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Day 90 - Yorktown (Video Added)

We visited the Yorktown Battlefield (National Park Service), the Nelson House in Historic Yorktown (the Town), and also the Yorktown Victory Center (State of Virginia facility covering the whole Rev. War period)

sunny 50 °F


Miles Driven - 65 RT
Weather - Clear & Sunny, Very Cold
Camped at - yes, we're still at the fancy Thousand Trails campground, but I skipped the hot tub to work on the blog (Sad face)


We did not dress very warmly today. Why did we walk around freezing to death when the RV was just a short walk away - full of warmer clothing, hats, gloves, etc.? Duh. - Fire the tour guide!


Yorktown and Jamestown have somewhat parallel situations. The National Park Service runs the actual site (Historic Jamestown and Yorktown National Battlefield). However, the State of Virginia has developed living history museums close by that also have a lot to offer but from a totally different perspective.

First we went to the Yorktown National Battlefield. The visitors center is located at the east end of the British fortifications and has short guided tours available as well as some musuem exhibits.


Our tour guide used a map to explain how the battle transpired.


The British, under Gen. Cornwallis, had been winning most of the battles in the South. However, they were at the end of a very long supply line (3,000 miles to England) and did not receive as much support as they expected from loyalists. Although some of the battles were technically won by the British, they had also been costly in terms of men and supplies lost. So by late summer of 1781, Cornwallis's army was tired and low on supplies. He was ordered to locate a deep port on the Chesapeake Bay to await the British Fleet & Supplies. The small village of Yorktown had a deep water port and a very defensible position on the bluffs overlooking the bay. The main British positions were to the left of the town as depicted in this painting.


Cornwallis put his men to work constructing earthen fortifications and settled in to await the fleet and fresh supplies & troops. Here are a couple of shots showing the view of the Bay from the British position and also some of the British guns (guns with a greenish coating are original Revolutionary War pieces).


Washington and the French Commander, Rochambeau joined forces and marched their armies from Rhode Island and New York to confront Cornwallis at Yorktown. The French fleet was able to arrive at Chesapeake Bay before the British fleet and blockaded the entrance. When the British fleet arrived, the French ships attacked and the smaller British fleet was forced to withdraw and sail back to New York to make repairs. So the supplies and reinforcements Cornwallis was waiting for never arrived.

General Lafayette and his command had been operating in Virginia for some time and was able to provide Washington and Rochambeau valuable intelligence on the British strengths and positions.

So when the French and American troops got to Yorktown, Washington directed them to build earthworks parallel to the British lines. Since there was water on one side of the British and a deep swamp/ravine on the other, the American's could concentrate their forces and block the British fairly effectively.

Here are a couple of shots showing the American & French earthworks from the British position. Even in the late 1700's, these lines were well within artillery range of each other.


Rochambeau had advised Washington to use a siege against Cornwallis, rather than a frontal attack. From what I could see of their positions, this decision probably led to the American/French victory (together with the French Navy blocking the port). The British position was quite strong against any sort of frontal attack, but it also trapped the British behind their lines. They had more artillery than the French & American's, but it was smaller (6 pound cannon). The French had been able to bring down some of their big cannon, such as this one, nicknamed the Lafayette. It actually has a hole indented in the side where it was hit by a Britich cannon ball!


On October 9, 1781 the American's and French started shelling the British positions. On October 14th, Alexander Hamilton and Baron Viomenil took two forward redoubts (defensive positions) on the left of the British line, enabling the allies to complete a new siege line only 400 yards from the British. (See map above)

Cornwallis sent a force to try to break through the allied lines but it was not successful. He also had been prepared for the contingency of a siege and had stockpiled small boats to carry his army to the other side of the narrows. However, when the first boats attempted to evacuate Yorktown, a storm came up and sank several of them. After this, Cornwallis was completely trapped and forced to surrender, which was completed on October 19th.

After we learned about this battle from the tour guide, we also went through the museum. They actually have parts of the tents General Washington used for his headquarters during the battle; however the light was too dim to take a picture and I didn't want to risk using a flash (which probably wasn't allowed anyway, the cloth is very fragile and in a carefully climate controlled display room). You can also take a driving tour of the battlefield, but I elected not to do this so I would have enough time to check out the Yorktown Victory Center.

So we left the Yorktown National Battlefield (NBF) much better informed about what transpired there.

The Yorktown Victory Center is located a couple miles NW on the other side of the small village of Yorktown. As we drove through town, I decided to turn on "Main St" just for fun. (I wouldn't recommend this in the summer as it could be quite crowded and the streets are narrow). Today we pretty much had the roads to ourselves, so I wasn't too worried about getting trapped - a little worried maybe, but we got through the narrow streets just fine). We started driving past a large brick house on the left and noticed a National Park Service sign and flag out front. Not knowing what to expect, I decided to pull over and check it out.

This was the Nelson House. It was built by Thomas Nelson Jr.'s grandfather about 1730 and remained in the family until 1908 when it was finally sold. It has since been purchased by the National Park Service.


Thomas Nelson Jr. (1738-1789) inherited the house sometime before the Revolutionary War and it was his residence during the war. He was one of the patriot leaders from Virginia and signed the Declaration of Independance. Later, he was Commander of the Virginia Militia during the battle of Yorktown. There is still an allied (Am/Fr) cannon ball embedded in the side of the house from the seige of Yorktown (we bombed the town also since it was being used by the British as their HQ. Patriots had fled when the British occupied the town in early August, so for the most part only British and Loyalists were in the town during the seige).

There is a painting in the house of Thomas Nelson Jr. when he was sixteen.


In the famous painting by John Trumbull, "The Surrender of Cornwallis", Thomas Nelson Jr. is the first officer to the right of the American flag.

The dining room/parlor is set up using furniture as it might have looked in 1781, since the original furnishings have not survived. The wall paneling is original and the colors are accurate however (based on restoration studies).


Excluding the furnishings, much of the house itself is original, including most of the handrail on the staircase. Since Nelson was one of the founding fathers, George Washington and Lafayette visited this house as well as other notables. Of course, I made sure I touched the handrail when I went upstairs...


After we left the Nelson house we went to the Yorktown Victory Center. This is a facility run by the State of Virginia that covers not just Yorktown, but the entire Revolutionary War period, including events leading up to the war. They have electric carts available, so Mom really liked this place!


We started at the Museum, but all along the path to the museum was a timeline with key events and sometimes paintings and additional information. Here is just one example, the whole thing was very informative.


When we finally got to the Museum, it also was filled with informative signage. They especially tried to cover the era from the perspective of everyday people who lived through it, not just the famous leaders we've studied in school. Here is another example of the types of signs in the museum.


Reinforcing this theme of the impact on normal people was a series of exhibits set up as diarama's. Each one had display cases with real artifacts and the background played a series of recordings being read from journals, diaries, or letters written by the people who's story was being presented. For example, this diarama had a recording of the letter written home by the soldier to his wife playing in the background.


Mom especially liked these multimedia displays.

Behind the Museum is a re-enactment of a Continental Army encampment, complete with cannon demonstrations and soldiers. Since everything here is a replica, you can walk through the tents, touch things, and talk with the re-enactors. This was both fun and informative.


Here is a short video of the cannon being fired (1/2 pound of powder and no projectile, as in a salute). The sound was much louder then this, the camera just didn't pick it up very well from my angle I'm afraid.

After we visited the army encampment, we made our way up to the 1790's farm which is also part of the center. My camera batteries were almost dead, so I only have one photo (don't know why I didn't walk up the 100' or so to the RV and get new batteries, probably because I was too cold to think because I was also too lazy to walk up the 100' or so to the RV and get a warmer jacket...). I did ask some questions of the re-enacter's working on the farm and learned that the average farm in Virginia at that time was only 75 - 100 acres. There were also big plantations, but these were the exception. Most families only farmed what they could work themselves. Only 5 acres would be tobacco, since that's all a man could work, it was a very labor intensive crop. Tobacco was the cash crop, with 5 acres they could produce about two 'hogs head' barrels a year for export, which at 10 - 20 pounds sterling per barrel, would be the farms cash earnings for the year. Other crops would be raised for the families consumption. I used my little remaining battery juice to get a picture of a 'hogs head' - now that's a big barrel.


Tomorrow is Saturday, so will take Mom to church near historic Jamestown. While she's there, thought I'd check out the reenactment settlement the state has built nearby. Then we'll probably check out the glass blowers nearby.

Sunday we will probably rest again and I WILL GET THE BLOG CAUGHT UP (and maybe some other chores).
Monday we'll finally leave here (we are both quite ready to move on), but will drive NW to Monticello (maybe Mount Vernon on the way), then start heading south generally towards NC - but may stop in Richmond and/or Petersburg on the way. In any event, we should be out of VA before the end of the week.

Posted by jl98584 19:16 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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