Thursday, October 19, 2006

History is Our Stories ~ Our New Nation

October 19, 1781 - Our New Nation

Today, October 19th, is the 225th Anniversary of the surrender at Battle of Yorktown ~ the final confrontation between the British and the Continental Army. This is the battle that led to the end of the war and secured the Independence of the United States of America. On our vacation we spent a day at Yorktown, exploring the battlefields and learning the story. One cannot walk on these grounds and not feel humbled by the men who gave so much to establish this country. Major celebrations are planned at Yorktown October 19-22. This is a date which should be on our calendars, for without the victory at Yorktown, we might not have won the war.

The British, under the leadership of major General Lord Cornwallis, had taken control of the port cities of Glouchester and Yorktown, on opposite sides of the York River.

General Washington led the Continental Army from New York to Virginia to confront the British. He was joined by the forces of the French Lieutenant General de Rochambeau. They formed a semi-circle around the entrenched British forces.

The British were well prepared with redoubts (shown below) and earthworks.

The earthworks - huge trenches dug throughout the area - can still be seen. The Continental Army dug miles of these trenches for force movements, communication running and protection for the Infantry, as did the British.

Both sides had cannons dug into the earth works.

The seige of Yorktown began on September 28, and concluded with the surrender of the British troops on October 19, 1781. For a complete history of the battle, go here.

"On the 17th, at about 10 o'clock the Brisith raised a white flag on their walls, beat a parley on their drums, and the firing ceased on all sides." - Asa Redington, 1st New Hampshire Regiment.

After nine days of non-stop artillery bombardment of Yorktown, the flag of truce was raised. Cornwallis' letter to Washington read: "I propose a cessation of hostilities for twenty four hours, and that two officers may be appointed by each side to meet at Mr. Moore's house, to settle terms for the surrender of the posts of York and Gloucester."

The officers met at the home of Augustine Moore and drafted the "Articles of Capitulation." The articles povided that the troops, seamen and marines should surrender as prisoners of war.

On October 19, the British surrendered in a formal ceremony. "At about twelve o'clock, the combined army was two lines extending more than a mile... The French troops, in complete uniform, displayed a martial and noble appearance... The Americans... exhibited an erect, soldierly air, every contenance beamed with satisfaction and joy. The concourse of spectators... in point of numbers was probably equal to the military, but universal silence and order prevailed." - Surgeon James Thacher, MD, Continental Army.

American soldiers lined up on one side of the road and French soldiers on the other, with spectators behind. The British Army marched into the field and surrendered their weapons and cased their battle flags. 6,000 British troops surrendered, with 10 stands of British and German colours, 240 artillery pieces, small arms, ammunition and equipment.

Surrender Field - the site of the British surrender - is, today, a tranquil place. But, one cannot visit there and not be moved by the image of the surrender.

The Continental Congress authorized the Yorktown Victory Monument on October 29, 1781, shortly after news of the victory reached them. It was not constructed for another 100 years, finally completed in 1884. Made of Maine marble, the shaft is 84' tall and Liberty stands another 14' tall.

Carved on the monument are many tributes to those who fought at Yorktown. Around the column are carved the words: "One Country, One Constitution, One Destiny"

Going to Yorktown gave us a new appreciation for the difficulty of the battles that were fought to establish this country and to secure our freedoms. It was not an easy battle. It was long, hard and seemingly unwinnable many times. But, these were men who kept their faith and their resolve. God Bless Them All.

As always, history has much to teach us....

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