GENERAL MIDDLETON'S ADVANCE
In attempting to give a description of the operations, which were brought to so successful a completion within three months of the rebel outbreak, occupying long and arduous marches and fighting several battles, I will first follow the fortunes of the column under the immediate command of General Middleton.
The period of the year in which these columns had to undertake their marches was an inclement one. The snow was about leaving the prairie, when wet and slush prevail, when the frost comes out of the ground leaving stiff, muddy roads and sloughs filled with water, and when the winds blow cold and damp, making the difficulties of marching, and the exposure to soldiers unaccustomed to hardship a very trying and arduous task. Yet all was undertaken and overcome with little grumbling but with great cheerfulness and enthusiasm.
I arrived with my men at Fort Qu'Appelle on the 8th of April, having already met with one serious mishap. Mr. Maclurcan, whom I appointed lieutenant, was unfortunate enough, in handling a vicious horse in the stable, to get kicked and trampled upon so seriously that his life was despaired of. Throughout the campaign he was confined to the hospital at Winnipeg, where he slowly recovered.
I arrived at Qu'Appelle on the same day with the Grenadiers, under Colonel Grasett. Colonel Grasett is an officer who had gained his military experience in the 100th Regiment, and who had lately returned to his old home in Toronto. By the instructions of General Middleton the Grenadiers were ordered to the front, with teams to hasten their march and save the men. The call for transport at this time was enormous; but Major Bell was fully equal to the occasion. It shows the marvellous progress of the country within the last few years, that to transport these three columns fifteen hundred teams were available—the number at one time on the pay-roll of the Hudson’s Bay Company—for the transport-corps, in addition to the teams necessary to carry on the agricultural operations of the country.
General Middleton, on his arrival at Fort Qu'Appelle, at once called for two hundred teams to convey the equipment, forage, and supplies for his column. This naturally created a “boom” for the farmers; and under the energetic efforts of Archibald McDonald, of the Hudson's Bay Company, they were all procured in two days' time, at ten dollars per day and "found." A transport corps was organized by the General, under Mr. Bedson, Warden of the Manitoba. Penitentiary, who took the direction-in- chief of the transport, assisted by Mr. Secretan. Major Bell, manager of the Bell Farm, in the Qu'Appelle Valley, remained at the base of operations, to see that all went right, and continue to engage transport for the daily rapidly-increasing necessities of the campaign.
Comment has been made upon the cost of this transport, but to those acquainted with the rapidity of the movement General Middleton deemed essential to the success of his expedition, and the scattered district from which the teams had to be collected, there is little occaion for criticism. It has also to be borne in mind that farmers were loth to leave, their operations at a time when their whole summer's gains depended upon the early seeding of their land. The price, ten dollars per day, was therefore not excessive for the work that was demanded of them, and the exposure to which their horses would necessarily be subjected. Nor was the cost to the Government of the supplies and forage of the expedition much more than the early settlers who penetrated far into the interior were themselves called upon to pay. For two years I paid six dollars per bag for flour before our own crops came in. I paid one dollar and fifty cents per bushel for oats, and occasionally two dollars per bushel for potatoes, and everything else in proportion. I mention thh as an evidence of the difficulties that have to be overcome by the settler or by the soldier who penetrates a country unknown and unpopulated.
The General marched with his force at the rate of over twenty miles a day, an average which was maintained all the way to Clarke's Crossing, a distance of two hundred and ten miles. This, it will be said, is a remarkable record in the movement of troops. Colonel Grasett's regiment left on the morning of the 8th of April, and I was obliged to take a day at Qu'Appelle, to wait for a portion of my equipment that had not yet arrived from Winnipeg.
I was ordered by telegraph to use all possible speed, and I marched on the morning of the 9th, at the rate of thirty miles a day, to join the main column, covering the whole distance in seven days. To show the energy people are capable of in this country, I may say, that in sixteen days prom the date of receiving instructions in Winnipeg, namely, between the 31st March and the 16th April, 1 was enabled to place a mounted force in the field, after visiting the farming districts, raising the men, purchasing the whole equipment, and making a march by land of three hundred and thirty miles, and by rail three hundred and sixty miles. The trail over which we had to march was muddy and wet, without bridges and without improvements, and thirty miles of it was across the salt plain, unusually difficult in wet weather.
As an extreme example of the exposure, I might mention one incident that befel me on the second day's march. The freshets were high, and the previous night the thermometer had gone down to 15º below zero and frozen the streams over solid, but in the very centre, where the stream was rapid, the ice was thin. I was in front and leading my horse, feeling my way, when down I went up to my waist and my horse nearly on top of me. I scrambled out, and in a minute my clothes were frozen as hard as boards. It was five o'clock in the morning, and the thermometer, as I have said, 15º below zero. My clothes were so stiff that I had to be lifted on to my horse, and I rode in that condition for six miles, after making a detour to avoid, this bad place, to a house where we were going to halt for breakfast, and where I was able to get a change of clothing and dry myself out. There is no exaggeration about the incident. During this halt, Dr. Rolston, our surgeon, tumbled down the cellar of the house, and narrowly escaped finishing his military career, and the same day poor Maclurcan was trampled on by a vicious horse. Need I say, that 1 was afraid my casualties were heaping up too fast?
My corps overtook General Middleton's column the day before the Grenadiers, with the horses in fairly good condition and the men in high spirits. The morning after, we reached Clarke's Crossing, the ferry on the South Saskatchewan river, forty miles south of Batoche, upon the same river. General Middleton's march had been so rapid, and his force had increased so much, that he had got a little ahead of his transport. Although provisions were ample, forage was short, and there was no grass for the horses. At Clarke's Crossing, however, we were able to purchase sixty tons of hay, at fifty dollars a ton, - a "bonanza" for the farmers of the district.
When within a day and a half's march of Clarke's Crossing, and before we had reached it, General Middleton felt anxious about its safety. He fixed upon this point as a depot for his supplies, and as the headquarters for his reinforcements, which were to come from Swift Current by boat, or from Fort Qu'Appelle by the trail we had followed. As the place was also on the main trail to Battleford, and on the telegraph line th the west, it became a strong objective point to reach and hold as a second base of operations. The General's anxiety was so great that, without waiting for his infantry, he took all the mounted men and one gun, and in one day made a rapid march of thirty-five miles, and reached the Crossing in the midst of a north-west blizzard.
On Saturday morning, the day after his arrival at the CrOssing, the General ordered my corps out on a reconnaissance towards Batoche, under Lord Melgund, Captain French accompanying him as guide. After proceeding about seven miles, the first excitement of the campaign commenced. Two of my troopers, Fisher and Henderson, sighted some rebel scouts, who were running for "dear life." They chased them for about four miles, the rest of the corps in pursuit; but the rebels kept under the bank of the river, which was covered thickly with underbrush and trees, and when we thought we had them, after atternptiing to surround them, we found we hadn't them. They had slipped like eels from under our noses, when we had to take up the pursuit once more. Captain Gardiner and half a dozen others, however, brought the three Indians to bay in an opening, while they were crossing a deep gully. There they stood, back to back, their rifles pointed, with their fingers upon the triggers of their rifles; and we were at a loss how to capture them. One of my men, named Dunkin, volunteered to go down and speak to them. I told him to leave his rifle behind, that they might not suspect treachery. He went down to the bottom of the gully, which was about seventy feet deep, but the language he knew was not their language. Two more of my men, Neil and Lyons, followed, who knew other Indian dialects, and spoke to them, gave them some tobacco, and assured them that no harm would be done if they surrendered. But they steadfastly refused, and Lord Melgund ordered me to send down ten men to take them prisoners. Before I had time to do so, however, Captain French, who was on the opposite side of the gully, went down, smoked their pipe, shook hands with them, and brought them up. I took their rifles from them, and sent trooper King to bring a transport-waggon to convey them to camp, in the meantime marching them along under a guard of six men. On our way out along the trail we picked up a piece of a newspaper, which Lord Melgund found fastened in a split stick, with pictures on it, resembling guns, evidently intended to convey intelligence to other scouts.
We marched with our first quarry about twelve miles to camp, which we reached amidst much excitement. After a thorough cross-questioning by the General, through an interpreter attached to my corps, as to what they knew and what their movements were, they were handed over to me. I placed them in a small tent, put up especially for their use, as they fought shy of the whole camp, fearing the soldiers. The officers purchased at "boom" prices all their trinkets, knives, pouches, necklaces, armlets, etc., and I doubt whether prisoners of war were ever better treated. Captain Haig, of the Royal Engineers, carne to my tent and made sketches of them for the London Graphic. Two of them were the sons of "White Cap," the chief of the Sioux, whose reserve is near Saskatoon, and the third was a brother-in-law of the same chief. They said they had been down to the reserve from Batoche, to hunt for their ponies, and when captured were on their way back to join Riel. They described the entrenchments Riel had constructed, and told us the number of armed half-breeds and Indians he had with him, Riel, we learned, had been to Saskatoon, to White Cap's reserve, to get the Sioux chief to join him, at the same time seizing his cattle and horses. The settlers about Saskatoon, who were on friendly terms, and in constant intercourse with him and his band, asked White Cap not to go. White Cap replied that if they would help him to regain his cattle and ponies, he would not go, but otherwise he could not resist the half-breeds. The white settlers did not feel inclined to mix themselves up in the disturbances, and White Cap went his way. But under the circumstances the settlers considered White Cap blameless.
General Laurie, a half-pay officer of the British service, living in Halifax, who had accompanied General Middleton as far as Humboldt, returned to hasten the boats from Saskatchewan Landing, near Swift Current, as the General felt it was a risk to rely upon the muddy trail for reinforcements and supplies. The great rivers, of the North-West take their source in, and are fed from, the Rocky Mountains, and do not depend upon the rains and drainage of the country. The water, therefore, does not rise to a sufficient height for deep laden vessels until the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains pour forth their torrents. In consequence, an annoying delay occurred in the river transport. Notwithstanding these drawbacks the General determined to lose no time, but to push on with the force he had with him, trusting that the supports would soon get over the minor difficulties that presented themselves.
The General's present plan of attacking Riel in his stronghold was to divide his force, and march upon Batoche on both sides of the river. The information he had received underrated the strength of the enemy, and their determination to fight was doubted; so this disposal of the forces was more for the purpose of preventing the escape of the rebels. Subsequently learning that entrenchments had been prepared by Riel on both sides of the river at Batoche, the General concluded to advance as first agreed upon, and be prepared to attack the place from both sides. It took three days to transport across the river the Grenadiers, twenty of my corps, under command of the late Captain Brown (then a Sergeant), all of Captain French's men, the Winnipeg Field Battery, and a portion of "A" Battery, under the command of Colonel Montizambert, with Lord Melgund as chief of staff. The oriiy means of crossing was a scow, of a rather ricketty description, worked by means of pullies and a wire rope, and propelled by the current. This was a tedious affair. All the teams and forage necessary were transported to the other side with diffi- culty, as the banks of the river at the landing, and for some yards on each side, were composed of apparently bottomless mud.
General Middleton had with him his own telegraph operator with his instruments, whom he kept busy communicating his orders to the distant parts of the territory; regulating the movements of Colonel Otter's and General Strange's columns; and conducting the whole campaign, covering six or eight hundred miles of country. He had on his shoulders, besides the conduct of the campaign, the anxiety of the transport, upon which so much depended, and the safety of the various settlements throughout the country. Not a little of his troubles at this time arose from the pressing applications from all parts for protection, many of which were conceived in a speculative spirit, for the benefit that might be derived from the presence of the troops. In consequence, he had to sift the motives for these appeals, so as not to be misled or imposed upon. From the number of stories and unfounded rumours now current, he became sceptical as to the truth cf any reports brought to him, causing him fre- quently to exclaim, "That is another of your nor'west'rs!" I can here testify to the prudence, caution, and penetration of General Middleton in all his actions. On the morning of the 23rd of April, seven days after our arrival at Clarke's Crossing, everything was ready for an ad vance. Signalling parties had been practising during this time, from both sides of the river, to telegraph information between the two columns as they marched parallel to one another. In addition to the day-signalling, Major Jarvis and Captain Peters organized a corps of signalmen for night-work, by means of the ordinary bugle sounds, upon the phonetic principle. Lord Melgund, in an enterprising spirit, had the day before made a reconnaissance for ten miles north, on the left bank of the river, and discovered scouts watching our movements. He gave chase, and exchanged shots with them; hut the scouts disappeared, and the party returned to camp. In this reconnaissance the Hon. C. Fiennes and Gifford, of Capt. French's scouts, and Fisher and King, of my corps, distanced their comrades and took part in the exciting chase. On Thursday morning, the 23rd of April, both columns marched simultaneously from Clarke's Crossing. My corps, now reduced to forty armed men, constituted the advance guard of the right column, the remainder going with the left. The order of march was a line of sixteen scouts, covering half a mile of front, fifty yards apart from one another. Thomas Selby and E. Little acted on this occasion as pivot men, taking the right and left of the trail, that the remainder of the scouts might move with them, and with the head of the column. These two men kept the same position throughout the campaign, performing their duties intelligently and faithfully. I marched with the remainder of my men on the trail, about two hundred and fifty yards in rear of the advance scouts. AbOut three hundred yards in rear of us came the advance guard of the 90th, consisting of a file followed by the usual formation; and some three hundred yards in rear of them came the column, followed by the transport, with about two hundred teams. I told off two men to march on the flank of the General wherever he might move. Generally, however, he marched in front of me, at the head of my men, with his two A.D.C.'s and Captain Haig, of the Royal Engineers. The scow, with the wire rope, and a party on board, floated down the stream to accompany the columns, and to be ready for use should the necessity arise for either column to cross the river. Our noon halt was similar in every day's routine: the column formed up in companies, piled their arms, fatigue-parties rushed off for wood and water, and in a trice fires were lit, and the boiling of tea and unpacking of hard tack and canned beef were proceeded with. After an hour and an half's rest, and the solace of the brierroot, the fall-in sounded once more. During the halt we remained in advance with videttes out, acting as sentries, to give the alarm if such should be necessary. The A.D.C. conveyed the word to continue our march to the evening camping-ground. There was the same routine every day.
An interesting sight to the uninitiated is the formation of a zareba or corral, for the protection of the transport.