Thursday, June 2, 2016
The Battle of Ridgeway
British troops in Canada were put on the alert and the Canadian militia was called out to defend the country. On June 1, General O'Neill and his force of a little over a thousand Irish troops cross the Niagara River into southern Canada. Not everyone was optimistic about their chances for success though and a great many deserted before ever seeing action so that the force O'Neill ultimately led into battle had been reduced to between 6-700 men. Some additional Fenian men and supplies were stopped from crossing the river by U.S. naval forces and efforts to encourage the locals of Ridgeway to join their cause were unsuccessful (today Ridgeway is an unincorporated village of the 'Town of Fort Erie' in Ontario). After approaching the town of Ridgeway, O'Neill's men clashed with a group of 850 Canadian militiamen led by Lt. Colonel Alfred Booker of the 13th Battalion of Hamilton. More British troops were moving in to confront the invaders but, at Ridgeway, it would be Booker and his 850 men that O'Neill and his 6-700 would have to contend with. The Canadian troops were solid fellows but were militiamen and inexperienced. That would prove a critical shortcoming.
The Canadians lost 9 killed and 37 wounded in the Battle of Ridgeway while the Fenians lost about 5 killed and 16 wounded. It was a tactical victory for the Irish republicans but not a decisive one. They still had superior British-Canadian forces closing in on them and General O'Neill could see that this invasion was not going to work. In the aftermath, he retreated, abandoning the ground his men had won and withdrawing back across the border to the United States where they were disarmed and taken into custody by the American authorities. In the end, none of the Fenian Raids ever amounted to very much but the Battle of Ridgeway does stand out as one of the few battlefield victories for the Irish republican cause. It should also serve as a lesson to those in other countries, like Canada, of the danger of showing sympathy for their type. I would also add, as I have mentioned before, that I have more respect for the Irish Republican Army of the Fenian Raids than I ever could for the more recent forces to have taken that title. I completely disagree with their overall purpose but I cannot but admire their audacity and, unlike the cowardly killers of the PIRA and their sort, the IRA that fought at Ridgeway were armed men, wearing uniforms, meeting other armed men in uniforms on the field of battle. They were not cowards who hid their faces, blending in with civilians, to make bomb attacks on innocent people. They may not have won, but they did not dishonor themselves by their methods either.