May 9 - Up at 5:30, breakfast at 6. On the march by 6:45. All in fine spirits, though the night was a bit chilly with frost. Not a snore had been heard at night. All our baggage, tents, teams and wagons we left in charge of the teamsters, who were armed and trained for trouble; nearly all were deadly shots anyway. I left the battalion cash box with Quarter Master Captain Clemes. who commanded the brigade of Teamsters. The cash box contained $4,700 and was in my charge as Paymaster Sergeant. But I wanted to join the firing line. So with Col. Williams' permission I gave it to Clemes to look after, as he was staying, leaving me to march with my Regiment. The mounted scouts leading.
At 8:30 a.m. we heard heavy rifle firing going on away in advance which we knew must be the steamer "Northcote" opening fire on the enemy and were having it hot and furious. "A" battery fired a blank to let them know we were coming and we then quickened our march. We were supposed to engage the enemy on shore at the same time those on the boat engaged them from the river and in that way pepper them from two sides. But the boat got there too soon. Suddenly our advance guard was fired upon and the real Riel battle was on. Our scouts charged and drove the enemy scouts back to their lines. The regiments were at once deployed to right and left in skirmishing order and advanced. The Midlands on the left flank, the Grenadiers on our right, the 90th on their right, with the mounted dismounted working on the extreme right flank of all. The Gatling gun about centre, artillery following on the rear.
As we advanced the firing became more intense, but we got no sight of the enemy; they were well hidden in their rifle pits. Two companies of the Midlands were ordered to support the guns. Gunner Phillips fell wounded and rolled down into the ravine. One of our companies ("C") was sent to charge down and rescue him, which was done in a few minutes without losing a man. It seemed to us all that this was a rather different way of fighting from what we had expected. We calculated on seeing the enemy anyway. We were all fully under the impression that in aiming our rifles we would have something to aim at in the shape of human forms; in this we were disappointed, for instead we had hideously painted grinning idiots and puffs of smoke from among the trees to fire at. And they were in prepared positions, well protected, while we were in the open working forward to take theirs away from them. And that is going to be some job.
Suddenly a burst of flame and smoke was seen directly in front of us coming down with the wind at a terrific rate towards us: a bush and prairie fire. I knew what it was, and started by the rebels probably to blind us for a time and to enable them to creep up and break up our formation, but we back-fired and checked it.
Orders were at once given to strengthen the skirmish line on our right and in that way keep a strong body to repel any sudden attack made by the enemy on our right flank. Many rifle pits were being dug here by half breeds, as well as on our left. Thus we were under a constant cross fire. Our Midlanders drove a good number of the enemy from among bushes and small ravines who were creeping up under the cover of the fire and smoke. The blood-curdling war whoops of the Indians cut the air; the sounds were very horrible. The fire was eventually put out by our beating the flames with branches.
Late in the afternoon the General began to appear a little uneasy as to how he was going to hold the position already taken, if he had to retire back the six miles to our camp. The teams must bring up the camp to us, was the only alternative , and must be done before dark or the enemy might maneuvre around and cut our supplies off. The General merely gave the order that things were done the Canadian way he always so much admired.
Mounted men were sent back on the gallop; in two hours all the camp arrived; picks and shovels were out and handled by eager men, soldiers and teamsters, and a rough fort or zareba was built of dirt. In the meantime we kept up a dropping fire on the enemy, still hidden, and watching for any opportunity to harass us in any movement we made.
Then shortly before dark our move was to retire for the night in our zareba or fort. About half a mile to our rear was open ground well exposed to enemy sharpshooters who were well hidden in bush and rifle pits. This kind of retirement required skill and knowledge. Our dead and wounded had been carefully carried in; now our tactics were to fall back facing the enemy and keep up incessant firing and watch our flanks. This was done with the loss of only two men killed and three wounded. Gat-Gunner Howard was in his element as he pumped 300 shots a minute into the still well hidden ranks of the enemy.
The evening and a good part of the night was spent in throwing up earth works and ditching, enlarging our enclosure to about 500 feet long by 300 feet wide, the long side, of course, to the enemy. The enemy kept up a dropping fire on us. If we showed a light of any kind, even a match, it at once drew their fire. Moore of the Grenadiers was shot dead in the act of lighting a match to search for his baggage on a wagon. The casualties for the day were 6 killed and 12 wounded for the first day.