Battle of Batoche


Battle of Batoche

Infobox Military Conflict


caption=James Peters' photograph, "Opening the Ball at Batoche", captures the initial Canadian bombardment. Peters commanded "A Battery".
conflict=Battle of Batoche
partof=the North-West Rebellion
date=May 5 – May 12, 1885
place=Batoche, Saskatchewan
result=Decisive Dominion victory
combatant1=Provisional Government of Saskatchewan (Métis)
combatant2=Dominion of Canada
commander1=Gabriel Dumont Louis Riel
commander2=Frederick Middleton Bowen van Straubenzie
strength1=250
strength2=916
casualties1=51 dead, wounded, or captured
casualties2=8 dead 22 wounded

The Battle of Batoche was the decisive Canadian, with the help of the Clergy, victory over the Métis resistance that led to the surrender of Louis Riel on May 15 1885 and the collapse of his Provisional Government of Saskatchewan's resistance in the North-West Rebellion (the Cree, however, would continue to successfully engage Canadian authorities in the weeks that followed – see Battle of Frenchman's Butte). Fought over the week of May 5 to May 12 at the ad hoc Métis capital of Batoche, the siege was noted as the first true demonstration of tactical excellence and professional conduct by the Canadian army in 1885.

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 May 7 and advancing within eight miles (13 km) of the town the following day.

Middleton's plan rested on a clever encirclement strategy: as his main contingent advanced directly against Métis defensive lines, the troop transport "Northcote" would steam past the distracted defenders and unload 50 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 May 9 it was spotted by Métis who had not yet come under artillery fire. Although their small arms fire did little damage to the armoured ship, the Métis were able to lower Batoche's ferry cable into which the "Northcote" steamed unsuspectingly. Its masts and smokestacks sliced clean off, the crippled ship drifted harmlessly down the South Saskatchewan River and out of the battle.

Mission Ridge

Ignorant of the "Northcote"'s fate, Middleton approached the church at Mission Ridge on the morning of May 9 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 cannons that had come under sniper fire and dispersing an attempt by 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 May 10 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 May 12, Métis defences were in poor shape. Of the original defenders, three-quarters had either been wounded by artillery fire or 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. To this effect, some Métis were forced to fire nails and rocks out of their rifles, from their remaining gun powder supplies.

Middleton's attack plan 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 van Straubenzie, assaulting the town directly. Straubenzie's soldiers performed brilliantly, charging into Batoche in the face of heavy fire and driving the remaining Métis clear of the town.

Aftermath

The Métis defeat at Batoche virtually ended the North-West Rebellion. Louis Riel was captured and hanged for treason on November 16 while Gabriel Dumont fled to the United States, returning to Batoche only in 1893. Middleton's forces proceeded north to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

Following the battle, several Canadian soldiers from Millbrook, Ontario, took the bell from the Batoche church back to Ontario as a prize. The fate of the bell has become an issue of longstanding controversy, involving several Métis organizations and the provincial governments of Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

References

Barkwell, Lawrence J. Batoche 1885: The Militia of the Metis Liberation Movement. Winnipeg: Manitoba Metis Federation, #0-9683493-3-1, [2005] .


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