Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Long Winter's Walk - A Rebuttal?

by Anita Mae Draper

On Mar 3rd, 2013, Debra posted about A Long Winter's Walk which raised some questions during the comment section. Soon afterward, I was reading an 1891 issue of The Newmarket Era (Newmarket is about 30 miles north of Toronto) and I stumbled upon an account of the very march Debra had mentioned.

I'd like to answer those questions here, as well as present one of my own. I'd also like to say that in posting this, I'm not detracting from Debra's post, but merely presenting different facts as a history post should. I can honestly say I haven't done the research to give a definitive answer, and everyone knows that you can't believe everything you read in the press.

The Newmarket Era May 8, 1891

This article states the 104th out of New Brunswick was under the command of Col Halkett, not Lt John Le Couteur as in Debra's original post, but more on that later.

I'd like to address the questions about the food and bedding. The Era article records..

The Newmarket Era May 8, 1891

The article continues with the march, of receiving provisions, hardships, using the snowshoes, etc, and then it goes back to the topic of food...

The Newmarket Era May 8, 1891

At one point in his account, Capt Rainsford writes, "...we could not light a fire, the cold being so intense that we could not strike a light with flint and steel..."


Debra posted, "When they became snow-bound at one point and ran out of supplies, three men snowshoed over 100 miles in 48 hrs to gain supplies."

In the Era's article, Capt Rainsford is the officer who takes 2 men (Patriot and Gay) and goes for the supplies, as written here...

The Newmarket Era May 8, 1891

Here's the point I'd like to present... Debra's post states, "In charge was Lieutenant John Le Couteur, at 17 years old, ordered to march his men from Fredericton, New Brunswick to Montreal and then, on to Kingston, Ontario. "

Yet, the beginning of the Era article states, "...the 104th out of New Brunswick was under the command of Col Halkett..."

In my 20 yrs of military experience, I can firmly say that a Lieutenant is the lowest rank of any officer and wouldn't be in charge unless no other rank was on site. Except for the time he left them to go for provisions, Capt Rainsford outranked Lt Couteur. And since the final article below states that no men were lost on the march, it confirms that Col Halkett was there the whole time...

The Newmarket Era May 8, 1891

So where does that leave Lt John Le Couteur? I suspect that Lt John Le Couteur was indeed on that courageous march...

...and I'd love to get my hands on his journal and read his account for myself.

Wouldn't you?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. She writes stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. Anita Mae is represented by Mary Keeley of Books and Such Literary Agency. You can find Anita at thttp://www.anitamaedraper.com/


  1. Interesting, Anita. Is it possible that ranks were counted differently the? Or that the one in charge put him in charge for some unknown reason? Or that there was a typo somewhere? At any rate, it's very interesting and your research diligence is admirable.

  2. I am sure I am wrong to have said he was in charge of the entire group, though I have found little about the Captain-- probably because the Lt. wrote such a descriptive journal and went on to a lengthy career in the military!

    One source I found said that different groups of the 104th left on subsequent days, though I'm sure they eventually traveled as a larger group or banded together when the travel or food situation was extreme. Likely the Lt. was in charge of one of original groups.

    That was quite the interesting news article, Anita! thanks!

  3. Sorry for being so late with this post - and answer. I didn't see any comments yesterday.

    Suzie, there are differences between the military branches where a Naval Lieutenant is equal to both an Air Force Flight Lieutenant and an Army Captain, but there is no difference if they're all Army. Basically, the old militia is today's army.

    The militia would be set out like a pyramid:

    - the 104th was a regiment. A regiment consists of 2+ battalions and is commanded by Colonel

    - a battalion consists of 2-6 companies and is led by a Lieutenant Colonel.

    - A company consists of 2-8 platoons or troops, and is led by a Chief Warrant Officer, Captain or Major

    - a platoon or troop consists of 2+ squads, sections, etc and is led by a Lieutenant.

    - a squad or section is further broken down with Sgts down to Corporals in charge.*

    If you watch any of the old movies, you see where a Capt dies and his green Lt has to take over the squad incurring the disgust of an experienced Sgt who now has to take orders from someone without battle experience.

    A Colonel speaks to his men through the chain of command unless he's speaking to them as an assembly, or if all his officers were dead or missing.

    So if a British Colonel wanted a certain squad to go on a mission, he would tell his Lieutenant Colonel, who would tell his Captain/Major, who would then give the order to whichever Lt was in charge of the squad and out the Lt and his squad would go.

    There's no way one Lieutenant would be put in charge of 1000 men as they would have no means of direct communication - which is key on the battlefield.

    And in case you think Couteur may have been a Lt Col instead of just a Lt, and although higher ranks are given to civilian men in times of crisis, an inexperienced 17 yr old would never be placed in such a position of authority on such a mission where faith in leadership was the number 1 method of survival.

  4. Debra, I read the comments in order and so I believe I answered your question with Suzie's comment.

    Like you say, you may have misread the facts and concentrated on the amazing story itself.

    Or, like you say, Lt Couteur may have embellished his story in such a way that he made his troop sound like the complete regiment, especially if he was writing this as his own diary with no plans for publication.

    Military life affects men differently and the diary could very well have been his way of staying sane.

    Another possibility is that if Couteur wrote his diary in French which was then translated in English, some transcriber may have taken creative licence and added a few embellishments of his own.

    Regardless of the facts, I stand by my statement that the Lt's diary would be a fascinating account of the War of 1812.

    Thank you for bringing this man and his writing into the limelight, Debra. As I've said many times, I'm terribly ignorant of most facts in the War of 1812 and would like to correct that.

  5. Very interesting, Anita Mae!

    I can honestly say you and Deb have taught me more about the War of 1812 than I received in school. Thanks, ladies! Your knowledge is a blessing.


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