A Decade of Turbulence

The Invasion of 1866

Irish-Americans Maul Canadian Militia

The battle of Ridgeway, 2 June 1866

Caption: The battle of Ridgeway, 2 June 1866

At the end of May new intelligence reports expected attacks on Canada at the beginning of June. The Canadian government promptly mobilized 20,000 volunteers from May 31 to June 2. Thirteen small steamboats, transformed into gunboats and operated by crews of volunteers under the supervision of the Royal Navy, patrolled the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.

This time there was an invasion. Approximately 850 Fenians led by General John O'Neill crossed the Niagara River and approached Port Colborne. The 2nd and 13th battalions of Canadian volunteers, along with the York and Caledonia rifle companies, totalling some 900 men, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Booker, intercepted the small Fenian army at Ridgeway on June 2. The battle went well for the Canadian volunteers, who, in spite of their inexperience, had been advancing and firing in sequence - until they were ordered to prepare to receive a cavalry charge!  The order caused alarm in the ranks and confusion soon spread; the volunteers became frightened and fled. Nine Canadians were killed and 32 were wounded, with 10 Fenians killed and a few wounded.

There was a second battle the same day at Fort Erie, where the steamship W. T. Robb, crewed by the Dunnville naval brigade, landed the Welland Canal Volunteer Artillery Company. Soon afterwards, O'Neill's victorious army arrived and there was a heated exchange of gunfire. Some of the volunteers were able to re-embark before withdrawing. Six Canadians were injured and 36 were taken prisoner, but there were nine Fenians killed and 14 wounded. These Fenian victories did not, however, lead to anything more, because other Canadian troops and part of the 16th and 47th British regiments arrived. O'Neill and his men returned to the United States and were disarmed by detachments of the American army.