The RHLI 13th Battalion Ceremonial Guard Takes To The Field – At Ridgeway!

By Capt Tim Fletcher

On June 1st 1866, a large group of Irish-Americans – many of them hardened veterans of the American civil war – crossed the upper Niagara River from Buffalo to Fort Erie. Armed with rifles and whiskey, they consolidated their force and moved north towards Hamilton. Their intent was to make Britain relinquish its control of Ireland by conquering all or part of Canada as a bargaining chip.

This was well-known to British and Canadian authorities who had these “Fenians” well infiltrated. Local military forces were on alert and in Hamilton, the 13th Battalion – today’s Royal Hamilton Light Infantry – were called out for the second time to repel invaders. The first had come over the course of the summer and fall the previous year with a series of alarms and scares, all of which had amounted to nothing. Not this time!

The 13th Battalion with a company of Queen’s Own Rifles met the Fenians at the little hamlet of Ridgeway, a few miles north-west of Ft. Erie. Skirmishing forward in good order, the fight initially went well despite a complete lack of battle experience by the Canadians. But an ill-advised alarm of “cavalry!” sent the Canadians into a panic and under intense fire from the Fenians, they broke.

The Fenians, however, could not follow up the chase. Knowing that another force of combined British regulars and Niagara militia were approaching on their flank, they retreated back to Ft. Erie where they fought a small engagement with other militia and naval forces before crossing by steamer back to Buffalo. By nightfall on June 2nd it was over.

On 12 June 2010 – 144 years since the battle – the 13th Battalion again took to the field at Ridgeway, this time not to fight but to commemorate. And, once again, the scarlet uniform and Enfield muskets of 1866 walked the battlefield with serving soldiers. The new Royal Hamilton Light Infantry 13th Battalion Ceremonial Guard was making its first solo appearance following their debut at the RHLI Change of Command only a month earlier. Uniquely composed of real, serving soldiers, the RHLI 13th CG seeks to bring the history of the RHLI to the public through re-creation.

After a short commemorative service at the Ridgeway Battlefield Monument, the RHLI 13th CG and a group of re-enactors moved back to Ft. Erie for a demonstration of period warfare as part of an encampment weekend. The culminating event would be a group of Fenian re-enactors, complete with green sunburst flag, again engaging Canadian forces. Ironically, there were also a group of 13th Battalion re-enactors on hand. The 13th CG, on this occasion only six in number, became the Colour Party for the event, carrying exact replicas of the 13th Battalion colours of 1866, commissioned and paid for by event organizer Tim Warnick, who also commissioned the Fenian banners.

The event was carried out in the presence of Ontario Lieutenant Governor the Honourable David Onley. Prior to the battle, RHLI 13th CG commander Second Lieutenant Richard Moll had the privilege of dining with the Lt.-Gov, before leading his soldiers in a marchpast for His Excellency, replica colours at the carry. They then raised the Union Jack over the fort to mark the commencement of the action.

As the British and Canadian Forces took to the field, RHLI 13th CG second in command Sgt Chris Brooks was named parade Sergeant-Major and had the honour of forming up the parade and leading it under Major Simondson of the Queen’s Own Rifles in full 1866 dress.

The smoke-and-flame skirmish that followed delighted the crowd of several hundred, a suitable introduction for the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry 13th Battalion Ceremonial Guard!