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Batoche National Historic Site of Canada

The Battle of Batoche

The Battle of Batoche was fought over four days from May 9 to May 12, 1885. Less than 300 Métis and First Nations people led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont defended Batoche from a series of rifle pits which they had dug along the edge of the bush surrounding the village. The North West Field Force, commanded by Major General Frederick Middleton and numbering 800, attacked the defences directly as well as embarking on manoeuvres intended to distract the Métis and First Nations away from the North-West Field Force's numerical source of strength.

On the first day of fighting, Major General Middleton had planned to attack the Métis and Indians on two fronts. The steamer Northcote, fortified by sandbags and staffed by militiamen, was to proceed down river while Middleton would lead the remainder of his men. The strategy failed when the Métis lowered a ferry cable which decapitated the smokestacks of the Northcote, leaving it to float harmlessly downstream.

The land forces also ran into significant resistance from the Métis who effectively held their positions. When the Field Force withdrew into their zareba the Indians and Métis harassed them with gunfire until daybreak. The Métis and Indians believed they had won a victory on this first day of fighting. They next two days changed little. The North-West Field Force bombarded the Métis positions with their four nine-pounders and harassed the riflemen with their rapid fire Gatling gun. In defending their position through the first three days, the Métis and Indians seriously depleted their supply of ammunition.

May 12 was the decisive day of the battle. It began when Middleton, equipped with one nine-pounder, the Gatling gun and 130 men, reconnoitred to the north of the church and rectory, and began to advance on the Métis rifle pits. This feinting action was intended to draw the Métis out of their rifle pits around the church to the north where the Gatling gun was positioned. On hearing the guns to the north, Lieutenant Colonel Van Straubenzie was to open fire and move against the defence lines around the church. Due to the strong wind, however, Van Straubenzie was unable to hear Middleton's guns open fire and he failed to co-ordinate his attack with Middleton's action.

Middleton withdrew to his camp furious that the co-ordinated attack had not come off. Unknown to Middleton, his manoeuver had served its purpose - the Métis had in fact been drawn to the north anticipating a major offensive there. As Middleton sat down to lunch minutes later, the Midlanders, under Lieutenant Colonel Williams, broke through the weakened Métis lines near the church.

The battle was over in minutes as the Field Force swept down the slopes to Batoche, past rifle pits where by now the Métis were firing nails and stones from their rifles.

Riel and Dumont escaped. Riel gave himself up later and Dumont fled to the United States. Those who had not dispersed were captured and held for later trial in the courts. When the battle ended, there were more than 25 dead from both sides.