History of Saskatchewan and The Old North West
Chapter XXII - Middleton's Plans: the Advance to the Seat of Insurrection


Middleton Comes West—Proposed Movement of Middleton's and Otter's Columns—Cavalry Assigned to Line of Communication—North West Field Force—Intelligence Cours—The North Shore Route—Commission Appointed to Investigate Halfbreed Claims—Riel and the Telegraph Lines—Situation at Prince Albert—Irvine's Apprehensions—Middleton's Contingent—Use of Intoxicants Forbidden ; Results—Otter's Xew Orders—Otter's Contingent—Tin- March to Battleford—Middletox at Clarke's Crossing—Subdivision of Middleton's Contingent—Riel's Scouts.

It will be remembered that Riel's followers took up arms on the 18th of March, eight days prior to the first engagement—the Battle of Duck-Lake, which we have described in a preceding chapter. On March 22d a despatch was received by the Premier stating that a group of Halfbreeds had seized the mails near Duck Lake, looted several stores and were generally terrorizing the community. On the afternoon of the 23rd, General Frederick Middleton was notified by the Hon. Adolphe Caron, Minister of Militia, that conditions in the Saskatchewan would probably necessitate military action, and lie at once set out for the west, traveling by rail via Chicago. He arrived at Winnipeg on the 27th, and there learned of the disaster of Duck Lake. Meantime the local military authorities had been active, and 011 the evening of the same day General Middleton proceeded west with 260 members of the 90th battalion, one company of which had left the night before. The left wing of the battalion under Major Bosworth had started for Troy (South Qu'Appelle) on the 25th. Qu'Appelle was selected as the primary base as it was the place nearest to Winnipeg with direct trail to Batoche, Riel's headquarters.

Middleton's plan was to move with the principal column direct to Clark's Crossing, a telegraph station and ferry on the South Saskatchewan, about forty-four miles by trail from Batoche.

The second column under Lieutenant-Colonel Otter of the permanent militia was to proceed from Swift Current, about one hundred and fifty miles west of South Qu'Appelle. on the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which town Middleton intended subsequently making his chief base. Otter was to meet him at Clarke's Crossing, when the two columns would advance, one on each side of the river, to attack Batoche. They were then to separate, one marching to Prince Albert and the other to Battleford, where in the meantime the Mounted Police were to be reinforced bv a detachment under Lieutenant-Colonel Herchmer.

The third main column, under Major General Strange, was to overawe the Indians in the Calgary district, march north to Edmonton and come down the North Saskatchewan to Fort Tilt. There Middleton hoped to meet him. After the junction of their two columns he intended to dispose of Big Bear's band. Meantime, mounted scouts were to patrol east and west of the Cypress 1 Tills between the Canadian Pacific Railway and the American frontier, as information had been received that a body of three hundred Chicago Fenians had bound themselves together by oath to invade Canada in support of the rebel Halfbreeds. When they came they were expected to head for Moose Jaw in the first instance. Furthermore, this force was intended to prevent retreat to the United States on the part of defeated rebels and Indians. The ordinary cavalry Middleton did not consider suited for active employment at the front on account of the nature of the country and the style of warfare which the Halfbreeds and the Indians might be expected to adopt. They were, therefore, to be posted on the line of communication between Qu'Appelle and Humboldt, to hold in check the disaffected Halfbreeds and Indians about Touchwood Hills. In due course, accordingly, the Governor General's body guard (eighty-one) from Toronto, under Lieutenant-Colonel George Denison, was posted at Humboldt and a small mounted troop of the permanent forces (forty-eight) was placed at Touchwood under Lieutenant-Colonel F. Turnbull.

Middleton's column was at Qu'Appelle by the 2nd of April and spent four days there, chiefly in drill.

Meanwhile the transport and commissariat departments and the hospital corps were being organized and more troops were being gathered from all parts of the Dominion. These included "The Midlanders" (386), consisting of two companies of the 46th Battalion and one each from the 15th, 40th, 47th, 49th and 57th Battalions, organized by Lieutenant-Colonel A. Williams, M. P.; "The Simcoe Rangers" (342), consisting of four companies each of the 35th Simcoes and the 12th York Rangers, under Lieutenant-Colonel O'Brien, M. P.; "The 65th Mount Royal Rifles" from Montreal (340), under Lieutenant-Colonel Ouinict, M. P.; the 91st Battalion from Winnipeg (432), under Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Scott, M. P.; the Winnipeg Light Infantry (327), under Lieutenant-Colonel Osborne Smith; a company of sharpshooters from the Governor General's Foot Guards (51)* under Captain Todd; the 7th Fusiliers from London (257), under Lieutenant-Colonel W. Williams; the 9th Battalion (232), under Lieutenant-Colonel Amyot, M. P.; the Halifax Forces (3S1), under Colonel Bremmer, and a regiment from Quebec and Kingston (225), under Lieutenant-Colonel Montezambert; a small cavalry troop from Winnipeg (36), commanded by Captain Knight; the Winnipeg Field Battery (62), under Major Jarvis, and the 90th Battalion, also of Winnipeg (314), under Lieutenant-Colonel MacKeand, Montreal Garrison Artillery (296), Lieutenant-Colonel Oswald commanding, did not arrive at Winnipeg from the east till May 20, but should be mentioned.

The promptitude with which they answered the call to arms and the spirit with which they performed their unaccustomed military duties has ever since been a source of pride to all Canada. Mounted intelligence corps and other scouting bodies were organized under Captain Dennis from among the survey parties (53) ; by Captain French (late N. W. M. P.) from among the settlers around Qu'Appelle (30) ; by Captain Stewart

(Rocky Mountain Rangers, 154); and Captain White (Moose Mountain Scouts, 54); by Major Boulton at Winnipeg (113); and a valuable corps of police scouts were organized by Major Steele. Home guards and local companies of volunteers were also organized at Regina, Battleford, Yorkton, Qu'Appelle, Prince Albert and elsewhere. The total strength of the North West Field Force, exclusive of the Mounted Police, reached, on paper, approximately 5,000.

Enormous difficulties were overcome in transporting troops from Eastern Canada to the front, as there were still several gaps along the line of the Canadian Pacific Railway. For example, about four hundred miles of the road east from Port Arthur required the continual embarking and disembarking of guns and stoics from flat cars to sleighs, and viza versa. The weather was cold and the snow deep. Over one piece of road it took the guns seventeen hours to move thirteen miles, and even when the railroad was open long distances had to be coveted on unprotected flat cars, though the thermometer frequently registered forty to fifty degrees below zero.

Montizambart, in his report of the journey west, remarks that when they reached Nipegon on the north shore of Lake Superior, the men had had no sleep for four nights. Even when the volunteers reached the North

1 I have copied the following passage indicative of the nature of the North Shore journey in 1885, from one of the several diaries to which I have had access:

"Thursday, April 2.  We drove all night through a very wild and beautiful country. It was not till eight this morning, after a drive of thirty-live miles, that we had a chance to rest and warm ourselves. Our haven was Magpie Lake, where there is a large camp. About eleven we leave Magpie Lake and after a most delightful drive of five hours we reach the track again at a point hereafter known to fame as Camp Desolation. No train awaits us as we expected at Camp Desolation, and we have to stand shivering and hungry for three hours before the cars arrive, and then we find that we have to ride one hundred and seven miles in open flat cars. There is no help for it and we pack in as best we may. Each man has but on thin Government blanket.

"Friday, April 3. The horrors' of last night are simply indescribable. We leave Camp Desolation about seven, rather cold and hungry, but for some time enjoy ourselves fairly well. The mode of progress is. to say the least of it, somewhat novel. The ties are merely laid on the snow, unballasted and unleveled; sometimes we stem to be plunging down veritable precipices, so steep are the grades, and at all times oscillation is so great that one momentarily expects the car to leave the track bodily. Soon we find, however, that it is becoming too cold to allow any interest to be taken of anything but the question of how not to freeze, and even that question, in spite of the vigorous efforts of some of the more cheerful and pluckier spirits to keep the men's courage up, ceases ere long to bother our poor, despondent fellows. The thermometer, by actual observation, goes down to thirty-live below zero; the wind is biting; our cramped quarters render movement of any kind impossible, and at last we simply make up our minds to freeze. Jack McLennan who has been the life of No. 4 so far, works hard, but when, as a last sally he rings up his Satanic Majesty, informs him that a collection of thirty-one cents has been taken up for his Majesty's exchequer, and begs him to turn on the hot tube for fifteen minutes, and is then not rewarded with a laugh, he, too, curls up and prepares to die.

"All things have an end. About 3:30 a. m. we reach a camp called Heron Bay. ninety miles from Camp Desolation, and have a meal. 1 was about to say breakfast, but it is really the dinner of the day before yesterday. Many of our poor fellows have to be lifted out of the cars, so stiff with cold arc they."

West, the winter bad not yet broken up, and the men were called upon to endure very serious hardships in their march north.

It may be remarked in passing that on March 30 a commission consisting of Messrs. W. P. R. Street, A. T. Forget, Q. C., of London, Ontario, and clerk of North West Council, and Roger Goulet, D. L. S., St. Boniface, Manitoba, was appointed to investigate the Halfbreed claims. Had such a step been taken a little earlier no rebellion would have occurred.

After the outbreak of the disturbance Riel had cut the telegraph wires so as to isolate Prince Albert; beyond this he apparently thought it best not to interfere with telegraphic communication. Evidently it was his opinion that when the particulars of the Battle of Duck Lake should be known in the east and in the United States, he would be likely to secure moral and material support that would be of great value.

Among the few messages that came out from Prince Albert was the following letter, which speaks for itself:

Prince Albert, 30th March, 1SS5.

Dear Sir:

Telegraph the following cipher in my name to the Commissioner: Riel warned all settlers from farms. Would be forced to join him or be shot, gave them forty-eight hours' notice. People flocking in. Irvine appointed me supply officer. Send flour, bacon to Troy, send 2,000 sacks flour via Calgary to Edmonton, and 4,000 lbs. bacon if safe. Steamer from here will be sent to bring it down. Carlton burned to the ground, have saved all furs and bulk of provisions, lot of goods destroyed. Population all in arms. Police here; tell my people I am safe; just got our dead in from Duck Lake, nine in all. Will wire every opportunity. Provisions for further transport already at G. Lake. ' S. G. Crozier.

Wm. MacKay, Esq., H. B. Co., Battleford.

Advices, were also received by Air. Dewdney from Lieutenant-Colonel Irvine, in which, according to General Middleton, Irvine declared that the General's force should be 1,500 strong, as matters were in a very critical state, and Irvine believed that all the Indians would join the rebels unless decisive actions were taken at once.

The forces immediately under Middleton's command numbered a little over eight hundred, though all these were not yet with him when he commenced his march northward from Qu'Appelle on April 6th. It may be remarked in passing that the thermometer dropped to ten degrees on the evening of that day, and stood at 23 degrees below zero next morning.

Some little time later Middleton divided his forces into two columns. The left consisted of:

2 An Order in Council had been passed in January, authorizing the appointment of this Commission, and Honorable D. L. Macrierson is authority for the statement that the Hall-breeds were notified of the Order on February 4.

Strength.

The 10th Royal Grenadiers, Lieutenant-Colonel Grassett commanding. .250
Two Guns, Winnipeg Field Battery, Major Jarvis commanding........ 50
Detachment from A Battery, Lieutenant Rivers commanding.......... 23
French's Scouts, Captain French commanding....................... 20
Detachment of Boulton's Scouts, under Sergeant Brown.............. 30
Total..........................................................373

The right column was made up as follows:

Rank and File.

90th Regiment, under Major MacKeand............................268
A Battery, R. C. A., under Captain Peters........................ 82
C Company, Permanent Force, under Major Smith.................. 40
Scouts, under Major Boulton...................................... 50
Total .......................................................440

With Lieutenant-Governor Houghton as staff officer.

Middleton's decision in connection with allowing the use of liquor by the troops and his subsequent experience in that regard may here be indicated :

"The question for my consideration was whether I should allow the troops to have a certain ration of liquor, in which case, of course, the Government would allow of its being admitted for their use. It was pointed out to me that most of the men in the militia, though not by any means drunkards, were in the habit of having a certain amount of stimulants daily, some few a good deal, and that, with the cold weather and hardships they would have to undergo, the sudden withdrawal of stimulants might have a deleterious effect, &c. After due consideration, bearing in mind that Lord Wolseley allowed no liquor in the Red River expedition of 1870, I resolved that I would allow none to be issued to the troops on this expedition, or to be carried with them by either officers or men, except a certain amount as medical comforts. It was a bold step to take under the circumstances of the case, but I was fully borne out by the result.

"At first a few men suffered from pains in their limbs from sleeping on wet or damp ground, and there were a few cases of frostbites, and colds and coughs, also a few cases of snow blindness, to meet which the Government had supplied goggles, but in a short time this was got over, and there was little or no sickness, severe as was the weather, and men who believed that they would surely succumb to this deprivation of their accustomed stimulants found themselves at the end of the campaign in better health than they had been for years before."

As Middleton proceeded northward, he, of course, maintained close communication with the various posts affected by the insurrection. The messages from Superintendent Morris at Battleford indicated that the danger at that point was so acute that 011 April 11 the General changed his plans

with regard to the movements of Lieutenant-Colonel Otter, and telegraphed him to start at once from Swift Current to the relief of Battleford. Otter accordingly pushed forward on the 13th, with a force made tip as follows:

Men and Officers.

B Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, Major Short commanding—two guns, one Gatling.............................................113

Detachment C Company, Infantry School Corps, Lieutenant Wadmore commanding ................................................. 49

Detachment Governor-General's Foot Guards, Captain Todd commanding 51 Queen's Own Rillcs (two regiments), Lieutenant-Colonel Miller commanding .....................................................274

North West Mounted Police, Lieutenant-Colonel W. Herchmer commanding ..................................................... 50

Total ........................................................537

The teamsters and transport officials numbered 200.

He was to push on to Battleford with all speed and hold that town until Middleton's arrival. The march performed by his force after crossing the river at Saskatchewan Landing was most creditable. The distance covered 160 miles and it was done in five and a half days. Otter had a long and cumbersome train, and it was necessary to carry twenty-live days' rations, twenty days' oats, ten clays' hay and a supply of wood. There .were also wagons for a portion of the infantry and, indeed, for the whole column on the last days of the march. As Otter had not sufficient transport force to move all his supplies at once, it was necessary for his teams to make double trips. This involved leaving large quantities of provisions and ammunitions practically unprotected on the prairie, and it is extraordinary that they were left unmolested by the disaffected Indians, through whose country he was traveling. Some of the supply trains were, of course, captured.

An interesting feature of Otter's movements is involved in the fact that, after all but completing so creditable a march, he halted in the afternoon within two miles of Battleford, and allowed a considerable portion of the town, including Judge Rouleau's residence, to be looted and burned that night by the Indians.4

Extract from the diary of an officer of Otter's Relief Column:

"The supply train captured yesterday was a small one and not important, but the next time we may not be so lucky. Perhaps now an escort will be sent with the supply trains and a proper guard kept on the halting places. We hear of one station where one solitary man is in charge and there are stored thousands of boxes of feed and biscuit, and, more valuable still, a great many rifles and ammunition. This is a station only forty miles away and easily within reach of the Nitchies."

From the diary of Member of Otter's Relief Column:

"We make only" thirty miles, however, halting quite early about five miles from Battleford. We are disgusted to notice clouds of smoke rising from the settlement. We are ordered to camp, however, much as we should like to press on and render

When Otter arrived to relieve Inspector Morris at Battleford, that town had been m a state of siege for a month. Refugees had crowded in until Morris had m his care nearly four hundred women and children He had organized two companies known as the Battleford Rifles and the Home Guard, and had done what lie could to render the settlement capable of resisting attacks. In his official report lie mentioned with special gratitude the assistance rendered him by Sergeant-Major Kirk; .Mr. Macrae of the Indian Department; Mr. Harvey Nash; Mr. Frank A. Smart, who was killed by skulking Indians upon moving out beyond the line of protection and Constable Stores, who volunteered to carry a message to Swift Current and m so doing was chased sixty miles by rebels. Later on, March 14 Constable B. O. Elliott, N. W. M. R, was killed near Battleford while scouting."

Now let us return to Middleton's column. On November 16 his advanced guards marched through a blizzard to Clarke's Crossing, the main body of Ins column arriving there the next day. Here they were reinforced by the Royal Grenadiers from Toronto. With a few extra wagons to assist the men in marching, this capital militia regiment had in nine days, including one day's halt, covered the distance from Qu'Appelle, 198 miles, over a wet and heavy trail.

Middleton now determined to divide his force, sending what we have called the left column across the river, under Lieutenant-Colonel Montizambart, with Lord Melgund (subsequently Earl of Minto, Governor-General of Canada) to take the place he had intended for Otter's column. To transfer Montizambart's force across the river was no easy task. It was done by means of two scows, one of them brought from Saskatoon for the purpose. The scows were worked by pulleys running on a wire rope, the current of the river providing the motive power. His task was performed on the 20th and 21st, after which the columns proceeded down the river, one on either side.


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