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History of the York Rangers
Chapter X


The Welding of the Battalions

THE troubles known as the Fenian Raids, divested of their feeble pretense of freeing Ireland, originated in the disbanding of the enormous armies of the Civil War. For just as the unlucky contestants in any series of sports will clamor for a “Consolation Race,” so after any period of warfare there are ambitious and unsatisfied soldiers to whom peace appears in the garb of a robber of their opportunities for achieving fortune and fame. Louis Napoleon, having withdrawn from Mexico, there was only Canada to turn to. Accordingly, Canada was in for it.

Two causes contributed towards the prosperous organization of a series of raids into Canada. One was the immemorial dishonesty of American governments in the matter of filibustering movements; which before the authorities suppressed them must have been attempted, have failed and palpably be incapable of future success. The other cause was that treacherous torpidity in military matters which with the Canadian precedes a sudden and venomous activity, a torpidity which induced the incursions of 1812, 1838 and 1866.

However obliviously sdense the American Government could be towards the organizing, enrolling and drilling of masses of armed Fenians in their cities the Canadian authorities were not able to achieve such heights of philosophy. Repeated alarms were met with sporadic preparations to receive with the appropriate salute of ball cartridge an enemy who might land at any time or place. Thus for four weary months from December 30th, 1804, two service companies of the Queen's Own patrolled the Niagara Frontier.

Again in November, 1865, the city regiments picketted the drill shed in Toronto, and companies were sent to Sarnia where ultimately a provisional battalion was formed.

In March, 1866, the militia were called out and among those who left for the front to be stationed at Port Colborne, were six companies from the 5th Military District, of which two companies were the Aurora Infantry Company and the Scarboro Rifles.

Finally it became evident a few days previously to May 31st, that some movement was in progress in the American towns and cities along the Niagara frontier, and by the night of the 31st it was manifest that a mobilization was in progress for an immediate descent on the Canadian shore. The actual landing took place at 3.30 the following day, but late in the night of the 31st the call to arms was telegraphed from Ottawa, and within an hour the sound of bugles and alarm bells was heard echoing and ringing in nearly every town and village in the country.

The response of the militia to the bugles and the orders calling them out was, as always is the case with the Canadian militia, instantaneous. The impression one gets from reading of how few hours were required to get the men together is that they were already straining at the leash. The news of their required mobilization arriving in the evening, the Queen’s Own were at their armoury at 4.30 in the morning and embarked at 7 a.m. for Port Dalhousie. As fast as transportation was provided the other forces were carried to the scene of hostilities. The Northern Railway arrived at Toronto at 10.40 a.m. on June 2nd, bearing among others the Aurora Infantry Company, the King Infantry Company, under Capt. Garden and the Scarboro Rifles, and by the afternoon train came the Lloydtown Companv along with the Collingwood Rifles.

When we, at this distance of time, contemplate the strategy of General Napier, who commanded in Canada West and of Col. Peacocke, who was entrusted with the command of the troops in the Niagara Peninsula, we feel that it is a tribute to the inherent loyalty of the Canadians that they did not for all time lose faith in the soundness of British generalship.

With the vaguest possible information as to the movements of the Fenians after their landing at Fort Erie, it did not occur to General Napier to mobilize any mounted troops until June 2nd, after the despatch of the Queen’s Own and other foot soldiers to Port Colborne and St. Catherines. It is safe to say that if either Col. Peacocke or Lieut.-Col. Booker had with him on June 1st even a troop of cavalry and it had displayed some of the energy shown two days later by Geo. T. Denison,4 with his troop of Governor-General’s Body Guard, the column under Booker would not have received the snubbing it got at Ridgeway and the Fenians would not have escaped from pursuit. To add to the difficulties of Peacocke the authorities had posted the Queen's Own, the 13th and the York and Caledonia Companies under Booker at Port Colborne, which is a villainous distance from St. Catherines, whence Peacocke set out and also from Cliippewa to which he pushed on. If it was the strategical intention to unite these columns, the utility of so widely separating them the day before is one of those mysteries that make the art of war so profound a study. At any rate Peacocke attempted to effect a junction with Booker at Stevensville. Whatever chance this most delicate of all operations,—the junction of widely separated columns within striking distance of the enemy,—might have had was destroyed by the slowness of Peacocke’s own march and the erratic conduct of Capt. Akers (Peacocke’s officer sent to advise Booker), and Lieut.-Col. Stoughton Dennis, who carried off some of the troops from Port Colborne to conduct an attack on the Fenians at Fort Erie. This attack on Fort Erie which was to cover these officers with glory earned them a smart beating and is just another illustration of that greatest of all nuisances among military officers, the half-baked tactician who, regardless of his superior’s plans, attempts to carry off the “kudos” for himself.

The combat at RidgeAvay has often been described. The man most vociferously abused at the time, Lieut.-Col. Booker, appears in reality both before and after the one mistake he made to have acted with good military sense and courageous coolness. In this mistake of forming a square on the alarm of “cavalry ” he was simply the victim of a formation in the drill book. And be it noted that the formation was until a year ago still there, lying ambushed in the sections relating to Savage Warfare; waiting for the day when some too literal minded British officer should form a hollow square in close formation against the wrong savages.

Ridgeway over and the Fenians having escaped, the various companies and battalions performed outpost duties at different places for a period of about three weeks when they were relieved of duty and thanked in a general order of June 23rd, by the Commander-in-chief, who took occasion also to advise them to continue their drill and discipline as the danger of invasion was not past.

Among the numerous deficiencies of our militia system6 the authorities proceeded to remedy two pressing defects. One was that the liability to be called out repeatedly on alarms was beginning to harass the militia. For the postprandial patriot who waves the old flag in an ecstasy of Britannic zeal and then permanently fills his employee’s position when he has gone to the front was more in evidence in 1855 than he would venture to be in these days.

The other defect was the lack of cohesion among the numerous independent companies whose officers and men had no conception of carrying out anything like a combined movement.

Both these defects could be met by forming a standing camp where the companies could be welded into battalions and at which by taking a week’s tour of duty in rotation each group of militia would get some military experience without being unsettled in their civil employments.

The ground selected for this camp was on the high level overlooking St. Catherines, the Great Western Railway and the Welland Canal to the westward of Thorold village. The first volunteer troops posted were the 16th from Toronto and the 7th from London. With them were a portion of the 16th Regulars and of the Royal Artillery, also Major Denison and his troop of cavalry. They assembled on the 18th of August, and on the 26th the 10th and 7th were relieved by the Q.O.R. the 13th and the 22nd Oxford Rifles.

The turn of the companies in which we are more particularly interested came in the middle of September. That they made a good impression on their way to the mill we learn by the following extract from a Toronto daily:

“Military: Five, companies of infantry arrived in town by special train on the Northern Railway on Saturday, as follows: Bradford, Lieut. Wilson commanding; Aurora, Major Peel; Newmarket, Capt. Boultbee; King, Capt. Garden and Lloydtown, Capt. Armstrong. The Scarboro Rifles under Capt. Taylor, got on the Grand Trunk train at Scarboro Station, and arrived about an hour earlier. They departed together with Brigade Major Dennis on the steamer City of Toronto, at noon for the camp at Thorold to relieve the volunteers now serving there. A more soldierly looking set of men could not well be got together. Col. Durie, Brigade Major Denison, Col. R. S. Denison and several other principal officers together with a large number of citizens were on the wharf to witness their departure.”

In the same issue of the paper appears this item:

“12th York Battalion Infantry: Headquarters at Aurora. To be Lieut.-Colonel—Capt. D. Jarvis from the 2nd Battalion Queen’s Own Rifles, Toronto.” The tour of duty being completed the battalion was relieved by the Brant and Haldimand Battalions and returned to Toronto under its first commanding officer whose pride was no doubt greatly enhanced by subsequently receiving the following letter:

“Sir I have the honour to request you will make known to the officers and men of the 12th (York) Battalion my extreme gratification at the fine and soldier like appearance and demeanour of the Battalion on Monday 22nd instant, of which I shall have the pleasure of making a special report to H. E. the Commander-in-Chief.

“The proficiency of this young Battalion in Drill and the steadiness of the men is very creditable to you as commanding officer.”

I have the honor to be, Sir,

Your very obedient servant,

J. S. Macdonald, Col. W.G. Lt.-Col,. Jarvis, Commanding 12th York, Newmarket.


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