May 1, 2018 – Yorktown, Virginia
Not far from the last two places we visited…Jamestown and Williamsburg…lies Yorktown, Virginia. While the first two are considered to be the beginning and the middle of colonial America, the latter is where the United States finally won their independence from Great Britain. Coming to this important place for the first time, we knew very little about what took place here; the third leg of the Historic Triangle. What we found totally surprised us!
Here is a quick synopsis of what happened in 1781: Britain controlled New York and also was building a commanding presence in Virginia. George Washington’s troops were readying themselves for an assault on New York, along with a large army of French soldiers led by Comte de Rochambeau. Another group of Americans, led by French commander Marquis de Lafayette, was shadowing the British in Virginia. Yet another group of French led by Comte de Grasse and located in the West Indies, promised naval support to the cause. When Grasse sent word that he was headed to Virginia, Washington and Rochambeau had little choice but to do the same. Washington left a skeleton crew in New Jersey to maintain the guise of a full camp by tending to hundreds of campfires and tents. By the time the Brits figured out that the enemy was headed south, the French navy had already blocked the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and the combined American/French troops were well on their way to Yorktown. Lord Cornwallis and his 6,000 man army were about to be surrounded by a force of 8,800 Americans and 7,800 French, along with the 35 French warships in the bay. British commander Henry Clinton sent 25 ships south to take on the French, but were effectively driven back north by the larger navy. Cornwallis was on his own. The French and American armies attacked from the south, pinning the Brits against the York River. Efforts to retreat across the waterway were foiled by a sudden storm, which all but sealed their fate. Cornwallis surrendered, and the final battle of the Revolutionary War was complete.
So what was it that surprised us at Yorktown? Well, first of all, the Americans couldn’t have won without the help of the French army and navy.
Why did they come to our aid? They and the British had been vying for power in North America for quite some time, and the French recognized the United States as an independent nation with the Treaty of Alliance in 1778. By backing the Americans, they would have a better economic stance in the New World.
Also, George Washington did tell a lie, in the fact that he deceived the British into thinking he was staying in New York. We forgive him for the fib. 🙂
And did you know that a full third of the combined armies were German? The reasons behind that are many, but just the fact that they were there surprised us.
The final maneuver by the Americans was accomplished without using loaded muskets. A division of U.S. men captured Redoubt 10 using only bayonets.
The British had a long list of demands when they surrendered, which were rejected by Washington.
The British marched into what is now known as the Surrender Field between a long column of Americans on one side of the road and French on the other.
It was here that they laid down their unloaded weapons. Seeing that the British still held New York, none of the participants knew that this was the battle that eventually won the war.
Great Britain lost the will to fight a war far from their shores and withdrew from New York after the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
The Victory Monument stands in Yorktown to commemorate the end of the Revolutionary War. With our visit to the Historic Triangle complete, we moved on to Charlottesville, Virginia. Be sure to see the cool things we found there in our next post!