Rebels on the Niagara

The Fenian Invasion of Canada, 1866

By Lawrence E. Cline

Subjects: New York/regional, American History
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438467528, 264 pages, December 2017
Hardcover : 9781438467511, 264 pages, December 2017

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


1. The Fenian Brotherhood in New York and the US

2. The American and Irish Fenians

3. The Fenians, American Society, and the American Government

4. “The Great Schism”

5. The Campobello Island Raid

6. Preparing for Invasion
photo gallery follows page 84

7. The Invasion in the Niagara

8. The Other Fenian Invasion Wings

9. The Aftermath

10. The Interregnum

11. 1870: Invasion Redux

12. The Withering of the Fenian Brotherhood: The Birth of “Fenianism”

Appendix 1 The Fenian Constitutions of 1863 and 1865
Appendix 2 A Fenian Soldier’s Account of 1866
Appendix 3 General Sweeney’s Proclamation to the Canadians in 1866

Bibliography and Suggested Readings

Offers a detailed account of the political and military history of the Irish American Fenian Brotherhood in the nineteenth century.


In what is now largely considered a footnote in history, Americans invaded Canada along the Niagara Frontier in 1866. The group behind the invasion—the Fenian Brotherhood—was formed in 1858 by Irish nationalists in New York City in order to fight for Irish independence from Britain. At the end of the American Civil War, Fenian leaders attempted to use Irish Americans, many of them combat veterans, to seize Canada and make it the "New Ireland" as a means to force the British from "old" Ireland. New York State was both the epicenter of Fenian leadership and a key support base and staging area for the military operations. Although relatively short-lived and with some of its military operations being somewhere between farce and tragedy, the Fenian Brotherhood had a very important impact on nineteenth-century New York and America, but remains largely forgotten. In Rebels on the Niagara Lawrence E. Cline examines not only the Fenian operations and their impact on Canada, but also the role the United States and New York played in both the initial support for the Fenian movement and its subsequent collapse in America.

Lawrence E. Cline is Lecturer in Intelligence Analysis at Buffalo State College, State University of New York. He is the author of The Lord's Resistance Army.


"Cline adds Rebels on the Niagara to the raft of recent explorations of Fenianism … but this concise, cleanly written, and sporadically droll narrative will occupy a useful niche among them. " — American Historical Review

"…this addition contributes to a growing awareness of and interest in the 1866 Fenian Brotherhood's plans to invade Canada, which, the author is correct to underscore, was a much bigger deal than history has allowed. " — Canadian Journal of History

"Cline's skills as a writer surpass the Fenians' skills at waging war against America's friendly neighbors … [a] well-organized narrative. " — Civil War News

"A brilliant new account of the forgotten 1866 invasion of Canada by Fenian Irish American Civil War veterans. The Battle of Ridgeway, fought during the Fenian Raids in the Niagara region, was the first Irish victory over the forces of the British Empire since the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. Lawrence Cline gives us a new look inside the mad and daring Fenian invasion plan to take Canada and hold it hostage in the name of freedom from British rule in Ireland. " — Peter Vronsky, author of Ridgeway: The American Fenian Invasion and the 1866 Battle That Made Canada

"This book examines in fascinating detail a neglected event in US and Niagara Frontier history. Lawrence Cline's study of the Fenian invasion of Canada will be of interest to students of unconventional war, the Irish independence movement, and US-Canadian relations, as well as to the general educated reader. It is a valuable contribution to the literature. " — Thomas R. Mockaitis, author of Conventional and Unconventional War: A History of Conflict in the Modern World