Category Archives: Fenian

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.

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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

What Fort Erie looked like during the Fenian Raid of June 1866

During the Fenian Raids, Fort Erie had been in ruins and disrepair for some time. The capture of this fort was more symbolic than a strategic military point for the Fenians, and this point often gets lost on many readers of these accounts. Fort Erie certainly did not look as it appears today.

One Hackensack NJ newspaper reporting on the Fenian Raids at the time gave an interesting perspective for North Jersey readers to understand what Fort Erie would have looked like. The reporter compared it to “Fort Lee” in Bergen County, meaning it was not much of a fort, with defensive walls, at all.

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The ruins of Fort Erie as it appeared during the June 1866 Fenian Raid – Harper’s Weekly, June 23, 1866

 

“THE FENIANS ON THE WAR PATH – On Thursday night of last week, an armed body of Fenians crossed from Buffalo to a place called “Fort Erie” on the Canada side and captured it, with all it’s in habitants – of which there were none however. “Fort Erie”, it appears is about as much a “Fort” as our own Fort Lee. The place is named for the old Fort Erie of the War of 1812, which had been long dismantled and unoccupied. – The Bergen County Democrat and New Jersey State Register of Hackensack NJ of June 8th, 1866″

Major John C Canty – Death of a Fenian Leader

Major John C Canty, the Chief Intelligence Officer for the Fenian Brotherhood in 1866, is listed in several accounts as being killed during the Battle of Ridgeway. 

There is also some confusion as to whether he was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna in 1866 or lived on. O’Neill’s report even refers to Canty within his post action account of the Raid to the Brotherhood as “giving great assistance”, but there was no acknowledgement of Canty being a casualty. 

Furthermore, there are no newspaper accounts of Canty’s death or funeral for an officer of such high ranking in the local Buffalo newspapers after the battle, like there was for Captain Edward Lonergan or other Fenians, like Pvt Eugene Corcoran, who were casualties. 

Fenian Head Centre for Buffalo, Patrick O’Day, and the auctioneer who warehoused the weapons for the Fenian Raid, wrote in his January 4, 1868 newspaper, the Fenian Volunteer, mentioning Canty had moved to the West:

“Col John Canty – It affords as the most sincere gratification to learn that the above popular gentleman and starling Irish patriot is located pleasantly and with flattering prospects in the fair city of San Francisco, California. Those who know Col Canty well will be the most gratified to hear thus of his welfare, while the citizens of San Francesco may rest assured that they will find in him a man of honor and well worth in every relation.”

A series of Buffalo City city directories, continue to establish John C Canty living in that city before and after 1866, until 1879, working as a tailor. One can only surmise, being a  tailor by trade, accounts of Canty being an employee of Canada’s Grand Trunk Railway was just a temporary cover for a Fenian spy who lived briefly in Canada scouting out the area for military operations before the Raid. 

By 1880, records indicate he moved permanently to San Francisco, California, still working as a tailor, then relocated to Oakland in 1889. Canty may have been returning to Buffalo while he maintained residences in both Buffalo and San Francisco but that is highly unlikely. California city directories nor newspapers during this time, do not pick up his arrival or living in the West, however Buffalo city directories still list him throughout those years. It would be quite a distance to travel back and forth, coast to coast, as well as costly or perhaps the Fenian Volunteer newspaper announcement was a rouse by the Fenian Intelligence Officer to put English Authorities off his track, who he believed were still hunting him, as his obituary alludes.

Major Canty’s obituary did appeared in several local west coast newspapers in March 1896 headlined “Death Of A Fenian Leader” and the obit was then picked up throughout the rest of country with similar descriptions of having died in Oakland, California, attributing his involvement with the Fenian Raid into Canada, with an inaccurate year of the Raid, but close. 

Being on the run from detectives in the English Government may perhaps be a bit exaggerated, but Patrick O’Day 1868 Fenian Volunteer article could provide that explaination. In the least it’s more proof that Canty lived on after the 1866 Raid into Canada West. 

The early demise of The Chief Intelligence Officer for the Fenian Brotherhood after the Battle of Ridgeway in June 1866 is clearly inaccurate. His final resting place, is verified by newspaper accounts, historical and genealogical research as well as the California Medical Examiners death certificate, which noted is final resting place and can be found here on the burial website of Find A Grave. 

https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSvcid=547862&GRid=88731570

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Fenian Flags modeled after Old Glory

G.A. Hayes-McCoy (1911-1975) was an Irish Historian and Editor of the Irish Sword, the journal of the Military History Society of Ireland. He contributed to the The Irish Press Newspaper a series called “Under These Flags” which ran from 1948-1950s, published several times a week on historic Irish flags, which was later compiled into his book – A History of Irish Flags from Earliest Times. It is considered the definitive book of historical Irish Flags and it’s vexillology.

Fenian Flag Hayes McCoyIn his January 21st, 1949 Irish Press article, Hayes-McCoy displays a Fenian flag from 1865 with a little history. It was only a drawing found by police after a raid, but it belonged to Michael Moore of Dublin. Moore was arrested then put on trial as a Fenian.

Moore was a known Fenian and when Britain suspended habeas corpus, he was held for suspicion. While no actual flag did exist, the sketch in his book obvious posed a threat to British authorities. He was rounded up with many other Fenians as well as former Civil War Veterans who came back to Ireland.

This Fenian Flag was modeled after the US Flag, except where it was dark on this newsprint, that was green and instead of 5 point starts in the canton, there were thirty two six point yellow stars.

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Wanted: “Those who can play the fife and beat the drum”

Kentucky’s Fenian Brotherhood Recruiting Through Newspaper Advertisements

Before the June 1866 Fenian Raid into Canada West, the 17th Regiment, Irish Republican Army from Louisville Kentucky, was actively recruiting former veterans into their ranks for the upcoming struggle for Irish independence. Advertisements posted in the local Louisville newspapers, The Courier-Journal and the Daily Courier, from February 1866 right up to early June 1866 gives good insight into the activities of the “First Kentucky Fenian Volunteers” as they openly prepared for their strike into British North America.

1Lectures by the Senate faction Fenian leaders, Colonel William R. Roberts, Brotherhood President and General Thomas W. Sweeny, Fenian Secretary of War, started the Kentucky recruiting drive on February 2, 1866 at Wood’s Theater in Louisville. The lecture ad implored the readers with the enthusiastic come on: “Let every lover of Liberty attend.”

During this lecture, it was also announced Major William Mangan, formerly of the 5th, 11th and later the 12th Kentucky Infantry, had been appointed as the Assistant Inspector General of the Fenian Brotherhood for the State of Kentucky, tasked with organizing troops as well as setting up an armory to be designated for the “reception of muskets, rifles and pistols.”

In a short time, Major Mangan discovered publishing advertisements in the local newspaper Wanted Ad section was a convenient recruiting tool. He specifically was in search of “Gentlemen who have seen active service and can recruit a company” and to notify him by letter immediately for instructions. As seen later, it didn’t matter to the Irish Republic which side these gentlemen fought previously, the Fenians wanted trained veterans Blue AND Grey.

Another March 8th Wanted Ad from Mangan called “Attention, Fenian Soldiers” drilling was to commence every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings at Beck’s Hall.3

By March 12th, two full companies of one hundred men each were mustered in, answering the call for the “Irish Army of Liberation.” These companies drilled inside Beck’s Hall. When the command to “charge bayonets” was given, the New Albany Daily Commercial of Indiana described it as sounding much like the “Confederate yell”. After the drill, Mangan enlisted these men into service explaining they had no fixed or determined period for their term but they were to serve until the “Saxon is expelled and Ireland is free.” There was immense applause, and the men tossed their “caps and hats” in the air as the “general determination was to go in for the British Lion”. Afterwards, companies paraded on the street and made a “decidedly military appearance.” No description was given as to if these men were wearing uniforms however.

Mangan was not simply satisfied with just battle ready men at arms, he posted another wanted ad looking for a regimental music, a “Martial Corps – Those who can play fife and beat the drum to join the Fenian companies now forming in the city”

The New Albany Daily Commercial noted this advertisement remarking: “Major Mangan seems bent on war, for he advertises for fifers and drummers, these especial concomitants of a battle-field in your eye!”

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By March 19th, Fenians were drilling regularly in preparation of their June invasion of Canada.

starrOwen Starr, the newly commissioned Colonel of Kentucky’s Fenian 17th Regiment, Army of the Irish Republic, even took out his own Fenian notices for three days, and he saw brisk recruiting, quickly swelling his ranks.

Starr served as colonel of the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry (US), a veteran unit which served the entire war and in the later part served under Sherman in his March to the Sea campaign. The Louisville Daily Courier (Mar 19, 1866) noted Starr as being “well-known as a brave and gallant officer” with a new appointment commanding the 17th Infantry, Army of the Irish Republic, while directing their readers to Starr’s advertisement in that day’s edition.

Starr would be credited as the first Fenian to plant the green flag of Ireland on the Canadian shore as well as raise that flag above Fort Erie during the Fenian Raid into Canada on June 1, 1866. He was later promoted by the Fenian Brotherhood to Irish Republican General and served with General O’Neill during the disastrous 1870 Battle of Eccles Hill Fenian Raid, where Canadian newspapers chided him as running away while gloating on this Fenian debacle. Obviously this was pay back for Starr’s earlier notoriety at Fort Erie in 1866.4

Louisville’s four Fenian Brotherhood Circles (Emmet, Fitzgerald, Sarsfield and Wolfe-Tone) did their parts as well to support their Fenian military by posting meeting notices and advertisements for dances and receptions in the local newspapers which helped promote recruiting and raised monies for the Fenian Army. All these efforts continued to directly support Kentucky’s 17th Regiment, Irish Republican Army.

The Emmet and Fitzgerald Circles’ Grand Ball ads specifically mentioned that the monies collected were to “defray the expenses of equipping a company now organizing in our midst for the Fenian Army” and to “Benefit the [Fenian] Military.”

6By May 25th, the Louisville Daily Courier reported the Fenians of the city were “up and doing” and members were to meet that afternoon to fully understand the undertaking. By the 29th of May, “the Fenians of Kentucky were on the move” with “five hundred arriving in Indianapolis.” The Lexington Observer and Reporter soon followed up by mentioning “Twenty five Fenians left the city on the cars for Louisville, yesterday afternoon (May 29), we understand more will leave for the same place today. In Louisville, they will join a brigade which has been formed there. Beyond this we are not informed as to their movements.” Kentucky’s part in The Fenian Invasion of Canada was in motion.

There were other news reports that more Fenians were arriving in Buffalo from the West with 1,000 already in the city. When asked, the Fenians all were told to say they were laborers bound for California. Most bore no arms or looked to be in military dress, yet oddly, they were traveling east for a destination which was west.

These public advertisements provide great insights into the early development of Kentucky’s Fenian Regiment as well as documents these Fenians who were actively seeking musicians to supplement their ranks, supporting another earlier account published of an Irish Army Veteran who recalls hearing the tunes of Garry Owen and Wearing of the Green being played during the Battle of Ridgeway on that summer day on June 2, 1866.

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