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The Governor-General's Body Guard

The Governor-General's Body Guard--Denison's Rapid Ride --Col. Peacocke's Movements--Arrival of Col. Lowry with Reinforcements.


It was not until late in the afternoon of June 1st that the Militia Department considered the necessity of calling on the services of cavalry troops for duty on the frontier. Had this been done twenty-four hours earlier the calamity which occurred at Ridgeway and the disaster at Fort Erie might have been averted, and the whole campaign had a different termination. The omission was a serious mistake, which was subsequently realized. It is perilous and suicidal to move columns of infantry in war times without having the advance and flanks well protected by mounted troops, and scouts employed to glean information of the location and strength of the enemy. Therefore this branch is indispensable, as they are rightly termed "the eyes and ears of an army," ever watchful and on the alert for impending danger, or for an opportunity to strike a crushing blow.

In the Niagara District campaign this omission was painfully in evidence. At Chippawa, Col. Peacocke had to rely on meagre and conflicting reports of the whereabouts of the enemy which were brought in to him from various sources, more or less unreliable, while Col. Booker was in a similar position before advancing on the Fenian force at Ridgeway. Had an efficient troop of cavalry scouts been employed to thoroughly scour the country in advance of these two columns, a different tale might be related of their operations.

It was after 3 o'clock on June 1st when Major Geo. T. Denison received orders to assemble the Governor-General's Body Guard, and proceed to the front next morning. The Major moved quickly, and during the evening and night had his non-commissioned officers riding hard through the country warning out his troopers. The place of rendezvous was the Toronto Exhibition Grounds, and by day-break the troop was all mustered in saddle, and ready for service. At 8 o'clock a.m. on June 2nd they left by the steamer "City of Toronto" for Port Dalhousie, where they arrived about 11.30. Major Denison immediately entrained his men and horses on the Welland Railway and proceeded to Port Robinson, being under orders to report to Col. Peacocke. At Port Robinson the troop detrained, and after hastily feeding the horses and men, started for Chippawa on a gallop. On arrival there the troop halted for an hour or two, to have the horses' shoes reset; which being attended to, the command again took the road for New Germany, where he reported to Col. Peacocke about 5.30. This gallant corps had moved with such celerity that within ten hours after leaving Toronto they were at the extreme front, a good deal of the distance having been covered by hard and rapid riding.

Col. Peacocke was just on the point of moving off to resume his march from New Germany when the Body Guard arrived, and that officer ordered Major Denison to lead the advance of the column. Without dismounting, although the men and horses were both jaded and tired, they promptly spurred on to the front, and threw out scouts to the right and left. Major Denison was restrained from pushing ahead too rapidly, as he was obliged to regulate his march by the pace of the infantry, and his men chafed with the tardiness, as they were all eager to get into a brush with the enemy.

After a march of about nine miles they arrived at Bowen's Farm, about three miles northwest of Fort Erie. It was just getting dusk, and the troopers were approaching a piece of dense bush which flanked both sides of the road. When within about 200 yards of the bush the advance files of the cavalry discovered some men in the road, and signalled back the information. A halt was then ordered and Major Denison personally galloped forward, and on inquiry learned from his videttes that a force of the enemy were in front, and that several men had been observed going into the woods on the right. A search was made of the bush, but as the shades of night had fallen fast it was impossible to grope through the woods, and fearing an ambuscade Col. Peacocke resolved to halt his column for the night. In the meantime he had sent two companies of the 16th Regiment to scour the woods, but owing to the darkness they were unable to do so. Having been told by some person that a bridge on the road had been broken down, which rendered it impassable for his troops, Col. Peacocke decided to bivouac where he was, so recalled the two companies of the 16th, and made dispositions of his force to guard against a night attack. The 47th Regiment was formed in line to the right of the road, with one company of the same corps about 200 yards in advance, extended as skirmishers. The 10th Royals, of Toronto, were formed up as a support for the 47th, with two companies of that battalion wheeling to the right and extending as skirmishers, so as to fully cover the right flank of the column. The 16th Regiment was placed in a similar position on the left of the road, supported by the Nineteenth Lincoln Battalion, in the same formation. These troops laid in a ploughed field all night, sleeping on their arms, while the guards and sentinels were exceedingly watchful and vigilant. The cavalry and artillery remained in column on the road, with the baggage waggons in their rear.

About dark the St. Catharines Battery of Garrison Artillery, under command of Lieut. James Wilson, arrived at the bivouac, and was placed as the rear guard. This command, which had been left at Chippawa when Col. Peacocke's column had marched out in the morning, had been relieved at 4 p.m., and ordered to proceed at once to the front. They made a wonderfully quick march, covering the entire distance of about 17 miles in less than five hours, without a halt, and arrived at their destination with every member of the Battery in line--a feat which earned for them the title of "Stoker's Foot Cavalry." This battery had left their field guns at St. Catharines and were armed with short Enfield rifles, acting as infantry. So they were formed up across the road, facing to the rear, and after posting the usual guards and sentinels, the remainder were glad to lie down in the dusty road and go to sleep supperless.

As it was generally supposed that the enemy were in force in the near vicinity, no fires were allowed to be lighted, and as the night was pretty cool and no blankets were available, the situation was not altogether comfortable. Yet the boys made the most of it, with the hope that by daylight they would have an opportunity of meeting the Fenians and proving the quality of their mettle.

As the night wore on Col. Peacocke received information that 2,000 or 3,000 reinforcements had crossed over from the American side and joined the Fenians. Lieut.-Col. Dennis had also come in to the Canadian lines and told of his defeat at Fort Erie the day before, while the reports received of the Ridgeway fight, with numerous other rumors of impending dangers, all combined to lead Col. Peacocke to believe that he would soon be up against a serious proposition.

About 4.30 o'clock in the morning (June 3rd) the soldiers arose from their rude couches on mother earth and began the task of getting the stiffness out of their joints as they moved about in quest of rations. Fortunately during the night some waggons loaded with bread, beef and groceries had arrived, but the necessities of hunger were so keen that the men could hardly wait for a proper distribution of the supplies. There was no means of cooking meat except by toasting it on the end of a ramrod poked over a fire of fence rails, but that was only a trifling matter to a hungry soldier. Loaves of bread were torn asunder in chunks, as bread-knives were not in evidence, while butter was spread by means of a chip. But the absence of table etiquette was not considered, so long as the purpose was served. There were no utensils for making tea or coffee, so the men had to dispense with these comforts and content themselves with a drink out of a roadside ditch.

Shortly after 5 o'clock Lieut.-Col. the Hon. John Hillyard Cameron (an old-time politician of prominence) arrived at Col. Peacocke's headquarters on horseback, and reported that the main body of the Fenian army had evacuated Canada, but that there were yet some of their forces straggling in the neighborhood.

Immediately the "assembly" was sounded, and Col. Peacocke formed up his column for an advance toward Fort Erie. Major Geo. T. Denison was ordered to scour the country with the Governor-General's Body Guard, and to enter the village and send back reports. Shortly afterward Major Denison reported that he was informed there was still a body of Fenians about the Old Fort, while farmers residing in the neighborhood said there were a number of stragglers lingering in the woods.

Accordingly Col. Peacocke made his arrangements to sweep the whole southeast angle of the Peninsula clear up to the Old Fort. On leaving the bivouac the column moved out by the Gilmore road, leading towards the Niagara River. The Grey Battery of Royal Artillery was ordered to the head of the column, in anticipation of having some shelling to perform. As the infantry halted by the roadside to allow this gallant battery to pass to the front on a gallop, the sight was inspiriting and elicited hearty cheers. The magnificent horses, throwing into play their splendid muscles, whisked the heavy guns along like so many feathers, while the drivers and gunners maintained their seats like centaurs, notwithstanding the bumps and jolts they encountered while bounding over the ruts and roadside ditches of a rough country highway. On arrival at a cross road leading south from the Gilmore road towards Lake Erie, a portion of the column, consisting of the 47th Regiment and the 19th Battalion moved off to the right, while the 16th Regiment, the 10th Royals and the St. Catharines Garrison Artillery continued on eastward. By this means all egress from the village of Fort Erie was effectually cut off. After traversing these roads for a short distance, lines of skirmishers were thrown out, and an advance through the fields in a sweeping semi-circle was begun. The troops had not proceeded far when two men were seen getting over a fence on the edge of a piece of bush. Both were carrying guns, and being in civilians' dress, were mistaken for Fenians. A volley was fired by the 47th, when both were observed to fall over the fence. On arrival of the skirmishers at the spot it was found that the two men were loyal Canadian citizens (Messrs. Bart. McDonald and A. Dobbie, of Thorold) who had armed themselves as Home Guards and gone to the front to assist in driving the enemy from our shores. Unfortunately they were too zealous and imprudent in getting beyond our lines, and drew upon themselves the fire of their friends. Mr. McDonald was so badly wounded that he died shortly afterwards, but Mr. Dobbie miraculously escaped injury.

As the skirmish lines moved onward the woods were thoroughly searched, and quite a number of Fenian stragglers were discovered in hiding and taken prisoners. During the time the drag-net of skirmishers was spread about fifty Fenians were gathered in.

At the home of "Major" Canty (a B. & L. H. railway section foreman who held a commission in the Fenian army) several prisoners were taken, among them being Rev. John McMahon (a Catholic priest) and two wounded Fenians named Whalen and Kiely. In the barn adjoining Canty's house was stretched the body of Lieut. Edward K. Lonergan, of the 7th Irish Republican Regiment, of Buffalo. He had been killed at Ridgeway and the body brought back to Canty's barn and abandoned there. Several more Fenians were discovered under the barn, and more in a haystack near by, all of whom were taken in charge.

In the loft of Major Canty's house were found a number of overcoats belonging to the Queen's Own, and also some rifles which the retreating Fenians had carried back from the battle-field of Ridgeway. The "Major" was not at home when the Canadians called, so his guests were quietly placed under guard, and in due time conducted to a place of safety to stand their trial with the rest of the prisoners.

On arrival in the village of Fort Erie, the Canadian troops were much mortified and chagrined to find that O'Neil and his followers had escaped, and the only satisfaction they had was to gaze across the waters of the Niagara and see a scow-load of Fenians lying astern of the United States man-of-war "Michigan" as prisoners of the American Government.

On leaving Bowen's Farm, Major G. T. Denison started direct for the River Road with the Governor-General's Body Guard on a reconnaissance. Details were made by him to scour the country roads, which was thoroughly done, and being informed that there were a number of Fenians still at Fort Erie he proceeded on a gallop to the village, where he arrived at about 6 a.m. Major Denison's troop was the first Canadian force to reach Fort Erie after the battle, and they were received with great joy and delight by the citizens and also the Canadians who were prisoners in the hands of Gen. O'Neil the day previous.

A number of Fenians were gathered in by the troopers, and placed under guard. This command did excellent service subsequently in patrolling the river bank and providing cavalry pickets for the force which occupied Fort Erie during the next few weeks.

On the afternoon of June 2nd, Lieut.-Col. R. W. Lowry, of Her Majesty's 47th Regiment, received orders to proceed to the front with reinforcements, and left Toronto at 2 p.m. via the Great Western Railway with Capt. Crowe's Battery of Royal Artillery, equipped with four field guns. He was accompanied by Col. Wolseley (afterward Field Marshal Lord Wolseley), who was then serving in Canada as Assistant Quartermaster-General on the staff of the Lieut.-General commanding Her Majesty's Forces in British America; and by Lieut. Turner, R.E.; Lieut. Dent, 47th Regiment, and Lieut.-Col. Cumberland, A.D.C., of Toronto. At Oakville he was joined by Capt. Chisholm's Rifle Company, 52 rank and file. On arrival at Hamilton Col. Lowry learned that the detachments of the 16th Regiment and 60th Royal Rifles which were under orders to join him there, had already left for the Niagara frontier to reinforce Col. Peacocke, who had twice telegraphed for reinforcements. Col. Lowry therefore decided to proceed to Clifton, and from thence move to the support of Col. Peacocke. During the evening he was joined at Clifton by a provisional battalion composed of the Barrie, Cookstown. Scarborough, Columbus, Whitby and Oakville rifle companies, about 350 strong, under command of Lieut.-Col. Stephens.

At 3.40 a.m. on June 3rd, Col. Lowry, with Capt. Crowe's Battery and Lieut.-Col. Stephens' battalion, left Clifton by the Erie and Niagara Railway for Black Creek. Shortly after his arrival there (at daybreak) he was joined by 200 rank and file of the 60th Rifles under Capt. Travers, and 140 of the 16th Regiment under command of Capt. Hogge, which troops had bivouacked at New Germany overnight. On the report of Lieut.-Col. John Hillyard Cameron that the Erie and Niagara Railway was passable to a point near Fort Erie, Col. Lowry moved his column by rail as far as Frenchman's Creek (Gen. O'Neil's old camp ground). Here he detrained his troops, and throwing out an advanced guard and flanking lines of skirmishers, moved promptly forward towards Fort Erie. Col, Wolseley had preceded the column on horseback, and meeting Major Denison's troopers, who already had possession of the village, found that Gen. O'Neil and his army had left the country and were beyond the pale of punishment by our forces.

Col. Lowry's column reached Fort Erie about 8 o'clock, and shortly after Col. Peacockes force swept in from the west, bringing with them the spoils of victory in the shape of about sixty prisoners, being part of the picket line which Gen. O'Neil had abandoned during the night.

The whole force was then placed in position on the high ground in rear of the village and went into camp. Guards, patrols and pickets were posted in every direction, and all precautions taken that the occasion demanded.

During the afternoon Capt. Akers arrived from Port Colborne with the Queen's Own Rifles, 7th Battalion of London, four companies of the 22nd Oxford Rifles (with the Drumbo Infantry Company attached), the Caledonia Rifle Company, the Thorold Infantry Company, and the St. Catharines Home Guards, about 1,000 men altogether.

When the three columns were all assembled on the heights at Fort Erie they presented a formidable and imposing spectacle to the many thousands of Americans and Fenians who crowded the river banks and points of vantage for sight-seeing on the American side. It seemed as if the whole population of Buffalo and surrounding country were gathered on the river shore that pleasant Sunday afternoon to gaze upon the British camp and watch the movements of the soldiers. The rows of white tents, the scarlet uniforms of the infantry, and the blue of the cavalry and artillery, intermingled with the dark green of the rifle companies, certainly gave a variety of color, while the steadiness and regularity with which the different units performed their evolutions must have convinced the on-lookers (especially the Fenians) that it was just as well for them that they were safely out of harm's way.

In the course of the day a steam launch arrived at the Fort Erie dock with a message from Captain Bryson, commander of the U. S. steamer "Michigan," to Colonel Lowry, inviting him to go aboard that vessel and have an interview with himself and Mr. H. W. Hemans (the British Consul at Buffalo) regarding matters in connection with the Fenians. To this proposal Col. Lowry immediately assented, and accompanied by Col. Wolseley, Capt. Crowe, R.A., and Lieut. Turner, R.E., proceeded on board the American steamer. They were courteously received by Capt. Bryson, who introduced Mr. M. Dane, the United States District Attorney; General Barry, the commander of the United States troops on the frontier, and Mr. H. W. Hemans, the British Consul. An interesting conference was held, in the course of which the American officials expressed their reprehension of the infraction of international law by the Fenians, and assured Col. Lowry that nothing in their power had been or would be neglected to arrest such infraction, and that they had prevented many Fenian reinforcements from getting across to Canada during the two previous nights. In the meantime Col. Lowry was assured that the 600 or 700 prisoners who had been captured by the "Michigan" would be rigidly guarded until instructions were received from Washington as to their disposal.

After the conference Col. Lowry and his staff returned to camp, where orders were waiting to despatch Capt. Crowe's Battery, with four field guns, and 200 men of the 47th Regiment under command of Major Lauder, to Kingston without delay, as that point was threatened. This force left Fort Erie by rail at 7 o'clock that evening, taking with them 22 Fenian prisoners who had been committed to the Toronto jail.

Shortly afterward another telegram arrived ordering that the detachment of the 60th Rifles, one company of the 16th Regiment and the 7th Battalion of London volunteers be forwarded to London as soon as possible. Owing to lack of railway transport these troops were unable to leave Fort Brie until 10.30 the following morning, when 800 men were despatched to London by the Erie & Niagara and Great Western Railways, via Clifton and Hamilton.

At 1.30 a.m. of June 5th, the Queen's Own and the York and Caledonia Rifles were quietly aroused and ordered to strike tents, parade, and entrain on cars which were in waiting to convey them to Stratford. The work of packing up was quickly accomplished, and at 6 o 'clock the train left Fort Erie for its destination, the troops being accompanied by Col. Garnet S. Wolseley, A.Q.M.G., of Her Majesty's Forces. They arrived at Stratford at 5 p.m., and were immediately billetted among the citizens. At this time it was feared that the Fenians contemplated an attack on the frontier of the western portion of the Province, and it was deemed advisable to have a sufficient force mustered at a convenient point, to be available in case of emergency. The force collected at Stratford consisted of Capt. Gore's Battery of Royal Artillery, two companies of H. M. 16th Regiment, the Queen's Own and the York and Caledonia Rifles, the whole being under command of Col. Wolseley.

The withdrawal of these troops from Fort Erie reduced Col. Lowry's force to about 2,000 men, but they were sufficient to over-awe the 8,000 Fenians who were still hanging around Buffalo and vicinity with the intention of making another raid as soon as they could escape the vigilance of the United States authorities, who were now determined to prevent any further incursions if possible.

The Thirteenth Battalion, of Hamilton, under Major Skinner, garrisoned Port Colborne, and guarded the approach to the Welland Canal.

At Clifton and Suspension Bridge a provisional battalion consisting of the Collingwood. Aurora. Bradford, Derry West and Grahamsville companies were assembled under command of Lieut.-Col. Robert B. Denison, while two more companies were stationed at Chippawa, so that the whole Niagara frontier was carefully guarded.

At St. Catharines several other companies were billetted, who were ready to move in any direction that their services might be required.

Toronto was also well garrisoned with troops which arrived on Sunday, among which were the following:--The Cobourg Cavalry, Col. Boulton, 40 men and 40 horses; Cobourg Battery, Capt. Dumble. 46 men; Ashburnham Infantry. Capt. Rogers, 32 men; Peterboro Infantry, Capt. Kennedy, 50 men; Campbellford Infantry, Capt. Lin, 40 men; Lakefield Infantry, Capt. Leigh, 31 men; Cobourg Infantry, Capt. Elliott, 45 men; Peterboro Rifles, Capt. Poole, 44 men; Cobourg Rifles, Capt. Smith, 47 men; Bowmanville Rifles, Lieut.-Col. Cubitt, 40 men; Port Hope Rifles, Capt. Williams, 42 men, and several other companies which arrived later.

 


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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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