Category Archives: Fenian Raid

O’Mahony’s April 1866 Fenian Raid

O’Mahony’s Fenians Strike First and How The Newspapers Reported it.

On April 17th, 1866, The O’Mahony Faction Fenian Raid occurred near Campobello Island, New Brunswick, British North America. A small force of Fenians landed on Indian Island near Maine, with the intent of invading the nearby island of Campobello. Their original plans were always to invade Ireland by force, however they wanted to quickly strike, take credit for the first blow at Britain beating the Roberts Wing into Canada and steal headlines.

There were no reported casualties and little was accomplished other than the Fenian sneaking onto the deserted island, seizing a British Customs House flag without resistance, which hung from a flag pole then returning under cover of darkness back to the US shores to claim a victory.

A few sketches of this Campobello Raid were covered by the Illustrated London New – May 5, 1866, Frank Leslie’s – April 28, 1866 and Harper’s Weekly – May 5th, 1866.

Other than several scenic views, not much is going on within the sketches, which just demonstrates the lack of action or real eyewitness accounts of what was later termed a Fenian Fiasco. However, Frank Leslie beat their rival Illustrated newspaper, Harper’s Week by a full week reporting on the Fenian Raid by a full week which was a very big deal within the newspaper business. It is more than likely Frank Leslie sent a newspaper artist up there to report back but all he could find were ships on the water so in order to beat their NY Newspaper rival to the punch he sketch that and sent it to be printed. Despite being across the Atlantic Ocean, even the Illustrated London News published their sketch of a similar scene with little Fenian action for their readers on the same day Harper’s Weekly got their sketch published.

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Harper’s Weekly misses the mark on O’Mahony’s Fenian Eastport Raid in April 1866, scooped by their competitor

Feeding their newspapers readers desire to read more about the Fenians and their actions along the border, Harper’s Weekly was caught off guard by O’Mahony’s Eastport Raid near Campobello Island on April 17, 1866. No reporters were sent to cover it, the distance was remote and the newspaper grew tired of too many false reports of a Fenian attack into Canada for months. However, Frank Leslie scooped their NY Illustrated newspaper rival and reported on the this Fenian Raid first.

O’Mahony’s Eastport Raid was a surprise to most as the Fenian Brotherhood broke into two factions partly on where they were going to attack, Canada or Ireland. Robert’s Wing called themselves the “Men of Action” as they wanted to attack Canada and were ready to go, while O’Mahony wanted to stick to the plan and send men to Ireland and have Civil War officer train the Irish for an uprising in Ireland.  O’Mahony’s ill fated raid was to grab newspaper headlines from their Fenian rivals, be the first Fenian group on British soil and hoped to draw the U.S. into a long awaited conflict over this dispute area.

It took Harper’s Weekly more than two weeks after this Raid to wet their own readers appetite about Fenian news, and there wasn’t much more than a short biography on James Stephens and a drawing of the area where the Fenian action took place.  Frank Leslie’s Illustrated newspaper had previously publish a short article about the action. It is likely Harper’s Weekly editors were struggling to come up with some news on the Fenians for their readers that following week, so these two sketches were used to satisfy that weekly edition.

James Stephens, Head Centre of the Fenian Brotherhood was featured in Harper’s Weekly May 5th, 1866 edition. The sketch and accompanying story gave a brief bio on the Fenian Leader. In the same edition, a very non descript sketch of a pastoral scene on St John River showing the area where O’Mahony’s Campobello Raid occurred or later termed The Fenian Fiasco.

In a short couple of weeks the Robert’s Wing of the Fenian Brotherhood would launch their own raids into Canada in June of 1866 and the newspapers, especially the illustrated ones, made sure they were sending reporters and artists to the Canadian front to report back to anxious readers at home on the Fenian Raids to sell newspapers.

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