Fenian Head Centre James Stephens Arrives in New York – May 1866. Both Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Harper’s Weekly depict this event in their publications.

Fenian Head Centre James Stephens arrived in the US in May 1866. He had been on the run from his English prison, then a journey to France. Stephens came to the United States to help settle the differences and attempt to unite the O’Mahony and Roberts factions as well as raise money for a upcoming raising.

It’s interesting to compare how competing illustrated newspapers from New York covered the same story and included artist sketches for their readers as well as article’s of the event.

The first illustration is from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, May 26th edition of Stephens’ New York City arrival on May 10th, 1866. The next two sketches are of the same event by both Frank Leslie and Harper’s Weekly at the Fenian gathering at Jones’s Wood on May 15th 1866. Both of these newspapers were ironically published on June 2nd 1866, the same day the Robert’s Wing of the Fenian Brotherhood invaded Canada West and the Battle of Ridgeway.

At this Jones’s Wood rally, there was an estimated 10,000 Irish who turned out to listen to national speeches for action. Along with these speeches also came copious amounts of drinks being sold, which helped lubricate the hands to dig into the pockets for donations and purchases of the newly issued Fenian Bonds to fund the Fenian Republic cause.

The Robert's $10 Fenian Bond of 1866.

Fenian Military Officer Shoulder Boards

General John O’Neil in his Fenian Uniform circa 1867. He would later lead another failed Raid into Canada in 1870 wearing this same officer’s uniform.

General John O’Neill, Irish Republican Army circa 1867, later he was the President of the Fenian Brotherhood (Roberts/Senate Wing). Note O’Neill wears the United States pattern officer’s frock coat however the shoulder boards are Fenian Sunburst (An Gal Gréine) signifying the officer as a General in the Irish Republican Army.

The Fenians copied the United States uniform mostly in style, since there was so much discounted surplus from the Civil War, however the Fenians did make minor changes and Fenian Brotherhood Military Regulations were laid down regarding the uniform of commissioned officers in the Irish Republican Army.

Officers were to wear a frock of dark green cloth, black trousers, black hat, and a sash of green silk. A major general wore shoulder boards of two sunbursts in silver, a brigadier general only one sunburst, a colonel wore a Phoenix in silver (replacing the US Eagle for a rising Phoenix). A lieutenant colonel wore a shamrock leaf in silver, and a major, shamrock leaf in gold it is unclear what the background color was however it likely followed the branch of service similar to the U.S. military.

General O’Neill being captured by US Marshal, General George Foster during the Fenian Raid of May 1870. O’Neill is wearing the Irish Republican Army Officers uniform as his square belt buckle clearly shows the initials I.R.A. (Irish Republican Army)
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, June 11, 1870

The Fenian Brotherhood Token Carried during The Fenian Raids into Canada, June 1866

New York City entrepreneur & engraver John Gault, looked to cash in on the Fenian hype that encompassed New York as well as other Irish centers within the United States after the Civil War. Gault was more famously known for obtaining a patent for a postage stamp case or as he named it the “New Metallic Currency”. A single US postal stamp would be placed inside a small brass case with the front of the stamp visible however on the back was an advertisement for a local business. The stamp which would be used as fractional currency with the stamp safeguard within the brass case.

Gault designed and sold a Fenian token or medal which was first sold in March 1866 through newspaper advertisements. This medal was designed with a hole at the top to be worn, some say, for a green ribbon or lanyard. 

Other reports claim that these token dies were cut by Sewell, a New York City die sinker of Irish origin and a member of the Fenian Brotherhood and produced by The Scoville Manufacturing Company of Waterbury, Connecticut in 1866.

One good Fenian had purchased Gault’s Fenian Brotherhood token and was in possession of it when he was captured by the British/Canadian forces at Pigeon Hill, East Wing in June 1866. 

On trial with the other captured Fenians at Sweetsburg (now Cowansville, Missisquoi, Canada), was Terrance McDonald, a 25 yrs old single laborer, born in Airdrie, Scotland and living in Waterbury CT. Like many of his fellow Fenian Raiders, he was a veteran of the American Civil War. 

Having served in the 9th Connecticut Infantry as a private in Co A, he was wounded at Cedar Creek, VA 1864 and mustered out in 1865. The 9th CTVI was established as an Irish regiment, with strong Irish Republican sentiment and carried a regimental flag which bore both an American red, white and blue shield as well as the Irish Harp with “Erin Go Braugh” proudly displayed on their battle colors. The 9th Connecticut regiment served in the western theater during the civil war.  

At his trial in Dec 1866, the British prosecutor “produced a medal taken from the prisoner, Terrance McDonald. “One side were the words “Irish Republic” and a ship in the centre, and on the other, “Ireland and America,” with a device of clasped hands, and the date of 1866, with shamrock and sunburst.” [National Republican, Washington DC, Dec 21, 1866] 

McDonald never denied he was a Fenian, like some of his fellow prisoners did. In fact, he was proud of it until his dying day, where he would later join the Irish Land League in his home state of Connecticut. Lucky for McDonald, he had only become a US citizen on March 10, 1866, before the ill-fated Raid, but this just so happened to have saved his life. 

The British Prosecutor was threatening to have all captured Fenian traitors hanged by the neck, since they were still seen as British subjects of the Crown. Britain did not recognize Naturalized American Citizenship and believed once born under the British Crown, a subject would always belong a British subject. (It wasn’t until two other American Fenians challenged this (John Warren/Augustine E Costello) causing an international affair that Great Britain would finally recognized the rights of their subjects to become Naturalized US citizenship (Warren & Costello Act of 1870)).

McDonald was however acquitted because he was a US citizen at the time. Great Britain also knew they did not want an international crisis on their hands with the United States and hoped it would quickly and quietly die down. Another reason was they did not want to make martyrs out of the Fenian prisoners. 

Thus this medal played a small role, during these 1866 trials, carried by at least one Fenian Raider and later used as evidence for the Crown; for owning it meant being a member of the Fenian Brotherhood. Despite owning one, being naturalized Citizens of the United States had a greater value which saved the several Fenian lives.

These token can be found from time to time up on auction websites as as numismatic sites. They had been mass produced and sold to the public during 1866 , through newspaper advertisements and one generally finds them in varying quality and condition today. Most have the hole knocked out, however there has been a few examples that the hole was not made and likely carried as a token.

Fort Erie Pass is a Fragile relic from the Fenian Raids of 1866

After the Battle of Ridgeway and Fort Erie, the Fenian forces fled across the Niagra River without the expected reinforcements. They were quickly arrested by the USS Michigan’s captain and crew in the name of the United States Authorites for violating the Neutrality Agreement between the US and Britian.

The Canadian Military restored law and order back to the region and issued military passes for any border crossings. This pass was drawn up quickly and issued after the Fenian Raid in Ontario at Fort Erie to Wm H Cunnington on June 5th, 1866. It was to be presented to the Captain of the Steam Ferry Boat Wm Thomson to allow Cunnington to pass over to Buffalo, NY with the proper permission.

The ferry Wm Thomson plied the Niagra River from Fort Erie, Canada West to Buffalo, NY daily for years making that crossing several times a day.

Canadian Military Pass issued at Fort Erie on June 5, 1966 to Philadelphia Inquiry reporter William H Cunnington allowing him to board the ferry boat Wm Thomson to cross back over to Buffulo, NY. (JMMadden Collection)

William H Cunnington, a native of England, lived in Philadelphia at the time and was a very well known reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and had worked for other local newspapers in his 30+ year career.

He gained fame during the Civil War for his timely and accurate reports while attached to the Army of the Potomac in the field and later with General Sherman in Atlanta. Cunnington also wrote at length of his eyewitness accounts of the Lincoln Conspirator trials and their executions.

View of the USS Michigan holding the Fenians captive. They were arrested for violating the Neutrality Agreement between the US and Briotian. The fenians spent some time on a barge until the US authorities could figure out what to do with them. The Fenian prisoners were all released but their officers were held and eventually released after paying a fine. – Harpers Weekly June 23, 1866
The Fenians capture a Canadian Regimental Flag and celebrate, as depicted in
Harper’s Weekly June 23, 1866 Edition

On June 5th, 1866, Cunnington’s eyewitness accounts were featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer and detailed his visits to the Fenian prisoners in United States’ custody on the Steamer USS Michigan. He reports of seeing the colors of the captured Queen’s Own Regiment on board as well as Colonel Lowry of the Forty Seventh Regulars visiting the USS Michigan requesting the flag be returned. The captured Fenian General John O’Neill refused to surrender these colors and only would do so to a United States officer and not a British one, as he was in their custody. (This account has been brought into question as the QOR did not bring their colors to Ridgeway, nor other Canadian units, and this account may be simply Fenian propaganda for the readers back in the United States.)

Lieut.-Col. R. W. Lowry, of Her Majesty’s 47th Regiment

Cunnington later reports about the circumstances surrounding this pass:

“Special Dispatches to the Inquirer” – All Quiet

BUFFALO, N.Y. June 5 – All is quiet on the Niagara. Your correspondent has just returned from a visit to Fort Erie and adjacent country on the Canadian shore, and has enjoyed the novelty of mixing freely with the British officers and soldiers, and under the protection, for the nonce, of the British flag. How I succeeded in landing in Her Majesty’s dominion, a strict guard being kept all along the Canadian shore, and no person being permitted to land without a proper pass, which is difficult to get, and your correspondent had not, and how I was detained as a suspicious character by the British officials, and subsequently permitted to run at large and return to Buffalo shall appear in my next*. Suffice it to say, I visited the British Camp, obtained news The Inquirer’s readers hunger for, and departed. There is no immediate indication of a resumption of hostilities, by the Fenians, in this locality. Philadelphia Inquirer June 6, 1866

A view of the abandoned Fort Erie in June 1866 – Harper’s Weekly, June 23, 1866

Cunnington never reports the details of obtaining the pass as he had promised in a previous column. Likely being born in England and having a British accent may have helped. Later, in his next follow up column, he instead describes from his place in Buffalo seeing the shore across the river lined with red coats, but nothing on how he obtained his pass.

Whatever the reason, he likely had to go through a hassle to obtain the pass, feared of being a suspected Fenian spy or even trapped in Canada without a way to report back to his newspaper while working on a deadline.

Cunnington could have easlily overlooked this follow up story about his pass because of other all the other news with the arrested Fenians in Buffalo as well as the developing Fenian military movements in Vermont and Malone, NY. It could have even been dropped by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s editor for space.

Either way, this simple piece of paper is a pass written during the Fenian Raids at Fort Erie. It is a fragile relic from the time that had lasted and now it has a better back story with the reporter citing it in his article during the Fenian Raids.

View of Fort Eire from across the Niagra River from Buffalo, NY. William Cunnington likely has a very similar view when he wrote down seeing red coats on the other shore.

The April 1866 Fenian Fizzle

The First Fenian Raid into Canada, 1866

Illustarated London News, May 5, 1866

The Illustrated London News May 5 1866’s edition shows a calm and peaceful wood cut drawing of the waters around East Port, Maine, where the Fenians made their first Raid in April 1866. The action was far over by the time the newspapers men and artists arrived to report the action. There reports were well before the other June 1866 Raids into Lower Canada.

The Fenians sailed up to Eastport, Maine near Campobello Island, New Brunswick on April 15, 1866. These Fenians were led by the John O’Mahony’s faction, who wanted to be the first Fenians to strike at the British in North America and steal the thunder from the Robert’s Senate faction, who had planned raids at the NY & VT border crossing.

O’Mahony had also hoped the island’s unresolved ownership both claimed by New Brunswick and Maine, would bring about a clash between Britain and America. Gunboats appeared from both countries to successfully hamper the Fenians. Nine armed Fenians (some reports say five), under cover of darkness, lowered a boat and rowed with muffled oars managing to land on Indian Island capturing an English revenue flag. No shots were exchanged as It is believed there was no military force on the island at the time.

The Fenian commanders withdrew, but proudly proclaimed victory. This was later commonly called “The Campo Bello fizzle” and O’Mahony’s leadership was called into question by his own organization.

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper June 16, 1866 comments on the British reaction to Campobello Fenian incident reminding everyone of the St Alban’s Raids of Confederate agents into Vermont and the British’s lack of concern while those raiders escaped back into Canada.

THE 1870 FENIAN UNIFORM HIGHLIGHTED ON THE COVER OF THE COMPANy OF MILITARY

The Winter 2020 Military Collector & Historian Cover from the Journal of the Company of Military Historicans highlights the the 1870 Fenian Green Regulation Uniform. The description is written by Rene Chartand and drawn by Ron Volstad, courtesy the History and Heritage Directore, Department of National Defence, Ottawa.

This article is a good primer on who the Fenians were, their regulation uniform as well as buttons, worn by Fenians within the enlisted ranks. One thing different in this drawing is the odd blue miltary hat, with a dark band and red and white piping which has not normally been seen before, nor described in any newspapers. This certainly is not a Fenian regulation cap. It looks more like a Canadian or European shako style hat with visor & piping. There also is an ornament on the front of the hat, likely a company letter or regimental number.

Fenian cap regulation of 1866 stated the irish Harp should be on the front and a company letter. We have covered the Fenian uniform before here in other posts, where the regulation hat was a blue cap (patterned after the US Civil War model), with a 1 1/2 inch green felt band around the bottom. This design was likely chosen because it could be pick up cheaply in large quantites from Civil War Federal supply surplus and be easily modified with the green felt around the band.

This hat shown here in this drawing was what was reportedly captured with the green Fenian Cavalry jacket in 1870 and now on display at the National Historic Sites, Parks Canada, however has now been lost. Forunately it was documented and used with this Fenian figure.

In these photos, the Fenian’s uniform jacket appears almost dark blue, however it is dark green when one shifts the hues and looks more closely.

You can read the entire quarterly Military Collector & Historian Journal by following this link.

I would recommend any serious student of Military History become a member of the Company of Military Historians and checking out their website: https://military-historians.org/

Above is the captured Fenian jacket which is referred to in this article.

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The Flannel Mouths are Whipped! – 1870 Fenian Raid Newspaper Broadside

An unusual piece of Fenian history is this newspaper broadside published on May 25th 1870 by an Ontario, Canada newspaper Record and Journal as an Extra.

The headlines announce the Fenian Raid, A Battle Fought, The Flannel Mouths Whipped! The Canadian publisher was relishing in the fall of the Fenians calling them “Flannel Mouths” a term which is not heard today but in this context means a smooth-talker, a flatterer, or a braggart, with the intent of deceiving or manipulating others.

The broadside then goes on to print other incoming newspapers reports from US and Canadian newspapers, with direct copy, on what has happened during this Fenian Raid.

Making this even more extraordinary was that this anonymous writer from Detroit documents his efforts having to travel across the river (about 1 mile) to a Windsor, Ontario newspaper, to seek out information on the recent Fenian Raid then printing a copy for himself with the aid of a former newspaper man.

Below is the transcription on this Windsor 1870 Fenian Raid circular, which was kept as a momentum of his experience and written in pencil around all sides within the border of the circular.

Detroit May 25th 1870

At night,

I have just returned from Canada. Have been over to get reliable news. I found that this circular is just out. I went to the news depots and all around, but all was sold out. I finally came across an ex editor of the paper that furnishes this an in company with him I went to the office but then was none to be had there but the type was still in frame so we printed one for each of us. The excitement is intense. The Red Coats were drilling tonight. We/I  [wanted?] to hear the booming of the cannon from my room before the week is out and look from my bed room window with the aid of glasses, upon the battlefield.  

Fenian Raid Clip May 1870 Orginalc

God Save Ireland! – San Francisco Fenian Ball advertisement

St Patrick’s Day for the Irish has always been a huge affair, especially in San Francisco where the Irish and the Fenian Brotherhood was thriving in the early 1870s.

A photo of passing interest to Fenian scholars, is this image showing in the background showing a very large broadside on the fence to the back right which headlines “God Save Ireland ” and advertises the Fenian Brotherhood Civil Ball to take place on St Patrick’s Day at the Union Hall.

This stereoview of the “Central Pacific Rail Road Ferry, Davis Street” by Eadweard Muybridge, San Francisco shows the ticket office on Davis Street in the Embarcadero, San Francisco, with a large sign for the ferry connection across the bay to San Jose, Stockton, and Sacramento, and from Sacramento to Chicago and New York Via the CPRR.

The photo was likely taken in early March 1871 as Photographer Muybridge was about to embark on the Lighthouse Tender “Shubrick”, undertaking his 6 month journey to photograph the American west coastal lighthouses shortly there after.

There is also a newspaper advertisement for the same Fenian Brotherhood Military and Civil Ball at the Union Hall on the Evening of St Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1871, which appeared in the March 12th 1871 San Francisco Chronicle Edition, and was also seen in other editions leading up to the event. Before the ball, there was a High Mass in the morning of the 17th of March, followed by a parade by the Fenian Brotherhood and other Irish civic societies.

San Francisco was the center for Fenian Brotherhood activities and several Fenian Circles from the mid 1860’s to the mid 1870’s, also being the base for the Pacific West Coast Fenians. Fenian General John O’Neill and John Savage, president of the Senate wing of the Fenian Brotherhood, made several visits out to San Francisco at different times to support and rally the Fenian Brotherhood members and their Circles. Of course, these official trips would encompass fundraising for the New York Headquarters, stopping along the way in many mid western states doing the same, where Irish and Fenian had large membership.

“Perplexing” 1866 Fenian Weapons – Base Ball Bats?

Belvidire Nov 6 1866
Belvidere Standard, Nov 6, 1866 (Belvidere, Il)
While researching the Fenian Base Ball Clubs, (Base Ball being two words back then), there were several Clubs which popped up within cities with large Irish populations. The name indicated the political sentiment of Irish locals during the period after the American Civil War. From New Orleans, LA, Charleston, SC and Hartford, CT, as well as other Gaelic centers, these gentlemanly sports teams cropped up, notably in places where the Fenian Brotherhood was active.
batsWhether there is a correlation between these base ball clubs and the Fenian military companies, which drilled publicly or in local halls at the same time has yet to be seen. It was not unusual to have amateur teams being named after the ethnic make up of their players, as the Germans did the same, but it is interesting to see these sporting teams named after a political movement. Later we come to see teams named Shamrocks, Gaels, Celtics, and of course The Fighting Irish.
I came across this newspaper story in Nov 1866 while British North America/Canada was still on a heighten state of alert, a few months after the Fenian Raids in Canada East & West of June 1866. I can only imagine what Canadian custom inspectors where thinking when they opened these suspicious packages containing base ball equipment and trying to figure out how these strange weapons would be used by the Fenians to wage war against them again.

Catcher
Could this be the new Fenian army uniform outfitted for the next raid onto the Canadian border?