Back to Virginia!! We had just left the Jamestowne portion of Colonial National Historical Park and were headed along the Colonial Parkway to Yorktown, which includes the town, the Battlefield and Yorktown National Cemetery on the shores of the York River. The American victory at Yorktown was the last major battle of the American Revolution and resulted in an independent Unites States of America.
In the spring of 1781 (after 7 years of war) the British turned their attention to the South after failing to conquer the northern states. British General Charles, Lord Cornwallis moved his army into Virginia and chose the port of Yorktown as a base. Americans and their allies soon followed; a French fleet from the West Indies under command of Admiral François Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse set up a blockade at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The Park Visitor Center contains a large ship that can be explored to learn more about this aspect of the war – the boys took advantage of a comfy spot ‘below deck’ to work on their Junior Ranger badges…
General George Washington moved troops from NYC and Rhode Island to Williamsburg, then to Yorktown, numbering over 17,000 to Cornwallis’s 8,300. After a week under siege, a failed attempt to escape across the York and finally the destruction of the town, Cornwallis formally surrendered his army on October 19, 1781. Two years later in September of 1783 the Treaty of Paris officially ended the war.
|Jamestown on the left, connected with Yorktown on the right by the Colonial Parkway (source here)|
Two auto tours depart from the Visitor Center, taking you on a tour of the Allied encampment and the battlefield. We opted to take a tour on foot, heading towards the Yorktown Victory Monument and the Town of York. This commemorative monument was authorized in 1781, although construction did not begin until 1881.
Yorktown was established in 1691 by the Virginia House of Burgesses to create a port through which all trade could pass and customs paid. By the 1700s it was serving Williamsburg, the new capital of Virginia, and was fueled by the wealth of the tobacco trade. However as soil quality declined in the second half of the century tobacco planters moved away, and once the town was destroyed in the siege it never regained its prominence. The city once again came under siege during the Civil War, when Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan began his Peninsula Campaign to capture Richmond. Once the Confederates withdrew, Yorktown served two years as military headquarters for the Federal-held district of Eastern Virginia.
The town today is an active community, with several homes and structures from the colonial period still standing. Other residences are under private ownership and aren’t open to the public. Visitors can walk the streets as well as descend to the Riverwalk and the shore of the York River.
A short distance from the Visitor Center is the site for the Yorktown National Cemetery, which was selected in 1866 due to its vicinity to the various Civil War battlefields. Most of the 2,204 burials are Union Army soldiers. The Cemetery lies adjacent to the spot on the 1781 battlefield where the British surrendered to General Washington.
There is an entrance fee to Colonial National Historic Park, but it includes both the Jamestown and Yorktown sections. Be aware that there are other historical parks in the vicinity that are operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia (and therefore are not included in the NPS entrance fee), but as I mentioned in my last post, the “Olde Towne” section of Jamestown is included, although managed by Preservation Virginia. We left behind the battlefields for the day, and headed further south on the peninsula, towards Newport News.