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?

The Fenian Forty – an account of a 2nd NY Mounted Rifles Veteran and his role in the Fenian Raids of June 1866

The Fenian Forty is a rare veteran’s account of his and his comrades’ participation in the 1866 Fenian Raid into Canada.

The story appeared thirty years after the Raid, within the Buffalo Courier May 29, 1893 pages to remember the anniversary of the Irish attempt to take Canada by force. The author is a Civil War veteran from Buffalo who served in the 2nd New York Mounted Rifles and gathers thirty nine other veterans from his regiment for an “adventure”. While their part of Fenian operations has never been been documented (or verified) in other sources, it plays an interesting side story to the Fenian Raids. These civil war veterans, who were not under any formal command, did more reconnaissance and plundering in Canada then fighting, likely longing for and reliving the excitement they had seen for the last several years on campaign during the war.

Certain facts within the article do pan out as a true story. The mention of a “Mike Mahany”, is most likely Michael Mahanna of Co D of the 2nd NY Mounted Rifles. Mahanna enlisted in November 1863 for three years, promoted to corporal, however was later reduced in rank. He was mustered out with his company at Petersburg, Va on August 10, 1865.

The author indicated the Forty wore their 2nd NY Mounted Rifles uniforms into Canada. which were unique as their shell jackets had green cuffs and piping, very fitting for a Fenian Raid.

Unfortunately, tracking down the author, who is not mentioned purposely, still remains elusive. Several clues within this article narrow down the possibilities; from him holding a political office in 1893, being a high ranking officer in the veteran’s organization G.A.R., to joining up at a very young age with his brother and being of “French decent”. Hopefully after some sleuthing, we can uncover who this French Fenian may be.

** UPDATE ** The 1893 Author of the Fenian Forty story may have been found. After careful checking of military rosters of the 2nd New York Mounted Rifles for brothers, zeroing in on Co D as it’s mentioned in the story, French names as well as the mention of being only 13 years old at the time of his civil war enlistment. It appears that Private Joseph August Humbert is the man in the article. Other records show he was active politically in Buffalo and held several high positions within the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). Humbert also continued to serve in the National Guard after the war, rising to the rank of Captain.

A link to his grave is proved here which also shows a photo of him: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/33335234/joseph-august-humbert

The Fenian Forty “Adventure” is below:

General Grant’s Handwritten November 1865 letter about the Fenians along the Canadian border

Recently a handwritten letter from Commanding General U. S. Grant, appeared at auction. It gives good insight as to how the US Government’s policy on the Fenian Brotherhood in America and the “laterebellion”. The letter is unsigned, contains three pages on two adjoining sheets, 7.75 x 9.75, with the Head Quarters Armies of the United States letterhead, dated November 26, 1865. This letter to Major General E. O. C. Ord, Commander of the Department of the Ohio, in full (spelling and grammar retained):

“Your letter of the 14th inst. to the Adj. Gen. of the Army stating that large Fenian organizations exist all along the Canada frontier and asking instructions in case they attempt to invade Canada is refered to me. Whilst the United States and Great Britten are at peace it is clearly our duty to prevent war being made upon her territory by Citizens of the States and also to prevent the fitting out and departure from our terrytory of hostile bodies of men of whatever Nationality they may be. Great Britten, or British officials have not observed this rule very closely towards us during the existence of the late rebellion. But this wrong doing is no justification for our following their example. You will therefore prevent all armed and equiped military organizations going from the United States into Canada where you can. It will not be necessary even for you to know that they are going for the purpose of making war upon a country with which we are at peace. It is sufficient to know that without the invitation of the Canadian authorities no organized Military Companies have a right to enter their country.
You must understand however that the force at your command is not to be used as a police force to discover the designs of the so called Fenians. The power of raising and organizing Military Companies exists all over the country. Militia or independent companies are being drilled every day. The scare got up about the Fenians need not attract our attention in the least. It is only when they or any Militia or other body of armed men attempt to go into another country, or out of ours, that you need interfere.”

Concluding blue pencil subscription and signature of Grant written by in a secretarial hand. In fine condition, with splitting to the hinge and folds, and two small tape stains to the lower blank area of the second page.

For more detail on the letter or the auction currently running, please visit: https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/64152273_u-s-grant

A Fenian Overcoat for 10 Cents

Fenian Overcoats for 10 cents, that’s a bargain not many could pass up.

Surplus Army Overcoats Sold at Discount

In the winter of 1869, colorfully printed handbills were plastered around lower Manhattan and along the fences at City Hall Park, advertising this enticing offer that helped drive curiosity and foot traffic to the location listed on the flyer. Even in 1869, these printed handbill followed the long-standing marketing axiom: keep it simple (K.I.S.S.), reading:

Fenian Overcoat for Ten Cents
Reagan’s marketing strategy help pull patron’s into his establishment.

Had one followed their inquisitiveness, they wouldn’t have found themselves at a military surplus clothing store but at the doorsteps of “Reagan’s Saloon” at 5 Beekman Street in New York City, a newly furnished elegant tavern with rooms available that also featured a plush parlor, fashionable furnishings, gas lamps, fine liquors and cigars, of course being sold “at the lowest market prices”.

William H. Reagan, who put out these advertisements was a liquor merchant with a knack for marketing published various ads in local New York City newspapers about his liquor dealership and fine cigars, from several of his locations. These ads were usually several lines long and ran in The Irish American Weekly, NY Daily Graphic and the New York Herald. Reagan was also a supporter of the Irish charities and Irish causes.

A Fenian Coat
In 1867, the Fenian Brotherhood set forth uniform regulations, which called for using surplus Army Federal overcoats since they were so plentiful.

A Schenectady resident going by the nom de plume “Humanity” and drawn in by the Fenian Overcoat advertisement wrote to the local newspaper: “puzzled at the low price, and made enquires of a Hibernian. He said: “Why sir, it is aisy [easy] enough to understand, them folks wear their overcoats inside; it manes [means] a noggin uv [of] whiskey.”

A Fenian Overcoat was the name for Irish whiskey served straight, a single pour, unmixed, ungarnished and at room temperature. Several newspapers mentioned similar stories throughout the country of Irish whiskey straight now being called “Fenian Overcoats” attributing it to New York City.

The Fenian Overcoats was the hook, which drew in patrons, who knew the inside joke or believing they were getting a deal on winter clothing or maybe even wondering if the Fenian Brotherhood’s military, had accumulated so many overcoats in their quest to uniform their military that they were now selling overcoats at discounted prices, like the US military did right after the Civil War.

Reagan's Saloon Newspaper Ad
This ad ran weekly for several months at a time in New York City newspapers on and off from 1867-1870.

How the name came about is not exactly known, it could have been taken from an incident a few years early when thirty five winter overcoats were sent to Fenian prisoners captured in the June 1866 Invasions of Canada (West and East) awaiting trial and sentencing. During that winter, Fenian President William R. Roberts sent all of the Fenian prisoners overcoats, which were held by British customs until the duty tax was paid on them for coming into the county. This riled up the Fenians and caused delay in the much need overcoats reaching the prisoners who were suffering from the cold in British prisons because of their participation in efforts to establish an Irish Republic. Other speculation is the whiskey was Irish and so were the Fenians. It was a natural connection, plus a whiskey straight would warm one up in a cold winter’s day like an overcoat.

Whatever the reason, the “Fenian Overcoat” term for a whiskey straight lived on and seemed to have continued to be used during the height of the Fenian Brotherhood’s existence, well into the early 1880’s.

In November 1879, the Jersey City Evening Journal newspaper used this expression as if it was a common place phrase understood by their readers. It was reported: “a number of hoodlums employed at the Oil Docks Caven Point” went on a drinking spree up Monticello Ave, buying boots and flat topped hats, as well as investing in whiskey and old ale. “After a while they left off enriching their winter wardrobe and turned their entire attention to “Fenian Overcoats”. They got very “full” and correspondingly ugly.”

This was not going to be a good day for John Popka’s Saloon and taproom, where he served his own locally home brewed beer at 158 Monticello Ave in Jersey City. He advertised “selling the largest glass of good beer for the least amount of money”. After refusing to pay for their drinks, the hoodlums destroyed the place, and then wandered outside to other taprooms to eventually get into a fight among themselves. The newspaper pondered what their faces looked like the following morning as well as the oil docks must have been shorthanded the following day.

Then there was Poor Kate. Kate Ferguson was an Irish domestic servant and well known to the Jersey City police, the courts and the readers of the Jersey City Evening Journal. Her name had been mentioned numerous times within the newspaper’s columns over a span of more than 30 years, due to her arrests for her disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and being sent to the county hospital at Snake Hill to dry out. Kate had become a wretched serial tale within the pages of the newspaper because of her frequent antics over so many years as a perpetual nuisance. In another sad story to their readers, the paper chronicled yet one more episode of Kate’s on March 4th 1882:

She Went For Button

“Kate Ferguson, an old pensioner, left the Third Precinct station house yesterday to buy some buttons. At the first saloon she called on the woman who politely informed her that they did not sell buttons there, though they made a specialty of Fenian Overcoats. Kate promptly purchased an overcoat, and donned it paying ten cents for the article. She called at another saloon further up the street and was again astonished to learn that buttons were not to be secured even there. Her astonishment was so great that she was compelled to again secure another overcoat. She bought a number of other garments of the same sort before she secured any buttons – in fact, she didn’t get any at all. She got drunk, however, and created so great a disturbance that Officer Shandley took her into custody. This morning Justice Stilsing sentenced her to ten days’ imprisonment in the cell, which she has used right along as a pensioner.”

The “Fenian Overcoat” expression seemed to die out around the same time the Fenian Brotherhood organization was sputtering out and morphing into other similar Irish Republican groups, and we don’t see this term being used again.

So next time you decide to have an Irish whiskey, remember to make it a straight and raise your glasses to the Fenians and their heartwarming Fenian Overcoats.

A Fenian Overcoat
Raise your glass to the Fenians with a Fenian Overcoat

Sources: Schenectady Reflector, Dec 23, 1869, Courier Journal, Nov 29, 1866, Cleveland Leader, Jan 7, 1867, Irish American Weekly, Dec 19, 1868, Irish American Weekly, Nov 07, 1868, Buffalo Commercial, Dec 27, 1869, Daily Graphic, April 27, 1873, New York Herald, Dec 19, 1876, Jersey City Evening Journal, March 4, 1882, Jersey City Evening Journal, Nov 24, 1879, Warner, Chris, American Civil War: Union Infantry (Uniforms and Equipment) Almark Publishing Co, London, 1977, Todd, Frederick P. : American Military Equipage, 1851-1872, Vol 1, Company of Military Historians, Providence, 1974