A NJ Zouave Captain arrested as a Fenian Leader

Eason Geary Fogarty Captured Albany NY Evening Journal 1866 - 0622
List of Fenian Officers indicted, including Newark’s Alex C. Eason. Albany Evening Journal – June 30, 1866

The size of the Fenian Brotherhood within the Union Army during the Civil War is often overlooked. Membership was growing fast by mid 1863 on the successes of recruiting and fellow Fenian Union Officers leading the efforts. It became a vehicle for Irish men serving in the Union to not only join the Brotherhood to show their love and hope for the future of their beloved homeland, by bringing in monthly dues collected in the field at Circle meeting for that future, but also to donate to the cause of Ireland’s freedom along with their dues. Their military training and skills while fighting for the Union, in all branches of the military, would be an asset to Ireland when the Civil War was over as the Fenians viewed themselves a better match against any British military force.

Many know of some US Irish officers who held rank in the Fenian Irish Republican Army and participated in the raids of 1866 into British North America, but little has been written about of the Raid into Canada East, the invasion toward Montreal. That invasion was the real objective for the Robert’s Wing of the Fenian Brotherhood.

Much of the attention on the Fenians during this period focuses on the Raid from Buffalo into Ontario, Canada West. This Fenian invasion force was meant to be a diversionary tactic so Canadian troops would scramble to that area from all over the region, clearing an easier path for the Fenians in the East from Malone NY and St Alban’s into Canada East, which was set for a few days later.

Unplanned by the Fenians was US intervention, lack of enthusiasm from the local Canadians to join their efforts, and what became termed a “fizzle”, made the Fenian leaders understand the Raids were over even before the Canada East Raid began. But some Fenians in the East, despite hearing what happened outside Buffalo, continued to press on.

EasonOne overlooked Fenian Officer who went to Canada East, and distinguished himself during the Civil War was Captain Alexander C. Eason, of Newark, NJ. He was born 1833 in Ireland, to William and Jane Eason and immigrated to the USA as a youth. He married Anne Adams in Charlestown, MA in 1855.

By the time of the civil war, the Easons had two children, William H (b. 1854) and Emma (b. 1856) and had moved from Massachusetts to Newark, NJ. Alexander had established himself by 1860 as a local constable then later a grocer and a tavern owner by 1863.

In 1863, New Jersey was looking to put more regiments in the field and offered unique uniforms to entice veterans and raw recruits alike to instill a esprit de corps. The 33rd New Jersey Volunteer Infantry was recruited in September 1863 and were issued a modified Zouave uniform. The 35th New Jersey was also issued the same uniform but soon changed to the regulation Union blues, since supplying these unique uniforms were a challenge as they wore out quickly in the field and were difficult to replace. The 33rd New Jersey continued to wear these zouave uniforms until they were mustered out of service in 1865. Both units fought in the Western Theater under Sherman and participated in the March to the Sea.

33rd
Uniform of the 33rd New Jersey Infantry

Alexander joined the 33rd New Jersey Infantry (Mindle’s Zouaves) in Newark and commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in Company F. He was promoted to 1st Lt of Co B and by September 1864 he was later promoted to captain of this company.

Eason joined the Fenian Brotherhood at the end of the Civil War, and became an active Fenian leader in Newark, eventually leading a squad of Newark men from his former command of the 33rd New Jersey to Malone NY to join the Fenian Raid (Canada East) in June 1866, to capture British North America for Ireland. All Fenian military regiments from the East Coast, including New Jersey, were sent to Canada West, while Western Fenian companies were sent to Buffalo, NY.

Eason was arrested by US authorities after the raid at the border, with other Fenian officers, as he was part of the Fenian command. The United States military grabbed all involved for violating the neutrality agreement with Britain and briefly jailed these veteran officers, who had not yet escaped.
June 14, 1866 Newark Daily Advertiser (Newark, NJ) Eason Homecoming Newark Fenians heading home from the Canadian Front. Newark Daily Advertiser – June 14, 1866.

The United States never pursued strong actions against these Fenians and their brief detainment by the US was more welcomed than seeing British justice, as some of their Buffalo Fenian comrades were facing. When Eason returned home, he became a local Irish hero, hailed in the Newark newspapers and recognized at parades and local functions as he continued his Irish Nationalistic spirit serving as a delegate from NJ at several Fenian (Robert’s Wing) Conventions. He also continued to be active in Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) veteran affairs.

The Eason’s moved to Albany, then Gloversville. NY and finally settled in Vallejo, CA.

Alexander died by a self inflected gunshot wound to the head while temporarily insane. on March 15, 1900 and is buried at Saint Vincent’s Cemetery, Vallejo, Solano County California.

Eason Drilling

 

Advertisements

Fenian Raids depicted in NY Illustrated Newspapers

June 23, 1866, NY Illustrated Newspapers competed with each other for stories and getting the artists to draw the latest woodcuts from the field to be printed later in their newspapers. Many of these drawings are quite similar as it was not uncommon for artists to copy each others work in order to get these sketches long distances to their newspapers in New York City.

Here you will see similarities and other coverage of their coverage of the Fenian Raid into Canada.

The first photo is of the USS Michigan, which captured the returning Fenians in the Niagara River. It was published in Harper’s Weekly, June 23, 1866 and shows the citizens in the Buffalo shoreline looking at the scows in tow and acting as a temporary holding pen for the Fenians. The second sketch is from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, June 23, 1866 and shows a very similar scene.

The next two photos are from Harper’s Weekly June 23, 1866 and shows the shore line from Buffalo and also a similar sketch from Frank Leslie’s in their June 23, 1866 edition of a similar shoreline showing the Tug Robb. Similarly,  Scene showing the crumbling Fort Erie depicted by both newspapers. Frank Leslie’s depicts a longer shoreline view while Harper’s Weekly a closer view of the fort.

The sketch with the Fenian with the Canadian/British flag, appearing in the same Harper’s Weekly Edition, is also an interesting as it shows a very glorified and triumphant Fenian holding the flag. There had been reports that an English flag had been captured by the Fenians, including follow up stories that the Queen Own Rifles dropped the flag and was picked up by the Fenians as they rushed them. Another published claim states a Canadian Officer went on board the USS Michigan to order the US Navy captain to give the flag back, which Fenian General John O’Neill flatly refused. Unfortunately, all these accounts were untrue and made up.

The artist could have drawn the sketch from alleged eyewitnesses, however no flag ever existed or was displayed as trophies after the battle. A flag would have been a highly sought after trophy of war and the Fenians would have capitalized on it to help raise funds and drum up more support.

Major Denis Downing, Fenian Hero wounded at Gettysburg

Major Denis J Downing, an Irish Patriot, had been imprisoned in December 1858 because of his connection with the Phoenix Society or Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood in Ireland. He was released and went to New York, where he became an original member of the Phoenix Zouaves of New York before the Civil War. Denis along with his brothers, were active members of the Fenian Brotherhood in New York and were cousins to Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. downing 3

Denis enlisted in New York City as Sergeant Major on June 22/1861 in the 42nd New York Infantry (Tammany Regiment) along with his brother, Captain P.J. Downing (#49566187).

Downing resigned on 9/17/1861 to join the 97th NY, Co B as a 2nd Lieutenant and subsequently promoted to Captain Co H. He was captured at the second battle of Bull Run, where, while trying to rally a broken Union column was captured and taken prisoner to Richmond. He was exchanged in December 1862 and returned to his regiment.

 

Downing 1
Denis on crutches after losing his foot at Gettysburg

During the first day at the Battle of Gettysburg, Downing was severely wounded and his left leg was amputated. His brother wrote to Fenian Center John O’Mahony about the condition of his brother as well as the losses to the the Fenian Brotherhood after the battle.

You can read more about that letter and the Fenian casualties at Gettysburg here in Damian Shiels’ fantastic and well documented blog on the Irish Americans in the American Civil War:  

http://irishamericancivilwar.com/2012/07/16/fenian-casualties-at-gettysburg/

Denis was discharged for promotion on 2/1/1864 in the 128th Co, Veteran Reserve Corp (Invalid Corp), 2nd Battalion, then through consolidation transferred into the 36th Co, Veterans Reserve Corp, where he continued ti command a battalion of six companies.

Downing was married to Frances Teresa O’Sullivan on 2/9/1864 at the Church of the Nativity in New York City with his brother P.J. as his best man. The couple had two children Mortimer and Ellen.

Downing was mustered out of volunteer service on 10/16/1866, where he joined the regular army, 44th United States Infantry, in the War Department in Washington D.C., serving as a secretary. He finally resigned Dec 15, 1870 because of failing health, having contracted tuberculosis and returned home to Ireland hoping to get better.

Denis Downing died shortly after arriving back to his home and was buried in the Old Chapel Yard graveyard in Skibbereen. (Special thanks to William Casey of Aughadown, Co Cork, Ireland for identifying the burial site.)

Downing 2
Denis Downing, wearing his officer’s Veteran Reserve Corp frock coat with his wife Frances Teresa (O’Sullivan) Downing as they appeared in Washington DC. Teresa became a clerk in the War Department also after the War.  

Watercolors of the Battle of Ridgeway

Of eyewitness accounts of the 1866 Fenian Invasion into Canada and Battle of Ridgeway, there are a series of watercolors painted by Alexander von Erichsen, a little known painter and allegedly a Civil War artist.

He followed the Fenians from Buffalo to Canada and provided documentary eyewitness accounts of the events from the planning stages of the Invasion to trials of the Fenian prisoners months later in through his watercolor sketches.

The vast number of plates done by this artist is truly incredible, there are over twenty three known, which document the Battle of Ridgeway, before and after. Never had there been such documentation on one battle even by pictorial newspaper artists during the Civil War.  Most of these have appeared in various books about the Fenian Raids. Several of these painting are owned by the Fort Erie Historical Museum (Mr & Mrs C Jewell Collection) and some are on display there as well.

For research purposes, one can get a good idea of what von Erichsen witnessed through his watercolors. The first thing that stands out is there are a lot of frock coats, some blue, most likely Federal uniforms, some gray (maybe green in the B&W) but certainly a lot of civilian wear, including hats worn by the Fenians. The artist shows a lot of light colored frock coats, with lapels and civilian hats as well, which documents not a lot of uniforms, only bits and pieces of them, were worn by the Irishmen.

Von Ericksen depicts the battle from both the Fenian side as well as the Canadian side as an eyewitness. It’s unclear if the artist was able to travel between the lines and to date I have not found any research which states an artist accompanied the Fenians or was seen during the Raid. Some accounts call the artist a Fenian sympathizer but viewing all these paintings, one does have to wonder how the artist moved freely between both forces, unless the artist depicted some of the scenes from his own imagination or other first hand accounts.

Tracking down and identifying this artist has also been problematic.

Civilians are mentioned during the raid, some who joined in on the Raid or mistaken for Fenians then detained, so the ability to move between the lines would be highly unlikely and if so, a person would have needed a military pass especially by the British after the action took place.

Here are some of the paintings.

Two books which highlight the Alexander von Erichsen watercolors of the Battle of Ridgeway are: First Hand Accounts of the Fenian Raid and Battle of Ridgeway, by Jane Davies and Jude Scott and The Year of The Fenian by David Owen, which is also a self guided tour of the landscape of the Fenian Invasion of the Niagara Peninsula in 1866, both are sold through the Fort Erie Historical Museum in Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada,