Read Canada Under Attack Online

Authors: Jennifer Crump

Tags: #JNF000000, #JNF025000

Canada Under Attack (19 page)

As Peacock's reinforcements were eating their breakfast, Booker's Canadians were already pressing the Fenian line. They had advanced almost a half mile after barely an hour. Then tragedy struck. Some of the Canadian front line spied horses in the woods and shouted warning of a Fenian cavalry advance. The inexperienced Booker did not hesitate and immediately called for his cavalry unit to gather in a square formation. They made a perfect target, which the Fenians immediately took advantage of. Seeing his men fall and realizing there was no impending cavalry attack, Booker called them off. But it was too late. Falling back they encountered one of the reserve companies who, believing a general retreat was being called, broke into a panicked run. The Fenians, who had been close to calling a retreat of their own, took full advantage of the perfect target that the Canadians presented on the road below as they ran down their path with their rifles tucked under their arms. Then they filled in behind the Canadians to pursue the retreat, pausing to gather a few souvenirs from the battlefield. The pitched battles continued to Ridgeway, where the Fenians suddenly turned and headed toward Fort Erie. The Canadians had suffered nine killed, 36 wounded, and six taken prisoner.

Almost at the same time, a tiny tugboat made its way up the Welland Canal and landed men from the Dunville and Welland militias near Fort Erie. These Canadian troops were tasked with rounding up any Fenian strays they could find. It worked well until the main body of the Fenian Army arrived and began to engage them. The Dunville militia jumped back on the tugboat but the Welland militia kept up a spirited and bloody fight. Before the rifle fire finally ended, six Canadians were wounded and a further 36 had been taken prisoner. The Fenians suffered nine killed and 14 wounded.

At Fort Erie, O'Neill took quick stock of the situation. None of his own expected reinforcements had arrived and newly arrived scouts informed him that Canadian and British reinforcements would get there at any time. O'Neill decided to pull his men back to Buffalo. The orderly retreat turned into a melee as the Irishmen realized that there were too few boats. Worried that their last day on earth might be spent on Canadian soil, some of the Fenians leapt into the river and tried to swim to the American side; others paddled across on logs and makeshift rafts. Those who made their way onto boats were boarded once they reached the middle of the river their ships and arrested by member of the United States Navy.

The battle of Ridgeway was over but the Fenian raids were not. On June 7, between 500 and 1,000
Fenian brethren crossed the Vermont-Quebec border under the leadership of West Point graduate Brigadier General Samuel Spear. Appearing and acting more like a mob, this group advanced 10 kilometres into Canada and planted their bright green flag. They met no initial resistance because the Canadian militia had fallen back in the face of a much larger group of invaders. Instead, they plundered local farms and villages, stole chickens, pigs, and liquor, and antagonized the local population. On June 5, President Andrew Jackson declared that the U.S. Neutrality Laws of 1818 would be enforced. The Fenians were furious at what they considered a betrayal by their own government. When Spear heard that Canadian reinforcements would arrive at any moment and that the U.S. government had impounded his stores of ammunition and supplies in Vermont, he called a retreat and the Fenian Army fled for the border.

The Canadian militia caught up with one group of retreating Fenians near Pigeon Hill. They charged over the Fenian defences with their sabres drawn. The startled Fenians broke into a run for the border but 16 of them were taken prisoner during the brief battle. The border was finally quiet, but Canada had not seen the last of the Fenians. While the Canadian militia were welcomed as heroes in their home communities, John O'Neill and many of his Fenians were receiving the same hero's welcome in Irish American communities. Many of those arrested in Canada were given death sentences that were later commuted to lengthy prison sentences. Those arrested by U.S. authorities were quietly released once it seemed clear that the border would remain quiet. Canadians were incensed. While the army attempted to enforce neutrality laws, the U.S. government had clearly been content to look the other way when the Fenians had launched attacks on Canadian targets and they certainly were not taking the raids seriously now that they were over.

St. Alban's Raid

Occasionally, Canada also served as a launching site for attacks on the United
States. As a neutral player in the American Civil War, Canada became a favourite
destination for Confederate prisoners escaping from northern Union prisons. Ben-
nett Young was one of those prisoners who took refuge in Quebec. But Young was
also a fervent believer in the southern cause and he was not content to simply save
himself. He was determined to find a way to aid the Confederate cause from his
position in Canada.

He hatched a plan that he hoped would both supply much needed funds to the
depleted Confederate treasury and force the Union to deploy troops away from the
current battlefields to the relatively undefended northern territories. He slipped back
across the border in the fall of 1864 to pitch his plan to his superiors in the Confederate
Army. They quickly agreed to provide him with the necessary funds and he once again
made his way into Canada.

On October 10, 1864, he crossed the border with two compatriots and the tiny
group made their way to the village of St. Alban's, Vermont. They checked into a
local hotel and informed the desk clerk that they were from St. John's and had come
down for a sporting holiday. For the next two weeks small groups of “Canadians”
arrived to join Young's group until finally there were 21 (an entire platoon). The
morning of October 29, Young climbed onto the hotel steps and loudly declared
that St. Albans was the property of the Confederacy. While several of his platoon
rounded up the terrified villagers on the village green, the rest robbed three of the
local banks. With over $200,000 stuffed in their saddlebags, the entire group gal-
loped toward the Canadian border on stolen horses. They had planned to set the
entire town ablaze but their homemade bombs failed and a single shed was the only
building that burned.

As a victorious Young galloped into Quebec, he and his men were promptly arrest-
ed by Canadian authorities. Despite demands from the American government, the
Canadians declared the St. Alban's Raid to be an act of war and refused to turn over
Young or any of his followers. They did, however, eventually return most of the money.

The Fenians at their Pigeon Hill Camp, May 25, 1870.

The raids had gained the Fenians nothing. They had not sparked fresh American-British hostilities nor had they significantly aided the efforts of the Irish Republican Army in Ireland. In fact, the insurrection there was largely finished by 1867. However, the conflict did have a lasting effect on Canada. Those first raids on Campobello Island revitalized the cause of Confederation in the Maritimes and helped bring a previously reluctant New Brunswick into the Dominion of Canada. Ridgeway and the other battles fought by the Canadian militia also helped give birth to a new-found Canadian nationalism and pride just as the Dominion of Canada was created. It also provided the impetus for the creation of a permanent Canadian militia and one of the new Canadian government's first acts was to create a standing militia of over 40,000 men.

Across the border, the Fenians were still alive and well, but although O'Neill had received considerable credit for the Canadian operations, there was dissention among his political allies. By 1870, O'Neill became convinced that in order to save the Fenian cause, and perhaps his own political future, he must once again invade Canada. He was able to lay a massive store of arms and munitions — 15,000 weapons and three million rounds of ammunition — in his base at Franklin, Vermont. His call for volunteers was less successful — just 400 Fenians would agree to invade Canada again.

Undeterred, O'Neill crossed the border with his 400 well armed men on May 25, 1870. Already waiting for him was the local Canadian militia, many of whom were farmers who had lost property during the first Fenian raids on the Missisquoi in 1866. At noon, U.S. Marshal General Foster rode up to the Canadian lines at Eccles Hill to assure the Canadians that the U.S. intended to enforce neutrality laws and that they would act as soon as possible. In the meantime, he had also brought a message from General O'Neill, who wished to assure the Canadians that the Fenians would conduct their battle in a civilized manner: women and children would be safe and looting would be prohibited. The Canadian commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Brown Chamberlin, stared down the American marshal and replied that he would receive no messages from pirates and marauders. His men were fighting in defence of their homes and country; they would take no comfort in knowing that additional atrocities would not be committed against their families.

Foster left the Canadian encampment just as the Fenian main guard was sighted, their column moving at double pace down the narrow path. The Canadian troops, well hidden in the bush and buildings, began to fire just as the first group came within range. The surprised Fenians immediately broke ranks and took cover wherever they could find it. General O'Neill hurried to a brick farmhouse close to the Vermont border, where he continued to direct the Fenian effort. His men had brought a field gun with them and he ordered it brought to the front. Before it could be fired the Canadian commander called on his men to charge the Fenian line. Once again the Irishmen scattered. The owner of the farmhouse where O'Neill had taken refuge ordered him out and almost immediately Marshal Foster arrived with his deputies to place the Fenian general under arrest. They placed him in a covered carriage and raced back to the Vermont border. With their general gone and faced with a fierce Canadian opposition, the rest of O'Neill's troops broke into a wild dash for the border. Two days later, the Fenians attempted another raid near Holbrook Corners, Quebec, but they were quickly turned back by a large force of Canadian militia and British regulars. At Buffalo, Detroit, and Ogdensburg, Fenians who had gathered to invade Canada heard the news of the defeats of their brethren and the arrests of O'Neill and immediately abandoned any thought of continuing their assault on Canada.

The Fenian raids in Ontario and Quebec were over. O'Neill received a sentence of six months in a U.S. jail. The Fenian organization was in disarray but shortly after his release in 1870, O'Neill was once again plotting to invade Canada. That time his intended target was Manitoba. He scraped together a few of the armaments and ammunition that had not be taken by U.S. authorities and managed to gather an additional 40 men. Although it was a far cry from the 1,000 he originally had, O'Neill thought he would have assistance from Métis leader Louis Riel and his men, who were already engaged in open rebellion against the Canadian government. Unfortunately for O'Neill, he was arrested as soon as he crossed the border by the U.S. authorities who had, by that time, had enough of the Fenians. They were marched back across the border, their weapons were confiscated, and they were thrown in U.S. jails.

General O'Neill's career was over, his cause effectively dead. He died a broken man. Members of the Fenian movement would continue to agitate in Canada, particularly in the Northwest, where they actively recruited members, but no additional raids were launched. The lasting legacy of the great cause of Irish nationalism was the birth of Canadian nationalism and the baptism, through fire and blood, of the Canadian military.


Count Max Lynar Louden was many things. He was a charming, debonair member of Europe's displaced nobility. He was a man of German origin living in America at a time when America was at war with Germany. He was also a con
victed bigamist.

When Louden stood up and accepted his sentence for bigamy in a New York City courtroom, he made a request. He needed to speak to the assistant district attorney who had prosecuted him. He had a story to tell, and if he was about to go to jail he needed to clear his conscience first.

Louden's story was an incredible one, even in a time of war when rumours abounded and everyone was on high alert. He was, he confessed, the head of a secret German plot to invade Canada from the United States. A very wellfunded plot: Louden claimed that he had access to well over 16 million dollars.

Almost immediately after Canada declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, rumours had spread that a German invasion from the United States was imminent. Those rumours had been fuelled by the German propaganda machine, which hoped to unsettle the Canadian public and possibly force their withdrawal from the conflict in Europe. Louden's plot, he revealed, had been in place since October 1914, soon after the war began. It relied on the cooperation of 150,000 German reservists who were living freely in the United States, waiting to be called to duty for the motherland. Louden had at his command an entire army corps as well as two regiments of artillery and one of sharpshooters. All were lying in wait close to the border, in secret “centres” set up in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Detroit. At a moment's notice they were ready to have the entire army at the Canadian border within 10 days.

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