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.

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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?

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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

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″