The Battle of Batoche: British Small Warfare and the Entrenched Metis
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
Joe Cherwinski is a history professor at the Memorial University of
Behind the dull cover and the convoluted title lies a real gem and a great bargain at the price. On the face, The Battle of Batoche appears to be a conventional military history of the most crucial battle in Canada’s only imperialist war. However, what makes it a book with a difference is that in reality it is a detailed research report prepared to accompany the opening of the restored Northwest Rebellion site on its 100th anniversary.
Walter Hildebrandt, a Parks Canada research historian, begins the study with a brief introduction outlining Indian and Métis grievances, the unwillingness of the Ottawa government to respond, and the frustration that led to the return of Riel. However, his principal concern is to examine the Batoche site and to describe the battle in detail. Six chapters are used to describe the four days of the offensive and defensive maneuvers by both sides. Detailed maps of the battle site trace each move as Canadian troops and Métis jockeyed for position. The photographs Hildebrandt assembled of the troops, of the battle site and of the principal protagonists — some of them familiar, but also some unique ones drawn from a surprising variety of sources — also attest to the thoroughness of this work. The final section of the book examines the strategy and tactics of both sides and concludes that the Métis resistance was effective because it was progressive, while subsequent criticism of Middleton’s role in this “small war” was unjustified.
The variety of people who would find something interesting in this little volume underlines the need for the Historic Sites Branch of Parks Canada to make more of their reports available to the reading public, perhaps in a slightly glossier form, to maximize their exposure.