Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Yorktown / Surrender Field

Colonial Williamsburg 
Teacher's Institute / Summer 2009
Series Part # 9

 American Artillery Defenses
It was our last full day of the Institute and I was running out of historical energy. The week long Institute was intense, with breakfast starting at 7:00 AM and the evening program often ending around 10:00 PM.  It was a week of fifteen hour days of constant colonial history and we were all reaching the point of information saturation... in other words... my brain was full.  I didn't have any room left upstairs to store one more colorful story, one more interesting fact, or one more tour guide's presentation. I was starting to look forward to just going home and cutting the grass... did I just really say that?   But before it was time to pack up and go home, we had one more full day at Yorktown.  Jump on the bus and come along for the ride because we are about to end with the end... of the war.

 The British Lines
Yorktown was the last stand of General Lord Charles Cornwallis who had a promising plan to win the war from the south up starting with Charlestown.  The American loss at Charlestown was the worst American defeat during the war but Cornwallis ran into problems with groups of small privately funded renegade armies known as the partisans.  The partisans were led by a handful of colorful leaders such as Francis Marion who was better known as the Swamp Fox.  Their hit and run tactics attacked the soft targets of the British, including supply convoys and weapon depots.  These actions slowed down the movements of Conwallis and gave the American forces time to get organized and descend south to meet him.  

 York River Schooner
General Daniel Morgan and Nathaniel Greene drifted south and confronted Cornwallis at Cowpens, Guilford Court House, and King's Mountain.  The British were defeated or fought to a stalemate in all three confrontations pushing Cornwallis back to the coast.  He bottled himself up in a small tobacco settlement known as Yorktown and sent dispatches to General Clinton in New York City requesting transport by ship to safety.  In the mean time, the American troops closed in and sent dispatches of their own to New York City to... General George Washington, who was camped outside the city.  An opportunity was presenting itself and the commander in chief was invited to join the siege organizing in Virginia.  Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

 Sunset Over Battlefield
Clinton delayed sending the Royal Navy to Cornwallis not realizing how dire his situation was becoming.  Washington and the bulk of the Continental Army quietly slipped south to join the siege surrounding Yorktown.  A cannonball was fired onto the British position every minute, 24 hours a day, forcing the British infantry to constantly scramble for cover .  The explosive shells were relentless, forcing Cornwallis and his officers to seek protection in underground quarters.  The Royal Navy was on the way but when they arrived the French Navy was already in the Chesapeake Bay unloading Rochambeau and the French Marines.  Next, the two navies came together by chance off the coast of Virginia and the explosive exchange of this small and mostly unknown battle would ultimately decide the outcome of the entire war.

Naval Engagement / Nicholas Pocock
The two navies took time to get into proper naval formation following Articles of War as Ships of the Line.  The fleets began to pass one another in single file rows inflicting heavy damage on one another.  Neither fleet was strong enough to dominate the other and the battle eventually ended in a stalemate.  The French had successfully blocked the British fleet from reaching Yorktown to rescue the British and Cornwallis was now facing complete defeat.  The damaged fleet returned to New York City for repairs prompting General Clinton to immediately send out a second fleet south to Virginia. Time was becoming a factor and the waiting game was getting old for Cornwallis.  Supplies were beginning to run low and his men were worn from fatigue and sickness. 

 Redoubt # 9 Earthworks
The fate of Cornwallis and British rule in America as a whole was sealed when two key defensive redoubts were captured.  First the French stormed Redoubt # 9 followed by the Americans assaulting Redoubt # 10 in the darkness of night on October 14, 1781. The Americans fought this battle with the weapon they once feared the most, the triangular bayonet and managed to beat the British at their own game.  Both British earth works were captured quickly and now it was only a matter of time before the rest of the British protective defenses would fall.  Cornwallis called a parley to discuss terms of surrender and the artillery guns suddenly fell silent.

 View of Surrender Field
In defeat, Cornwallis requested the military honors of war, withdrawing to England with his weapons and colors (flags) raised in pride.  Washington refused, demanding unconditional surrender because so many Americans were still detained in horrific British prison barges along the coast.  Within hours, Cornwallis conceded and sent a lesser officer with his sword to accept surrender without the honors of war.  General Charles O'Hara presented the ceremonial sword to Washington who deferred the honor to General Benjamin Lincoln, the officer Cornwallis had humiliated at Charlestown the previous year.  Lincoln accepted the sword and ceremoniously handed it back.  As the Marquis de Lafayette observed... "the play sir, is over." 

 Surrender Field Lane
The formal ceremony took place on what today is called Surrender Field.  For the powerful and proud British Army it was a bitter event, with soldiers throwing their weapons down on the piles as they disarmed.  A military band played The World Turned Upside Down, a fitting tune for the occasion.  The war would go on with small skirmishes for two more full years but the events at Yorktown marked the last major fighting between organized troops.  The war was pushing England deep into debt and wrecking the country's economy.  With public pressure mounting, Parliament soon lost the will to continue the war effort. England's Prime Minister Lord North resigned from office.

 Yorktown Monument
A short distance from Surrender Field is the Yorktown Monument that commemorates the joint American-French Alliance that sealed the defeat of the British and gave birth to the American nation.  The memorial stands almost 100 feet tall and looks out over the scenic York River. It is ironic that the naval battle (Battle of the Virginia Capes) that proved so important in the conflict was actually a stalemate without a single American present.  Perhaps this is why so few Americans today know or remember the importance of this decisive engagement.  General Clinton's second rescue fleet arrived five days too late not finding any British troops to rescue.  It is also worth noting that British rule in North America began (Jamestown) and ended (Yorktown) within 20 short miles of physical space.

Surrender at Yorktown / John Trumball
The Revolutionary War was over but the American Revolution was just beginning.  You just overthrew the most powerful nation in the world, but now what?  Be careful what you wish for because you might just get it.  Americans had just fought eight long years to escape the monarchy but what government would replace it?  The United States would be born with a new system of representative government that evolved with trial and error over time.  It eventually created the Democratic Republic outlined in the United States Constitution starting with the words... We the People...

Please See All My Photo Albums of Williamsburg at...


Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 1

 Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 2
Jamestown Matters – Archeological Dig

Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 3

 Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 4
Williamsburg / Duke of Gloucester Street

 Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 5
Williamsburg / Capitol and Gaol

Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 6
Williamsburg / Governor’s Palace

Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 7
Williamsburg / Great Hopes Plantation

Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 8
Williamsburg / Market Square

Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 9
Yorktown / Surrender Field

Colonial Williamsburg / Series Part # 10
Parting Shots / Photography


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