Despite having visited Williamsburg VA seven previous times, my wife and I had never visited Yorktown. Determined to remedy this oversight, we traveled to Williamsburg with our friend Jim and stayed at the Williamsburg Plantation. We spent our first full day of touring at Yorktown.
We have visited other battlefields in Virginia; but, without exception, those were Civil War battlefields. Yorktown Battlefield does indeed have a cemetery where mostly unknown Union troops are buried, but War of the American Revolution is its main focus. Indeed, the names of General George Washington, the marquis de Lafayette (Gilbert du Motier), the comte de Rochanbeau, the comte de Grasse, Admiral Louis de Barras, and (James) Armistead (Lafayette) are the heroes vs. the general Lord Charles Cornwallis. We found that the strategy, fortifications, and chronology of this final battle was clear and easy to understand. the demarcations of the siege lines -- French and American -- well defined and fascinating to walk through, the reconstruction of the redoubts and the Moore house where the surrender was negotiated all interesting and well maintained. Our survey of Surrender Field and the Trophies of Victory proved both instructive and impressive.
I came away with two insights, one that I should have appreciated already and one that I found eminently satisfying. Without the French, i.e., the person of Lafayette, the army general Rochambeau, the naval officers de Grasse and de Barras, General Washington had no chance to win the war. Their combined experience with siege and battle strategy, fortifications, and armaments made the difference for the eventual victory over the forces of the British Empire. My second insight resulted from learning the connection between the British general Cornwallis and Major General Benjamin Lincoln, now Washington's second-in-command. Quoting from the Official Guide, "the third article of the surrender, on which Washington insisted, denied the British forces what were called "the honors of war." Under normal circumstances, defeated troops were allowed to march to the surrender field with regimental flags flying and the fife and drum corps playing an enemy tune." This honor had not been granted to Lincoln when the British defeated the Continentals at Charleston SC in May 1780. To add salt to Cornwallis' wounds, Washington appointed Lincoln to receive the surrender sword on October 19th, 1781.
Armistead was a slave from New Kent County who received permission from his owner to become a spy for the revolution. He proved himself not only a master spy, but so ingratiated himself with Cornwallis that the general recruited Armistead to spy for the British. As a result, the Official Guide states, "much of what was discussed in the British officers' mess at dinner was reported to Lafayette before breakfast." Cornwallis was not so fortunate! Armistead won his freedom in 1787.
I took enough photos to remind myself of this memorable visit. I urge all Americans to delve into all of our nation's wars and the lessons learned.