Sweeny, and we can and will perform them. If we get arms we will cross into Canada. We shall fight your regulars if they oppose us." General Meade replied: "I have got orders, too, and I shall fight you to enforce the neutrality laws."

In the performance of his duty Gen. Meade was inflexible, and would not stand any bluff or bluster from the Fenian leaders. On the contrary, he became very aggressive in compelling them to respect the laws and authority of the United States, and largely through his firmness and stern efforts the whole Fenian campaign was abandoned.

Arrest of President Roberts.

On the 8th of June the United States Government caused the arrest of Col. W. B. Roberts, President of the Irish Republic, on a charge of conspiracy and violation of the Neutrality Act. He was brought before United States Commissioner Betts, at New York, and committed to jail pending a hearing of his case. From the quiet precincts of his contracted quarters he issued several proclamations, which teemed with gasconade and valiant promises, of which the following is a sample:

Ludlow St. Jail, New York, June 11, 1866. To the Fenian Brotherhood and Irishmen of America:

Friends and Countrymen,--The Irish people of America are again united in the cause of Irish independence and universal freedom. The cheer which arose from the Irish soldiers at Limestone Ridge as the English foe went fleeing before their avenging steel, had found a responsive echo in every Irish heart and made us one in love, purpose and resolve. We see, after ages of your oppression, the unquenchable desire for Irish independence blaze forth anew, and as it sweeps along the cities and prairies of this vast continent it gathers within its magic influence five millions of Irish hearts and twice five millions of friends of freedom and foes of despotism! Arise, then, my countrymen! Nerve yourselves for the struggle so nobly commenced. Cast aside every consideration that would darken the bright hopes of your enslaved countrymen. Be true to liberty, your country, and your God; and your native land, instead of being a lazar-house of slavery, will soon be the garden of freedom. Stand by the cause! Be not dismayed by obstacles you meet; you must surmount them, and you will. Let cowardice and ignorance desert and denounce you--what of that? The true men are still with us, and the struggle must not be abandoned, even though our soldiers should be compelled through the over-zeal of United States officers to abandon the present campaign. There is no turning back for us, my countrymen. Our movement must and will advance. Retrogression would entail certain infamy and bring a deeper stain upon your country and race, and it is as legitimate for you to attack English power in Canada as it was for England to attack France there, or France and America England. Remember, in union there is strength, and that Union which has been cemented by the blood of our gallant brothers must be eternal, and let that man be anathemized and banned who with lying lip or evil heart would dare to weaken or dissolve it. Be true to Ireland--steadfast in the right and undismayed by obstacles, and remember that--

         "Freedom's battle once begun--
         Bequeathed from bleeding sire to son--
         Though baffled oft, is ever won!"

I remain, with unchanged determination and regard, your countryman,

Wm. R. Roberts, President Fenian Brotherhood.


While President Roberts was busy in penning his proclamations and exhorting his deluded followers to stand by the cause and "keep their powder dry" for a future attempt, the Revolutionary Committee of the Irish Republic were also sending out appeals to all lovers of Republican liberty, invoking further aid, from one of which circulars the following is an extract:

Let the Irish citizens in particular send in commissary stores, such as bread, meat, coffee, sugar, etc., just what each one would like at home. We want all the money you can raise for other purposes--what purposes the people can guess. Let no person imagine that the cause is defeated or that the men who have sworn to free their native land or die, will abandon their cause. A few over-zealous officials have placed some obstacles in our way. The voice of the great American people is at last heard in her halls of Congress, not from a single individual, but from the representatives of thirty, millions, and true to her natural instincts, they raise their voices for the oppressed. God bless them! They will raise many an anxious spirit through the world and make tyrants tremble on their thrones as the cry goes forth, "America is the defender of liberty." Let the people take heart throughout the land. Call meetings, pass resolutions, pledge support to the men who inscribe on their banner universal liberty. Be patient, but work! work! Collect money. Have your men ready, and when the cry of fight goes forth, let them come as individuals if they cannot come as companies or regiments.


As a large number of Fenians had gathered at Malone with very hostile intentions, Gen. Meade gave particular attention to the marauders who had mustered there. They had taken possession of the old military barracks at Malone, and were running the town to suit their own inclinations. As the days wore on and the prospects of their receiving arms and supplies to equip the invaders became more and more remote, the leaders chafed, fumed and fretted alternately, and finally became absolutely discouraged. Their fondest hopes were blasted, and they bitterly berated the United States Government in blasphemous language for stopping their expeditions. While the officers were in this frame of mind, their soldiers were worse. They were living on short rations, and their promise of a pleasant sojourn in "The Land of Plenty," where they hoped to revel in all the luxuries of life (when they captured it), was likely to prove but an empty dream. They were becoming turbulent and demonstrative, and it was finally found necessary to invoke the majesty of military power to keep them in subjection. Desertions were now frequent, and they had become a disorganized mob rather than a disciplined army. As this state of affairs was a menace to the public safety of the citizens of Malone. Gen. Meade took a firm grasp of the situation and issued the following order:


Malone, N.Y., June 9th, 1866.

All persons assembled at this place in connection with, and in aid of the Fenian organization for the purpose of invading Canada, are hereby ordered, in compliance with the President's proclamation, to desist from their enterprise and disband. The men of the expeditionary force will, on application to the officer in command of the United States forces, on giving their names and residences, and satisfying him that they are unable to provide their own transportation, be provided with transportation to their homes; and all officers below the rank of field officers who are unable to provide their own transportation, on giving their parole to abandon the enterprise, will be allowed to return to their homes; officers above the rank of field officers will be required to give such bonds as may be satisfactory to the civil authorities; it being the determination of the United States Government to preserve neutrality, and the most stringent measures having been taken to prevent all accessions of men and material, the Commanding General trusts that these liberal offers will have the effect of causing the expedition, now hopeless, to be quietly and peaceably abandoned; and he confidently expects that all those who have any respect for the authority of the United States will conform to the requirements of the President's proclamation; and of this, which if not promptly obeyed, a sufficient force will be brought to bear to compel obedience.

(Signed) George G. Meade, Major-General, U.S.A.


In compliance with this order, the majority of the men immediately gave their paroles, and for the next day or two trains were filled with the discomfitted warriors returning to their homes. All thoughts of the capture of Canada had vanished, and peace reigned once more on the border line.

The day previous, while Gen. Sweeny and Col. Meehan were actively engaged in mobilizing troops and directing operations on the Vermont frontier, warrants were served upon them by the United States authorities for violation of the Neutrality Act. They were arraigned before the United States Commissioner at Burlington, Vt., when they waived examination, and bail was fixed for Sweeny at $20,000 and Meehan at $5,000, to appear for trial at the July term of the United States District Court. Meanwhile other prominent leaders were being arrested at other points. With the President, the Secretary of War, and other members of the Irish Republican Cabinet under arrest, and many others of lesser note being "wanted" by American officers for infractions of the law, the hopes of the invaders sank below zero, and their warlike zeal vanished away.

Fenianism in Congress.

As nearly all of the prominent Fenian leaders had been placed under arrest for transgression of United States laws, and quite a number of their deluded followers who were captured in Canada were confined in Canadian prisons awaiting trial, the seriousness of their offences began to dawn upon the minds of those implicated in the movement. The good offices of the United States Government were then eagerly sought by their friends and supporters to get them out of the meshes of the net, and earnest appeals were made to the State Department for some action along these lines. Every possible pressure was brought to bear on Congress and the United States Senate to secure the influence of those two important legislative bodies in taking up the Fenian cause. But it was a delicate question to handle, and although there were some Congressmen who introduced the matter into the House of Representatives, and made fiery speeches in support of their resolutions, the majority failed to concur, as they rightly conjectured that if the United States gave the Fenians the recognition and liberty of action they desired, it might end in embroiling them in war with Great Britain, for which they were not prepared.

On June 11th, 1866, Congressman Ancona, of Pennsylvania, offered the following preamble and resolution in the United States Congress:

Whereas, the Irish people and their brothers and friends in this country are moved by a patriotic purpose to assist the independence and re-establish the nationality of Ireland, and whereas the active sympathies of the people of the United States are naturally with all men who struggle to achieve such ends, more especially, when those engaged therein are the known friends of our Government, as are the people of the Irish race, they having shed their blood in defence of our flag in every battle of every war in which the Republic has been engaged; and whereas the British Government against which they are struggling is entitled to no other or greater consideration from us, a nation, than that demanded by the strict letter of international law, for the reason that during our late Civil War that Government did in effect, by its conduct repeal its neutrality laws; and whereas when reparation is demanded for damages to our commerce, resulting from the wilful neglect of Great Britain to enforce the same, she arrogantly denies all responsibility, and claims to be the judge in her own cause; and whereas the existence of the neutrality law of 1818 compels the executive department of this Government to discriminate most harshly against those who have ever been, and are now, our friends, in favor of those who have been faithless, not only to the general principles of comity which should exist between friendly States, but also to the written law of their own nation on this subject; therefore, be it resolved, that the Committee on Foreign Affairs be instructed to report a bill repealing an Act approved April 20th, 1818, it being the neutrality law, under the terms of which the President's proclamation against the Fenians was issued.

It is needless to say that the good sense of Congress prevailed, and the resolution was consigned to the morgue which is the receptacle for all undesirable resolutions.


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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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