Threats Internal and External
The Advance to Batouche
Caption: Battle of Fish Creek, 24 April 1885
General Middleton had somewhat limited confidence in his citizen soldiers, undoubtedly because he was familiar with the shortcomings of the training most of them had received, while the military qualifications of the remainder went no further than a willingness to serve. Prior to setting out, therefore, the troops received minimum mandatory training. Given these circumstances, many militiamen executed their first shooting drill with weapons that in many cases were badly maintained, improperly stored or damaged through long disuse. The skills and experience of the men detached to Otter and Strange were similar, and less than reassuring.
Middleton moved very slowly towards Batoche. The British general was suspicious, remembering the fate of Lieutenant-Colonel George Armstrong Custer at the hands of American Indians on the Little Big Horn in 1876, and the lesson so recently administered to Crozier and his men was fresh in his mind. When it was reported to him that the Métis had dug in on both sides of the South Saskatchewan River, he ordered nearly half his troops across the river, deviating even further from a principle of war he had already violated by forming up in three columns: the principle of concentration of force. It is not always a mistake to proceed in this way, but in this case it was. On 24 April the troop on the east side of the river, where Batoche was located, was ambushed at Fish Creek. After suffering some losses, Middleton ordered a retreat and took a break that lasted two weeks.
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