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Coordinates: 42°54′16″N 79°02′30″W / 42.904349°N 79.041642°W / 42.904349; -79.041642

Battle of Ridgeway
Part of the Fenian Raids
Battle of Ridgeway.jpg
An 1869 illustration of the battle: Charge of General O'Neill's Fenian's upon the Canadian troops, causing their rout.
Date 2 June, 1866
Location Ridgeway, Ontario
Result Fenian victory
Flag of Leinster.svg Fenian Brotherhood Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Province of Canada
Brig. Gen. John O'Neill Lt. Col. Alfred Booker
650[1] 850[2]
Casualties and losses
4–6 killed
10 wounded
10 killed
37 wounded[3]

The Battle of Ridgeway (sometimes referred to as the Battle of Lime Ridge or Limestone Ridge) was fought near Ridgeway, Canada West, currently Ontario, Canada on June 2, 1866, between Canadian troops and an irregular army of Irish-American invaders, the Fenians. It was the largest engagement of the Fenian Raids.



The New York City-based Fenian Brotherhood was attempting to support related groups in Ireland to force the United Kingdom into negotiating toward the formation of an independent Irish Republic. They took advantage of the ready supply of arms in the United States after the recently concluded Civil War, and of the ample number of unemployed young men who had emerged from that conflict with some degree of military training. It was still a ragtag army, however, that assembled on the American shore of the Niagara River during the last weeks of May 1866. The Fenians had made little attempt at secrecy, and both American and British authorities were aware of the imminent military operation.


The U.S. made only half-hearted attempts to prevent the Fenians from crossing the Niagara river, and invading Canada. The U.S. government was loath to go out of its way to help the British / Canadians after the failure of U.S. invasions of Canada during the War of 1812 and their perceived support of the Confederacy in the Civil War. The Fenian troops, led by Brigadier General John O'Neill, a former Union cavalry commander, secured boats and transferred some 800 men across the Niagara, landing above Fort Erie, before dawn on June 1, 1866. An additional 200-400 Fenians and supplies crossed later during the morning and early afternoon until the US Navy gunboat, the USS Michigan, began intercepting Fenian barges at 2:20 p.m. — 13 hours after the first Fenian advance party landed in Canada.[4] An advance party of 250 men of Lieutenant Colonel George Owen Starr's 17th Kentucky Fenian Regiment landed in Canada at about 1:30 AM and raised a large Fenian green flag with a gold Irish harp some two hours in advance of O'Neill's main force. Starr's advance party rushed to seize the town, cut telegraph wires and take control of the railway yards south of Fort Erie by dawn as the rest of O'Neill's force was disembarking.[5] U.S. authorities also allowed unarmed men to board the ferry from Buffalo and small boats freely crossed the Niagara River until the afternoon. It is estimated that at least 1,000 and possibly as many as 1,350 Fenians in total crossed during the first thirteen hours of July 1, but it is impossible to determine a precise number.

O'Neill spent the first day trying to rally the local citizenry to the Fenian cause and to commandeer supplies for his mission, but his force was plagued by desertions almost from the outset. By nightfall, O'Neill estimated that he had perhaps 500 men remaining in his camp.[6] Later during the night, O'Neill was reinforced by an additional column of 200 Fenians who had been deployed earlier elsewhere; bringing his total strength at Ridgeway to at least 650 men.[1]

Inscription: Canadian Volunteer Monument, Campaign of June 1866 Honour the Brave who died for their Country. Canada erected this monument as a memorial of her brave sons who fell at Lime Ridge or died of wounds received in action or from disease contracted in service while defending her frontier in June 1866.


Meanwhile, the British were mobilizing both local Canadian militia and British garrison troops to defend against the impending invasion of Canada. The Fenians night-marched north across Black Creek (Ontario) through a cedar swamp, then turned inland on Ridge Road on the morning of June 2; taking up a defensive position on Limestone Ridge near the present Canadian town of Ridgeway. There, they clashed with 850[2] advancing Canadian militia (the dark-green uniformed Queen’s Own Rifles of Toronto and the traditionally clad red-coated 13th Battalion of Hamilton, reinforced by two local companies from Caledonia and York) commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Booker.

In the first hour of the battle, the Canadians appeared to prevail, driving Fenian skirmishers back across Bertie Road. Then something went wrong: to this day, it is not clear exactly what. Some sources say that the Canadian militiamen mistook Fenian scouts on horseback for cavalry. Orders to defend against a cavalry charge, although quickly countermanded, led to chaos in the Canadian ranks and Booker ordered a withdrawal after ninety minutes of battle. Other sources indicate that QOR troops mistook a company of redcoated 13th Batallion infantry for British troops relieving them and began to withdraw; which then triggered a panic among other troops who mistook the QOR withdrawal for a retreat. The Fenian commander, noting chaos among the enemy, ordered a bayonet charge that completely routed the inexperienced Canadians. The Fenians took and briefly held the town of Ridgeway, putting it to the torch. Then, expecting to be overwhelmed by British reinforcements, they quickly turned back to Fort Erie. The Canadian loss was 8 killed, 2 died of wounds and 37 wounded.[3] O'Neill said he had four or five men killed, but Canadians claimed to have found six Fenian bodies on the field.


Some the Canadians were particularly bitter at what they saw as Booker's mismanagement of the battle and believed that had he not given the order to withdraw they would have won the day. In fact, the Canadians were only fighting the Fenian advance units, who were steadily luring the Canadians forward towards the main Fenian force, which was waiting for them on the high ground north of Bertie Road. Had the Canadians not retreated, short on ammunition and inexperienced, they might have faced a heavier defeat by the Civil War veterans of the main Fenian army (which was so well-supplied with ammunition that they dumped thousands of rounds into Black Creek on the eve of the battle in order to lighten their load). The Fenians were so experienced in handling their single-shot muzzle-loading weapons that it was wrongly reported that they were all armed with seven-shot Spencer repeating rifles. Less than half of the Canadians on the field had practiced firing live rounds before the day of the battle and there had been no military conflict in Canada since the Rebellions of 1837-38.

Fenian withdrawal

The battle at Ridgeway was followed by a Fenian victory later in the afternoon over the heavily outnumbered Canadian volunteer Welland Field Battery (armed as an infantry unit) and the Dunnville Naval Brigade at Fort Erie. Nevertheless, the rapid convergence of large British and Canadian reinforcements convinced many of the Fenians to return in haste to the United States - some on logs, on rafts, or by swimming. O'Neill and 850 Fenians[7] surrendered their arms to waiting U.S. authorities. In his book, 1916:The Easter Rising, Tim Pat Coogan said the force was described at the time as the Irish Republican Army.

Units involved

The Fenian units involved in the battle were the 7th Buffalo (NY), the 18th Ohio, the 13th Tennessee, and the 17th Kentucky Fenian Regiments, as well as independent companies from Indiana and from New Orleans (The Fenian Louisiana Tigers.)

The Canadian units at Ridgeway comprised the Queen's Own Rifles of Toronto (which had 7 killed, 2 died of wounds and 21 wounded in the battle); the 13th Hamilton Battalion, predecessor of the modern Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Regiment (which had 1 killed and 15 wounded) and the Caledonia and York rifle companies (of which the latter had 1 man wounded).[3] Canadian Orangeman Alexander Muir, author of the unofficial Canadian national anthem, "The Maple Leaf Forever", fought with the Queen's Own at Ridgeway.

Since the Queen's Own Rifles have been continuously active in the Canadian military since 1860, the men who fell or were wounded at Limestone Ridge can be considered the first casualties of the Canadian Army; even though it was not formally established as such until 1883. Ensign Malcolm McEachren of No. 5 Company, QOR, killed in the opening minutes of the battle, can therefore be considered the Canadian army's first man killed in action.[8]

Order of Battle

Canadian (1st Brigade, 2nd Division, Napier's Corps)

  • Lt. Col. Booker
  • 2nd (Queen's Own) Battalion, Volunteer Militia Rifles (Major Gilmore)
  • 13th (Hamilton) Battalion, Volunteer Militia Rifles (Major Skinner)
  • Caledonia Company, Volunteer Militia Rifles (attached 13th Battalion)
  • York Company, Volunteer Militia Rifles (attached 13th Battalion)

Fenian (Lynch's Brigade)

  • Brigadier General O'Neill (vice Brig. Gen. Lynch, absent)
  • 7th Buffalo Irish Republican Army Regiment (Col. John Hoye)
  • 13th Tennessee Irish Republican Army Regiment (Brig. Gen. O'Neill, acting brigade commander)
  • 17th Kentucky Irish Republican Army Regiment (Col. Owen Starr)
  • 18th Ohio Irish Republican Army Regiment (Lt. Col. John Grace)
  • Indiana company, Irish Republican Army
  • New Orleans company, Irish Republican Army


The Canadian Volunteer Monument, which honours University of Toronto student volunteers who fell in the Battle, is located on the west side of Queen’s Park Crescent in Toronto.

See also

List of conflicts in Canada


  1. ^ a b O'Neill's strength in the Fenian camp at Frenchmen's Creek was estimated at 450 by a Canada West Frontier Police detective who infiltrated the camp. He also reported that later in the night an additional 200 Fenians joined the column from the camp, bringing the total to at least 650. See: Detective Charles Clarke to McMicken, telegram, June 2, 1866, MG26 A, Volume 237, p. 103878 [Reel C1663] Canada Archives.
  2. ^ a b "Troublous Times in Canada: A History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870. Chapter 5: Grand Uprising of the Canadian People". Canadian Genealogy Resources. Retrieved 2010-02-09.  by Captain John Alexander Macdonald, a Canadian participant in the battle.
  3. ^ a b c "Troublous Times in Canada: A History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870. Chapter 6: The Battle of Ridgeway". Canadian Genealogy Resources. Retrieved 2010-02-07.  This source provides a listing of the Canadian casualties by name and unit.
  4. ^ Log Entry, Friday June 1, 1866 USS Michigan Logbook No. 16, July 24, 1864 to August 30, 1866: Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships, 1801 – 1940, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1798 - 2003, RG24. (National Archives Building, Washington, DC) NARA.
  5. ^ E. A. Cruickshank, “The Fenian Raid of 1866”,Welland County Historical Society Papers and Records, Vol 2, Welland Canada: 1926. p. 21; John O’Neill, Official Report of the Battle of Ridgeway, Canada West, Fought on June 2, 1866 (June 27, 1866), New York: John A. Foster, 1870. pp. 37-38
  6. ^ Address of General John O’Neill President F.B. To the Officers and Members of the Fenian Brotherhood On the State of its Organization and its Disruption,[New York, Feb. 27, 1868], New York: [s.n.] 1868. p. 17
  7. ^ For the figure of 850, see: H.W. Hemans to Lord Monck, telegram June 3, 1866, in [s.n.] Correspondence Relating to the Fenian Invasion and Rebellion of the Southern States, Ottawa: 1869. p. 142; also Colonel Lowry, Report, 4 June 1866, Miscellaneous Records Relating to the Fenian Raids, British Military and Naval Records "C" Series, RG8-1, Volume 1672; Microfilm reel C-4300, p. 282. (Public Archives of Canada)
  8. ^ Toronto Star, November 11, 2009 "Canada's First Casualties"

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