March of the 104th

During the War of 1812, as the colonies of British North America stood together to fend off attacks from the relatively new United States of America, more than 500 men from Fredericton undertook an arduous 1176km (730 miles) march to Kingston, Ontario in the dead of winter, providing support to troops in Upper Canada.

In February 1813, New Brunswick’s 104th Regiment of Foot (formerly the New Brunswick Regiment of Fencible Infantry), marched single file, pulling toboggans laden down with supplies while bugles played the traditional leaving song “The Girl I Left Behind Me”. They set off in companies from Fredericton’s Officer’s Square, walking on the frozen Saint John River.  

During the first seven days shelter was found in barns and buildings along the way.  By the eighth day, the men found themselves in the wilderness of the sparsely populated upper Saint John River valley. Each night the men chopped trees to build their own shelter as temperatures dropped to between -27C and -32C.  Rations were biscuits and salt pork. 

Enduring wild storms, frostbite and hunger, and occasional joy provided by the generosity of strangers who provided sleigh transport for a few miles, or food and drink, the regiment arrived in Kingston, Ontario on April 12, 1813.

After completing the march in 53 days, covering an average of 27km per day, many men were frostbitten, sore and suffering from the effects of snowshoeing such a long journey with less than sufficient conditioning. One soldier died in the early days of the march, almost certainly ill before leaving Fredericton. (For many years it was believed that no soldier died on this journey, a mis-conception based on the first-hand account of Lieutenant John LeCouteur.) A second casualty whose frostbitten skin was described “as if scalded all over by boiling water” stayed behind at about the halfway point, but rejoined the group 6 weeks later.

The Regiment went on to fight in several key battles, suffering heavy casualties.  The march, and the extraordinary fortitude of the men, stands as an incredible feat in military history.

Today the pedestrian pedway linking Carleton Street to the walking trail is named in honour of the brave soldiers of the 104th Regiment of Foot.