Category Archives: Fenian Brotherhood

Harper’s Weekly pokes fun at the Fenian Excitement

Harper’s Weekly poked a bit of fun at the news of the Fenian Invasion and the Canadian panic that it created. Weeks of rumors and reports of Fenian preparation were printed in many newspapers, yet nothing had come of it but there were many false alarms and talk of a Fenian Raid happening on St Patrick’s Day 1866. The editors didn’t believe the Fenians were capable of pulling off a military operation and it was bluster which was scaring their neighbors to the north.

These many false rumors called out the Canadian militia and placed at the ready for several weeks being deployed to the borders and cities during that period.

In the Harper’s Weekly March 31, 1866 edition, the top sketch is of an ice bridge over Niagara and the artists identifies the individuals on the ice as Sweeny’s Skirmishers, but really duck hunters, mocking the scare. The bottom sketch is of the town of Hamilton, CW preparing for a Fenian Raid.

It was common for illustrated newspapers to take more than a week or two to write the story, draw up the sketch, process it then print the currently news, so these stories are about mid March 1866.

This sketch shows the humor the Editors took with the great Fenian excitement by showing duck hunters on the ice over the Niagara and calling them Fenian Tom Sweeny’s skirmishers. The artist, T.B. Davis, would later be credited for other Fenian prints which were seen in Harper’s Weekly later in the year.

Sweeny's Skirmishers
Harper’s Weekly March 31, 1866 pokes fun at the nervous Canadians by showing a frozen over Niagara with duck hunters calling them Sweeny’s Skirmishers.

This sketch also appeared in the same edition and is based on a photograph by R. Milne of Hamilton, Canada West, British North America of James Street in Hamilton and the Canadian militia out on public display drilling with the crowds of citizen watching on. Note all the Union Jack flags flying proudly from many of the buildings.

Fenian Excitement In Hamilton Canada West
Harper’s Weekly March 31, 1866

To finish off the ridicule, the back page of that week’s edition had a cartoon parody of Irish Fenians Generals, overly ornamented, sitting in the parlor of a Fenian Bond Subscriber discussing in Irish dialect their Fenian Strategy.  The Fenian Bonds had raised a considerable amount for the Brotherhood, with both wings issuing their own, but also raised a lot of questions as to where the money was really being spent on.  Here the point was how the Fenians were side stepping their real objective for any action and getting subscribers to buy their bonds.

Fenian Strategy Cartoon
Harper’s Weekly Back Page – March 31, 1866
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Canadian Militia Prepare for the Fenians

Harper’s Weekly April 7th 1866 edition helped keep the Fenian Invasions rumors stirring. To put the upcoming June 1866 Fenian raids into perspective, most newspapers carried stories about the preparations being made on both sides, and it helped sell newspapers. Most of the rumors were unfounded however.

Harper's Weekly April 7th 1866
Harper’s Weekly April 7th 1866, The Canadian Volunteers after drill relaxing. See the fellow in the bottom left corner reading Harper’s Weekly from the week before.

Harper’s Weekly front page shows Dublin’s Richmond Bridewell prison where Head Centre James Stephens escaped, making their readers fully aware he was out and perhaps plotting for an attack. Below that is a sketch of Fenian prisoners being escorted into prison in Cork, Ireland, demonstrating to the readers the Fenian Threat was real as well as the British were making arrests.

Harper's Week;y April 7, 1866

“The Canadian Volunteers resting after their drill” illustration in this edition shows also Canada’s high alert during the St Patrick’s week, with expectation of a Fenian attack. British North America was spending thousands a dollars a day to keep their militia in the field because if these Fenian threats and it was draining their treasury. .

Of note is the chap on the bottom left with whiskers, monocle and derby. He’s reading the week’s previous week’s Harper’s Weekly which introduced readers to the leaders of both Fenian factions, shows Ireland’s oppression under the British, the Irish immigration as well as the Fenian’s service in the American Civil War. The following photo is the previous week’s sketch the chap is holding. Even the Canadian Volunteers are reading the newspapers from New York keeping informed of the latest Fenian developments.

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.

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

Map2
 

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?

michigan-loot-e1502473845381.jpg
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.