“… Several of the oxen we brought from Collingwood have arrived to Prince Arthur with serious injuries and sickness. The most common wound has occurred when the animals gored each other while cooped up during the journey and some when their handlers move them into the nets to be lowered overboard into the shallow waters. There is yet no warf to dock our ships for disembarkation. In the excitement of their release from their holds their great bulky masses collide with each other the way water bounces around in a bucket. Their heads fling back towards their neighbours who have nowhere to turn for escape and so have their flanks or faces ripped deeply by thick horns. The illness that spreads through their numbers evidently is found in their intestines. And so the deck where men work the pullies and nets becomes shiny with blood and slippery from very foul stomach waste. Once the wounded and so useless individuals are walked over the nets, a young boy with a grey tunic holds a service rifle to his right shoulder and with a bewildered reluctance raises the muzzle to the temple of the moaning and wild-eyed creatures and pulls the trigger. The weather is the kind where I would love nothing better than to lay on the nearby field and feel on my face the warm late spring wind stream over the shore, cleansing myself from the horrible smell. …”
This will be a short note to share some of what details I have learned about the first third of Wolesely’s journey to Ft. Garry. It is as all the sources say: a huge feat of military manoeuvre and logistical planning. Of course, what I am interested in is measuring the lengths the political masters were willing to endure to plunge a fighting force into the wilderness. Fascinating the display of military power and determination.
The main source I’m in, “Correspondence relative…”, does a fantastic job at revealing the behind the scenes discussions about the planning and motivations of the RRE. In particular are the little quibbles about whether the Dominion or Imperial government will pay for a slight increase to the 60th Rifle Battalion Lindsay requests soon after the initial cost sharing agreements are made between the colonial and metropolitan decision-makers. The issue, in part, surrounds the view that any expedition of the magnitude RRE that will blaze a network of portages will in fact be laying the foundation for a crucial piece of infrastructure into a pioneer settlement along the Red River. Who should be shouldering the initial costs? Britain? Ottawa? In the end, the prior 1/4 agreement with Canada paying the majority of the costs endured.
The source is like all the other British Gov documents I’ve sifted through in my MA work on the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast. They’re routine, detailed, and steeped in administrative duty. This makes them great sources: their attempt at an almost scientific objectivity, since the posture of the writer’s mind is so administrative that a bias immediately jumps off the page. You can really read through the lines in bureaucratic records; the writers are doing a job and yet their selves always comes out eventually. We all know emotions are like that, never being contained or hidden for long before you’re over the sink trying to wash the blood off your hands. Good luck.
So far, I can share that the diplomatic correspondence between the levels of the Dominion Canadian government and the Imperial Government in Britain at either the War Office or the Colonial Office reveals the agreed need among all involved that the Red River Expedition needs to be “Imperial in character”. The various reasons, especially according to Lieutenant-Colonel James Lindsay, included wanting to bolster the morale of the largely volunteer militias that the Government of Canada was planning to field. In fact, this source indicates more than a few times that authorities had trouble recruiting members to completely fill Quebec Battalion. A familiar Canadian political story appears in the drama to ensure French and English Canadians play visible roles in the service of the Dominion and Imperial governments. Lindsay could only barely and almost too late mobilize the whole force for want of recruits from Quebec. The presence of professional soldiers from England would also send the message to the burgeoning Canadian public that government had the support of the Crown in maintaing peace and order in the Red River. Riel was, clearly, an enemy of the state, a murderer, and an insurrectionist in this document.
Defiant, the ships of the British Army poised their sails to complete their journey towards the far-flung coast. At the proper distance away from the shallow beach, the anchors slid quickly into the watery darkness and connected with the bottom of the Guinea Coast. Watching above from the slow gliding clouds, the silhouette of several dark teardrops left their larger hosts and meandered their way towards a long sandy break on the rocks. Determined, their final destination was finally within close view.
Men of war rode the sickening lift and fall of the immense silver water clutching and swaying their heavy oars from knee to chest, knee to chest, knee to chest. All eyes watched the contours of the distant horizon. Small fires fueled whiffs of smoke at various spots at the edge of the water. Shifting red coats moved about, out of place, along the grey stonewalls of the fortress. The encampments drew the eyes of the men to the dark forested background beyond the beachhead. Alien. Birds zipped and circled above the edge of the water, and the smell of the fires mingled with the hot, salty air of the Gold Coast. …
- Check out this free digitized source: http://archive.org.
- Primary source writing about the Red River Expedition:
- Wrote The Soldier’s Pocketbook, 1869
- Blackwoods December 1870
- Directorate of History and Heritage 83/309: Narrative of the Red River Expedition: By an Officer of the Expeditionary Force, 1870
- Library and Archives Canada, Manuscript Group 29-E111 Journal of the Red River Rebellion
- Captain G.L. Huyshe. The Red River Expedition (London: MacMillan and Co.) 1871.
- Colonel Wolseley’s official account: Correspondence relative to the recent Expedition to the Red River Settlement: with Journal of Operations, 1871. This wonderfully detailed source is full of implicit and explicit details about the RRE. So far, it is particularly interesting how the British and Canadian intelligentsia wanted to ensure the largely Canadian militia force, although augmented by a regiment of the British 60th Rifles, would be a display of “imperial” power against Riel for the Canadian public. This small detail shows me the documentation from the period is full of promising details and perspectives for my handling of Wolseley. Now I have to keep making time to finish this part of the research so I can start writing the first chapter. Maybe I can have it finished before summer?