Where did the Fenians Regiments at the Battle of Ridgeway come from?

Which states participated in the Fenian Raid that left Buffalo, NY?

The easiest answer is from the Mid West, with parts of western Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Kentucky in that mix of Fenians. There are some accounts of a New Orleans company, being referred to as Louisiana Tigers, as well as the surrounding Buffalo area. All belonged to the Robert’s faction of the Fenian Brotherhood.

Having successfully thwarted a crisis with Canada over the neutrality laws broken by the Fenians in early June 1866, the US Government had other pressing issues to deal with; what to do with all these Irish belligerents captured or left stranded in Buffalo? The main object was to disarm them, move them away from the border, and then disperses them without causing too much insult while trying to appease the British Government at the same time.

In order to achieve this, the US Government got the Fenians to capitulate, sign oaths not to take up arms again and then agreed to pay their passage home as now many of the Fenians were broke and had no place to stay in Buffalo other than in public areas. The faster you got the Fenians out of town, the sooner problems would dissipate.

General William F Barry, commanding the US Troops on the Northern Frontier drew up an oath for the Fenians to sign in order to receive free passage home by railroad, paid for by the Federal Government.

It stated:
“We, the undersigned, belonging to the Fenian Brotherhood, being now assembled in Buffalo, with intentions which have been decided by the United States authorities as in violation of the neutrality laws of the United States; but being now desirous to return to our homes, do severally agree and promise to abandon our expedition against Canada, desist from any violation of neutrality laws of the United States, and return immediately to our respective homes.”

Each man had to signed this oath to get free passage home. Their destinations were summarized by the US Military and below is a pretty good list of the makeup from areas and states the Ridgeway Fenians came from who did eventually receive free passage home:

Cleveland, OH – 23
Detroit, MI – 1
Jackson, MI – 1
Chicago, IL – 623
Milwaukee, WI – 29
Oil City, PA – 37
Nashville, TN – 5
Danville, IL – 32
ST Louis. MO – 63
Cincinnati, OH – 259
Louisville, KY – 122
Indianapolis, IN – 23
Peoria, Ill – 62
Terre Haute, IN – 12
Fort Wayne, IN- 31
La Porte, IN – 15
Pittsburgh, PA – 146
Meadville, PA – 22
Other Points – 60
Total = 1,566

This is not an inclusive list of all Fenians as some were still under arrest or found their own way home and this summary most likely contains some men who never got onto Canadian soil but were in Buffalo prevented to reinforce those Fenians who had already cross the Niagara River.

From this list, Chicago has roughly 40% of the total number of Fenians, followed by Cincinnati (16.5%) and then Pittsburgh (9.3%). These cities had large populations of Irish and were hot beds for Fenianism. The local period newspapers of that time provided a lot of coverage, before, during and after the raids and reported most of the local Fenian Circle activities. These areas also were large railheads where several railroads met, so these cities may not have been their final destinations.

US General William F. Barry, who thwarted the Fenian Raids in Buffalo also gave passage to the Fenians to return home by rail. 

There is little or no states represented here from the Northeast and Mid Atlantic States for the Raid which left from Buffalo. The reason is simple, these regiments were ordered to rendezvous along the Canada East border through Malone NY and St Alban’s, VT and attack Pigeon Hill, Frelighsburg, St. Armand and Stanbridge.

This was supposed to be the main thrust for the campaign as Buffalo was a diversion feint to draw Canadian troops to the western part of Canada.

The Canada East Raids took place several days after the Battle of Ridgeway and by then US Forces were rounding up Fenians and the entire Fenian Raids were doomed to failure because of the US Authorities stepped in and any successes at Buffalo had fizzled.



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.


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


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

The Buffalo Post’s depiction of General Thomas Sweeny and the Fenian Raids

Buffalo Post 1This was the front page during the Fenian Raid is a sketch of Fenian General Thomas Sweeny, wearing his Federal Uniform. Taken from a popular CDV of him and printed in the Buffalo Post of the Evening of June 2, 1866 at the time of the Fenian Raid.

Sweeny in Fenian UniformIt is interesting for several reasons; the locality being Buffalo… front and center of the Fenian Raid action, the date – only a day after the Fenians crossed over to Canada, the misinformation and rumors and the newspaper playing to an excited Buffalo audience, the stories overall, it’s great local ads but the biggest attraction is the sketch of Sweeny.

You normally do not see illustrations in local papers during this period, except for the weekly pictorials out of NY City, like Harper’s and Frank Leslie’s. This illustration copy is not the best but it certainly draws your attention, considering that a newspaper reader would not be used to seeing a print and that large on the front page. It was done to market this paper above the other competitors.

The fake news of the time, claiming 5 pieces of artillery crossed the river, Fenians “gobbled up” 8 engines at Niagara. The Fenians marching onto Port Colborne. The Canadian Volunteers not responding to the call up by the Canadian Govt and of course the other Fenian landings into Canada. These headlines were feeding the rumor mill.

And oh how the Buffalo residents loved their oysters!

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

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


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.