YORKTOWN! Indicative of Achievement ** Expressive of Greatness ** Significant of Independence.
A name which in itself seems sonorous, suggestive, sacred; but which derives these distinctive attributes from an imperishable glory that found lodgment there, and which shall not depart as long as this country endures.
A place richly endowed with the beauty of a majestic river, of open fields of green encircled by densely wooded hills and vales; a community that conserves a calm serenity undisturbed, prideful that history selected it for great distinction.
It was at Yorktown that the nascent nationalism of each of the thirteen States of America was assured of eventual coalescence into a single nationalism, and where an endless fraternalism between the peoples of the United States and France was sealed.
The revolt of the thirteen colonies against the mother country showed signs of disturbing activity soon after the termination of the French and Indian war in 1763. Opposition to the oppressive measures adopted by Parliament was most aggressive in the trading colonies of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York; but the patriots of Virginia and North Carolina were equally determined to bring about reforms. Lexington was the accumulation of many incipient fires which finally broke into a flaming fury on that battlefield. At Saratoga, after two and a half years of warfare, a great army surrendered. This notable American success brought about an alliance with France. At Yorktown the greatest soldier that England ever sent to America laid down his arms. The
WASHINGTON IN 1772
Independence of the United States was now assured; with the aid of France this had been made possible.
Over the fair face of Tidewater and Piedmont Virginia, on the broad stretches of the Chesapeake, through the sinuous curves of the James, and upon the serene surface of the York marched armies and sailed fleets during the great Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War far more numerous and complex in their movement than were the operations of any other land and naval forces during the entire period of hostilities. Toward the end there were assembled in the Peninsula and on the adjacent waters, nearly all the leaders who at any time had held independent commands in the South: Washington, Rochambeau, Lafayette, Von Steuben, and St. Simon of the Allied Armies; Cornwallis and O'Hara of the British Army; De Grasse and De Barras of the French Fleet; Graves, Hood, and Drake of the British Fleet. Greene and Balfour were in South Carolina; Phillips's day on earth was past; Leslie had returned to Europe; Rawdon was a prisoner of De Grasse; and Arnold was driven by the tortures of conscience from the province.
From the time that Cornwallis crossed the frontier in May of 1781 Virginia became the battle ground wherein the fate of the new Nation was to be determined. In October of the preceding year Clinton had sent Leslie to that province, with instructions to establish a post on the Elizabeth River at Portsmouth. If Cornwallis should be in need of reenforcements, however, Leslie was to place himself under the orders of that officer. Complying with orders given to him later, Leslie moved his army to Charleston and joined Cornwallis the day after the battle of the Cowpens.
When Clinton learned that Leslie was about to abandon Virginia, a detachment was placed under the command of the traitor Arnold, who on the 20th of December sailed from New York to conduct operations in that province. Later Phillips was sent to the same place to strengthen the force already there and to take command. He was to establish the British more firmly in Virginia, which was becoming more and more the dominant battle ground of the revolution.
At this time Greene was campaigning in the Carolinas, and Von Steuben was organizing the troops in Virginia. Von Steuben and the several commanders of militia occupied the attention of the British until the death of Phillips. Arnold then took over the command of the British, which he retained until Cornwallis arrived from North Carolina.
Into this complicated theater of operations came Lafayette. The handling of his army, which opposed that of Cornwallis, was performed in a brilliant manner. Meanwhile Washington and Rochambeau eagerly awaited news from De Grasse, and when it was finally reported that the French Fleet would enter the Chesapeake they moved their armies with all possible speed into the Peninsula, there to bring about the final major action of the Revolutionary War.
In this narrative tribute is paid to the honorable services of those commanders who fought against the thirteen colonies. Credit is given to France for making possible the independence of the United States. To the Marquis de Lafayette is accorded the homage due the one who, more than any other individual in America except George Washington, was in obtaining victory. Acknowledgment is made of the military genius of the Count de Rochambeau and the Count de Grasse in leading gallant troops through successful battles on land and sea. Appreciation is expressed for the sympathetic interest in the colonists felt by Louis XVI and the Count de Vergennes, and for their efforts in influencing the French people to regard the United States as a military and economic ally.
page created 20 March 2000
Return to Table of Contents
Return to CMH Online