History of the Fenian raid on Fort Erie with an account of the Battle of Ridgeway
THE FENIAN RAID
WITH AN ACCOUNT OF THE
BATTLE OF RIDGEWAY.
MAJOR GEORGE T DENISON, Jr.,
COMMANDING "THE GOVERNOR GENERAL’S BODY GUARD," UPPER CANADA;
AUTHOR OF "MANUAL OF OUTPOST DUTIES," "OBSERVATIONS ON
THE BEST DEFENSIVE FORCE FOR CANADA," ETC., ETC.
ROLLO & ADAM.
BUFFALO: BREED, BUTLER & CO.
At the suggestion of a friend I had decided, early this spring, to write, if possible, an account of the Fenian Raid which we both felt confident would take place on the Niagara Frontier during the summer; consequently, on being ordered to the front to aid in repelling the invaders I kept the idea constantly in view, and was continually gathering up information of what was passing around me, in every quarter in which I could obtain it; speaking on every opportunity with anyone likely to give me further insight into the proceedings.
This gave me a great advantage in striving to gain the truth, I was not obliged to depend for my account on what I could glean from the newspapers and from the official documents alone, but was able to supplement it with information obtained personally on the spot, and at the time events were transpiring about me.
The account in the following pages will differ to a small extent from the ideas popularly entertained, which are based on the newspaper reports. Reporters on the field, writing at a time when the wildest stories and the falsest rumours are flying about with marvellous rapidity, writing generally in great haste are unable to trace rumours to their foundation, and have not time to apply the test of truth to the numberless stories which are retailed to them; thus the most reliable reporters will be sometimes unavoidably deceived, and false impressions thereby publicly promulgated.
I have taken every pains to make the story I have written as accurate as possible. The description of the scene of operations is to a great extent based on personal observation, as I am well acquainted with the whole of that section of the country. The account of the crossing of the Fenians was obtained partly from the newspapers, partly from the people living on the spot, and partly from an officer in the Fenian Forces who courteously gave me a great deal of information as to their crossing, their line of march, and their subsequent movements.
My information on the Plan of Campaign was obtained by personal observation, and from conversation with all the leading officers of each column, and there is no doubt as to its correctness.
The chapter on the Battle of Ridgeway gave me more trouble than all the others united. The accounts were so conflicting that I almost gave it up in despair; each person that I spoke to about it knew what had happened immediately in his own neighbourhood and with his own company; all that had occurred elsewhere he either knew nothing about, or else had heard accounts of it second hand. The great difficulty I experienced was in dividing what the relater knew of his own knowledge, and what he had heard; in some cases the information from both sources was so thoroughly knitted together that I failed, but after having heard about a hundred different stories, and cross questioned as many different people, I think I have arrived as close to the facts as is possible. I not only enquired of volunteers engaged, but went to the scene of the fight three different times, going over the ground and enquiring of farmers, some of whom had seen the whole fight from the Fenian lines, some from our own.
I do not expect that any one man who was engaged at Ridgeway will think the whole of my account of that battle correct, but if each one finds that I have described accurately what happened of his own knowledge I shall feel perfectly satisfied. Of course, in some points, accounts have been very contradictory, where I could not reconcile them, I have given credit to the weight of evidence.
I have been obliged from the facts as they occurred to lay the burden for the failure on other shoulders than the public have hitherto been inclined to place it, and I know that the prejudices have become so strong from an incorrect appreciation of the circumstances, that it is impossible at this late hour for me to attempt the counteract them. Still I have felt the facts in a military point of view tend to exonerate those whom the people find fault with, and, consequently, I am bound to place them before my readers truthfully and accurately, even though they may be contrary to their settled opinions.
Although in the account of the expedition on the Tug "Robb" I have been obliged to animadvert on Colonel Dennis’s actions from a military point of view, and although I honestly do not think him a good officer to have responsible command in the field, for the reasons I have mentioned, still I cannot allow the opportunity to pass without giving him credit for his valuable services when afterwards acting as Brigade Major to Col. Lowry, for the active and energetic manner in which he performed his arduous duties, and for the kindness and courtesy shown to all the officers and men who were thrown in contact with him.
I cannot conclude without expressing the obligations I am under to Col. Peacock, Lieut.-Col. Booker, Major Gilmor, Adjutant Otter, Captains Brown, Dixon, Bonstead, Adams Gardner and Whitney, and many other officers, non-commissioned officers and men, for information kindly given me relating to the movements in Port Colborne and at the Battle of Ridgeway.
I must also thankfully acknowledge the kindness of J. C. Kirkpatrick, Esq., Reeve of Chippawa, who not only gave me a great deal of information as to the movements of Friday night in Chippawa, but also kindly drove me in his carriage over the road Col. Peacock's column marched, and also along the route the Fenians took to the Battle of Ridgeway, The opportunity of going over the ground was of the greatest value to me in writing the account, and enabled me the better to appreciate the designs of the Fenian leaders.
To Mr. Couper, Postmaster of Chippawa, Dr. Kempson, John Douglas, Esq., Headley Anderson, Esq., and Samuel Dennison, Esq., of Fort Erie, I must also express my acknowledgements for information kindly given to me.
Toronto, 1st August, 1866.