During some recent research, an original letter relating to the Battle of Ridgeway was “rediscovered”, it provides some good insight into the conduct of the battle by someone who would have been well aware of the events and is the subject of this Artifact Spotlight.
At the time the Queen’s Own were called to active service to fight the Fenians in June of 1866 the Commanding Officer, LCol Durie, was assigned to staff duties at the headquarters in Toronto and Maj Charles T Gillmor was acting CO. Col Booker of the 13th Regiment of Volunteers was in command of the force but Maj Gillmor commanded the 450 men of the Queen’s Own who were in the front line fighting the Fenians for much of the brief engagement. Four days after the battle while the Regiment was still on active duty in Stratford he submitted a report to Col Lourie who was with the 47th Regiment of Foot of the British Army.
Gillmor praises the conduct of all the Volunteers at the engagement and credits the partially trained and ill-equipped soldiers with a cool determination not normally found in Militia soldiers. He pinpoints the critical turning point in the battle as the moment the Volunteers mistakenly identify the advancing left flank of the red-coated 13th Battalion Volunteers as British regulars under Col Peacock who they had been expecting to relieve them, at which point the Volunteers turned and began withdrawing from the field.
The original letter is in the possession of the Queen’s Own Rifles Museum and can be viewed at the links at the bottom of the page. Here is the document transcribed with minor corrections for better understanding:
June 6 1866
I have the honor to report that on the 2nd Inst [of the current month] I left Port Colborne with about 450 men of the Queen’s Own also the 13th Battalion of Hamilton Volunteers and the York & Caledonia Rifles all under command of Lt Col Booker. We proceeded by train to Ridgeway Station and then marched towards Stevensville where we were ordered to meet Col Peacock at 9 to 9.30 am.
About 7 am the advanced guard of the Queen’s Own signalled the enemy as in sight, I extended three Companies with supports and advanced. The enemy were posted behind rail fences and after a few rounds retired, one officer of Queen’s Own was killed and two or three wounded. At this time a telegram was forwarded to Col Booker from Col Peacock to say that he (Col Peacock) could not leave at 5 o’clock as in his order of instruction of the night previous he had arranged to do but would do so at 7. The situation of the Volunteers was thereby rendered most critical as it seemed improbable we could hold our position for the two hours we were thus left unsupported. However, I conceived an advance and repulse of the enemy our only chance and sending out flanking parties necessary in consequence of the enemy being seen in woods right and left we advanced still driving the enemy for a mile or more having relieved Skirmishers with supports and the entire of the Queen’s Own having been engaged (some companies twice over). I asked Col Booker to relieve me with his right wing which was promptly done and his men advanced gallantly as my Skirmishers were coming in. Col Booker gave me the command to prepare for Cavalry which I obeyed but failing to see Cavalry I reformed Column and ordered the two leading companies of the Queen’s Own to extend and drive back the enemy then fearfully near us, this was done in splendid style. I had then necessarily to retire the rest of column consisting of Hamilton Volunteers and one or two companies of Queen’s Own. While retiring they observed the left wing of the Hamilton Volunteers advancing and imagining it the advance of the 16th and 47th [Regiments of Foot British Army] cheered on which the wing turned and ran and a scene of confusion ensued. I endeavoured to get the men into order aided by many officers of 13th of whom I could recognize Major Skinner and Mr. Routh the later fell close beside me while earnestly urging his men to rally. We then had to retire our ammunition being almost exhausted and, keeping the enemy in check, retired by Ridgeway to Port Colborne.
I annex list of killed, wounded and missing.
As I had never seen a shot fired before in action my opinion can be only taken for what it is worth but I do not believe ever men went into action more coolly and fought more gallantly than did the Officers and men of Queen’s Own that day. In many instances they had to advance from fence to fence one or two hundred yards under a galling fire and this was done with quiet and steady determination and I have the honor to say that I consider the conduct of all the officers and men as beyond all praise quite up to and beyond what I could have expected when like myself not a man had been in action before. So many acts of individual gallantry came under my observation that I cannot attempt a selection of names but I must mention to you the cool and gallant demeanor of Mr. Lockie who in the uniform of the London Scottish Volunteers joined us as we left Toronto and whose cool steady and unflinching bravery was the admiration of the Regiment.
I have the honor to be