Battle of Batoche
|Battle of Batoche|
|Part of the North-West Rebellion|
Contemporary lithograph of the Battle of Batoche.
|Provisional Government of Saskatchewan (Métis)||Canada|
|Commanders and leaders|
Bowen van Straubenzee
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Batoche was the decisive battle of the North-West Rebellion, which pitted the Canadian authorities against a force of insurrectionist Métis. Fought from May 9 to May 12, 1885 at the ad hoc Provisional Government of Saskatchewan capital of Batoche, the greater numbers and superior firepower of General Frederick Middleton's force could not be successfully countered by the Métis, as had happened at the earlier Battle of Fish Creek, and the town was eventually captured. The defeat of the Métis led to the surrender of Louis Riel on May 15 and the collapse of the Provisional Government. Over the next several weeks, Poundmaker would surrender and Cree fighters and families under Big Bear held out the longest, fighting off Canadian troops pursuing them in the Battle of Frenchman's Butte and Battle of Loon Lake, and, gradually dwindling in number, staying on the move until Big Bear eventually turned himself in to Mounties at Fort Carleton in early July.
Early advances and the crippling of the Northcote
Conscious of the numerous reverses that had been suffered by government forces in previous clashes with the rebels (see the battles of Duck Lake, Fish Creek, and Cut Knife), Middleton approached Batoche with caution, reaching Gabriel's Crossing on 7 May and advancing within eight miles (13 km) of the town the following day. Middleton's plan rested on an encirclement strategy: as his main contingent advanced directly against Métis defensive lines, the steamboat Northcote, carrying some of Middleton's troops, would steam past the distracted defenders and unload fifty men at the rear of the town, effectively closing the pincer. However, due to the difficulty of the terrain and Middleton's penchant for prudence, his force lagged behind schedule, and when the Northcote appeared adjacent to the town on 9 May it was spotted by Métis who had not yet come under artillery fire. Their small arms fire did little damage to the armoured ship, but they lowered Batoche's ferry cable, into which the Northcote steamed unsuspectingly, slicing off its masts and smokestacks. Crippled, the ship drifted harmlessly down the South Saskatchewan River and out of the battle.
Ignorant of the Northcote's fate, Middleton approached the church at Mission Ridge on the morning of 9 May in order to bring his plan into effect. Finding the mission occupied only by priests and civilians, Middleton brought his artillery out onto the ridge and began shelling the town. There his Gatling gun was used to good effect, providing covering fire for the withdrawal of cannon that had come under sniper fire and dispersing an attempt by Gabriel Dumont to capture the guns.
Canadian advances saw less success but were carefully conducted, keeping casualties to a minimum. A Métis attempt to surround the Canadian lines failed when the brushfires meant to screen the sortie failed to spread, and at the end of the day, both sides held their positions at Mission Ridge, Canadian soldiers retiring to sleep behind their network of improvised barricades.
Probing attacks of 10 May to 11
On May 10, Middleton established heavily defended gunpits and conducted a devastating, day-long shelling of the town. Attempted advances, however, were turned back by Métis fire, and no ground was gained. The next day, Middleton gauged the strength of the defenders by dispatching a contingent of men north along the enemy's flank while simultaneously conducting a general advance along the front. Having redirected a portion of their strength to hold the northward flank, the Métis lacked the manpower to oppose the Canadian thrust, ceding ground with little resistance. Canadian soldiers ventured as far as the Batoche cemetery before turning back. Satisfied with his enemies' weakness, Middleton retired to sleep and contended to take the town in the morning.
The storming of Batoche
By 12 May, Métis defences were in poor shape. Of the original defenders, three-quarters had either been wounded by artillery fire or were scattered and divided in the many clashes with the Canadians on the outskirts of the town. Those that still held their positions were fatigued and desperately short of ammunition. They resorted to hunting in the underbrush for bullets fired by government troops and firing them back and some fired nails and rocks, forks and knives, instead of bullets, out of their rifles.
Middleton's attack plan on this day was designed to mirror the success of the previous day's flanking feint, with one column drawing defenders away to the north and a second, under Colonel Bowen van Straubenzee, assaulting the town directly. Straubenzee's soldiers performed brilliantly, charging into Batoche in the face of heavy fire and driving the remaining Métis clear of the town.
This plan plus an impetuous charge by Canadian militia saw the last defenders overrun, and resistance at Batoche ended.
The Métis defeat at Batoche virtually ended the North-West Rebellion. Louis Riel was captured (and was hanged for treason in Regina on 16 November). Gabriel Dumont fled to the United States, returning to Batoche only in 1893, and when he died, his body was buried there.
Middleton's forces proceeded north to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and some portions were disbanded without delay and sent home in Eastern Canada.
Middleton reported 8 deaths and 46 wounded on the Canadian side and 51 deaths and 173 wounded on the Métis side. Later Father Vegreville reported that the Métis loss was not as high as the Mission first reported to Middleton. There were 16 Métis killed and between 20 and 30 wounded. Nine of the Métis killed in the battle were buried in the cemetery of Batoche. Eight were in a common grave.
Bell of Batoche
Following the battle, it is believed several Canadian soldiers from Millbrook, Ontario seized the bell from the Batoche church and took it back to Ontario as a prize. The fate of the bell became an issue of longstanding controversy, involving several Métis organizations and the provincial governments of Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.
In the spring of 2008, Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport Minister Christine Tell proclaimed in Duck lake, that "the 125th commemoration, in 2010, of the 1885 Northwest Resistance is an excellent opportunity to tell the story of the prairie Métis and First Nations peoples' struggle with Government forces and how it has shaped Canada today."
Batoche, where the Métis Provisional Government had been formed, has been declared a national historic site. Batoche marks the site of Gabriel Dumont's grave site, Albert Caron's House, Batoche school, Batoche cemetery, Letendre store, Gabriel's river crossing, Gardepy's crossing, Batoche crossing, St. Antoine de Padoue Church, Métis rifle pits, and Canadian militia's battle camp.
- Military Map Battlefield of Batoche
- Military Map of Mission Ridge
- Military Map of Batoche (Position May 9)
- Military Map of Batoche Rifle Pits
- Photo Collection (Glenbow Archives)
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