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The TALES you probably never heard about

The Fenian Prisoners

[St. Catharines Constitutional, 7 June 1866] 

             More than 100 Fenian prisoners are now securely held in Canadian gaols, most of whom were captured with arms in their hands. What is to be done with these vagabonds? Fortunately, the question is easily answered. The law very clearly provides for the punishment of the crime of which they have been found guilty, and that punishment is death. There must be no hanging back nor timidity about enforcing the penalty of the law against these wretches. The blood of the brave murdered at Lime Ridge cries to heaven for vengeance; and it is, moreover, absolutely necessary that a fearful example should be made, in order to deter other villains still plotting on the American side from doing further mischief. Any mercy shown to the Fenian prisoners will be naturally considered as the result of fear and cowardice on the part of our authorities. It will be said, if not already, that we dare not hang or shoot them, lest the Brotherhood in the States should resent it. It would be a righteous fate were they taken to Fort Erie and blown from the cannon’s mouth as far as possible across the Niagara River, which would the shortest and most satisfactory way of returning Brother Jonathan’s filibusters to the place from whence they came. Whatever is done with them must be performed quickly, to have the wholesome effect so much needed. Ordinary prisoners of war would be entitled to the consideration due to honorable adversaries; but these scoundrels occupy no such position, and no mistaken lenity should be shown them.


[St. Catharines Constitutional, 7 June 1866]

             The brilliant dash made by the Welland Canal battery and Dunnville naval brigade upon the Fenian rear guard at Fort Erie, will be a prominent incident in the history of this iniquitous crusade; and the heroic men who fought so nobly against overwhelming odds, are deserving of more than the thanks and gratitude of the country. Captain King, Capt. McCollum, Lieutenants Scholfield and Nimmo, and others who took part in the fight, will long be remembered for their conspicuous bravery; while gunners Boyle and J. Bradley will be esteemed as two of the bravest and most determined men engaged in the unequal contest. But here also a lack of judgment was displayed by Colonel Dennis in putting 70 men against 600, which almost proved fatal to the former. Col. Dennis was informed that the enemy was approaching in strong force, and could easily have embarked without losing a man; but hot-headed zeal seems to have triumphed over cool discretion, in his mind. The following is a list of the prisoners captured by the Fenians in this affair, all of whom were released when the invaders recrossed the river on Sunday night:-

             WELLAND CANAL FIELD BATTERY-Lieut. Scholfield, Lieut. Nimmo, Sergt.-Maj Boyle, Isaac Pew, Robert Off-Spring, Wm. Black, Gideon Griswold, Robert Armstrong, Wm. Brown, Jacob Garner, John Waters, Edward Armstrong, Patrick Roach, J.H. Boyle, Samuel Cook, Jas. Coleman, Thos. Boyle, C. Campbell, Stephen Beattie, Isaac Dickerson, Kilroy McGee, S. Radcliffe, Joseph Reavly, and Jonathan W. Hagar, Morris Weaver.

             DUNNVILLE NAVAL BRIGADE-Lieut. McDonald, Samuel McCormick, J. Robertson, Abram Thewlis, George B. McGee, Thos. Arderley, T. Burgess, Harry Niff, William Nugent, Joseph Gamble.

             James S. Greenhill, Joseph Simpson, 13th Batt. Hamilton, -Spencer, R.W. Hines, No.8 Co., Wm. Ellis, No. 9 Co., D. Junor, Queen’s Own, Toronto, Colin Forsythe, No. 10 Co., Highland, Toronto, B. Judge, civilian.

             The casualties in this affair were Capt. King, leg fractured- amputated at Buffalo and doing well; Robert Thomas, leg wound; F. Scholfield, ditto; John Herbison, ditto; and John Bradley, ditto. The Fenians lost 3 killed, and 6 wounded, all of whom they carried to Buffalo.


[St. Catharines Constitutional, 7 June 1866]

             While resting here tidings reached Col. Peacocke of the action at Limeridge, distant about seven miles; and reinforcements being badly needed, the march was resumed towards Stevensville, the point where Colonel Booker’s force was to unite with the main column. On arriving at the later place, it became known that the Fenians beat a hasty retreat from the field of battle for Fort Erie, and all possible despatch was used in urging the troops forward to meet them there. Many a thirst-parched and foot-sore soldier began to lag on the way before reaching Frenchman’s Creek, the place where darkness compelled a halt for the night, and one poor fellow fainted; but every man would rather have advanced the remaining three miles to come up with the thieves, than for a moment to have permitted them to escape as they did. This, however, was impossible. The only hope therefore entertained was that they might still be lurking at Fort Erie on Sunday morning, when short work would be made of them. A speedy disposition was made for the night; the artillery and stores occupied the road, while the 47th was thrown out on the right, with the 16th  and 10th at regular distances in the rear; and Col. Currie’s contingent on the left, Captain Carlisle’s boys forming a skirmishing line near by, to cover a belt of woods in that direction. Lieut. Camp here displayed his admirable skill in the cuisine liné and his services were very valuable to the officers, and men. Towards 2 a.m. rockets were distinctly seen in the distance, and later a heavy booming shot was heard, which afterwards proved to be that fired by the United States Steamer Michigan to stop the rascals in their retreat.  Soon afterwards the men were again in motion, lighting fires, cooking provisions and preparing for the advance. Breakfast over, the line of march was resumed, the artillery falling back a short distance for supplies. With these they speedily returned, and in doing so presented a brilliant sight to beholders that will never be forgotten. Their splendid horses here gave unmistakable proof of their mettle, whisking along the guns and caissons over broken bridges and ditches, with an ease and celerity that elicited unbounded admiration. At this time the force was probably two miles from Fort Erie, and on proceeding another half mile a dense piece of woods was met with, which it was decided to feel by skirmishing. Capt. Carlisle’s company was accordingly thrown out for this purpose, firing a few shots which elicited only an echo in reply. And here occurred an unfortunate accident, which everyone deplored on learning the facts. Messrs. Dobbie and B. Macdonald, of Thorold, anxious to make a short cut to catch up with the artillery which seemed to be moving forward for action, were noticed by the skirmishers running across a field, and thinking both were Fenians, several shots whistled after them in quick succession, mortally wounding Macdonald and Dobbie narrowly escaping by throwing himself on the ground. Though only himself is to blame for rashly venturing where he should not have gone, much regret is felt for poor Macdonald, who was highly esteemed in Thorold as a worthy upright man, with a large, helpless family dependent upon him. We trust steps will be taken to provide for the widow and orphans’ support, as thus deprived of their natural protector, they will otherwise have hard struggling to make a living. Nothing further occurred to mar the advance of the force on the deserted village; and after a few cautious movements had been made, it became plainly evident that no hostile force remained to dispute their taking possession.