Proceed, Sergeant LambRobert Graves
Proceed, Sergeant Lamb
Proceed, Sergeant Lamb
Copyright by The Trustees of the Robert Graves Copyright Trust
Copyright © 1940 by Robert Graves, renewed 1968 by Robert Graves
Cover art, special contents, and Electronic Edition © 2014 by RosettaBooks LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Cover jacket design by Carly Schnur
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795336676
Proceed, Sergeant Lamb is the sequel and conclusion to my Sergeant Lamb of The Ninth. Lamb’s own rather disjointed Journal and Memoir, published in Dublin in 1809 and 1811, provide the bones of the story: the body has been built up from a mass of contemporary records, British, American, French and German. No incident of any historical importance has been invented or distorted. There has been too much, rather than too little, material to draw upon: for a start, no less than three officers of Lamb’s regiment, The Twenty-Third, or Royal Welch Fusiliers, kept journals of the American War—Captains Julian and de Saumarez, and Colonel Mackenzie.
The frontispiece,1 reproduced by kind permission of the Lieutenant-Governor of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, is in Lamb’s own handwriting—the first sheet of a Memorial sent in 1809 to the Duke of York, applying for a veteran’s pension. It concludes:
‘That Memorialist, being now far advanced in life, humbly solicits your Royal Highness to recommend him for a military pension, which would smooth his declining years and be most gratefully received as a remuneration for the many times he has risked his life and limbs in His Majesty’s service.
That for the truth of these facts, he most humbly refers to General H. Calvert and Colonel Mackenzie.’
Colonel Mackenzie (the one who kept the journal) had been adjutant of The Twenty-Third at Boston and Deputy-Adjutant-General at New York. Lamb had reported to him in New York when in 1782 he escaped there from captivity for the second time. General Sir Harry Calvert, as a newly joined second-lieutenant, had been helped through his first guard-mounting at New York in 1779 by Lamb, an experienced sergeant. He was now Adjutant-General of the Army and saw to it at once that Lamb was awarded an out-pension of one shilling a day—a generous amount at that time—and excused the formality of coming to Chelsea to establish his identity. The official reason for the award in the Hospital ledger is ‘worn out’.
There is no record at the Hospital of Lamb’s death. However, a reference to him by the Reverend W. B. Lumley in a mid-Victorian memorial volume of the Methodist Church in Ireland shows that ‘worn out’ referred only to Lamb’s capacity for further soldiering. He was still alive and working hard fifteen years later, at the age of seventy. ‘The best known of the teachers of Whitefriar Street Day School was Mr. Roger Lamb, who for nearly forty years superintended it with great fidelity and great advantage to the boys under his care. The grandson of this good man is now the eloquent and learned Dr. Chadwick, Dean of Armagh.’
A descendant, Miss E. Chadwick of Armagh, has kindly searched among family papers for a portrait or other record of Roger Lamb, but without success.
Lamb’s story has come close to me in several ways. My paternal great-grandfather and grandfather, possibly even my father—if Lamb survived for a few years after his retirement—were Dubliners of Lamb’s day. Admirals Samuel and Thomas Graves, who successively commanded the British fleet in American waters, were cousins of my great-grandfather, who was Chief of Police at Dublin and subscribed to Lamb’s Journal before publication. (The well-known Massachusetts family of Graves, stemming from Thomas Graves of Hatfield, the town on the Connecticut River through which Lamb passed as a prisoner, have a common ancestry with the Irish branch to which in the War of Independence they were ‘fratricidally opposed’.) But the chief link that I have with Lamb is that I had the honour of serving, like him, in the Royal Welch Fusiliers during a long and bloody war; and found their character as a regiment, and their St. David’s Day customs, happily unaltered since his day.
In the first volume of this authentic relation of my career as a soldier, I told of my birth at Dublin in the year 1753, my enlistment in the Ninth Regiment of Foot at the age of seventeen, my peace-time service in various barracks of Ireland, and my campaigning in Canada and the State of New York in the years 1776 and 1777. For the benefit of those who have not been able to peruse the first book, I will now give a short Detail of other matters that will give them a running start into this second and concluding volume of my adventures.
I was fellow-recruit with four men, who afterwards fought by my side. These were: my good friend Terence Reeves, who had been a link-boy in the city of Belfast before his enlistment and was therefore nick-named ‘Moon-Curser’; Alexander, called ‘Smutchy’, Steel who had once kept a Limerick gin-shop, and when I first served with him was but a clumsy slouch; Brooks the Dipper, a bad and dirty soldier, who had been recruited in a jail; and lastly Richard Pearce, the felonious son of an Ulster nobleman, who had taken refuge in the ranks of The Ninth, under the assumed name of Harlowe, from the just vengeance of the Law.
This Pearce, or Harlowe, married Kate Weldone, the woman whom I loved, and took her with him to Canada on campaign; but when he proved faithless, she ran off into the woods from Fort Niagara where he was stationed. Kate then for a while lived with me as my ‘squaw’, while I was by my officer’s permission absent from my regiment and learning the Indian arts of battle from certain Mohican warriors, led by their gifted war-chief, Thayendanegea, or Captain Brant. A girl child was later born to Kate at the house of a Dry Quaker in the wilderness by the foot of Lake George. The wild untrammelled life of the Indians had not only fired my fancy but also satisfied my judgment as offering the philosophic mind far more for admiration than for disgust. However, the call of military duty restrained me from following my passionate inclination, which was to continue with Kate (and the sweet fruit of our illicit love) as a member of the Mohican nation into which I had been duly initiated by the aforesaid Thayendanegea. I continued a loyal soldier of King George III. Kate and the child, when last I had news of them, were the guests of Thayendanegea’s wife, Miss Molly, at Genesee village in the territory of the Six Nations—far beyond the confines of New York State.
Another fellow-soldier of mine was a veteran, Mad Johnny Maguire, who had fought in America with The Ninth when Savannah Town was taken from the Spaniards. His elder brother, Cornelius, was a farmer of Norwalk in Connecticut; the two met by chance, at the close of my narrative, after a battle in which, each unknown to the other, they were fratricidally opposed. It was Mad Johnny who had done a good service to Steel, Harlowe, Reeves and myself, when, being all recruits together, we repented in time of a desperate plan to desert the Army, which we had almost put into execution. Johnny
let us return through his sentry post before we were apprehended, the reason for our rash decision to desert having been the ill-usage we suffered from the corporal of our mess, a petty tyrant by name Buchanan.
The above particulars I reckon sufficient to afford my readers a knowledge of the names and characters of such of my fellow-soldiers as have principally figured in the history hitherto. Now two other persons of civilian status, must be presented to them: the first, a young, slightly formed woman, Jane Crumer, the wife of a private soldier of The Ninth. Mrs. Crumer attended very devotedly to our wounded after we captured Fort Anna, below Lake Champlain, and later risked her life at Saratoga to fetch water from a creek under the rifle-gun fire of American marksmen posted on the opposing bank. The remaining character is difficult of description: he was a lean, lantern-jawed Irishman, with a black wet forelock and a cajoling tongue. His name was the Reverend John Martin. He appeared to me first on the day of my enlistment in the year 1770 at a cockfight, where I lost money that was not mine to lose; he wore no clerical garb on that occasion but carried a dark-winged cock under his arm. Later he appeared in the guise of a Romish chaplain at Newgate Jail in Dublin, the day that one Pretty Murphy, a murderer, was hanged, and myself acted Sergeant of the Guard. Finally this Reverend John Martin was seen by Terry Reeves in the year 1777, on the day before we took the fortress of Ticonderoga; he was then garbed as a Chaplain of the Forty-Seventh Regiment, and was reading a leather-bound book close to the enemy’s works. Terry Reeves believed this fantastical personage to be the Father of Lies himself; nor would I myself now swear that he was indeed human flesh, rather than a conjoint fancy of our disordered brains.
Now for the circumstances in which I found myself in November 1777, the month in which this new volume opens. I had attained to the rank of corporal, and was performing the duties of a sergeant, in the Light Infantry company of The Ninth. The Ninth formed part of Lieutenant-General Sir John Burgoyne M.P.’s army. This army, consisting of British regular troops and some German mercenaries, had in the summer of 1777 invaded New York State by way of the Canadian Lakes and Hudson’s River. In October of that year, we were cut off and forced to capitulate, at Saratoga on Hudson’s River, by an American army outnumbering us by four to one, commanded by General Horatio Gates, a renegade Briton. However, so evident was our resolve to fight on to the death rather than surrender ignominiously, that General Burgoyne succeeded in wresting from General Gates far better terms than we had a right to hope; namely, a pledge to send us home safely to Great Britain in return merely for our laying down our arms and undertaking not to serve again in the American continent while the war was still in progress. We duly yielded up our muskets and ammunition and what remained of our artillery; thereupon marching through wild country, under the escort of our enemies, to Boston, the so-called ‘City of Saints’, which lay some two hundred miles away to the east. Here, according to the Convention signed between the two opposing generals, transports were to be sent from New York, which was in British hands, for our repatriation. Pending the arrival of these ships, we British were crowded into miserable derelict huts on Prospect Hill, a few miles from Boston; yet, in the confident hope of speedy relief, we did not allow our present hardships to daunt us. We numbered about two thousand whole men, and some hundreds of sick and wounded. The German prisoners had been sent by the Americans to better quarters, in the hope that they would desert our cause.
The weather was very bad, the rain pelting in at the open windows; we were saucy and improvident enough on the first night to tear down some of the rafters to keep the fire alive in the grate—an act for which our guards greatly abused us. But this was still November, before we settled into the full misery of winter. When December came, those of us who could lie down at night, and the many who sat up from the cold, were obliged frequently to rise and shake the snow from our clothes, which the wind drifted in at the openings. Our officers were removed from us and quartered in the University town of Cambridge, become an arsenal for military stores, where but few students remained at their Latin studies—for war is the enemy of the Humanities—and those were little boys. Our officers’ accommodation was scarcely better than ours, though many fine houses, the property of American loyalists, lay empty there as the common prey of plunderers.
Officers, quartermaster-sergeants and soldiers’ wives were given passes, renewed each month, to go from their quarters for a distance of a few miles; but none was allowed any nearer the city of Boston, that emporium of rebellion, than Bunker’s Hill and Breed’s Hill (where the battle was fought) on the hither bank of the Charles River. That the common soldiers were not allowed out of the barracks was considered a great hardship, the more so since Colonel David Henley, the American commandant of the camp, forced us to buy all our provisions at two store-houses which he set up there for his own profit. By him we were charged greatly above the market price for every sort of commodity.
Our upkeep and support was paid in paper by Congress, who demanded to be reimbursed by General Burgoyne in gold and silver at the nominal value of the notes! When General Burgoyne protested at this fraud, the answer came: ‘General Burgoyne supposes his solid coin to be worth three times as much as our currency. But what an opinion must he have of the authority of these States, to suppose that his money could be received at any higher rate than our own in public payment! Such payment would be at once depreciating our currency with a witness.’
What was worse, we soldiers had huge stoppages made from our pay on account of pretended damage done by us during our passage through the State of Massachusetts; it was alleged that we had burned fences, destroyed hay, grain and flax, and plundered houses of furniture. There was no redress against this plain lie and grievous injustice, for we were prisoners; and the claimants, who eagerly caught at the chance of recovering, by a recital of invented losses, real losses caused them by the war, would not be denied. General Gates was heartily cursed by the rank and file for his condonation of this smart dealing.
I was appointed by Lieut.-Colonel Hill to be temporary Surgeon to the Regiment, for Surgeon Shelly, captured in the fighting at Fort Anna, had not been returned to us; and thus I became in a manner an officer. Yet I was not asked for my parole as the officers were, and remained with my comrades on Prospect Hill. I frequently needed to visit the townships of Watertown, Mystic and Cambridge to purchase drugs and comforts for our sick. The better sort of Americans whom I met on these occasions treated me with hospitality, but I was often insulted by those whose business had been ruined by the war, or who had lost relatives in the fighting. What seemed to puzzle them was that I could be an Irishman and yet loyal to King George who, I was persistently told, governed my country with monstrous oppression.
I was often urged to desert and to take up the profession which in New England, and indeed in most colonies of America, was practically engrossed by my fellow-countrymen—namely, that of travelling schoolmaster. It was said, I could pick up a good living by going from one out-of-the-way township to another and teaching the boys and girls to read, write and cipher. My pay would be ‘country pay’ that is, payment in kind: my board would be found, my clothes and boots kept in repair and in addition I would, each schooling season, receive a barrel or two of flour, some lengths of yarn, a few fleeces, a keg of molasses and so many cords of wood. There was great store set here upon education and much reading done, though religious and political argument in tract and newspaper comprised the greater part of this. Thrifty parents who could not afford to pay the Irish schoolmaster would often smuggle their children into the back rows of his class and bid them learn all they could before the cheat was discovered. I was smilingly warned that I must be a pretty slick man to avoid being overreached by my prospective pupils and their parents.
In order to avoid offence, I would tell those who urged me on this course that if ever I took to the profession it would be at home in Ireland, where ignorance was far more prevalent than in their enlightened country, and th
e need for Irish school-masters correspondingly greater.
I came upon many sights that interested me greatly. In the streets of Cambridge, for instance, I saw an entire house being rolled on logs, fitted with wheels, to another situation. The house had been raised on four screws placed at the corners and the logs thrust underneath. I had the courage to ask the owner the reason for his removal, and, says he very frankly: ‘My wife’s mother is a scold, yet I can get no satisfaction against her from the deacons, who fear her tongue as much as I do. I am a peaceable man and am therefore removing to a distance beyond the tether of her infirmities.’
Many young women rode by me, unescorted, eyeing me with remarkable boldness. They were mounted upon the horses peculiar to New England—a fine-headed, long-maned, goose-rumped, cat-hammed breed, with switch tails. When the snow lay thick on the ground I passed on the road many large sleighs, to seat a dozen persons, drawn by two or four horses and jingling with bells, but not decorated in the pleasant manner of the Canadian cariole. In these sleighs, large parties of young men and women were accustomed on moonlight nights to go out for a drive of two or three hours to a distant rendezvous with a similar party from another town: they drank, danced and caroused all night and returned to their common avocations the next morning without taking any sleep. In Ireland such a custom would be judged very imprudent, but here they thought nothing of it.
The most disagreeable part of my outings was when I must pass the American sentinels at the camp gates. They were militiamen, of an age either too advanced or too immature for more active service. The granddads, as we generically named the bushy-wigged elder sort, were in the main cold-blooded, querulous and slow; whereas the grandchildren, as we named the fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, were hot-blooded, self-important and impatient to be doing great deeds on the field of battle. The granddads usually kept us waiting on some excuse or other, pretending that our passes were forged or that we were not the persons named in them; and if we showed impatience they protracted the delay yet further. The grandchildren threatened and insulted us, but were not so slow about their business.