|Courtesy Canadian Military Heritage|
If I wrote this up as a novel, readers would complain that it was unbelievable, yet this actually happened.
In 1866, the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States was determined to free Ireland from British rule. Many were battle-hardened veterans from both the Union and Confederate armies and they hit upon a daring plan--capture Canada and use it as a bargaining chip with England.
On June 1, 1866, barely a year after the end of the Civil War, an army of about 1200 Fenians crossed the Niagara River. The Canadians reacted quickly and rushed some 850 militiamen to the area, including many University of Toronto students who got to skip class. None of the Canadians had ever been in a battle and only half had ever practiced with live ammunition.
The two sides met near the village of Ridgeway, Ontario. While the Canadians were outnumbered, they only faced the Fenian advance guard, which was roughly equal to their numbers.
At first all went well for the Canadians. They pushed back the Fenian skirmishers and engaged the main line. The Canadians drove them back for about an hour, when suddenly all went wrong. A few Fenian horsemen appeared, and fearing a cavalry charge the Canadian commander ordered his men to form a square. When he saw no such charge was imminent, he ordered his men to reform a line. This put the main body too close to the Canadian skirmish line and he ordered the main line to withdraw.
Other Canadian units saw this rearward action and assumed their comrades were retreating. They withdrew, and the Canadians' inexperience turned a rearrangement of the line into a general retreat. The veteran Fenians charged and turned the retreat into a rout.
The Canadians lost 7 killed and 37 wounded. Several more died of their wounds later. The Fenians had 6 killed and 10 wounded. While the Fenians carried the day, they realized the stiff resistance they'd met guaranteed more battles to come. Canada wouldn't be a pushover and their relatively small numbers would spell defeat in the long run. The Fenians slipped back into the United States. Many deserted and headed home while the leaders and about 850 men surrendered to U.S. forces.
You can read some first-hand accounts of the battle at the Queen's Own Rifles website, and blogger buddy and Canadian army chaplain "Mad Padre" recently refought the Battle of Ridgeway as a wargame.