Prologue: 1866-80, Part II.
Above: General. John O'Neill, Fenian Commander
The Fenian army halted a couple of miles outside Toronto on the 6th August, then withdrew another mile to find better ground for an encampment. O'Neilll needed in any case to give his weary troops a rest, but it served to examine the lay of the land. Setting the fresher Canadian volunteers to dig a fortified trench he sat down, intending to maintain his position for a few days, and hopefully get back in touch with Fenian's in America.
The British commander, Colonel Talbot evidently misinterpreted the Fenian withdrawl as a full retreat sounded by word of Toronto's admitedly fairly formidable defence. Ordering his cavalry to run down and outflank the retreating army Talbot was horrified to discover a cleverly prepared and entrenched position, where the suprised Fenians drove off his cavalry with heavy lossess. Determined to avoid a rout Talbot ordered his green levies in in an attempt to take the Fenian trench by bayonet if necessary. The inexprienced millitia were mown down in droves and the survivors morale crumbled. The Canadians surrendered, and Toronto was won for the Fenians.
The Battle of Lake Ontario (as it was widely known) caused a worldwide stir. It was percieved (innaccurately) that a rag tag mob of Irish malcontents had wiped out a force of hardened British regulars. That the Fenians were themselves hardened veterans, and the Canadians green millitia, was conviently overlooked.
Nowhere was news of the British defeat greeted with more enthusiasm than in Paris. The Emporer Napoleon III had previously been sympathetic to the Irish Nationalist cause, which he had often entertained hopes of being a chink in the impregnable British armour, which would allow France to regain its rightful place as the dominant force in Europe. Furthermore should the Fenians somehow succeed France would gain a valuable ally in North America to counterbalance the loss of Mexico. Now he outraged the British by making public statements of sympathy with the "poor Irish, oppressed by perfidious Albion", statements which struck accord across Europe where many were envious of Britain's prowress. Privately he sent a telegram of support for the Fenians with the promise of money, weapons, food and 'volunteers' (French troops, officially fighting as civilian volunteers).
The British were suddenly faced with a huge and growing problem. With France suddenly looking bellicose most of the Navy and Army was needed at home just in case the Emporer's dreams of rivalling his famous predecessor became reality. Additional troops were needed in various potential hotspots, including of course Ireland (which ironically remained largely quiet during this period with many potential rebels joining the fight directly in Canada rather than at home). All of this allowed only a tiny fraction of Imperial might to be used in Canada, where the tide was beginning to turn.
In September the second wave of Fenian troops crossed the border and began moving into Quebec. Tentative feelers from both Napoleon and O'Neill towards the French Canadians had produced slightly dissapointing results; while many had no love for the British administration they were somewhat suspicous of these new Irish interlopers. Nevertheless several companies of volunteers joined the cause and a wave of rioting and sabotage hampered British-Canadian efforts in the area.
As Winter began it briefly seemed like Fenian success was petering out, and the British even managed to achieve a victory on 12th December when Montreal was recaptured. It was not to be however; by this point the numerical advantage had passed to the Fenians who now had over 30,000 Irish, American, French and French Canadian troops in Canada, well supplied with weapons, ammunition and even uniforms provided by Napoleon against under 10,000 weary, low morale Canadian millitia. Montreal was retaken by the Fenians on St Stephen's Day (26 December). It was the beginning of the end.
In the second week of March 1867 the very last substantial Canadian forces in the East surrendered in Halifax, and 2 days later the same happened in Vancouver. On the 14th March in Montreal John O'Neill declared the Republic of Canada. He was at once recognised by the French.
Some faction in the British goverment wanted to fight on, but by now it was obvious to Gladstone's administration that the war was long lost. Canada could be renconquered - at an estimated cost of £60 million and almost certain war with France or the United States (or possibly both). Time to do a deal.
Above: The signing of the Treaty of London
The Treaty of London took place on 5th September 1867 and was signed by the Canadian, British and French goverments with witnesses from the American Goverment. It blunt terms the British, in exchange for certain naval concessions and retained British control of Newfoundland agreed to recognise the new Repulic. The Republic of Canada agreed to allow British merchants and firms free access to Canadian markets and not to raise tariffs against Imperial produce. The Irish situation remained critical: the British categorically ruled out any change in the status of Ireland and after much soul searching the Canadian goverment agreed. The best that could be done for the moment O'Neill argued, was to set up an example of Irish self goverment in North America, and (covertly) channel resources into Nationalist organisations.
O'Neill returned in triumph to Canada, but already there was growing criticism from his rivals within the Fenian organisation. In some ways merely defeating the British would prove easy compared with the turbulent times in the decade ahead...
To Be Continued...