The Rising of the Moon - A Review of a Novel About Irish Americans and Canada
History is Best When it is Presented as a Story
History is a subject that can be either fascinating or boring.
Everyone likes a good story and it is interesting that the word story makes up the last five letters of the word history.
When presented as a story history can be fascinating. However, all too often both as taught in schools and in family histories (genealogies) compiled by people, history is nothing more than a boring mass of dates and the names of people and places.
Hub 13 for 30 Hubs in 30 Days Challenge
While names, dates and places are important for the context and setting of an event, it is the story that makes history fun and interesting.
It is for this reason that historical novels are often one of the best ways to get hooked on history.
The basic story already exists in the form of an event or events tied to people, places and a specific time period.
Unfortunately, the historical story usually contains gaps so the novelist has to fill in these gaps with a few fictional characters.
While the novelist can take some liberties with the fictional characters, he or she is forced to carefully research the real characters as well research both the big event or events at the center of the story as well as the little details of everyday life in order make the events in the novel as realistic as possible.
I First Learn about The Fenian Invasion at the Family Dinner Table
The invasion of Canada by the Irish-American Fenian Brotherhood is one of those less than well known events of the latter half of the nineteenth century that was well known at the time but is now mostly a historical footnote.
Battle of Ridgeway Ontario - June 2, 1866
I first heard of the Fenians while still a child at the Sunday dinner table.
Earlier that week my Father, in a discussion about our family's Irish roots, had mentioned that he thought that his mother's uncle, who had been born in Ireland and moved to Canada with his parents and then moved to the U.S. as an adult, had fought with the Union Army in the Civil War.
At Sunday dinner we asked my grandmother about this and she answered:
"Yes, he was in the Union Army and fought in a number of battles. Then, not having had enough of war he joined some group called the Fenians and tried to conquer Canada with them".
She then added "and he got into a lot of trouble over that one".
While she had other stories to tell about her Uncle, Patrick O'Connor, all she know about his participation in the invasion of Canada was what she told us at dinner that Sunday.
Of course, the invasion in which Patrick O'Connor had participated had occurred in June of 1866, thirteen years before my Grandmother was born.
An Ambitious Plan to Conquer Canada and Trade it for Irish Independence
The large June 1, 1866 Fenian invasion of Canada failed, as did the smaller invasions from earlier in 1866 through 1871.
The objective of these invasions was the conquering of Canada, which was a British colony at that time, with the intent of trading Canada back to Britain in exchange for Irish independence.
While the Fenian Brotherhood failed in this, the 1866 invasion, in which my ancestor participated, did have some important secondary results.
A Step Toward Canadian Independence
First of all it gave the fledging movement for Canadian self-government a big boost.
Thirteen months to the day after the Fenian army crossed the Niagara River and landed on Canadian soil the British North America Act of 1867 took effect. As of July 1, 1867 Canada was allowed to elect its own Parliament and exercise control over its internal affairs.
Even though the British North America act of 1867 did not grant full independence to Canada, it did grant Canada a large degree of local autonomy and was a major step toward full independence.
Much of the impetus behind the passage of the British North America Act of 1867 was the fact that Britain did not have enough troops in Canada to defend it against the invaders which left the defense of Canada mainly in the hands of local Canadian militia units.
U.S. President Andrew Johnson
President Andrew Johnson Uses Fenian Attack to Settle Alabama Affair with Great Britain
The Second major effect of the June 1, 1866 Fenian invasion of Canada was that it provided President Andrew Johnson the leverage by which he was able to force to British government to publicly acknowledge its military aid to the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.
Known as the Alabama Affair after a British financed Confederate Naval vessel which destroyed over 60 Union merchant vessels before being destroyed itself by the Union Navy.
(See my Hub entitled Captain James I Waddell - The Man Who Fought the Civil War in Alaska for the story of another British financed Confederate warship that did millions of dollars worth of damage to Union whaling ships in the waters off the coast of Russian controlled Alaska).
President Johnson deliberately allowed the Fenians to build and supply an army on American soil and refused to halt this violation of International Law until the British government caved and agreed compensate the United States for the financial losses incurred as a result of actions by Confederate warships secretly financed and supplied by Great Britain.
The Rising of the Moon - A Novel of the Fenian Invasion of Canada
The Rising of the Moon - A Novel of the Fenian Invasion of Canada, a 1987 novel by British author Peter Berresford Ellis is a story about two brothers, Gavin and John-Joe Devlin who emigrated from Ireland to the United States with their parents as children.
Their Father is a medical doctor with a successful medical practice which has allowed the two brothers to enjoy the benefits of upper middle class life while growing up in New York City.
Gavin was an officer in the famous 69th Regiment of the New York Army National Guard, which was a part of the Army's famed Irish Brigade, during the Civil War where he distinguished himself as a combat leader. His younger brother, John-Joe, joined the Union Army as a lieutenant toward the end of the Civil War.
Following the war, Gavin Devlin is looking forward to a normal life with a career and family as he prepares to join the law firm headed by the father of his fiancee.
In contrast, his brother, John-Joe, still considers himself to be Irish and immediately upon discharge, headed to Ireland to join in an ill fated uprising against British rule.
However, Gavin Devlin's plans for his future life suddenly change when the impoverished widow of his former Sargent, who lost his legs due to wounds sustained while fighting under Gavin at the battle of Cold Harbor, comes to Gavin seeking legal help in suing New York's powerful and corrupt Senator Delancy and his son Brock following the Sergent's death after being run over by a wagon being driven recklessly by one of Delancy's employees.
Career and Romance Destroyed by a Powerful Senator
In Gavin's fight with Delancy we get a glimpse of life in New York City and Washington during the turbulent months following the end of the Civil War.
The Delancy's are very rich and powerful their business and political interests include his business in New York City, his seat in the U.S. Senate and a plantation in Delaware run by slaves.
It is important to note here that President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 only applied to those states at war with the Union at the time the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. In the border states which were slave holding states under Union control, such as Delaware, slavery remained legal until the passage and addition of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on December 18, 1865. It was the Thirteenth Amendment which abolished slavery and other forms of involuntary servitude in the entire United States.
As a result of his battle with the powerful Delancy's, Gavin loses both his fiancee and his job with her father's firm and finds himself being drawn into the Fenian movement where he becomes active with many other friends and foes (numerous Irish fought in both the Union and Confederate Armies and many of these veterans, like my Grandmother's Uncle Patrick, joined the Fenian movement giving it a well trained and combat hardened army.
On June 1, 1866 Gavin and John-Joe cross the Niagara River and into Canada as a part of the 5,000 man strong Fenian invasion force.
As they row their boats across the river they are cheered on by sailors on the deck of the USS Michigan (which was later renamed USS Wolverine so the Michigan name could be given to a new Battleship) a naval vessel dispatched by President Johnson to monitor the situation in Buffalo, New York the jump off point for the invasion.
Also on hand is General Grant with a large contingent of regular Army troops and New York Army National Guard troops.
For the first time in over 1,000 years an Irish Army in green military uniforms and fighting under a green flag with a gold harp in the center takes to the field in battle.
Even though Ireland was not an independent nation, the leadership of Fenian Brotherhood had set up a government in exile in New York City, raised money for their army by issuing bonds and acted as the government of what they hoped would soon be an independent Ireland.
President Johnson Changes Sides and Leaves Fenian Army Stranded in Canada
The Fenian Army under the leadership of General John O'Neill, an Irish born former Colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War, was initially successful and probably would have been victorious and succeeded in its goal of capturing at least a large part of Canada.
However, President Johnson's cynical tactic of using Irish American nationalists as leverage in his dipliomatic battle with Great Britain worked and the British government, knowing that Canada was not adequately defended and that it could not get reinforcements to Canada from Great Britain before the Fenians succeeded in their plan to capture Canada, quickly gave in to President Johnson's demands and agreed to pay what the United States was demanding.
Immediately after getting what he wanted from Britain, Johnson ordered General Grant to cut off the Fenian Army's access to supplies on the American side of the Niagara River and to prevent the Fenians from retreating back to the U.S.
Cut off from their supplies and access to their base in the U.S., General O'Neill and his army had no choice but to surrender.
Despite their uniforms, they were not a legitimate army of a soverign state and were thus nothing more than maurauders who had violated the soveriginity of the U.S. and Britain by illegally launching an invasion of a colony of another soverign nation.
This made them criminals subject to arrest and possible execution in both the U.S. and British controlled Canada. It was only the pleas and pressure from Irish and their supporters around the world that saved these men.
A great read for anyone who is interested in the Fenians, the United States in the immediate post Civil War period or just a good action novel.
Liknks to My Other Irish and St. Patrick's Day Hubs
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- Hugo O'Conor - Founder of Tucson
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- Edward O'Hare - the Name Behind Chicago's Famous Airport
Most travelers in the U.S. if they haven't visited Chicago have probably at least spent some time in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Until recently O'Hare Airport held the title for being the busiest...
- All Things Irish - Eamon de Valera
Ireland has a long history of its people emmigrating abroad. Political opression, economic change and famine have all played a role in convincing the Irish that they needed to leave their homeland if they...
- Scot-Irish - The Other Irish
Patty Inglish's Hub, Orange on St. Patrick's Day, got me to thinking about the other Irish - the Scot-Irish of Northern Ireland and a comment I once read, which I think it was made by the Irish...