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Gen. O'Neil Prepares for Another Raid on Canada

Gen. O'Neil Prepares for Another Raid on Canada--Secret Shipment of Arms to the Frontier.

In the early spring of 1870, the irrepressible General O'Neil (who was then President of the Fenian Brotherhood) decided that another diversion should be made on the Canadian frontier, and actively began making preparations to mass his forces for the invasion.

During the fall and winter of 1869 and 1870 all of the "circles" and existing military organizations were busy raising the necessary funds and gathering together the war equipment. The utmost secrecy was observed on this occasion, as the Fenian leaders were very careful to avoid a repetition of the intervention of the United States authorities in thwarting their plans, to cross the border, as was the case in 1866. So they worked unceasingly and enthusiastically in maturing their plans, while they maintained absolute silence as to their intentions. The boasting bombast which had been so largely indulged in previous to the Raid of 1866 was not manifested on this occasion, consequently little interest was taken by the general public in Fenian affairs.

During the month of December, 1869, the Ninth Annual Convention of the Fenian Brotherhood was held in New York City. At this convocation there was a large gathering of delegates, every State in the Union being represented. All wore an air of confidence and suppressed emotion. While enthusiastic and determined at heart, they were careful to conceal their feelings, so as to avoid betrayal, by the least sign or word, of the result of their deliberations or the designs of their leaders.

At this meeting the Fenian Senate announced that complete arrangements had been secretly made for the second invasion of Canada, and asked that the delegates should ratify the programme. The announcement was hailed with great satisfaction by all present, and for some moments a regular pandemonium of cheers and yells of approval prevailed.

After order had been restored, Gen. O'Neil and others vehemently addressed the delegates, and worked up their patriotic feelings to such a hot pitch that each and every man present pledged himself to assist in the enterprise to the fullest extent of his power, even unto death.

A Council of War was then held, when it was resolved to begin active operations as early in the spring of 1870 as the roads would permit of the movement of troops. Brigadier-General M. Kerwin was then the Fenian Secretary of War, and during the next few months was very busy with his staff, getting everything in readiness. His orders and addresses to the Irish Republican Army were of such a patriotic and inspiring character that the officers and men of the various commands were constantly kept in a state of warlike excitement, which they controlled with marvellous secrecy. The months of January and February were spent in quiet preparation, and in March Gen. Kerwin issued a mandate that all military organizations of the Fenian Brotherhood should hold themselves in readiness to move forward to the Canadian frontier as soon as the final orders were issued. Meanwhile cases of arms, ammunition and other war material were being secretly shipped to different points along the border under various guises, and trusted officers were at the designated points to receive them and store them away in secluded hiding places until they were required. Everything was going along very satisfactory to the Fenian leaders, and it seemed to them as if Uncle Sam and the Canadian Government would both be caught napping.

During the first week in April Gen. O'Neil and some of his staff arrived at a point on the Vermont border to inspect the munitions of war and see that his directions were being properly carried out. Fifteen thousand stands of arms, and almost three million rounds of ammunition, had been actually received and carefully stored at various places along the frontier between Ogdensburg and St. Albans. Several thousands of these arms were breech-loading rifles of heavy calibre, for which there was an unlimited amount of cartridges.

Malone, N.Y., and St. Albans, Vermont, were again selected as bases of operations by Gen. O'Neil, and these towns were to be his principal places of muster. When he had concluded his examination of "affairs at the front," the valiant General was in high spirits, occasioned by the belief that he would steal a march on the Canadian Government and again be over the border before his intention was observed. He had taken great pains to have every preliminary preparation minutely made, and the fact that he had already smuggled an armament for fully 15,000 men to the frontier without exciting the suspicion of the usually vigilant officials of the United States, gave him considerable satisfaction and confidence. His plan of campaign was to rush the Fenian troops across the border without delay, and to entrench themselves at points where reinforcements could rally around them as supports when they had obtained a foot-hold. Malone and Franklin were chosen as the points from which the raiders were to make their forays, his chief object being, as before, to destroy the canal systems, and by cutting the railroad communication between Montreal and the West, hamper the movement of Canadian troops and cause consternation among the people.

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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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