Daily Life in New France

Soldiers

Minor Offenses

Minor offences, especially indiscipline, drunkenness and offences related to morals and manners, were punished with military sanctions.

Accusations, usually brought by petty officers, were either upheld or not by more senior officers after a short investigation. Serious cases were transferred to the Conseil de guerre.

A registry kept in Louisbourg and dated April 1752 informs us that indiscipline was usually punished there by eight days in the dungeon. However, the main transgression appears to have been drunkenness. For instance, the soldier Saint-Vile was sentenced "for being drunk and passing water before ladies. Stayed [in the dungeon]: 8 days." Others who were punished included "Lacroix ... for becoming drunk and missing drill," who "stayed 8 days," and "Orléac ... for leaving the cookhouse and getting drunk," who "stayed 15 days." "Fighting in the room" was usually punished by eight days in the dungeon, and showing disrespect for a superior by 15 days.

Among minor offences, the most serious was stealing from a comrade. Anyone who committed this offence covered himself in shame. Some men even had to "run the gauntlet" and were imprisoned for a month for this transgression. Running the gauntlet was the severest punishment among French infantrymen, and the only one that was physical in nature. The convicted man had to run between two rows of soldiers who struck him on the back with the ramrods of their muskets. This was considered to be a particularly ignominious punishment, and the rehabilitation of the guilty party could well require him to renew his oath to the flag before his assembled comrades-in-arms.

The punishments meted out to French soldiers for offences of this kind were rather mild in comparison with those inflicted on their British adversaries, who suffered dozens or even hundreds of strokes of the terrible cat-o'-nine-tails (a whip with nine pieces of knotted cord) for the same offences. The more moderate French punishments produced the same results, without leaving the horrible scars found on the backs of the unfortunate British soldiers.