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Lieut. Ferguson's Evidence

Lieut. Ferguson's Evidence.

The next witness examined by the Court was Lieut. John William Ferguson, of No. 3 Company, Thirteenth Battalion.

Question--Did you command No. 3 Company of the Thirteenth Battalion at the battle of Lime Ridge on the 2nd of June last?


Question--State what took place that day under your own observation.

Answer--About ten or fifteen minutes after the firing commenced, Major Gillmor came back to the rear and told Col. Booker that his men were tired and their ammunition nearly expended, and asked Col. Booker to send out the right wing of the Thirteenth to relieve his men. Col. Booker then gave the order to the right wing of the Thirteenth to deploy on No. 3 Company, and this being done, an order was given to extend from the left. We then advanced over a fence through a field, and in the middle of the field we were halted by bugle call. In a few minutes "the advance" was sounded, and we continued advancing until we came under fire. The Queen's Own were then retiring in good order. We then commenced firing and advanced across a field. My company had to cross the road to the left side. Here I changed my front a little to the right, and saw the enemy about 100 yards off. I heard a bugle sound "the retreat," and I gave the command to "retire." We retired about forty yards in line into the original position, firing as we fell back. While retiring I heard the bugle sound the "advance." I then ordered my company to advance, but not to fire until they got where they were before, under cover. I again heard a bugle call which I did not know, but on inquiry was told it was "the alarm." I looked for the cavalry, but could see none. I let my men remain where they were. I then heard the bugle call "the assembly," followed by "the double." I then ordered the men to make for the square the shortest way they could, and they retired on the square. Three of them were wounded while retiring at this time. When I saw the enemy coming out of the woods I went after my men. I saw Major Skinner and Adjutant Henery making for the same point, that is, the square. When I reached where the reserve stood, scarcely any men were there. On my way down I saw one of the Queen's Own lying dead as I passed. Several ineffectual attempts were made to form up the men. At Ridgeway I saw Col. Booker on his horse forming up his battalion into column. They were falling into column of companies, right in front, facing towards Port Colborne, past Ridgeway. As soon as we had formed I heard Col. Booker give the command, "Form fours--right. Left wheel--quick march!" and the column moved off in the direction of Port Colborne. Col. Booker was in advance of the column until we came near a wood, when he told us to keep a sharp lookout for firing from the woods, and he passed back to the rear and towards Ridgeway. The main body of the Rifles was before us. I did not see Col. Booker again. I saw his horse pass by with a body on his back in red clothing. This was about four miles from Port Colborne.

Capt. B. H. Davis' Testimony.

Robert H. Davis, Captain of the York Rifles, was the next witness called.

Question--Were you present at the engagement at Lime Ridge on the 2nd of June last?

Answer--I was.

Question--State what position you held in the engagement, and what you know, of your own knowledge, what occurred.

Answer--When the firing commenced I was in front of the Thirteenth, in column of reserve. I was sent out with my company alone, as a company in support of the left skirmishing company of the Queen's Own (that was Capt. Sherwood's company, Trinity College Rifles). I remained there until the skirmishers were called in, when I took my company to the rear in fours, and formed them up in rear of the reserve, which was then formed by the Queen's Own. After I had halted and fronted the company, I looked in front of the column and saw the Thirteenth were all out. I thought I was not in my right place, and I countermarched my company to the head of the column, taking, as I supposed, the ground I should have taken when I came in, namely, that held originally by the Thirteenth, to which I was attached. I had scarcely halted here when the order came for two more companies to extend, the leading company to take ground to the left. I went almost over the same ground from which I had just returned, and got to the left of the skirmishers already extended, when I extended my own company from the right, the company on my right being a Rifle company. When within about 500 yards of the enemy, we commenced firing and advancing. We crossed two fields on the other side of the cross-road called the Garrison Road. When I had formed my men by a fence to give them a direct fire into the enemy, I heard a bugle call which my sergeant said was "the retire." He said that it was a mistake, that it was "the advance" that was meant. In a few minutes "the advance" was sounded, and I took my company over the fence behind which they were lying and told them to get to the next one as soon as they could. When about half way across the field "the retire" was again sounded, followed by "the double." I looked along the line of skirmishers and saw them firing and retiring, and a good many running in. We retired, the men firing occasionally, until we reached the Garrison Road. I then closed the company on the centre and crossed the Garrison Road to the next field, then formed "fours right" and marched to where I had left the reserve. In the field on the Ridgeway side of the Garrison Road there was a small farm house on the hill close to the side of the Ridgeway road, and when I came up with the company to this house I saw a company of Rifles in close column of sections, kneeling to receive cavalry. I expressed my surprise at this, and moved my own company up the road. When I reached the fence alongside of the road I saw a good deal of confusion, and I asked generally what was the matter, and what they were going to do. Some officer told me that the order had been given to "Form square" on the leading company of the reserve. I did this with my company, and halted in rear of the column. The order was now passed from the front for the column to retire, and the attempt was made to retire, and in two minutes all was confusion.

Question--Have you any further information to give the Court respecting what occurred at the engagement at Lime Ridge?

Answer--I saw several officers of Rifles and infantry using all their exertions like good men to induce the men to rally and form up again, or to fight in any way. Among these officers were Major Skinner, Adjutant Henery, and Captain Gardner, of the Highland Company, Queen's Own. I had sixty rounds of ball cartridges on going into action, and the men expended between 15 and 20 rounds each.

Captain Gardner Examined.

The next witness called was Capt. John Gardner, of the Queen's Own.

Question--State the company you commanded at Lime Ridge on the 2nd of June last, and the particulars of the engagement which took place under your observation.

Answer--I commanded on that occasion No. 10 (or the Highland) Company of the Queen's Own. After leaving the cars at Ridgeway, the brigade was formed in quarter distance column, right in front, the Queen's Own leading, the York Rifles next, then the Thirteenth Battalion, with the Caledonia Rifles as the rear guard. After loading with ball cartridges. No. 5 Company of the Queen's Own (Capt. Edwards) was sent out as the advance guard. I believe that company was detailed for this duty because it was the only company that was armed with the Spencer rifle. I cannot say whether we were marching in column of companies or sub-divisions, but after the advance guard had got out a reasonable distance the column was moved on. After marching some distance we were halted, and then the skirmishers were thrown out. The whole brigade then advanced in this order, and halted once or twice to maintain their proper distance. Upon seeing what they took to be the enemy on the left, two additional companies were sent out. At this time Col. Hooker and Major Gillmor endeavored by the use of their glasses to ascertain where the enemy were. Then the skirmishers on the left stopped for a moment, when the bugle sounded "incline to the left." and some of them. I think, raised their hats upon their rifles, but did not obey the call, probably from not hearing the bugle call. A sergeant was sent out to tell them to incline more to the left. He had just reached them, when firing commenced by two or three shots being fired on the left of the road, and almost immediately the enemy opened upon us a regular volley from our front. Our men then returned the fire, continually advancing until they occupied the ground from which the Fenians first fired upon them. At this time eight companies of the Queen's Own were out. Nos. 9 and 10 were with the reserve on the road. At this time No. 9 Company was sent out to the right of the skirmish line, and my company as their support. I do not think I was two minutes supporting them, when I was ordered to reinforce the line by joining them. As soon as I did so. No. 9 Company moved into the wood on my right. I remained fifteen or twenty minutes in this open field, firing at the enemy who were under cover in the woods, the bullets coming like hail. I was then relieved by one of the companies of the Thirteenth Battalion, and I retired to the reserve on the road. None of my men were injured. I had just halted my company in rear of the column when Col. Booker came up to Major Gillmor and told him he wanted a company sent to our right, to prevent the Fenian left from flanking us. The column at this time forming the reserve was composed of companies in red and partly of companies in green. Major Gillmor looked at the column, and said to me. "Captain Gardner, take your company." At this time the column was standing at the crossing of the Ridge Road with the Garrison Road. I then faced my company to the right and marched along the Garrison Road in file, all the time exposed to the fire of the enemy, until we reached the wood on the right. I extended while marching towards the woods. I then ordered them to enter the woods in skirmishing order. We had no support, and so continued during the engagement. The enemy was in the woods in front of us, and on our approach retreated. On reaching the other side of the bush they retired, and we found on the ground they had been occupying several articles which I believe are still forthcoming. We remained on the edge of this field firing upon the enemy, who were in the bush opposite, and kept up their fire upon us. The field between us and the enemy was about 400 yards, varying in width. We continued here engaged with the enemy for some time, until we heard some cheering on our left front, along the enemy's line. I thought it was our men cheering and making a dash on the enemy. I then ordered my men to get over the fence and cross the field to the left, in the direction from which the cheering came. As soon as we came to the opening commanding a view of the field, we perceived that it was the Fenians who had cheered, and were advancing in large numbers towards our forces. Sergeant Bain, from an elevated position, saw the enemy coming down on them on a run, and cried out, "Retire, retire!" Then we made for the head of the column of reserve on the road. In reaching this point we had to pass through the fire of the advancing enemy the whole time. At first the fire passed over our heads, but as we neared the column it lowered, and bullets struck around us everywhere. My left sub-division alone came in with me. The right sub-division went with Ensign Gibson through the wood to the rear and around to our reserve, but I cannot particularize as to them. On crossing the fence next to the column I met Capt. Davis, of the York Rifles, and saw the column in the road standing in the form of three sides of a square, and a number of men standing loosely around. Some of the men in the square had their bayonets fixed and some had not. I here saw Major Gillmor, Capt. Otter, Capt. Morrison, Lieut. Bennett, Lieut. Beaven, Capt. Brown, Capt. Douglas, and perhaps others of the Queen's Own. I also saw Capt. Henery, Adjutant of the Thirteenth Battalion. Other officers of that corps might have been there, but I did not see them. Lieut. Ramsay came in with me, and stayed to the very last. Capt. Davis and myself organized a strong company of volunteers from this crowd, when Major Gillmor came up to me and said there was no use in sacrificing these men, as our main body was retreating towards Ridgeway. These men who remained in the rear kept up an incessant fire upon the enemy all the time they were standing there. The fire from the enemy suddenly ceased, and it was then that Capt. Davis and I endeavored to form up the company composed of volunteers to make a stand. Major Gillmor having expressed his opinion that it was no use to sacrifice these men, we all deliberately retreated towards Ridgeway. As we proceeded a few stray shots were at one time fired at us, but no further attack was made upon us.

Question--Have you any further information to give this Court respecting the engagement at Lime Ridge which you think may be of public interest?


Ensign MacLean's Testimony.

The next witness called by the Court was Thomas A. McLean, Ensign of No. 6 Company of the Queen's Own.

Question--Were you present at the engagement at Lime Ridge on the 2nd of June?

Answer--I was. Whilst the column was advancing on the road from Ridgeway to Stevensville, the advance guard gave the signal that the enemy was in sight. I saw on the left what I took to be a small party of our men running towards the woods, at a distance of about half a mile. A detail of several companies from the Queen's Own were now sent out to skirmish, and our company (No. 6) went out as the right flanking party, being posted at right angles with the line of skirmishers, in skirmishing order. We advanced through a wood on our right, feeling for the enemy. We saw no one and were recalled in about fifteen minutes and sent out as a support to a company on the right of the road and towards the right of the skirmishing line. As we were advancing in this order fire was suddenly opened from the enemy in front along our line, which the skirmishers immediately returned. As soon as the fire opened the skirmishers doubled up to cover, and we were advanced to a wheat field and were ordered to lie down. We again advanced, the enemy retreating. In about twenty-five minutes the order came to relieve skirmishers. We at once doubled up, extending on the double, and relieved the company in front of us, who retired, and I suppose formed our support. Our company, on getting into the skirmish line, immediately fired and advanced at the double over two fields. Then there was a check for a short time, with a sharp fire on both sides. Then we advanced again, inclining rather to the left, and drove the enemy out of the orchard and from the barn and fences. We held the barn and orchard for some time. A company of the Thirteenth came up in extended order in our rear. They did not relieve us. They were from 50 to 60 yards in rear of us. One or two officers and two or three men came up to the line of skirmishers, and my men complained to me that those men of the Thirteenth behind us would shoot them, as they were firing over the heads of my company. I got up and asked them if they had come to relieve skirmishers, but got no answer. I turned around to my men and said. "Boys, peg away. They are not going to help us." They did not relieve us, but stayed at the fence in rear of us, and some of them fired from that position over the heads of my men, and some of them to the left. The firing continued for a little while after this, and I saw the Fenians advancing down the road. They were pushing forward their skirmishers and were advancing, as I thought, in a heavy column of companies. They continued their advance, and we received an order to retire. We then retired as skirmishers usually do in closing in on their supports. We came out, but found no support to close upon, and reached the open space where there was a large body of men formed into square. After reaching this open space I heard a cry of "Cavalry." but saw none. I heard a cheer from our square, and from some cause the rear of the square seemed to turn and go down the road. The square now seemed to dissolve, and the men formed a confused mixture of red and green down the road to Ridgeway. Some men halted in the rear and delivered their fire. Many of the officers used their endeavors to stop the retreat. I left the main body because I found that from the effect of a heavy fall I had just received I could not keep up with the column, and I therefore went into the woods on our right as we were retiring, and kept out of reach of the enemy. I advanced in line with their skirmishers as long as their fire lasted, from a half to three-quarters of a mile. I then stopped and laid down to watch the main body of the enemy pass along the road. I had a good position to see from, at a distance of about 400 yards. I noticed that every time our men fired it checked the enemy, as their long line of skirmishers would halt. The main body advanced, as I thought, in column of fours. I counted a number of fours, and then as they passed I gauged another party, and so on until all passed, and allowing for their advanced skirmishers and rear guard, I think there were 1,500 men, if they were marching in fours, as I believe they were. After they had all passed I made for a farm house. Shortly afterward I left for Col. Peacocke's column, who I heard was a short distance away, at New Germany. I arrived there at half-past 1 o'clock and reported myself to Col. Peacocke, who ordered me to stay with his force.

Question--Have you any further information within your own knowledge, of public interest, to convey to the Court respecting the engagement at Lime Ridge?


Rev. Mr. Inglis Examined.

The next witness called by the Court was Rev. David Inglis, a Presbyterian minister.

Question--Were you present at the engagement at Lime? Ridge on the 2nd of June last?

Answer--I was.

Question--State your position on this occasion, and whatever part of the action or proceedings that came under your observation that may furnish any information to the Court.

Answer--I left Ridgeway in the ammunition waggon, and was behind the main body, among the rear guard. A little before the firing commenced the rear guard halted, and the waggon in which I rode was brought up to the rear of the main body. After the firing commenced the rear guard passed us, and the waggon was then halted. Rev. Mr. Burwash and myself left the waggon and hastened to the rear of the Thirteenth. A cry was raised that one of the Queen's Own was wounded. "Where is the doctor?" We hurried on and met Dr. May with several men of the Queen's Own bearing Ensign McEachren from the field. They took him into a log house on the left side of the road, and Dr. May desired me to inform him that his wound was mortal. I told him so, and spent some time with him in religious service. I then left him with Rev. Mr. Burwash, whose parishioner he had been for some time previously, and went out to see if I could be useful elsewhere. It afterwards took up a position on a pile of stones on the road which gave me a view of the position of the troops. I think it was now about twenty minutes since the firing commenced that killed Ensign McEachren up to the time of my getting upon the pile of stones. At this time I observed a part of the Thirteenth out as skirmishers, and other portions of the same regiment in more compact bodies behind them. I think I saw a company of green coats out on the right of those companies of the Thirteenth that were skirmishing. At this time, on the main road near me, were formed up a body of men in green coats, composed, I should say, of three or four companies, and with these men were the colors of the Thirteenth Regiment, surrounded by a few men of that corps. The firing at this time from the enemy was very rapid. I left this place and went back to the hospital, and returned again in about half an hour. On my return I noticed that the firing of the enemy on our left had very materially slackened, but was kept up regularly, although not so rapidly as on the right. A bugle sounded near the colors of the Thirteenth produced an obvious commotion among the men. They were looking about them, very much as though they knew not what to do. After a short interval another bugle call sounded from near the centre of the reserve, where the colors were. The men in the reserve by command formed a square after this bugle sounded. It was not a perfect square. This was succeeded by another bugle call and words of command. The result of that was that these men who had "formed square" were getting back to their former positions. Then came a fourth bugle call. The effect of this was that the whole line of skirmishers and those in support of them, as well as those in the road near me, made a motion to turn around. At this moment a small number of men (about 25 or 30) broke from the ranks and ran down the road, leaving the remainder standing mostly faced to the rear. These men were all dressed in green. Immediately behind those that were running away came from six to eight in red coats, who ran after the others down the road. The skirmishers and supporters were all retiring. I then ran over to the hospital and told Dr. May that our men were retiring. He said he would take all the wounded men with him. Just afterwards I noticed a great rush of men to the rear. I had left the hospital to see how matters were, and to see if our men were still retiring, and had started to return, but the rush of men was so great that I could not get across to the hospital. This retreat continued, with the red and green mixed together. I passed down and got up on the ammunition waggon, and found that Dr. May was ahead of me with his patients. While on the waggon I noticed in the rear of the retiring column a number of men (between 100 and 200, I think), composed of red and green, seeming to be drawn up across the road in pretty good order. Down the road a short distance an attempt was made to rally or re-form the men, which was to a good extent successful. Before we came to Ridgeway there was a halt. A man in uniform came and took the horse which Col. Booker had been using. Shortly after this I saw Col. Booker on the horse coming towards Ridgeway. From all I saw and heard of the men. I can bear testimony that with very few exceptions there was no evidence of cowardice. They displayed good spirit, and were all eager to meet the Fenians on the following morning.

This concluded the evidence taken by the Court of Inquiry in regard to the matter under consideration. After due deliberation, and a careful sifting of all the testimony given, the following was given as the result of the investigation, which received the approval of the Militia authorities:--


The Court having duly considered the evidence brought forward by Lieut.-Col. Booker, as well as such evidence as the Court have considered necessary, with a view of the further elucidation of the truth, are of opinion:--

First--That so far as the courage and character of Lieut.-Col. Booker: with reference to his conduct in the command of the force engaged with the enemy at Lime Ridge on Saturday, the 2nd of June last, are affected, there is not the slightest foundation for the unfavorable imputations cast upon him in the public prints, and most improperly circulated through that channel and otherwise. On the contrary, the Court desire to express the further opinion that Lieut.-Col. Booker having, as will appear, fallen into an error, promptly exerted himself in person to repair the effects of that error, in a manner which can leave no stain upon his personal courage and conduct, subsequently to the period of actual conflict with the force opposed, and also that the disposition of his forces, the manner in which, before an unseen enemy whose strength was unknown to him, he planned his attack, and the desire and anxiety which he showed to carry out these plans to the best of his ability at points where it was his duty to be, have in conjunction with the statements of officers and others in evidence before the Court, led the Court to believe that at no period of that day could want of personal coolness be imputed to Lieut.-Col. Booker.

With reference to the circumstances connected with the late engagement at Lime Ridge, this Court are further of opinion that the entire force under command of Lieut.-Col. Booker, from the formation of the expedition to the time it came out of action, was under disadvantages with which Her Majesty's regular forces have seldom or ever, it is submitted, had to contend--in the want, of cavalry, artillery, commissariat arrangements, or even the requisite means of carrying with them cooked provisions, or supplying themselves with water in the country through which they were about to move, in a season when the heat rendered it especially needful that this last point should receive careful attention.

Further, that more than half of the two battalions forming the largest proportion of the whole force which left Port Colborne for Stevensville on the morning of the 2nd of June, was composed of youths not exceeding, and in many instances not having reached twenty years of age; that a large proportion of the force had been for a very short time accustomed to bear arms; that a somewhat less proportion had not even been exercised with blank cartridge, and that practice with ball cartridge was by very many of the rank and file of that force to be entered upon for the first time in their lives on that day.

That notwithstanding these disadvantages, the Court have, from the evidence produced, arrived at the conviction that no force could have commenced a march with the knowledge that they were advancing into a country occupied by an enemy whose numbers (exaggerated as they were afterwards known to be) were unknown to them, and whose position they might at any moment he called upon to attack, in finer spirits, or a more ready desire to show by obedience to command, that they were deserving of the confidence which their employment on the occasion showed was reposed in their courage, and in this respect no difference was perceptible between the mere tyros and the more seasoned men of the expedition.

This the Court find was the state of facts up to the time (which will be referred to in a later part of this opinion) on the arrival of the force under Lieut.-Col. Booker at Ridgeway, on the line of the Buffalo and Lake Huron Railway, and its being formed in open column of companies. The Court find that the order in which it advanced to form a junction with the brigade under Col. Peacocke, of Her Majesty's 16th Regiment, at Stevensville, was as follows:--

The 2nd Battalion (or Queen's Own Rifles) in front, the York Rifles (attached to the Thirteenth Battalion, of which it formed the leading company), the Thirteenth Battalion next, and last the Caledonia Rifle Company, forming the rear guard, the advance guard of the force being No. 5 Company of the Queen's Own, having forty Spencer rifles as part of their armament; and the Court are of opinion that Lieut.-Col. Booker, in advancing, used every precaution by extending companies to skirmish to the right and left of the road by which he was moving his force, which military rule and the nature of the country demanded; and that in the forward movement from Ridgeway, the manner in which it was conducted by Lieut.-Col. Booker and the officers of the force under his orders, was regular, and in accordance with the well-understood rules by which such duties are governed; and here the Court think it their duty to point to the fact that in Lieut.-Col. Booker his force had a commanding officer who, for the first time in his experience, found himself in command of a larger body than one weak battalion on parade; and that this officer, being without the assistance of any staff, and not even accompanied by a mounted officer or orderly to transmit his instructions, was placed in a position of unusual difficulty in the event of coming into contact with the enemy.

The Court have further found, from the evidence adduced before them, that the column under Lieut.-Col. Booker was proceeding in this order and had reached a point on the way leading from Ridgeway to Stevensville, at about two miles from the former point, when the advanced guard became aware that the woods on the right and left fronts of the line of advance were occupied by the enemy; and are further of opinion, that the movements then directed by Lieut.-Col. Booker and the subsequent disposition of the force at his disposal (up to a time to be subsequently mentioned), were in strict accordance with laid down principles, and such as at least to hold an enemy not greatly superior in numbers in check, if not to drive them back--and that the manner in which the movements directed were executed, the advance of the companies of the Queen's Own sent out to strengthen the skirmishers on the left, the advance of the right wing of the Thirteenth Battalion extended on the right of the road, and No. 10 Company of the Queen's Own rather to the right, was highly creditable to the officers and men, particularly as during the whole of these movements the force was under fire from an unseen enemy under cover of the woods, our troops being in open ground and exposed to the effects of such a fire, which fortunately, though well sustained, was not very effective.

The Court is of opinion that to this point the direction of the attack and the position of the attacking force was well and skilfully managed, and the enemy had been forced back to a considerable distance from the position when first encountered.

The Court find that at this time, and when everything looked favorable for the attacking force, there occurred an alarm, of the truth of which a moment's reflection on the part of the men with whom it originated, and who appear to have been some of the advanced skirmishers, would have shown the impossibility. It was to the effect that a force of cavalry was advancing upon our force, and instantly the cry of "Cavalry", spread with electric rapidity from the front to where the Colonel stood in reserve, with which part of the force Lieut.-Col. Booker as commanding officer remained, and thus assuming the cry to have its origin in the fact that that officer gave the order "Look out for cavalry!" squares were formed instantly to meet cavalry, both by the column and by the skirmishers within hearing of that order--a mistake which, being as quickly discovered, Lieut.-Col. Booker endeavored to remedy by the order to "Re-form column."

The Court, with respect to this part of the affair, are of opinion that to adopt the idle rumor that the enemy's force was partly composed of cavalry in a country where such an arm could be of scarcely any value in attack, or to assume, even for a moment, that a mounted corps which he could not see was advancing at such a rate as to render it necessary to give the words of caution which he used, was ill-judged, and was the first act which gave rise to the disorganization of his force, which then followed.

This Court further find that at this moment, and when the officer commanding had, as before mentioned, given the order to "Re-form column," he perceived that the column was rapidly falling back. The attempt to re-form not having been successful, the men became mingled together, and that the effect of the mistake just referred to became so perceptible in the disorganization of the column at a moment when, in the opinion of this Court, to have given the order to advance would have had the best effect in the encouragement of the force, and in a very short period would have effected the rout of the enemy. The officer in command (apparently hesitating as to whether he should advance or retreat) unfortunately gave the order to retire, and the bugles having taken it up at the advanced posts of the attack, our force began to fall back; and notwithstanding the exertions of the officers, who in every case shown in the evidence before the Court behaved in a very steady and energetic manner to rally their broken ranks, the column had retreated too far in the direction of Ridgeway before the advanced parties had all came in to render this possible. This being the state of the force at the time, the officer in command (finding it impossible to rally) with the concurrence of the next senior officer, whom he consulted, decided upon falling back on Port Colborne by the road over which he had advanced.

And the Court lastly finds, that the whole of the wounded and sick were brought with the retreating column, and that it reached Port Colborne suffering much from fatigue and hunger, but without further casualties than those which are already known in the official reports of the affair.

  G. T. Denison, Colonel. President.

J. Shanly, Lieut.-Colonel.

Geo. K. Chisolm, Lieut.-Colonel.

Hamilton. 12th July, 1866.

The Fort Erie Disaster.

Report of Proceedings of the Court of Inquiry Appointed to Investigate the Case of Lieut.-Col. J. Stoughton Dennis.

The appointment of a Court of Inquiry to investigate the charges made against Lieut.-Col. J. Stoughton Dennis was granted on the request of that officer himself. From the time that Lieut.-Col. Dennis hastily left his command battling with the Fenians on the streets of Port Erie, the men of the Welland Canal Field Battery knew him no more, as he never came back. Therefore their relations were strained. Most of the men of the Battery and the Dunnville Naval Brigade were pronounced in their denunciation of his conduct during the fight, and freely expressed their minds in this respect.

When Capt. King's wounds permitted his return home to Port Robinson from the hospital at Buffalo, a large number of people assembled to give him a welcome. In replying to their greetings, Capt. King incidentally made mention of the experience of his Battery in the battle at Fort Erie, and during his remarks voiced the sentiments of his men by publicly accusing Lieut.-Col. Dennis of cowardice. This charge came to the ears of Lieut.-Col. Dennis and he demanded a Court of Inquiry to investigate the matter. In the meantime a formula of six separate charges was filed against Lieut.-Col. Dennis, and His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief appointed the following officers as a Court of Inquiry, viz.:--Col. Geo. T. Denison, President; Lieut.-Col. James Shanly, and Lieut.-Col. S. B. Fairbanks.

The Court assembled in the City Hotel at Fort Erie, on the 8th of November, 1866, for the purpose of taking testimony. Among those who were notified to appear as witnesses were a number of men who had been engaged in the fight as members of the Welland Canal Field Battery and the Dunnville Naval Brigade, besides several citizens.

For some reason four members of the Welland Canal Field Battery who had been summoned to testify were not called upon for their evidence, which they considered a very strange proceeding as they were all present for that purpose, and had evidence to offer which would tend to substantiate Capt. King's allegations. Eight or ten witnesses were examined, when the Court proceeded to sum up the evidence and consider the charges seriatim. The result was that Lieut.-Col. Dennis was exonerated by the Court, although Col. Geo. T. Denison (the President) differed from his colleagues on several important points stated in the charges.

The following is the official report, published in General Orders, which contains the charges made, the findings and the remarks of His Excellency the Governor-General on the case:--

Volunteer Militia. Headquarters, Ottawa, 14th December, 1866.

General Orders No. 1.

The Court of Inquiry lately assembled at Fort Erie on application of Lieut.-Colonel Dennis, having presented its report, the Commander-in-Chief directs that the several charges preferred against that officer, with the opinion of the Court of Inquiry thereupon, be published for general information.


1st Charge.--With having at Fort Erie on the afternoon of the 2nd June last, after having received information that an overwhelming force of the enemy was advancing on and was within a very short distance of that place, evinced an utter disregard for the lives and safety of the officers and men of the Welland Canal Field Battery, and the safekeeping of a large number of Fenian prisoners in charge of that corps and the Dunnville Naval Brigade, in this: that he ordered billets to be prepared for the Battery and told the officer commanding it that he should leave it and the prisoners in Fort Erie and go on himself to Port Colborne with the Dunnville Naval Brigade with the steamer "Robb," then lying at a wharf in Fort Erie.

2nd Charge.--With having at Fort Erie on the afternoon of the 2nd June last, after he had received information that a large and overwhelming force of the enemy was within a very short distance from his command, and that his command was in danger of being destroyed or captured, and after having himself seen that force approaching, recklessly and uselessly landed 5 officers and 68 men of the Welland Canal Field Battery and Dunnville Naval Brigade from the steamer "Robb," marched them along an exposed road, and posted them in a most dangerous position, where they were exposed to a front and flanking fire from the enemy, which course on his part resulted in disaster to his command, the serious wounding and maiming (some of them for life) of an officer and five men, and the capture by the enemy of four officers and thirty-two men of that command.

3rd Charge.--With having at Fort Erie on the afternoon of the 2nd June last, after having placed his command in the dangerous position described in Charge No. 2, and when a force of the enemy greatly superior in numbers to his command was within a very short distance from and advancing upon his left flank, and another force of the enemy far stronger than the one first herein mentioned was within a very short distance of and advancing against his front and preparing to flank his right, the whole force of the enemy being overwhelming and numbering 500 or 600 men, while his command only numbered 5 officers and 68 men, neither ordering a retreat to the steamer "Robb," which there was ample time to effect, and whereby his whole command might have been saved, nor allowing a fire to be opened on the enemy, but on the contrary, neglecting to give orders for a retreat, and directing that no order to fire should be given.

4th Charge.--With having, at Fort Erie, on the afternoon of the 2nd June last, after he had placed his command in the dangerous and exposed position described in the preceding charges, and given the order not to fire as therein mentioned, disgracefully, in the face of the enemy, and in order to secure his personal safety, deserted his command and left it without orders of any kind.

5th Charge.--With having, on or about the 4th June last, in a certain report of his proceedings addressed to Colonel Lowry, commanding the Niagara frontier, untruly, and knowing it to be untrue, stated that, having advanced to meet the enemy at Fort Erie on the 2nd June last, he did, in order to save the prisoners then on board the tug "Robb" and prevent the enemy from obtaining possession of that vessel, order the Captain of that vessel to cast off and get into the stream, and ordered his (Colonel Dennis') men (meaning his command, landed as aforesaid) to retreat and do the best they could to get away, each man for himself, when in reality he did not give such orders, and had at the time of which he alleges he gave them, deserted his command.

6th Charge.--That he was guilty of misconduct at Fort Erie on the afternoon of the 2nd June last, in this, that having received information that an overwhelming body of the enemy was then within a very short distance of and advancing against Fort Erie, and in fact seen that body himself, he should and might, instead of placing his command then at Fort Erie in the dangerous position described in Charge No. 2, have embarked it in the steamer "Robb," so protected that vessel with materials at hand that she would have been proof against the fire and weapons of the enemy, and dropping into the stream, held the enemy in check without any casualty to his command, and prevented them from escaping to the United States before the arrival of a force sufficiently strong to capture them.

The Court having proceeded to the examination of the evidence brought forward against the accused, as well as what he has offered in exculpation, and having duly considered the same, are of--


As to the 1st Charge.--That the allegation that Lieut.-Colonel Dennis, after having received information of the near approach of an overwhelming force, made arrangements for billetting his men at Fort Erie, thereby raising the inference that in so acting he evinced disregard for the lives of the officers and men of the party under his command, is not sustained. And that of the part of this charge attributing to Lieut.-Colonel Dennis an expressed intention (with or without such information as he is alleged to have had) of leaving a part of his command at Fort Erie and taking the steamer and remainder of the force to Port Colborne, there is not any evidence whatever in support.

As to 2nd Charge.--That this charge, based on the assertion not only that the accused officer was in possession of certain information, but had actual personal knowledge of the approach of a large and overwhelming force of the enemy, is not sustained by the evidence before the Court. On the contrary, with reference to the alleged knowledge of that fact, the Court is of opinion that the rumors which immediately before his party was disembarked to repel any attack on the village of Fort Erie, were, in so far as regarded the strength of the enemy's force, so much at variance with previously received information of a definite nature, as to be disbelieved not only by Lieut.-Colonel Dennis, but to some extent by the officers who have preferred the charges against him. And it appears to the Court that it was only after he had got his men into position, and after they had come into actual contact with the enemy, that the great superiority in numbers of the attacking force became a matter of certainty.

As to the 3rd Charge.--That this charge, being also grounded upon certain knowledge alleged to have been in the possession of Lieut.-Colonel Dennis at a particular time with respect to the great superiority of the enemy's force, and that whilst possessing that knowledge, and there being time to avail himself of the line of retreat alleged to have been open to him, he neglected to do so, is not sustained by the evidence before the Court. And with reference to the remainder of this charge as to the aforesaid officer not allowing a fire to lie opened upon the enemy, but on the contrary directing that no order to fire should be given, the Court are further of opinion that this part of the charge is not only not sustained, but is refuted by the evidence offered on behalf of Lieut.-Colonel Dennis.

As to the 4th Charge.--That with reference to the grave accusations contained in this charge, the Court are of opinion that throughout the whole of the affair, and up to the moment when he ascertained from personal observation that the enemy was on the point of cutting off his command by an overwhelming force, the dispositions of his party and the orders given by Lieut.-Colonel Dennis were carried out and given in a perfectly collected and regular manner, and that on the retreat of his force his position was not such as to warrant the use of the language in which this charge has been framed, nor did Lieut.-Colonel Dennis, as alleged, leave his force without orders, and that therefore not only is this charge not sustained, but this Court are further of opinion that the imputation contained herein against Lieut.-Colonel Dennis is by no means supported by the evidence.

As to the 5th Charge.--That as to this charge nothing which has transpired in the evidence offered before this Court having varied the report made by Lieut.-Colonel Dennis to Colonel Lowry, the officer commanding on the Niagara frontier, as published in the Gazette of the 23rd of June last, and finding that the statements therein contained are fully supported by evidence before the Court, this Court are further of opinion that this charge is not sustained.

As to the 6th Charge.--That with reference to the allegation of misconduct on the part of Lieut.-Colonel Dennis contained in this charge, the officers preferring it, having based that assertion on an opinion which they appear to have formed as to the course which ought to have been, but was not adopted by Lieut.-Colonel Dennis with the force at his disposal, the Court are of opinion that although subsequent events and results may have properly led to the conclusion that such a course might have resulted in the manner alleged in the charge, no charge of misconduct in not adopting such a course is sustained, first, because it does not appear from the evidence that at the time when it is alleged that this course might have been successfully adopted, the officer in command had foreseen occasion for it. And also because it is by no means clear to the Court that there was time after he became aware of the vicinity of the enemy to have taken the steps suggested in this charge.

          (Signed) Geo. T. Denison,
          Colonel, President.

          J. SHANLY,

          S. B. FAIRBANKS,

          Fort Erie. 8th November, 1866.

Colonel Denison, the President, having been overruled by the majority of the Court, has signed the proceedings as its President, and now desires to express his dissent from the finding of the majority for the following reasons:--

Second Charge.--That as to the first allegation, "that he had received information that a large and overwhelming force of the enemy was within a very short distance from his command, and that his command was in danger of being captured," it appears to be proved by the evidence that this fact is established. The evidence of Drill Instructor McCracken, Lieutenant McDonald, Henry Cole, Thomas Carlisle, Lieutenant Nimmo, and of Lewis Palmer, show clearly that messenger after messenger arrived with this information, that most of the officers and men were aware of it, and that the remonstrances of Capt King and Capt. McCallum show not only their appreciation of the danger, but also afford the strongest presumption that Lieut.-Colonel Dennis must have been aware of it before he marched his command off the dock. This is also further established by the admission of Lieut.-Colonel Dennis in his "Statement of Facts" submitted to the Court, that he himself, after hearing the report, saw at least one hundred and fifty of the enemy before landing his men, and his further statement of his having sent word to the "Robb" to secure the boat and prisoners in case he was overpowered, and his having withdrawn his men from Ramsford's Corner to a position near the "Robb," all prove the evidence of doubts in his mind as to whether he had sufficient strength in his command to successfully resist the force which he was informed was about to attack him. And as to the remainder of the second charge the evidence proves it conclusively.

Third Charge.--Colonel Denison also dissents from the finding of the Court upon the third charge, as he is of opinion that the third charge is proved, with the exception that the allegation that Lieut.-Colonel Dennis did not allow a fire to be opened on the enemy. On this point there is a certain amount of rebutting evidence, although the weight of evidence seems to support the charge.

(Signed) Geo. T. Denison. Colonel. President.

Fort Erie, 8th November, 1866.

With respect to the foregoing charges and opinion, and to the evidence generally taken by the Court of Inquiry, His Excellency directs the publication of the following remarks:

1. Although the order for the assembly of the Court was general in its terms, the special memorandum of instructions furnished for the guidance of the President and members, stated that the Court was assembled to give Lieut.-Col. Dennis an opportunity of refuting charges which had been "made against his personal conduct on the 2nd June, at Fort Erie," and directed the reception of any evidence which might tend to elucidate the truth.

2. The only one of the above six charges which, strictly speaking, the Court was required to consider, was the 4th, which imputed disgraceful and cowardly conduct to the accused officer.

3. His Excellency approves of the opinion of the Court with respect to the 1st. 3rd. 4th. 5th and 6th charges.

4. With respect to the second charge. His Excellency is of opinion that Lieut.-Col. Dennis committed an error in judgment in removing the small force under his command, from the means of secure retreat afforded by the steamer, before he had ascertained with some degree of certainty the probable force of the enemy, of whose near approach he was informed; but if the accusation made against Lieut.-Col. Dennis in this charge be correct, that he did so remove his force from the shelter of the steamer for the purpose of attacking an enemy, whose numbers he knew to be overwhelming--the proceeding savours rather of rashness than of timidity. Had Lieut.-Col. Dennis been the coward which his accusers would have the public believe, he would in such a case have eagerly availed himself of the remonstrances which it is stated were made to him, to return with the men under his command to the deck of the steamer.

5. The first charge being one of imputed intention only, the fulfilment of which it was not attempted to establish, was not a proper charge for investigation by any Court.

6. The sixth charge is also an improper charge to have preferred or investigated. No Commanding Officer would be safe if his subordinates could be allowed to frame a charge of misconduct against him for not having adopted a particular course, which, judging deliberately after the event, his accusers might think to have been advisable. There is no pretence that the course which Lieut.-Col. Dennis is accused of misconduct for not adopting, was suggested to him and rejected.

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

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