I’m at Yorktown, VA and spent a day and a half at Yorktown National Battlefield in Virginia. This was the site of the last significant battle of the Revolutionary War. On October 19, 1781, Lord Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington, effectively assuring American Independence.
If you’ve been following my trips through national parks of the South, you might wonder why I’m still visiting battlefields. Isn’t my book about to come out? Yes,… but I’ve been following the American Revolution in the south from Ninety Six in 1775 to Guilford Courthouse in March, 1781. So I wanted to see where Lord Cornwallis, who was involved in most of the southern battles ended up.
As I walk the battlefield and see the redoubts (fortifications) and read all the signs, I learned a new word – cannonade – which means to attack continuously as with a cannon. I can’t follow step by step movements of the American, French and British battlefield lines.
But here is what fascinated me: honorable and dishonorable surrenders.
Lord Cornwallis was made to surrender without the full honors of war. That meant that the British soldiers couldn’t display their flags and that they had to play a British song, rather than a song of the victors, American and French. The Americans imposed this harsh conditions to retaliate for the same conditions when the Americans lost in Charleston to the British. Tit for tat.
All this negotiation on the terms of the surrender was discussed at the Moore House, one of the few houses that was not destroyed by all the shelling. The park was created in 1930. The National Park Service was able to buy the Moore House and restore it to its 1781 condition, the first time that NPS got into historic preservation. It was no coincidence that Colonial Williamsburg, just down the road, was also being created and recreated at the same time.
One country, one constitution, one destiny.” Daniel Webster may have said this in 1837 but I just read it on the Yorktown Victory Monument outside the battlefield in the town of Yorktown. The sentiment was one more example of using the Revolutionary War battlefields to unite the country after the Civil War.
Ten days after the American victory in Yorktown, the Continental Congress directed that a monument be erected to commemorate the victory over the British. It was finally put up a hundred years later. And we complain about our do-nothing Congress.