New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The March of the 104th Regiment in 1812

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This article was written by W.O. Raymond and appeared in two installments in The Dispatch newspaper of Woodstock in 1896. Following is his two-part article, printed as one.

The Hundred and Fourth Regiment Winter March During the War of 1812 

The King’s New Brunswick Regiment, organized by Governor Carleton for the defence of the province during the war with France in the year 1793, was disbanded in 1802, peace having been proclaimed. The peace was of short duration, for war broke out again the following year. By the efforts of Major General Hunter, a new provincial corps was raised called the New Brunswick Fencible Regiment. It was in this corps that Capt. John Jenkins, the hero of the battle of Ogdensburg, began his military career, his commission as ensign being dated September 19th, 1804. The regiment soon attained a good degree of efficiency and the province was justly proud of it. The House of Assembly at their session in 1807 voted fifty guineas for the purpose of providing the corps with a silver trumpet, with the arms of New Brunswick engraved thereon, and also for the purchase of such instruments for the regimental band as the colonel should think proper. In acknowledging the gift Lieut. Col. Johnston said, “I am confident it will be highly prized by every member of the corps, and I trust that whenever the regiment is more actively employed they will imitate the conduct of the donors (many of them veterans of the old revolutionary war), whose valor was proved in innumerable instances, and whose attachments to his majesty’s person and the British connection led them to forsake their dearest interests.” The Colonel concludes his reply by expressing his belief that “The steadfast loyalty of the inhabitants of this colony in the present eventful war, carried on for the liberties of the civilized world, will not be surpassed by any of his majesty’s subjects.”

The efficiency of the New Brunswick Fencibles was such that on February 8th, 1811, the corps was gazetted as the 104th Regiment of the British line.

At the opening of the legislature in January, 1813, Major Gen. G. Tracey Smyth in his speech to the House of Assembly, said: “While we deplore the infatuation that has induced our neighbors (blind to their own interests) to lend their aid in support of that spirit of tyranny and universal dominion which Great Britain has so long gloriously resisted, we are called upon vigorously to exert ourselves in defence of all that is dear and valuable to men.” The House of Assembly in their reply said, “The people of this province are ready and determined to repel every aggression which the infatuated policy of the American government may induce it to commit on the soil of New Brunswick.” The House voted a large sum for the purposes of defence, militia laws were amended, volunteer corps organized, and about 800 men embodied for active service to take the place of the 104th regiment when it was ordered to proceed to Upper Canada.

It may be observed in passing that the war of 1812 was very unpopular throughout the whole of New England. Shortly after its commencement the governors of Maine and New Brunswick issued proclamations forbidding any display of hostility along the border. In consequence the relations between the people at Woodstock and Houlton, St. Stephen and Calais, and other places similarly situated continued for the most part undisturbed.

The 104th Regiment assisted in the construction of the Martello Tower at St. John in the winter of 1812-13. They left St. John the 11th day of February, 1813, on their way to Canada, the people helping them out as far as the roads were passable, in sleighs. At Fredericton they were joined by that portion of the regiment stationed at the capital, and on the 14th February the memorable snow shoe tramp to Canada began. The men were sent in successive detachments in order that the track made by each detachment might harden for the benefit of those that were to follow. The first detachment, 100 strong, was under command of Lt. Col. Halkett. He had four Indians to act as guides to Riviere du Loup. Each succeeding day a company set out until ten divisions, comprising 42 officers and 1,000 men were plying their snow shoes up the St. John on their way to the seat of war.

The House of Assembly, Feb. 15th, on motion of Capt. Stair Agnew, adopted this resolution:

“Resolved, That the House of Assembly of New Brunswick cannot view the departure of the 104th Regiment from this province without feeling every solicitude for a corps raised in this country and destined they trust long to continue its pride and ornament; the House have observed with peculiar pleasure that the merit of the officers and men of this regiment has been such as to have induced His Majesty to confer upon it a high mark of his favor and approbation in numbering it with the line, and the House takes this occasion to express the high sense they have of the conduct of the regiment during its continuance in this province.”

At Fredericton, as at St. John, the citizens turned out with their sleighs and carried the men one day on the road. Each man of the regiment was supplied with a pair of snow shoes, moccasins, and a blanket. The supplies were taken on toboggans, one toboggan for every two men; on this were strapped two muskets and ammunition, two knapsacks and fourteen days rations. Each toboggan was drawn by one man in front and pushed (or held back as necessity required) by one man in rear by means of a stick made fast Indian fashion to the stern of the toboggan.

The winter was a very severe one; on this point we have the impartial evidence of old Parson Dibblee’s diary:

“Feb. 1st. — Snow drifted roads well nigh impassable.

March 1st. — Snow four feet deep on a level.

March 19th. — No church on account of the storm; never, never, was there such a season. Drifts in some places ten feet above the fences. Lately a succession of storms; people five days getting to Woodstock from Fredericton; roads shovelled only to drift again.”

As the several companies marched forward day by day they were obliged to halt about the middle of the afternoon to prepare their encampment for the night. After passing Woodstock, where they were treated with great hospitality by the settlers, the only places where they could find any proper accommodation were at the old military posts at Presquisle and Grand Falls. When they encamped in the woods they dug away the snow, using their snowshoes for shovels, spruce bushes were placed so as to afford shelter, hard wood cut for fires, camp kettles hung on, and then an onslaught made on the tea, pork and biscuit. With such severe exercise the standard ration of a pound of pork and ten ounces of biscuit did not go far and the consumption of provisions proceeded at an alarming rate. The men lay down at night on cedar and spruce boughs wrapped in their blankets beside the huge fires, some of them built fourteen feet long and four feet high. So intense was the frost, the snow walls behind them stood like marble. Occasionally the brush would catch fire and rouse the sleeping soldiers, and on one occasion the regimental colors were with difficulty saved from the flames. The bugle sounded Reveille two hours before day when having breakfasted the men started off as soon as it was light enough to travel. As long as the travelling on the river was good they got on fairly well, although snow storms sometimes obliterated the tracks of the preceding day but wherever rapids or open water was found, they had to climb steep banks and make their way through the forest. They kept up their spirits amazingly, however, all things considered. One of the officers describing the journey writes:

“Our poor fellows with empty stomachs had hard work hauling the toboggans up the steep hills, although the load was light, the provisions being nearly finished, and all of us on short rations for several days, yet in the midst of our privations we had some hearty recreation. Some of the men would slide down the hills on the toboggans, and capsizes were of frequent occurrences. Our big black drummer straddled the big drum, which was lashed on a toboggan, to try the experiment of a slide but it jumped the track shooting him off at a high velocity and the sable African came up some distance from where he disappeared a white man from head to foot.”

Hunger was the worst thing they had to face. The hard effort of tramping some twenty-five miles daily through the snow and climbing steep hillsides, the thermometer often twenty degrees below zero, created such voracious appetites that a pound of pork (bones included) and ten ounces of biscuit seemed to many of the hundred and fourth a mere flea bite. It is doubtful whether any but the hardy forest pioneers of New Brunswick could have performed such a march with less loss and discomfort. Another thing should be mentioned namely that during the entire march the men were without the daily ration of rum at that time served in the British army. We are assured, notwithstanding, by Col. Playfair (who was at that time a lieutenant in the regiment) there was no grumbling but all were cheerful and good tempered.  

When the company to which Lieut. Charles Rainsford belonged arrived near the foot of Lake Temiscouata, a violent snow storm came on which with the intense, bitter cold, rendered it impossible for the troops to attempt to cross the lake, a distance of eighteen miles, without the danger of perishing and they were consequently unable to resume their journey for three days. Meanwhile the next company under Captain George Shore arrived at the lake. Supplies being exhausted, Lieut. Rainsford heroically resolved to cross the lake and proceed with all haste to Riviere du Loup for assistance. Two soldiers of the Light Infantry Company, Peter Patroit and Private Gay, volunteered to accompany him, both belonged on the Upper St. John. Their services were gladly accepted; each of them carried his knapsack, musket and ammunition. Leaving camp at daylight they journeyed half way across the lake when they met a man named William Long, who was employed by government to pilot people across the lake to the portage to the St. Lawrence. Long was on his way to ascertain the cause of the delay of the troops he had been expecting. He returned with them to his log house where Rainsford and his men made a hasty meal and then pushed on to Riviere du Loup. The snow continued to fall during the day and the air was bitterly cold. Upon their arrival at the depot on the St. Lawrence all was excitement and no time was lost in loading up toboggans with pork, biscuit, tea, sugar, etc., for the famished soldiers. Seventeen Canadians were engaged and off they started with the toboggans. Although they had already marched over fifty miles on one of the worst days of the winter, Charles Rainsford and his two men accompanied the relieving party back to Lake Temiscouata. They reached there at daybreak the following morning and were greeted with loud hurrahs and unbounded enthusiasm by the men of the two companies who had, in the meantime, succeeded in crossing the lake. Soon the famishing soldiers were partaking of good substantial food. This march of some ninety miles on snow shoes performed by Capt. Rainsford and his two companions in the course of a single day and night and under such circumstances will always be regarded as a wonderful example of courage and endurance. Like many another brave man, Mr. Rainsford was wont to speak of his own exploits with difference [sic.], preferring rather to speak of the deeds of his comrades in arms.

In a description of this march to Quebec, published in 1872 in the British Standard, Colonel Playfair says, “We crossed on the ice and entered Quebec on the 27th February 1,000 strong without losing a single man.” The regiment did, however, lose one man and he is buried in the old church yard at Woodstock. This we learn from the parish register in which Rev. Mr. Dibblee has made the following entry: “March 17, 1813, Buried Lane, a soldier of the 104th Regiment who was taken sick on his way to Canada and died at Mr. Rogers.”

The march of the 104th, however, considering the season of the year, the nature of the country traversed and the extraordinary severity of the weather, must take its place amongst the greatest marches in history, and it was practically accomplished without any loss. Benedict Arnold in his expedition against Quebec via the Kennebec River 1777 lost more than 300 men through cold and exposure. The distance from Fredericton to Quebec is about 350 miles and it was covered by the 104th in 13 days. In December 1837 the 43rd Light Infantry marched from Fredericton to Quebec in almost precisely the same period of time, and the Duke of Wellington speaking of their performance made the remark, “It is the only military achievement performed by a British officer that I really envy.” How much greater feat was the march of the gallant hundred-and-fourth who poorly fed and clad passed over the same route on snowshoes in the middle of a most inclement winter a quarter of a century before. Capt. Rainsford says the clothing of the 104th was poor and scanty, their snowshoes and moccasins miserably made, and even their mitts of poor thin yard.

Arrived at the seat of war the regiment was soon in action. It suffered severely at the battle of Sackett’s Harbor where the following officers were among the wounded: Major Drummond, Capt. Richard Leonard, Capt. Geo. Shore, Lieut. Andrew Rainsford, Lieut. James DeLancey and Lieut. Moore. The names of many of the officers of the corps are well known in this province as for example Lieut. W. B. Phair, Ensign J. A. McLauchlan, Surgeon Wm. Woodford M. D., etc. After the disbandment of the corps in February 1817, many of the men and a few of the officers took up lands upon the river between Presquisle and Tobique, where their descendants are found at the present day. The province of New Brunswick has no reason to feel ashamed of the record of the old “one hundred and fourth” either on the line of march or upon the field of battle.

When the war of 1812 broke out a part of the militia was called out for active service. One company was furnished by Woodstock and the surrounding settlements, the officers of which were Captain Richard Ketchum, Lieut. John Dibblee and Ensign Henry Morehouse. The company was stationed at the barracks in Fredericton.

In the month of February 1814 the route to Quebec via the St. John river was again utilized and excitement prevailed amongst the settlers as the troops in successive detachments passed up the river. The first to proceed on their way were 375 seamen destined for service on the Canadian Lakes. When they arrived at Fredericton the House of Assembly was in session and they promptly voted £100 to provide sleighs and sleds and other things for their accommodation and comfort. Hon. Edward Collier, their commander, returned his warmest thanks for “this liberal assistance.” The sailors were followed by several companies of the 8th or Kings Regiment, commanded by Lieut. Col. P. P. Robertson. The House of Assembly immediately voted a further sum of £200 for the assistance and accommodation of the soldiers and sailors. For their patriotic action they received the thanks of Sir John C. Sherbrooke who promised to make the most favorable representation thereof to his Majesty. Subsequently the House of Assembly voted another £100 to compensate Major Daniel Morehouse, Wm. McLauchlan and Capt. Peter Duperre of Madawaska for expenses incurred in accommodating the volunteer seamen and the men of the Kings Regiment on their march. The men who passed through to Canada in 1814 were favored with a better season, and better arrangements no doubt were made for them than for the hundred and fourth, nevertheless they suffered severely. Rev. F. Dibblee’s services were again called into requisition and on the 6th February he buried in the old parish church yard, Matthew Abbey, master in the Royal Navy, who had died very suddenly at the house of Mr. Phillips.

At the close of the war a number of the men of the 8th regiment returned to New Brunswick where they were disbanded and lands allotted to them in the military settlements above Presquisle.

For the protection of the province a new Fencible Regiment was raised by General Coffin, it was disbanded in January 1816, and such of the men as desired to settle on the St. John river were allotted lands in the military settlements above Presquisle.

The House of Assembly in 1814 in conjunction with the council prepared and forwarded to the British government in England a petition praying that when a negotiation of peace should take place between Great Britain and the United States the International boundary might be so arranged that the important line of communication between the provinces of New Brunswick and Lower Canada via the St. John river might not be interrupted. The petition of the legislature was forwarded to the British government and along with it a suitable map prepared by the Surveyor General. There can be but little doubt that if England had at that time taken a firmer stand she might have easily secured the Aroostook region. During the war her troops had occupied Castine and Bangor and at the peace they were in possession of Moose Island (now Eastport) and the adjoining territory. The opportunity was allowed to pass and the province of New Brunswick is the poorer for it today.


Written by johnwood1946

November 14, 2012 at 11:29 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. I wanted to read this as my ancestor Daniel Walker a British Naval Man was one who trekked on snowshoes from New Brunswick to ST Lawrence river and KIngston


    November 11, 2013 at 8:58 PM

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