The Darwin Exception

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The History of Malone: The Fenian Raids

Posted by thedarwinexception on March 24, 2007

In 1866, by train and wagon, on horseback and on foot, a stream of militant Irishmen, members and sympathizers of the Fenian Brotherhood, poured into Northern New York in preparation for an assault upon Canada as a a step toward
freeing Ireland from British oppression.

Some 3,000 of the Fenians set up camp in Malone. Many of them had fought at bloody Shiloh, Antietam and Gettysburg. Tension was high on both sides of the border. Gunboats patrolled the St. Lawrence River and, when the Irishmen celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by exploding firecrackers, Canadians thought the expected attack had come. The situation became so acute that the US government sent General George C. Meade, hero of Gettysburg, with several regiments who raided Fenian supplies and seized some 3,000 muskets. On June 3rd, with excitement high, General Meade pleaded in Malone with former comrades in arms to disperse. His pleas and their loss of munitions caused the Irishmen to abandon their objective and they scattered for their homes.

But this Fenian dream of a Canadian conquest persisted and another call for sympathizers went out in 1870. Again Malone became a planned jumping off place for the attack. National interest was focused on the northern border and members of congress called upon President Grant to take action against the Fenians while others reminded him of the British attitude during the Civil War. Toward the end of May, 1,000 Fenians crossed the border at Trout River and advanced into Canada.

Some 5,000 Canadian militiamen had taken up positions south of Huntingdon and awaited dawn for an attack. A second column of the Fenians was to protect the rear of their advance elements but these reinforcements never came. Coincident with the Fenian invasion, General Meade, ordered again to Malone to disperse the Irish patriots, arrived with a strong force and prevented the departure of the second Fenian column.

As dawn lifted, the Canadians attacked the center of the Fenian line. It held for a few seconds only, then yielded and a confused retreat back across the border followed. Even in recent years, old muskets, dropped by the fleeing Fenians, have been turned up by the plows of North Country farmers, mementos of a zealous but ill advised campaign.

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