Category Archives: Battle of Ridgeway

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:

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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,

How Fenian Regiments Were Numbered

There has been a mystery about how the Fenian Brotherhood came up with their numbering for their military regiments and it’s overall organization. We know about the 7th Regiment, Irish Republican Army out of Buffalo NY, who gained their fame during the June 1866 Battle of Ridgeway. But what happened to Regiments 1 through 6? Where were these other Fenian Regiments located?

On Jan 21, 1867, President Roberts gave a special order which designated regiments into regions/states within the United States, which would encompass the sequential numbering of military regiments The Irish Republican Army. The number of regiments would go up to 21 and there were separate companies within each regiment.

While many of the lower numbered regiments did actually exist and can be found in newspaper articles drilling or mentioned on parade, the higher numbers, many out West, most likely never existed and was more wishful thinking by the Fenian command and on paper only.

The Fenian regiments did have number designations at Fenian Raid at the Battle of Ridgeway in June 1866. These unit designations were loosely based on regions. The 7th Buffalo, aka 7th I.R.A. Regiment, continued to retain their number, however by early 1867, the other Veteran I.R.A. regiments which saw action in Canada were redesignated:

The 13th Tennessee, originally commanded by General John O’Neill, was renumber to the 18th Tennessee after these orders.

The 17th Kentucky, the Louisville Company which had blue army jackets and green facing on the cuffs were lead by Colonel George Owen Starr, became the 13th Kentucky.

The 18th Ohio, led by Lt Col John Grace and known as the Fenian “Cleveland Rangers” which doned green caps and green overshirts at Ridgeway, was changed to the 12th Ohio based on the location of their region.

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“Important Orders” of President Roberts and General Spear on the Organization of the Irish American Army – The Evening Telegraph (Philadelphia, PA) Feb 12, 1867

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This map shows the Fenian Brotherhood Regiments organized throughout the United States.

What ever happened to the Fenian Arms taken aboard the USS Michigan after the Fenian Raids?

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The arms and Fenian flag turned over by US Authorities to the Fenians in Buffalo.

The Dec 5th, 1866 edition of the Buffalo Commercial Newspaper details the turn over of the Fenian arms and the Fenian Flag which were taken by US Authorities on board the USS Michigan.

The Article is packed with interesting Fenian information, from:

o Whatever happened to the Fenian Property taken onboard the USS Michigan,

o The specific military equipment carried, confiscated and inventoried as well as the details of the return of those items, 

o The officers and companies of the 7th Buffalo Regiment, Irish Republican Army,

o The solidarity the Fenians still had toward the US and the crew of the Michigan and a show of there was no resentment to what happened,

o What was to happen to the arms once given back to the Fenians (auctioned off)

o And most importantly, the flag of the 7th Buffalo Regiment made by the Fenian Sisterhood.

This Fenian flag did go on display the following day at a rally and one of the speakers points to it, stating it was at the battle of Ridgeway and had a few bullet holes in it, but was never sullied by the touch of an Englishman.

Battle of Ridgeway sketch from the Illustrated Buffalo Express

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The Battle of Ridgeway, as depicted on this front page drawing in The Illustrated Buffalo Express from May 31, 1891. The entire article was about the Fenian Raids which was being highlighted a quarter of a century before for the anniversity .

While this copy is not the clearest and attempts to find a better copy has been difficult, one can still make out the action, some figures, swords and rifles in the air and flags, one to the top left has the Irish Harp and two to the right are supposed to represent the British Flags/Canadian flag which would have been the Union Jack on the canton with a red background. The fighting also appears to be hand to hand, which never happened.

The sketch was made at the time of this publication in 1891 by an in house artist for this Illustrated edition. 

Frontier in Flames – The Canadian children’s version of the Fenian Invasion of the Niagara Peninsula

The 1866 Fenian Raids are not as well known in the United States, despite having occurred by Irish American Civil War veterans on the US Border. It has been forgotten on our history books while our neighbors to the north, it is much better known for these Raids helped shape the Canadian Confederation in 1867 and changed the course of history as Great Britain gave up their stake to British North America.

11A children’s book: Frontier in Flames: The Fenian Invasion of Niagara Peninsula by James M Basset and illustrations by Les Callan, written in 1965 and published in Toronto. It centers around a Canadian boy befriending a young Fenian invader with the storyline set around the Raids. There are some interesting drawings, considering there is a lot of artist license to the facts, like the uniforms of the Fenians, but overall an entertaining book for children with some historic perspective.

While the Fenian Raids are overlooked in the United States, they continue to be a part of Canada’s rich history. Here are a few pages from the book.

A Look Back In 1897 of the Fenian Raids With Photos Of The Battlefield

1The “Canadian Magazine and Massey’s Magazine Combined” for November 1897, featured articles about the “Makers of the Dominion of Canada”. Several were about the Fenian Raids of June 1866, one written by John A. Cooper, the magazine editor, which focused on Ontario, Upper Canada, Campaign.

At the time of the article, in 1897, photos were taken of the battlefield and other points of interest. While the photograph quality in a magazine print is not the clearest, it gives some idea of what the area may have looked like to both sides, untouched with other parts now gone, 31 years after the Battle of Ridgeway and Fort Erie.

Some shots include the interior of Fort Erie, Dr Kempson’s House, camp sites of the Fenians and the site of General O’Neill’s Headquarters at Limeridge. The article also contained a few portraits and maps, which I only included for points of reference.

You can read the article here on Google Books.

https://books.google.com/books?id=mdLPtC3TZxAC&lpg=RA1-PR1&ots=Y45uvBwIjV&dq=%22Canadian%20Magazine%20and%20Massey’s%20Magazine%20Combined%22%20for%20November%201897&pg=PA41&output=embed