Continuing the series of posts extracted from the recently updated history of Camp Security, which can be accessed at www.campsecurity.org, this post quotes extensively from the memoirs of Sergeant Roger Lamb of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (23rd Regiment of Foot). The British prisoner-of-war left one of the few eyewitness accounts of the site.
A few years ago the copies above and below of four drawings, depicting Sergeant Lamb’s arrival at, and escape from, Camp Security were found at the British National Army Museum and permission was obtained to share them.
CAMP SECURITY: LAMB’S RECORD
Sergeant Roger Lamb, an educated Irishman, who was captured with Burgoyne at Saratoga, later wrote a work entitled …Journal of Occurrences during the Late American War…, which was published in Dublin in 1809. He served in a regiment of Welsh Fusiliers and after his capture accompanied the British prisoners to Boston and Virginia. He escaped, and joined the troops of Major Andre. In October 1781 he was captured, with the British troops at Yorktown, but he escaped and fled to Frederick, Maryland.
Unfortunately for him, Sergeant Lamb was again captured at Frederick and placed in the prison barracks there for two weeks, before being sent to Winchester, Virginia. “Part of the British troops remained in Winchester until January 1782,” wrote Lamb.
He continued: “…When Congress ordered us to be marched to York, in Pennsylvania. I received information that as soon as I fell into ranks to march off, I should be taken and confined in the Winchester jail, as the Americans were apprehensive that when I got near to York I should again attempt my escape. I was advised by my officers to conceal myself until the troops had marched. I took the hint and hid myself in the hospital among the sick, where I remained until the American guards had been two days on their march with the British prisoners. I then prepared to follow them, but at a safe distance.
“The troops arrived at York and were confined in a prison similar to the one at Rutland, Massachusetts, where Burgoyne’s prisoners were held in 1778. A great number of trees were ordered to be cut down in the woods; these were sharpened at each end and driven firmly into the earth very close together, enclosing a space of about two to three acres. American sentinels were planted on the outside of the fence, at convenient distances, in order to prevent our getting out. At one angle, a gate was erected and on the outside thereof, stood a guard house, two sentinels were posted at this gate, and no one could get out unless he had a pass from the officers of the guard; but that was a privilege in which very few were indulged.
“About two hundred yards from this pen, a small village had been built by prisoners of General Burgoyne’s army, who were allowed very great privileges with respect to liberty in the country. When some of my former comrades of the Ninth Regiment were informed that I was a prisoner with Lord Cornwallis’ army, and that I was shortly expected at York, they immediately applied to the commanding officer of the Americans for a pass in my name, claiming me as one of their regiment. This was immediately granted, and some of them kindly and attentively placed themselves on the watch for my arrival, lest I should be confined with the rest of Cornwallis’ army. When I reached York I was most agreeably surprised at meeting my former companions; and more so when a pass was put in my hands, giving me the privilege of ten miles of the country round while I behaved well and orderly.
“I was then conducted to a hut, which my poor loving companions had built for me in their village before my arrival. Here I remained some time, visiting my former companions from hut to hut; but I was astonished at the spirit of industry, which prevailed among them. Men, women and children were employed making lace, buckles, spoons, and exercising other mechanical trades, which they had learned during their captivity. They had a very great liberty from the Americans and were allowed to go round the country and sell their goods, while the soldiers of Cornwallis’ army were closely confined.
“I perceived that they had lost the animation, which ought to possess the breast of the soldier. I strove by every argument to rouse them from their lethargy. I offered to head any number of them, and make a noble effort to escape into New York and join our comrades in arms; but all my efforts proved ineffectual. As for my part, I was determined to make an attempt. I well knew from experience, that a few companions would be highly necessary. Accordingly I sent word of my intention to seven men of the Twenty-third regiment who were confined in the pen. That I was willing to take them with me. I believe in all the British army that these men, three sergeants and four privates, could not have excelled for courage and intrepidity. They rejoined the idea; and by the aid of some of Burgoyne’s army, they were enabled under cover of a dark night, to scale their fence and assemble in my hut. I sent word of my intention to my commanding officer, Captain Saumarez, of the Twenty-third, and likewise the names of the men who I purposed to take with me. As my money was almost expended, I begged of him to advance me as much as convenient. He immediately sent me a supply. It was the first of March 1782 that I set off with my party.”
After Sergeant Lamb escaped with his seven companions, he went to New York City, and joined the troops commanded by Sir Guy Charlton. Lamb was able to return to Dublin, where he became a teacher and an author, and died in 1830.
The account of Sergeant Lamb is valuable in depicting the conditions of the camp and in describing the mental state of the Burgoyne prisoners. By then, after years of confinement, many of Burgoyne’s troops had given up any desire to escape. They were being reasonably well treated in America, and were able to raise families in Camp Indulgence.
Camp Security, probably the last existing Revolutionary War prisoner-of-war camp site that has remained mostly farm and woodland, is in Springettsbury Township, just east of the City of York. An archaeological dig will be conducted there, starting mid-May. For more information see the Friends of Camp Security website or the Friends of Camp Security Facebook page.