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Albemarle Prisoner of War Camp
(extracts from the book)
Source: Archives email dated 17 Oct 1998
by John Merz
In previous posting today I mentioned the book I received "History of Albemarle County in Virginia" by Rev. Edgar Woods, and this is what is said about the Barracks - starting on page 31:
"The most striking event connecting the county with the war, was the location within its bounds of the camp for the Convention Troops, as they were called; that is, the prisoners captured in October 1777, at Burgoyne's surrender. These troops were first sent to Boston, whence they were to be allowed to return to Europe on their parole not to serve again till exchanged; but Congress on acount of its unsatisfactory relations with the British authorities, refused to ratify the terms of the Convention, and the next year directed the prisoners to be removed to Charlottesville. Being led by way of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Frederick, Maryland, they reached their new quarters about the first of the year 1779, and remained until October 1780. The camp was stationed on the northern bank of Ivy Creek, on what is now the farm of the late George Carr, and the place has ever since born the name of The Barracks. There remain some interesting reminiscences of this episode of the war, derived from contemporary documents. The prisoners arrived in the winter, when a spell of extremely bitter weather was prevailing. Such was the lack of preparation for their reception, and such their sufferings, that numerous remonstrances were presented by their officers to the Governor of the State, as well as to Congress. Demands were made for their immediate removal. In this state of affairs Mr. Jefferson wrote at much length to Patrick Henry, the Governor at the time, stating the circumstances, and urging that there was no necessity for a change. The letter, dated March 27, 1779, is valuable for the interesting facts it preserves. In the course of it he says, "There could not have been a more unlucky concurrence of circumstances then when these troops first came. The barracks were unfinished for want of laborers, the spell of weather, the worst ever known within the memory of man, no stores of bread laid in, the roads by the weather and the number of wagons soon rendered impassable; and not only the troops themselves were greatly disappointed, but the people of the neighborhood were alarmed at the consequences which a total failure of provisions may produce. To be continued ....................John Merz
email dated 18 Oct 1998
continued from part 1:
"The barracks occupy the top and brow of a very high hill; you have been untruly told they were in a bottom. They are free from fog, have four springs which seem to be plentiful, one within twenty yards of the picket, and another within two hundred and fifty; and they propose to sink wells within the picket. Of four thousand people people it should be expected according to ordinary calculations, that one should die every day. Yet in the space of more than three months there have been but four deaths, two infants under three weeks old, and two others by apoplexy. The officers tell me the troops were never so healthy since they were embodied. The mills on James River above the falls, open to canoe navigation, are very many. Some of these are of great value as manufacturers. The barracks are surrounded by mills. There are five or six round about Charlottesville. Any two or three of the whole might in the course of the winter manufacture flour sufficient for the year. The officers after considerable hardship have procured quarters comfortable and satisfactory to them. In order to do this, they were obliged in many instances to hire houses for a year certain, and at such exorbitant rents as were sufficient to tempt independent owners to go out of them, and shift as they could. These houses in most cases were much out of repair. They have repaired them at considerable expense. One of the general officers has taken a place for two years, advanced the rent for the whole time, and been obliged moreover to erect additional buildings for the accommodation of part of his family, for which there was not room in the house rented. Independent of the brick work, for the carpentry of these additional buildings I know he is to pay fifteen hundred dollars. The same gentleman to my knowledge has paid to one person thirty-six hundred and seventy dollars, for different articles to fix himself commodiously. They have generally laid in their stocks of grain and other provisions. They have purchased cows, sheep, &c., set in to farming, prepared their gardens, and have a prospect of quiet and comfort before them. To turn to the soldiers. The environs of the barracks are delightful, the ground cleared, laid off in hundreds of gardens, each enclosed in its separate paling; these are well prepared, and exhibiting a fine appearance. General Riedesel alone laid out upwards of two hundred pounds in garden seeds for the German troops only. Judge what an extent of ground these seeds would cover. There is little doubt that their own gardens will furnish them a great abundance of vegetables through the year. Their poultry, pigeons and other preparations of that kind present to the mind the idea of a company of farmers, rather than a camp of soldiers. In addition to the barracks built for them by the public, and now very comfortable, they have built great numbers for themselves in such messes as fancied each other; and the whole corps, both officers and men, seem now happy and satisfied with their situation." Besides this narrative of Mr. Jefferson, there is extant an account of the Barracks, and of the condition of affairs in the surrounding country, in the published letters of Major Thomas Anbury, a British officer, and one of the prisoners. These letters were despatched from time to time to his friends in England, and exhibit a detail of his experiences and observations, from Burgoyne's march from Canada till near the close of the war. They were written in a free, dashing style, and while his descriptions are sprightly and entertaining, they present things in such aspects and colors as would naturally be expected from a British point of view. Most of those written from Albemarle were dated at Jones's Plantation, and the circumstances to which he refers make it evident that the place was that of Orlando Jones, situated north of Glendower, and now bearing the name of Refuge. Respecting matters concerning the prisoners, he writes: "On our arrival at Charlottesville, no pen can describe the scene of misery and confusion that ensued; the officers of the first and second Brigades were in the town, and our arrival added to their distress. The famous place we had heard so much of, consisted only of a courthouse, one tavern, and about a dozen houses, all of which were crowded with officers; those of our brigade were therefore obliged to ride about the country, and entreat the inhabitants to take us in. As to the men, their situation was truly horrible, after the hard shifts they had experienced in their march from the Potomac. They were, instead of comfortable barracks, conducted into a wood, where a few log huts were just begun to be built, the most part not covered over, and all of them full of snow. These they were obliged to clear out and cover over, to secure themselves from the inclemency of the weather as soon as they could, and in the course of two or three days rendered a habitable, but by no means a comfortable, retirement. What added greatly to the distress of the men was the want of provisions, as none had as yet arrived for the troops, and for six days they subsisted on the meal of Indian corn made into cakes. The person who had the management of everything, informed us that we were not expected till spring. ....................... to be continued .................
by John Merz (time for coffee break)
email dated 19 Oct 1998
by John Merz
Continued from 2.part -
letters from Major Thomas Anbury, a British officer -
"Never was a country so destitute of every comfort. Provisions were not to be purchased for ten days; the officers subsisted upon fat pork and Indian corn made into cakes, not a drop of spirit of any kind; what little there had been, was already consumed by the first and the second brigades. Many officers to comfort themselves put red pepper into water to drink by way of cordial. Upon a representation of our situation by Brigadier General Hamilton to Colonel Bland, who commanded the American troops, he promised to make the situation of the men as comfortable as possible, and with all expedition. The officers upon signing a parole might go to Richmond and other adjacent towns, to procure themselves quarters; accordingly a parole was signed, which allowed a circuit of near a hundred miles. And after they had drawn lots, as three were to remain in the barracks with the men, or at Charlottesville, the prinipal part of them set off for Richmond, while many are at plantations twenty or thirty miles from the barracks. On the arrival of the troops at Charlottesville, the officers what with vexation and to keep out the cold, drank rather freely of an abominable liquor called peach brandy, which if drunk to excess, the fumes raise an absolute delirium, and in their cups several were guilty of deeds that would admit of no apology. The inhabitants must have thought us mad, for in the course of three or four days there were no less than six or seven duels fought. "I am quartered with Major Master and four other officers of our regiment at this plantation, about twenty miles from the barracks. The owner has given up his house and gone to reside at his overseer's, and for the use of his house we pay him two guineas a week. It is situated upon an eminence, commanding a prospect of near thirty miles around it, and the face of the country appears an immense forest, interspersed with various plantations four or five miles distant from each other. Informing the Commissary of provisions where we were quartered, he gave us an order on a Colonel Coles, who resides about four miles distant, to supply us, he being appointed to collect for the use of Congress in this district; who upon application sent us about a month's provision of flour and salt pork for ourselves and servants. Cattle, horses, sheep and hogs followed the cart, to lick the barrels containing the salt meat. "The house where General Phillips resides is called Blenheim. It was erected shortly after that memorable battle by a Mr. Carter, Secretary of the Colony, and was his favorite seat of residence. It stands on a lofty eminence, commanding a very extensive prospect. Colonel Carter, its present proprietor, possesses a most affluent fortune, and has a variety of seats surpassing Blenheim, which he suffers to go to ruin. When General Phillips took it, it was crowded with negroes, sent to clear a spot of ground a few miles off. The extent of his land is immense, and he has fifteen hundred negroes on his different plantations. "The Congress must be acquitted of the bad treatment of the prisoners; they were misguided and duped by a Colonel Harvie, a member from this province. When Virginia was fixed on as a depot for the prisoners, Colonel Harvie proposed to Congress to remove the Convention army to a tract of land belonging to him, about six miles from Charlottesville, about four miles from the Blue Mountains, and near two hundred from the sea coast; and if Congress approved, he would engage to build barracks and lay in provision by the ensuing spring. The resolution was passed the latter end of June. Colonel Harvie immediately resorted to Virginia, and set all his negroes, and a number of the inhabitants, to build the and collect provisions; and after having planned everything, he left its completion to the management of his brother, and returned to Congress. His brother not possessing so much activity, and not being perhaps so much interested in the business, did not pay proper attention to it; and this was the cause why the barracks were not finished, and affairs were in such confusion on our arrival. Colonel Harvie supposed all would be ready by Christmas. "Colonel Bland, who commands the American troops, was formerly a physician at a place called Petersburg on the James River, but at the commencement of the war, as being in some way related to Bland, who wrote a military treatise, he felt a martial spirit arise within him, quitted the Esculapian art, and at his own expense raised a regiment of light horse. As to those troops of his regiment with Washington's army, I cannot say anything: but the two the Colonel has with him here for the purposes of express and attendance, are the most curious figures you ever saw; some like Prince Pretty-man with one boot, others without any; some hoseless, with their feet peeping out of their shoes, others with breeches that put decency to a blush; some in short jackets, and some in long coats, but all have fine dragoon caps, and long swords slung around them; some with holsters, some without, but, gramercy, pistols, they haven't a brace and a half among them; but they are tolerably well mounted, and that is the only thing you can advance in their favor. The Colonel is so fond of his dragoons, that he reviews and maneuvers them every morning, and when he rides out, has two with drawn swords before, and two behind. It is really laughable to see him thus attended by his ragged regiment, which looks, to borrow Shake- speare's idea, as if the gibbets had been robbed to make it up; then the Colonel himself, nothwithstanding his martial spirit, has all the grave deportment as if he were going to consultation. He greatly amused some of us calling to see him not long since. He had just mounted his horse to ride out, and seeing us approach, and wishing to air his French, he called out very pompously to his orderly, "Donnez moi-donnez moi-eh-mon scabbard!" In May 1779, he wrote (Major Anbury, that is) ..............to be continued..........
when my fingers have rested... John Merz, just one more installment coming.
email dated 20 Oct 1998
Continued from part 3 which closed with - In May 1779 (Major Anbury) he wrote,
"A few days ago Madame Riedesel, (who with her husband, Baron Riedesel, was living at Colle, near Simeon) with two of her children, had a narrow escape. As she was going to the barracks in her post chaise, when the carriage had passed a wooden bridge - which are of themselves very terrific, being only so many rough logs laid across beams, without any safeguard on either side - an old rotten pine fell directly between the horses and the chaise, but providentially did no other damage than crushing the two fore wheels to pieces, and laming one of the horses. "I am filled with sorrow at being obliged to relate the death of W., a relative of Sir Watlin Williams Wynne. He had been drinking peach brandy till he became insane; and riding from Charlottesville to the barracks, he contrived to escape his companions, and next morning was found dead in a bi-place five miles off, being tracked by the foot- prints of his horse in the snow." From the Barracks, to which he had removed in the early part of 1780, (Anbury) he wrote later, "The log huts of the men are becoming dangerous from the ravages of insects, that beat the appallation of Sawyers, and are infested with rats of enormous size. The prisoners are deserting in great numbers, especially the Germans, and duels have become very frequent among the German officers." On November 20th, 1780, he wrote from Winchester, "About six weeks ago we marched from Charlottesville barracks, Congress being apprehensive that Cornwallis in overrunning the Carolinas might by forced marches retake the prisoners. The officers murmured greatly at the step, having been given to understand that they were to remain till exchanged. Many had laid out considerable sums to render their huts comfortable, particularly by replacing the wood chimneys with stone, and to promote association, they had erected a coffee house, a theatre, a cold bath, etc. My miserable log hut, but no more than six- teen feet square, cost between thirty and forty guineas in erecting. The woods had been cleared away for the space of six miles in circumference around the barracks. It had become a little town, and there being more society, most of the officers had resorted thither. After we quitted the barracks, the inhabitants were near a week in destroying the cats that were left behind; impelled by hunger, they had gone into the woods, and there was reason to suppose they would become extremely wild and ferocious, and would be a great annoyance to their poultry. We crossed the Pignut Ridge, or more properly the Blue Mountains, at Wood's Gap, and though considerably loftier than those we crossed in Connecticut, we did not meet with so many difficulties; in short, you scarcely perceive till you are upon the summit that you are gaining an eminence, much less one that is of such prodigious height, owing to the judicious manner that the inhabitants have made the road, which by its winding renders the ascent extremely easy. After traveling near a mile through a thick wood before you gain the summit of these mountains, when you reach the top, you are suddenly surprised with an unbounded prospect that strikes you with amazement. At the foot of the mountain runs a beautiful river; beyond it is a very extensive plain, inter-spersed with a variety of objects to render the scene still more delightful; and about fifty miles distant are the lofty Alleghany Mountains, whose tops are buried in the clouds." ------------------ Such was the description given by Major Thomas Anbury, a British officer of the Convention troops, written in letters, re-published in the "History of Albemarle County in Virginia" by Rev. Edgar Woods.
Let me tell you that over two-hundred years later I traveled along the whole route the Convention army took, at the time of their capture in Saratoga, to their Barracks in Charlottesville, and then followed the trail from there as described by Major Ansbury, and I was struck by the beauty of the Blue Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley beyond. (And I have seen the Alps in Europe and the Rocky Mountains in America)
No small wonder that so many of the Hessian prisoners took off from the Barracks to seek refuge in the area which reminded them so much of their own home land, the mountains of the Spessart, the Vogelsberg, and the Odenwald.
This concludes the story of the Albemarle Barracks as reported in the book named above. It was my pleasure to bring this report,
John Helmut Merz.
TERM PDF as used by John Merz is not an Adobe electronic file, it is Personal Data File for an individual soldier.
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