In March 1813, during the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain, the 104th Regiment of Foot, based in New Brunswick (formerly the New Brunswick Regiment), marched on foot from Fredericton through the St.John River Valley, via Lake Temiscouata and the portage to Quebec city on their way to Kingston, Upper Canada (now Ontario).
This winter trek, which took 34 days of marching over almost two months (February-April), was necessitated by the threat of US invasion of Upper Canada. Indeed, in April 1813 the US invaded, pillaged and burned York (now Toronto), the capital of Upper Canada (this attack helped provoke the burning of Washington, D.C. in 1814), and had plans to conquer the British provinces and incorporate them into the USA.
British forces in its provinces to the north of the US were severely outnumbered and were reliant on militia, natives, and a few regular soldiers. Thus the decision was made to march the 104th Regiment, based in New Brunswick, overland from Fredericton to Kingston.
The use of New Brunswick forces to defend Upper Canada foreshadowed Canadian confederation, joining the separate provinces of British North America together against a common enemy to the south, and demonstrating the importance of uniting against the growing power of the US. In a way the war marked the birth of Canadian nationalism.
The war also showed the military strategic importance of the upper St.John River valley for the British provinces; the valley was the main route of communication between the maritime provinces and the Canadas, and in the winter, the only route open not only for military purposes but even for mail.
Lieutenant John LeCouteur, 104th Regiment of Foot
Lieutenant John LeCouteur kept a journal of his time in the 104th Regiment, and described this march, which took place during one of the hardest winters on record. Below are excerpts from his journal describing the regiment's time and experiences in the valley. The journal has been published as Merry Hearts Make Light Days, edited by Donald E. Graves (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1993).
After noting that the temperature ranged from 18 to 27 degrees below zero, LeCouteur describes the march of the Regiment from Fredericton to Grand Falls, a trip that took eleven days. The excerpt below covers their time between Grand Falls and their trip up the Madawaska River.
The map at the right is from 1815 and is entitled A Plan of the route from Halifax to the River du Loup on the St. Lawrence. It is by Joseph Bouchette. The map illustrates the route taken by the 104th regiment. It is from the collection of the Bibliothèque National de Québec, online at http://bibnum2.banq.qc.ca/bna/cargeo/htm/t118.htm. For more information, click on the image.
The March from Fredericton through the upper St.John River valley, March 1813
On the 1st of March we reached the grand falls of the river St.John, one hundred and fifty miles from Fredericton, where there is a small settlement. We could not judge of its state of forwardness, every spot being covered with a mantle of snow but the inhabitants appeared to be quite happy and contented. They said they went down to Fredericton once or twice a year, to sell or barter their furs for what commodities they required, and added that their wants were few and simple.
After dinner most of the officers went to see the fall; it presented a magnificent spectacle. In summer it was eighty-four feet high and nine hundred feet in width but it was greatly reduced by the quantity of ice which environed it. The spray, having frozen as it rose, had gradually so condensed itself that it had joined and formed a splendid, irregular, fantastical arch of surprising brilliancy and lightness, in all the rugged and mixed varieties of form which frost gives to falling water, suddenly arrested by congelation. The banks on each side from the same cause were like solid, irregular, glassy buttresses supporting the arch; and the surrounding trees being beautifully fringed with frost. When the sun rose on the ice and displayed the prismatic colors playing on it, the scene called to mind the idea of an enchanted palace of glass, fitter, indeed, for a person to gaze on than inhabit, which was strictly true, for desolation reigned around. No beast, bird, nor even insect cheered the sight or enlivened the ear, the only sound that disturbed the icy death-like stillness around was the resistless, roaring river, rushing impatiently through its restricted and fringed bed of ice into the gulf beneath, whence surging on it hurried to a considerable distance before the frost had the power to conceal it under a bed of ice.
It may be proper to remark here that, as the grand falls was the last military post in the province of New Brunswick and although I am unable to give a correct description of it from the circumstance of the country being so completely covered with snow, it was nevertheless represented as being from its precipitous situatoin convertible into a very strong point of defence, the more important as it is the nearest point to the American boundary all along our line of march, and that by which the mail must pass in the winter season into Canada; besides being the only good line of march for troops similarly situated with ourselves, the St. John's and Madawaska rivers, and the Temisquata lake forming a level road of march on for two hundred miles, a circumstance of vast importance to the moving troops in winter, as they would otherwise have to march entirely through the brushwoods and forests, which would increase their hardships and retard their progress.
On Wednesday, the 2nd of March, we arrived at Laronciers at the head of the Madawaska settlement. Here I began to find the French language of great service to me, as I did all through Lower Canada. The worthy cure, Monsieur Raby, was delighted to meet a British officer who could converse with him freely and, accordingly, not only invited me to take my billet at his house but also insisted that one of my brother subs should accompany me, where he treated us with the greatest hospitality.
This insulated settlement is entirely separated from the busy world; a few hundred French are here settled in peaceful retirement. Their kind and worthy Pastor assured me that crimes were quite unknown in this peaceful spot, he was their confessor, their adviser, and their judge, and if a difference ever did exist amongst them, it was speedily referred to him, and his decision was final. Their habits and manners were simple and kind, altogether French. Like the ant in Lafontaine's fable, they told me, they grew enough in summer to supply their wants for the winter, which they passed in mirth and friendly intercourse. From the worthy Cure's description, and the lively and contented air of the people, I should take this to be the only Arcadia now existing in the world.
I am not aware that these good people considered us as great intruders, but they certainly did not give us much time to corrupt them as they mounted the whole of us, officers and men, in sleighs, and drove us through their settlement, twenty-one miles in a day, which by the way was a great treat, and the men vowed it was the pleasantest day's march that they had had.
On the 4th of March the cold was gradually increasing and an incessant snow-storm filling the track up rapidly made the dragging of the Toboggans exceedingly laborious, especially as we occasionally had to quit the Madawaska river owing to the rapids in it which had not frozen, and the thickness of the brush-wood and the forest along the edge of it. When we got to the end of our day's march the cold was so intense that the men could scarcely use their fingers to hew down the fire-wood, or to build huts, and it was dark before we could commence cooking; if sticking a bit of salt pork on the end of a twig and holding it in a fire could be so termed.
After 24 days of march, on March 15, the Regiment arrived in Quebec. On April 2 they set off for Kingston, reaching it on April 12.
On the left is a photo of a plaque commemorating the 1813 march of the 104th Regiment, located in downtown Fredericton. The plaque is located on the building of the Old British Army Barracks (photo on the right).
Thanks to Norm DeMerchant for telling me about LeCouteur's journal, as well as for the above photos.
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Last revised 27 Nov 2006
© 2004-2006 C. Gagnon