Skip to comments.Fenian rifle used in failed invasion of Canada to be auctioned in U.S.
Posted on 03/18/2005 4:35:27 AM PST by freepatriot32
Its owner had dreamed of a liberated Ireland and perhaps even an Irish-controlled Canada. But the rare antique rifle -- carried by a renegade American Irishman 140 years ago during the failed Fenian invasion of Canada -- was instead seized by the defenders of British North America and is now set to be auctioned in the U.S. The battered rifle, the highlight of next month's sale of vintage firearms by Bonhams and Butterfields of San Francisco, is expected to fetch $12,000 because of its association with the famous episode from Canadian history. The lever-action Henry model, manufactured in 1860 pre-dates the classic Winchester of frontier-era America.
Heck if someone where to buy this gun from the auction and try to invade canada with it today they just might succeed.What are the numbers for thier standing army now about 3 dozen ? :-)
Sounds like he had to many beers.....
skilled in the arts of war,
And we're going to fight for Ireland, the land we adore,
Many battles we have won,
along with the boys in blue,
And we'll go and capture Canada,
for we've nothing else to do."
-Fenian soldier's song
The 1866 Fenian Invasion of Canada is a little known episode of history.
"Heck if someone where to buy this gun from the auction and try to invade canada with it today they just might succeed."
Couldn't happen today, and they don't need an army to prevent it. Canada has now passed laws that prevent Americans from crossing their borders with firearms.
Now why didn't we think of that? Just think of all the money we could save on national defense.
Now, manufactured in beautiful Brooklyn, NY.
From Maine to Wisconsin, throughout the spring and summer of 1866, an estimated twenty-five thousand Union and Confederate veterans of the Civil War members of the Fenian Brotherhood and calling themselves the Irish Republican Army -- gathered along the northern border of the newly-United States for the purpose of invading and capturing Canada.
Who and what were these Irish warriors and why were they intent on invading our neighbor to the north? Nicknamed the Fenians, the I.R.B. (Irish Republican Brotherhood) was the precursor of the 20th century I.R.A. It was first established in 1857 in the United States as a provisional government for an independent Ireland by two of the leaders of the Young Ireland uprising of 1848 who had escaped from English capture and found their way to New York City.
Here, two of the leaders of the Young Ireland uprising of 1848, John OMahoney and James Stephens, founded an Irish Republic in exile as they called it to make Ireland an independent democratic republic of the Fianna. In 1858, Stephens then returned to Ireland and formed an Irish branch of the Brotherhood.
The two branches of the I.R.B. were created specifically to train and equip a Celtic army capable of fighting and defeating the English. At the suggestion of OMahoney, who was a student of Irish history and mythology, the members of the I.R.B. were called Fenians after the legendary Na Fianna of ancient Ireland who were a band of mythological warriors that served as bodyguard to the Ard Ri the Irish High King. While known as Fenians during the Civil War, the military arm of the Brotherhood which was to be established after the War, was to be known as the Irish Republican Army (the I.R.A.) the letters emblazoned on the buttons of their green Civil-War-style uniforms.
It has been reported that during the Civil War at least 14,000 Irish Yankees and an almost equal number of Irish Confederates were dues paying members of the I.R.B. -- and virtually all of the estimated 200,000 emigrant Irishmen who served in both the Union and Confederate Armies but hadnt necessarily paid their $1.00 I.R.B. initiation fee or their 10 cents weekly dues were sympathetic to the Fenian cause and shared the common bond as adherents of the Brotherhood.
To the north in Canada, there were reportedly another 125,000 I.R.B. members, most of whom were said to be ready to join the Republican Army when it was scheduled to be activated following the end of the Civil War. Whether they wore Union blue or Confederate gray -- whether from Boston or Baton Rouge or County Tyrone or County Roscommon just as did the Protestant Masons in both armies when they met on the battlefield during the Civil War, so also did both the Catholic and Protestant, Union and Confederate, Irish soldiers who considered themselves to be Fenian brothers in arms united in a common cause-a cause so powerful it transcended both religious differences and a war for states rights or for a union of states. This may have been the reason why as legend has it the Irish flag of the 28th Mass. which was captured by Irish troops from Georgia at Maryes Heights in Fredericksburg, found its way back to the Yankee 28th the morning after the battle in some mysterious manner and it reposes today in the Massachusetts State House vault.
General Thomas Francis Meagher, who founded and commanded the Irish Brigade, was the earlier Irish war leader known as Meagher of the Sword. Together with Stephens and OMahoney, he was foremost among the Young Ireland army in the uprising in 1848 when 6,000 Irish men and boys armed with pitchforks, pikes, and hurling sticks battled British Regulars and lost. Most of their leaders who survived the battle, although first sentenced to be hanged, were exiled to a British penal colony in Australia from which Meagher escaped in 1852 and made his way to New York City. There he became a wealthy and influential lawyer and newspaper editor and one of the first supporters of the Brotherhood although not a member.
When civil war broke out, Meagher formed the 69th New York Volunteer Militia regiment to be the nucleus of an all-Irish Brigade. He was one of Lincolns many political Generals, given a star to insure the support of the Union cause by his followers. One of Meaghers stated purposes in forming the unit was to establish an Irish Army of liberation by giving Irishmen formal military training and battle experience so they would be better able to fight the English.
However, Meagher himself did not join the I.R.B. until after he resigned his commission and left his beloved Brigade in May of 1863. Following the Battle of Chancellorsville, he was so disconsolate by the outrageous ruin and devastation his Irish soldiers had suffered since 1861 that he resigned because it had become, in his own words, a poor vestige and relic of the Irish Brigade.
With the end of the Civil War, the ranks of the Fenian Irish Republican Army swelled as discharged Irish soldiers from both North and South joined up to fight in the coming new war to free their mother country from the English oppressors. The Fenian leaders, many of whom were themselves veterans of the Civil War, were now in command of an estimated 25,000 Irish veterans from both Union and Confederate armies -- better trained and equipped to do battle than ever before in Irish history. These fighting men saw a unique opportunity to strike a mortal blow against the English government and, at long last, win freedom for their Celtic homeland after more than 200 years of British rule and oppression.
This time, unlike 1848, rather than staging an internal uprising in Ireland by a rag-tag youthful horde against a better-armed and trained English army, the Fenians could either use a steamship fleet of former Union warships to cross the Atlantic and land a battle-hardened army blooded by four years of war on the shores of Ireland to attack the occupying British forces -- or they could use their fleet to blockade Canadian ports while launching from the northern frontier of these now re-united States, a military invasion by well-armed and seasoned veterans against a relatively unprepared English garrison force and Canadian militia...and with the expectation of being joined by both Irish and French Canadians who wanted to throw off the British yoke.
Because of Americas smoldering hatred against the British government for their support of the Confederacy and their failure to pay reparations for the Union ships sunk and the men killed, yet mindful of appearing to adhere to international law, President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of War Stanton covertly supported the Irish efforts against the British. Surplus U. S. arms, equipment, and warships were readily made available to the Fenians and it was understood that the Johnson Administration would turn a blind eye to any violation of United States neutrality the I.R.B. might make.
In October of 1865, the Brotherhood held a Fenian Congress Convention in Philadelphia to determine their future course of action. The Convention endorsed a constitution, elected as first I.R.B. President Fenian founder John OMahoney ( a former Colonel in the 69th New York of the Irish Brigade), and set up various provisional government agencies including a Congress and a Cabinet. In New York City, a mansion in Union Square was acquired as a temporary capitol building to house the provisional Irish government and from its dome flew the flag of the harp and the sunburst...the same flag carried by the Irish Brigade in the Civil War.
As is usual with the Irish...especially Irish politicians, there was a tendency to disunity and splits. At the Convention, the I.R.B. split in two. One group under President OMahoney, wanted to launch a war against the English by landing on Irelands shores and attacking them on Irish soil. Obviously, such an invasion force would have to come from the American continent. It was felt it would be more politic if the Fenian forces used as an embarkation port an island in the Canadian Maritimes. At that time the Maritimes consisted of separate and independent British colonies which had not as yet joined the Canadian Confederation.
The other Irish faction, headed by former New York militia Colonel William Randall Roberts, called for an invasion of Canada to be launched from the northern U.S. border with the intent of taking over Canada and trading it back to England in exchange for the independence of Ireland. The two factions were so divided that Roberts, who had been elected Vice President under OMahoney, called a second Convention of his supporters at which he was elected President by his group of dissidents. Following that meeting, Roberts stated: The Irish Republic is yet ideal without a local habitation . We must have some place for our government to raise a flag, build ships, issue letters of marque .England could surround Ireland with a cordon of ships of war, but if we had a country with sea ports, we could send our ships to prey on her commerce, run blockade runners to Ireland, and get nations to recognize our belligerency. If we havent a country our ships would be condemned as pirates . With 50,000 men we can sweep John Bull into the sea. England has a lot of foes now. America is mad. What a chance! Roberts followers then endorsed his plan to invade and capture Canada the following year.
In November, 1865, Roberts met with President Andrew Johnson and received his support in that Roberts was assured the United States would recognize the accomplished facts. In other words, should the I.R.B. succeed in capturing Canada, the United States would recognize the new government as the Irish Republic in exile. Without objection either from General Grant or the War Department, Roberts named as his Secretary of War for the Irish government in exile, United States Army Major-General Fighting Tom Sweeney, an American citizen who was born in Cork and who stilled served on active duty in the United States Army.
OMahoneys choice was F.F. Millen who had been a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Mexican Armys Irish Legion of St. Patrick which had fought against the Americans during the Mexican War. Millen was sent to Ireland where he was to lay the groundwork for OMahoneys planned invasion by leading a mutiny of the 8,000 Fenian soldiers then serving in the British Army of Occupation in Ireland and the 7,000 Fenians in the British militia. In the 1950s, 100-year old British secret files were opened which revealed that Millen was, in actuality, a British spy.
Evidently, on reaching Ireland, Millen alerted the British authorities to the plans of both Fenian factions. In expectation of a Fenian invasion of Canada taking place on St. Patricks Day, March 17, 1866, (which, to Millens knowledge, had been the agreed upon invasion date originally decided before he left for Ireland), the British and Canadian authorities recruited 10,000 volunteers to patrol their Southern border. When the expected St. Patricks Day incursion failed to occur the volunteers were dispersed -- remaining on duty only until the 31st of March. About that same time, again in response to Millens warning and unknown to the Irish, a fleet of six British warships arrived off the Maritimes and began patrolling Canadian waters.
On the first week in April, 1866, IRB President, John OMahoney assumed the rank of General in his Irish Republican Army and began assembling a force of 1,000 men in Calais and Eastport, Maine. There, his army of Union and Confederate veterans waited for the arrival of their arms, ammunition, and accouterments coming from New York by steamship so they could invade Campabello Island off the Maine coast.
These war-surplus supplies were purchased from U.S. military inventories with the acquiescence of President Johnson and Secretary of War Stanton. Washington also felt that just as the English had disregarded neutrality laws during the Civil War and openly supplied arms and ammunition to the South, so too could the American government assist the Irish in their rebellion by overlooking the same neutrality laws so recently scorned by the British government.
Once his troops were armed and equipped, it was OMahoneys intent to capture Campobello Island for use as the embarkation port from which the Fenian Army would cross the Atlantic and free Ireland. To keep up the pretense that there was no U.S. involvement with the Fenians, President Johnson sent General George Gordon Meade and about 20 artillerymen on an American warship to Eastport, Maine. Meade had been instructed to make a show of stopping the Fenian incursion by persuasion and without force of arms.
Meades persuasive words didnt deter OMahoney...so, possibly to stop the planned invasion, but also perhaps to keep the American war materials from capture by the British warships in the area, Meade took possession of the Fenian arms ship as it steamed into Eastport Harbor and sent it back to New York under control of his artillerymen. This was effective in depriving the Irish Army of their weapons and so thwarted this first Canadian invasion attempt by members of the Irish Brigade. As OMahoneys army disbanded on the 19th of April, the shipload of supplies was sailed down east to New York City where the Federal government returned both the ship and its cargo intact to the I.R.B.
The British thought this was the attack they had been told was scheduled for St. Patricks Day and believed the Fenian invasion threat was now over. Having accepted Roberts appointment as his factions Secretary of War, General Sweeny left the United States Army temporarily in December 1865 to put the Canadian invasion plans in motion. At the end of May, 1866, he met in Buffalo with Brigadier General William F. Lynch, former Colonel of the 58th Illinois, Colonel John Hoy, formerly of the 21st New York, General John ONeill, former Colonel of the 7th Michigan Cavalry, Colonel Owen Starr, former cavalry commander under General Hugh Kilpatrick in Shermans Army, and others to make final invasion plans.
The plan was to be set in motion on May 31st, 1866 when the main Irish Republican Army of 16,800 men was to cross the border at Buffalo and spearhead a three-pronged attack on Lower Canada moving through Toronto to Montreal and on to Quebec City. Simultaneously, two other Fenian armies were supposed to move against western Canada from staging areas in Chicago and Cleveland. A force of 3,000 had been assembled in Chicago and they were to advance to Detroit where they would cross into Canada at Windsor and threaten Toronto. Another army of 5,000 men in Cleveland was to cross Lake Erie to London and also threaten Toronto. It was the job of these two to draw the British troops away from the capital city of British North America leaving it and the city of Montreal open to the main Fenian army which was to cross the border at Buffalo and attack Fort Erie near Niagara Falls. After taking Toronto, they were to move on to Montreal which would fall with the help of a force moving up from St. Albans, Vermont and with the help of the Montreal Irish and the French radicals who hated the British. After capturing Montreal, they would move on to Quebec City while Fenian warships sealed off the mouth of the St. Lawrence River to prevent aid from coming to Quebec.
If the Army could not take Quebec, it would take Sherbrooke and leave Quebec City in isolation. The force that finally attacked Canada on June 1st numbered 1,300 rather than the 16,800 planned. Under General ONeill this small Fenian army crossed the Niagara River near Buffalo and captured Niagara Village and Fort Erie where the tricolor flag of the present-day Irish Republic was raised for the first time. In turn, the Irishmen were attacked at Ridgeway by a Canadian volunteer militia force from Toronto and Hamilton which they defeated killing and wounding more than 50 of the Canadians.
The two western armies which were supposed to draw off the British forces from Toronto, failed to move. But, the following day, June 3rd, a force of 10,000 Canadian militia and 5,000 British regulars attacked the 1,300 Fenians. Opposed by overwhelming numbers, the Irish withdrew across the Niagara River by barge to Buffalo but were intercepted and arrested by the Captain of the warship the USS Harrison. ONeill had hoped to regroup and strengthen his army by connecting up with the several thousand Irish volunteers who had gathered in villages and towns all along the New York-Canadian border to join the Fenian armies.
In the meantime, the indefatigable General Meade and 35 United States soldiers arrived in Ogdensburg, New York to again persuade the Fenians to cease their attacks on Canada. His commander, Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant, had journeyed to Buffalo to observe the Fenian activities and had ordered the border closed preventing 4,000 other Fenian troops from crossing at Fort Erie. Incidently, joining with the Irish troops were 500 Mohawk Indians from the Cattaraugus Reservation in New York and one company of 100 African-American veterans of the Union Army.
Meade then informed General Grant that carloads of Fenian arms and ammunition were due to arrive in the area by railroad and that he intended to capture them just as he had done in Maine. With Grants approval, Meade issued orders to all United States authorities and local law enforcement officers throughout the New York-New England region that these arms were to be seized as they entered the railroad yards. In this way, Meade captured all the Fenian war supplies as they arrived at New York City, St. Albans, Vermont, and Rouses Point, Potsdam Junction, and Watertown, New York.
Despite the Fenian Armys numerical superiority, once Meade had deprived them of the means to carry out and sustain a fight and Grant had sealed off the Niagara River crossings, the unarmed troops massed along the border were unable to continue the invasion.
On June 6, a small force of 2,000 lightly armed Fenians did manage to cross at St. Albans, Vermont and captured the vilages of Frelighsburgh, St. Armand, Slab City, and East Stanbridge before being driven back. On that same day President Johnson issued a Proclamation forbidding any further Fenian attempts to break the neutrality laws of the United States. The British government had finally agreed to make a payment of $15,000,000 in reparations. While the Irish resented the Presidents involvement in their plans, they did not act solely because of Johnsons decree. Rather, it was the disarmament by General Meade that forced the Fenian leaders to put their schemes into abeyance awaiting a more propitious time to renew their attacks on Canada.
Over the next four years several minor border raids were made by small bands of Fenians. In May of 1870, without giving prior public notice as they had in 1866, a force of several thousand well-armed Fenians arrived in Franklin, Vermont. They were again led by General ONeill. Here they crossed the border and launched the last major attack on Canada by Civil War veterans. This attack also ended in a defeat for the Irish veterans. The I.R.B. then called an end to its efforts to capture Canada.
The Fenians transferred their headquarters from New York City and their military activities to Ireland itself and from there directed all future military ventures against the British. In the United States, the Fenian drive to recruit Civil War veterans to do battle in Canada was curtailed and the Irish Republican Army in America was disbanded. Efforts were directed at fund-raising and smuggling arms and equipment into Ireland for use in the continuing fight for Irish independence. A number of Irish Civil War veterans returned to Ireland to continue the fight on their native soil...a struggle which continues in Northern Ireland and involves the Irish Republican Army to this day.
I also think Canada has had major cuts in defense since then.