WINTER MOVEMENT OF BRITISH TROOPS
THROUGH THE ST. JOHN RIVER VALLEY
1862.

A paper presented by

Ken Homer

At a meeting of the Carleton County Historical Society

January 25, 1985.

 

The story I have for you tonight is taken from material collected by David Bell and Ernest Clarke. They have embarked upon a long-term project to seek out travel accounts of the central St, John River valley from earliest times to 1870. This includes descriptions of the passage of troops through the valley at various times of tension and unrest in pre-Confederation history; the War of 1812, the Revolutions of 1837 in Upper and Lower Canada, tension between the United States and Britain during the American Civil War, and so on. Of these military movements, the most familiar is the famous march of the 104th in February of 1813. There has been a tendency to play down or overlook the difficulties and discomforts of subsequent winter movements because the units involved were transported by horse and sleigh. But, as we shall see, the difficulties and discomforts were sometimes very real indeed,

Tonight, I'll be dealing with the troop movements of 1862. Let's begin with a local contemporary reference. At that time, W. O. Raymond was a boy not quite nine years old. From 1859 to 1861 he had been at tending the school of Miss Matilda Beardsley in the old William Upham house at Lower Woodstock just below the Houlton Road. Then the school was moved to a building a few rods further north that had been built for a store and had a shoemaker's shop in the upper flat. Mr. Arthur Taylor taught there for one winter and then was succeeded by Ellen Beardsley, sister to Miss Matilda. In an autobiographical account, Raymond wrote: "While attending Mr. Taylor's school in January, 1862, our school days were enlivened by the passing of more than 5,000 British Regulars through Woodstock on their way to Quebec and other places in Canada in consequence of trouble with the American government about the Trent Affair. Most of the troops came via Saint John. Some were landed at St. Andrew's and arrived at Woodstock via the railway to Canterbury Station. They travelled on to Canada in sleds, each holding eight men and a driver, and travelled about thirty miles a day in complements of 100 and, later, of 160 men. The travelling was good and the troops were well provided with warm clothing and fur caps. Besides the men, artillery, ammunition, a siege train and supplies were hauled in the sleds by the farmers so that there was commonly a procession of more than 25 sleds daily, the officers riding in a comfortable sleigh at the rear. When the notes of the bugle were heard in the frosty air the school children would flock to the windows to witness the passing of the procession.

The American Civil War had begun and the so-called "Trent Affair" involved the boarding of the British mail ship "Trent" by American naval forces who took into custody two Southern diplomats travelling to Britain. The British objection to such high handed action was backed up by the embarkation of troops, variously reported at from 10,000 to 14,000 in number, destination British North America. After a month of steadily mounting suspense, the Americans capitulated and released the two Southerners partly, it is said, because Prince Albert, in one of the last official acts before his death, persuaded the Foreign office to tone down the language in their note of protest to the American government. But the decision to deploy British forces in Canada was not rescinded.

Another local eyewitness and, indeed, participant in the movement of the troops through the upper valley was Colonel W. T. Baird, author of Seventy Years of New Brunswick Life. Baird was, in 1861, Captain of the Woodstock Rifle Company. He was aware that efforts might be made by Union Army recruiters offering high bounties to entice some of the trained British soldiers to desert and join the American forces. He later wrote in his book:

"With the view of defeating such object I prepared a chart or map showing all the roads leading to the American boundary between Eel River and Grand Falls, also the points at which pickets might be placed to intercept deserters and their abettors. This chart, with an explanatory letter, I addressed to the Governor of the Province, Hon. Arthur Gordon.

"Some little time elapsed, during which a regiment of the guards arrived, and, as I anticipated, a cute Yankee, with a fleet horse and a sleigh, ran one of these stalwart defenders over the line. Another was abducted at Florenceville. Very shortly after, a gentleman entered my office and handed me a note from Governor Gordon introducing the bearer, Colonel Crealock, who produced my letter, with the chart, and proceded to say that the suggestions therein would be carried out under my supervision, if I were prepared to act."

Colonel Baird goes on to describe how his mission was organized and carried forward and he states: "So well and faithfully was this post-duty discharged that not another man of the soldiers that passed through escaped, though many attempts were made."

In his description of those eventful days in Woodstock, he also makes reference to the sound of the bugle: "The streets were occasionally enlivened with the music of a regimental band, and on one occasion by the bag pipes and drums of the Highlanders. The cheery notes of the key-bugle from an officer's sled could be heard in the distance, as early on frosty mornings, they filed off through the drifted snow."

There would not be time this evening for me to examine the background and tell the full story of this march and its place in history. We'll leave it up to our military expert, Ernest Clarke, to do that for the record. But I would like to quote from two publications that David sent me. One is entitled, "Our Garrisons in the West" or "Sketches in

British North America" by Francis Duncan MA, published in London in the year 1864.

Francis Duncan was a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery who was among the first to be sent to New Brunswick, arriving at St. Andrews on New Year's Day, 1862. In the chapter from his book devoted to "The Overland March to Canada" he writes,

"At last the 62nd Regiment, which had been inured by several years' American service to the cold of the winters, was put under orders to proceed in the steamer 'Delta' to St. Andrew's, a harbour on the New Brunswick coast, and thence by rail to Woodstock, a village near the borders of the State of Maine, the intention being to open and hold the route to Canada for succeeding troops, and, if necessary, to capture Houlton, a small recruiting depot for the Yankees, about nine miles from Woodstock. To aid this plan a couple of guns and a detachment of forty gunners, under my command, were to accompany the infantry. . . . The 'Delta' with these troops on board, arrived at St. Andrews on New Year's Day, and the whole, under command of Colonel Ingall, C.B., 62nd Regiment, disembarked immediately."

Lieutenant Duncan had already described the route to be taken, pointing out that there was a railway line from St. Andrews almost to Woodstock where the routes to Canada from Saint John and St. Andrews intersect and after which they proceed together. He continued, "From Woodstock the road to Canada follows the River St. John and was divided thus: First day's march, to Florenceville; second ditto to Tobique; third ditto, Grand Falls; fourth ditto, Little Falls. Here we enter Canada and owing to the superiority of the roads, the day's march lengthened, and was divided into two journeys of forty miles each to Fort Ingall and Riviere du Loup. The latter place is the terminus of the Grand Trunk Railway; and from it the troops were carried westward by rail to their various destinations. Supposing the troops came from Saint John to Woodstock instead of from St. Andrews, the journey occupied four days, two days between Saint John and Fredericton and two between Fredericton and Woodstock. This was the route ultimately taken by most of the troops.

One reason for this was the uncertainty of train travel in the winter months as is well illustrated by Lieutenant Duncan's description of his experience:

"When our small force, under Colonel Ingall, disembarked at St. Andrew's on New Year's Day, we found everything in readiness for housing part of us, and for the remainder to proceed towards Woodstock by rail. The troops having first dined, and the officers having received hospitality from the manager of the line, and others of the inhabitants, the head-quarters of the regiment and three companies, as far as I remember, with my detachment of gunners, got into the train, and as we did not expect to be longer than a few hours, we did not carry rations. Unfortunately, the weather had been snowy and threatening, and before we had gone half way, the line was blocked up, and we were left stationary. The storm of that day, and the intensity of the cold, will not soon be forgotten; nor will the passengers in that unhappy train soon forget their unpleasant position. The manager, who was with us, finding that the engine could not draw the whole train, had several carriages detached, and endeavoured to go on with the remainder. But the first part of the train even, in which I was, was too heavy to permit the engine to make any way through the snow, which the wind had drifted onto the track in perfect mountains, so in about half a mile, we came also to a stop; and, as a last experiment, the engine went on alone to procure assistance, carrying with it the manager and the colonel. We learned next day that in about ten minutes after leaving us, the engine began to show symptoms of giving out; there was no water, and snow was a tedious substitute; so when about three miles in advance of us, it also stopped, and in half an hour or so, was frozen hard. The manager was frost-bitten; and had it not been for a small log hut near, it would have gone hard with the small party on the engine. In the meantime, we sat waiting for its return; evening came on, then night, then morning, but still no sign, Our hunger was great, for in the hurry at St. Andrew's, we had not done so much justice to our luncheon as we might; and the cold, which was intense, whetted our appetite in no inconsiderable degree. . . Each of the long cars, in which we were, was supplied with a stove, as is the custom in America; but our supply of fuel soon was exhausted. To avoid being frozen as well as starved, the pioneers got out of the carriages, and cut down as much of the branches and dead wood near the railway as would keep the fires going all night; although, poor fellows, they had to stand up to their armpits in snow while doing so.

"I myself had brought with me a tolerably large brandy flask, and to no provident act of mine do I look back with such unmixed satisfaction. It was a peculiar one, called a "hydraulic canteen," an American idea and a very good one. It was oblong, and was slung round the shoulder by a strap under the great-coat. To avoid unbuttoning everything when one desired to moisten one's clay, a long flexible tube with an amber mouthpiece was attached to the strap and communicated with the canteen, When slung correctly, the mouthpiece was just under the chin, so all one had to do was to insert it in the mouth and suck away calmly until one's thirst was gratified. Unfortunately this same operation could be performed should one fall asleep by another without disturbing the owner, and during the snatches of repose I had during the night, I can say safely that I seldom if ever awoke without finding some head, not my own, fondly reclining on my bosom and sucking at the tube in perfect frenzy . . .

"But morning came, and yet no sign of food or assistance. Nothing to eat, but ever so many hungry mouths. We were getting desperate, and commenced feeling sullenly in our pockets for crumbs. When thus engaged I came upon a piece of paper containing some half-dozen peppermint lozenges. Our delight was unbounded, and in our small group at one end of the carriage they were honestly divided and eaten with a solemnity befitting the occasion. What a scene for an artist! the British officer campaigning and taking a light breakfast off a peppermint! Ye gentlemen of England who live at home at ease! what do you think of such a breakfast with the thermometer at zero? But allow me, as a friend, to suggest that should you ever be in our position you throw the peppermint out of the window rather. The consequences of this dainty are familiar to most people, and chiefly elderly ladies, but on an empty stomach after a twenty-four hours' fast the effect is something awful.

"Fortunately the drum-major (may he live a thousand years), who was in our carriage, found a little coffee in his haversack, and this was boiled in a tin canteen on the top of the stove, and with snow in place of water. Yet even under these trying circumstances, in the absence too of milk and sugar, we found it very delicious and reviving . . . . .

"About noon, just as we had made up our minds to get out and walk to the nearest station, we observed a figure on the track making toward us. On his arrival we learned the fate of the engine, but received the cheering intelligence that the snow-ploughs were at work, and that we would probably resume our journey in a couple of hours, The thoughtful manager of the line had sent by the messenger a small supply of food, which was divided into as many portions as possible and thoroughly appreciated.

"The railway was not at that time open the whole way to Woodstock; about twenty-three miles, if I remember aright, had to be done on sleighs. When we at last reached the station, (Canterbury) where our means of conveyance was to be changed, which was not until late in the evening of the second day, we found to our intense disgust that, owing to the sleighs having been kept waiting two days, all the available provisions of the small inn had been devoured by the drivers, and we had to continue our journey without any refreshment. It was midnight before we reached Woodstock, when we got a little food, but very little. The men's barracks were a series of large brick warerooms hired at an enormous rent, and in a very unfinished state. (Baird tells us that these were in the Connell Block on the West side of Main Street near the bridge.) They were very cold, and for the first few days contained no beds, the men sleeping on spruce branches and straw spread on the floor. Ultimately they got more habitable, but it was impossible to keep them clean or warm. Several houses had been hired for officers' quarters, but as they were perfectly nude of furniture, and the officers were restricted to a very small amount of baggage, they were quite useless, and we had to find accommodation at our own expense in the hotels of the town. Fortunately, there was one very large inn with tolerably good bedrooms, in which at one time so many as thirty or forty officers lived together, having a joint mess, with the culinary arrangements under our own supervision. Here, after a while, we managed to shake ourselves down very comfortably, but our amusements were on the most limited scale, consisting entirely of whist and snow-shoeing. (The hotel could have been the Cable House or, perhaps, the Renfrew House built by Col. Baird after the 1860 fire and leased for three years to T. W. Smith.) Every building that could be hired was taken at enormous rentals by the Government, both here and at all the stations along the road. The money scattered through the district by this means, as well as the various contracts for bread, meat and groceries, must have been enormous, and as, in addition, every man who had a sleigh and a pair of horses could have them hired at a good price, this winter must be looked back on by the New Brunswickers as a golden age.

"There not being the same immediate hurry as if war had been imminent, the troops were not allowed to leave Woodstock until all the arrangements were completed in advance along the road to Riviere du Loup. These were admirable and yet simple. Every morning a column of 160 men with their baggage left Woodstock in sleighs for Florenceville, about twenty-five miles. On their arrival at this place it was the duty of the officer commanding to despatch two telegrams, one to the station immediately behind — in this case Woodstock — and the other to Saint John, for the information of the general, reporting their safe arrival or otherwise, and the state of the roads, The same messages were despatched from every station by every column, so that there could be no confusion by the accumulation of troops at stations where there was not adequate accommodation. In the long stages, between Little Falls and Riviere du Loup, there was a mid-day halting place, where refreshments could be had for payment at a moderate rate. The accommodation for the men was much the same at every station after Woodstock. It was always a large building, containing a huge stove, and with the floor covered a foot deep with spruce boughs, forming a soft and fragrant bed for the troops. The first step on the arrival of a column at its night's resting-place was to issue to everyone, officers included, a small ration of rum — excellent spirit always. The men then had their warm tea and bread, and the cooks, who were detailed daily, proceeded to prepare the dinner for the following day, which was carried by each man in his haversack and eaten when he liked. The barns in which they slept were always comfortable and well warmed, and the men were always cheerful. Their clothing was abundant and excellent. Each man had a fur cap with ear lappets, a woollen comforter, a chamois waistcoat, and flannel shirt; warm gloves, thick woollen stockings, and moccasins instead of boots. They always wore their great-coats, and packed their knapsacks and carbines in their sleighs. A surgeon and a commissariat officer were at each station, and almost every column had its surgeon along with it. The precautions taken against frost-bites and any discomfort were so numerous as to warrant the use of the term 'coddling.'"

Let me interrupt Lieutenant Duncan for a moment to point out that though casualties were few they did occur. Ian McCullough, in an article entitled "The Year We Hauled the Soldiers" that appeared in the December, 1984, Atlantic Advocate, stated, "However, two men died of pneumonia and two of excessive drinking. One soldier lost both hands from frost bite but this was mainly due to him passing out in the snow after a few too many tots of rum."

Now to continue with Duncan: "The sleighs were furnished by contractors. The line was divided into portions allotted to different individuals for this purpose, One man had the road between Saint John and Fredericton, another between Fredericton and Woodstock, The four stages between Woodstock and Little Falls, and the stage between the terminus of the St. Andrew 's railway and Woodstock were all in the hands of a third; while Canadian sleighs were employed after Little Falls to Riviere du Loup. It was fortunate that this season the lumber trade was not brisk, and many horses out of work, else the contractors would not have had so good and easy a bargain. As it was, in the square before the hotel in Woodstock, every morning, many more sleighs came to be hired than were needed, particularly early in the season, before the weak teams were knocked up, so that the contractor (J. R. Tupper) managed to make as good a bargain as he could have wished. The sleighs employed were of the rudest construction. Each was capable of carrying eight men, seated either on small cross-seats holding two each, or on planks nailed round the sleigh, so that the men had their feet in the box part of the vehicle together. There was always an abundance of straw, and as the march progressed, and the men became more accustomed to it, it was amusing to see how cunning they became in the art of stowing away their knapsacks and carbines, and in making the most of their somewhat limited accommodation. The sleighs used by the officers were similar to those employed by the men, but as they had not to carry so many, their proprietors gave, in consideration of this, ample supplies of buffalo robes.

"The order of march was generally as follows: First, a sleigh with half the officers attached to the column; next, the baggage sleighs with their guard; then, the body of the troops; and, lastly, the remaining half of the officers in another sleigh. By this arrangement there was less danger of straggling, and the pace of the sleighs was adapted to the baggage, which was the heaviest, and therefore slowest part of the column.

"The drivers of the sleighs were, as a rule, good, jolly fellows. One or two instances of insubordination being promptly punished had a good effect; and in our column I can answer for it, that there was always thorough good-temper and readiness among our thirty Jehus.

"After the road was thoroughly ready, the movement onward was carried out with unceasing regularity. After the 62nd Regiment had gone from Woodstock, my detachment was attached to a newly-arrived party of gunners, and with a company of the 16th Regiment, all under the command of Captain F. Carey, R.A., was despatched on its journey about the 20th of January, 1862."

At this point, let's leave Lieutenant Duncan for a minute or two in order to see how some of the other units fared in getting to Woodstock from Saint John. Our source this time is a publication entitled "English America or Pictures of Canadian Places and People" by Samuel Day, published in London, 1864. The author includes a few condensed extracts from some notes taken by Lieutenant Lynch J. Keogh, of the Military Train, describing his journey a little later in the winter of 1862:

"Feb. 17. Left Halifax in steamer for St. John's, N. B. all of us being greatly pleased at taking leave of Nova Scotia.

"Feb. 18. Arrived at 6 pm, at St. John's, N. B. after an unusually quick passage of 27 hours. Weather intensely cold with snow.

"Feb. 19. Disembarked at 10 a.m. Two troops got into sleighs ready for them at the wharf and set off for Petersville a distance of thirty miles, (Keogh not included)

"Feb. 20. From two to five feet of snow on the ground, with a bitter cold wind, and just sufficient light to observe large wet flakes of snow falling from a grey and heavy-laden sky. Everyone white with snow, shapeless in figure, and almost unrecognizable. Could only travel at a very slow pace, the roads being nearly blocked up. After some time we reached Grand Bay, which is crossed on the ice. Our teamsters, however, insisted to a man that they would not risk crossing, fearing from the great depth of the snow and the severity of the storm, that they would miss the track indicated by branches of fir trees stuck in the snow, about one hundred yards apart, The Quarter-Master General, who drove as far as this, ordered our return; so about 2 p.m. we reached St. John's, looking more like lumps of ice than human beings. On our return the wood yards were closed, and some could get no fires made until a kind citizen, hearing of our privation, forwarded a supply.

"Feb. 21. Prepared to set off again. The men had just taken their seats in the sleighs when a telegram arrived, conveying the grim intelligence that the roads were impassible, and that two troops who had left a day or two before, had got no further than Acomacto (Oromocto), between Petersville and Fredericton, where they were actually snowed up.

"Feb. 22. At 7 a.m. prepared to set off again. Snow falling, but weather more moderate. Roads very heavy, the snow in some places being six feet above the ordinary level. After a few hours we crossed Grand Bay — a glittering sea of ice eight miles in extent. Here we were surrounded by mountains covered from base to summit with tall trees, all alike enveloped in snow. I asked our teamster if there was any danger in crossing a bay which, when thawed, floats the largest ships? 'Yes,' he observed, 'now and then. Some years since the mail sleigh got on it during a snow storm; the driver missed the track, and sleigh, mail horses, and all were lost in an air hole.' At 5 p.m. we arrived at Petersville — 30 miles — where we were all stowed away in a log hut, the only available accommodation the place could afford. We cooked our dinners as well as possible, and lay for the night on the ground, side by side, covered with rugs, blankets, buffalo skins, etc., presenting anything but a picturesque appearance.

"Feb. 23. Sunday. Breakfasted on tea, and cold hard eggs. Got our men into sleighs about 7 a.m. and moved off. Weather bitterly cold with snow. At 6 p.m. arrived at Fredericton, which consists of one extended street, lying along the River St. John. At the hotel we were charged exorbitantly, and very badly accommodated; but after twelve hours of sleighing, and the glass below zero, we cared for little besides warmth and rest.

"Feb. 24. At 7:30 a.m. left Fredericton for Tilley's — a half-way house to Woodstock. The morning being extremely cold and windy. At 5 p.m. we arrived at the termination of our twenty-nine miles of march, each of us being cold, jaded and hungry. Accommodation here is very bad; worse than that any log hut might supply, officers and men being packed together, like pigs on board an Irish steamer. With the exception of the commanding officer and the next senior, eight of the officers had to lie side by side on the floor, and the men had to shift as well as they could with quarters or without.

"Feb 25. Up at 7 a.m. Weather unbearably cold. We try to get an ablution, but discover that there are but two basins between ten of us, and that water is difficult to be procured. All night it has been blowing and snowing hard, and the teamsters refuse to proceed. Unless covered securely from head to foot not a man of us could stand in the air for a moment without being frozen. Passed a comfortless day.

"Feb. 26. Left for Woodstock at 6:30 a.m., the weather being still very bleak. Roads heavy and difficult to get over. In several instances we had to cut through massive trees that were blown down across the road to which they had become frozen, and again repeatedly through snow drifts over seven feet high. After much trouble we arrived at our destination, a distance of thirty-two miles, at 7:30 p.m. Here we were comfortably accommodated, but, as usual, charged exorbitantly."

After Woodstock, this particular group would have one more very bad day on the trip to Florenceville. They had to cut through some heavy drifts; at one of them they had 25 men at either end and it took them two hours to cut a passage through. The next obstruction was so impassable that the drivers refused to proceed, but the troops removed the horses from the sleighs and carried them over the white barrier. After Florenceville, things were better, as previous units had cut through drifts which had not filled in again. They arrived at Riviere du Loup on March 5th and continued on by train after a two-day weather hold up.

If we go back to Lieutenant Duncan's story, we'll find that this group, too, had found the latter part of the journey less difficult, though there was ever and always the bitter cold and some objection to billets, especially the inn at Fort Ingall, "of all dreary and dismal habitations, the most dreary and dismal."

After experiencing the comparatively civilized comforts of Riviere du Loup, it was almost with a sense of regret that Duncan parted with the sleighs and travelled by rail on the Grand Trunk. He says, "We had got accustomed to the former method of journeying, with its bracing, open air work, and sense of liberty, with the amusement of chaffing our driver and one another, singing songs in a way that would horrify steady-going railway passengers; getting out to run by the side of the sleigh to keep up the circulation, and in every way conducting ourselves more like schoolboys out for a lark, than as staid men, engaged in what had been considered by the Press as likely to prove an uncomfortable, if not dangerous expedition. The change seemed all the worse when we took our seats in the huge unwieldy railway cars, with their close stifling stoves and noisy rattling."

All in all, the winter of 1862 must have seemed exciting as well as profitable to military-minded citizens of Woodstock. Like W. O. Raymond, they would long remember the days when units of crack British regiments such as the Grenadier Guards and Scots Fusiliers were here in town, and when so many sunsets and sunrises were heralded by the jingle of sleigh bells and the sound of bugles on the frosty air.

 

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