No this isn’t a post about the book by Herman Wouk or the TV miniseries of the same name. It is an overview of our five day stop in the Virginia Tidewater area of Norfolk, Newport News and Hampton Roads. Whether a dove or a hawk by political leaning this area has so much history and such wonderful museums it is worth a visit. We barely skimmed the surface of things to do in the area. We are planning on returning to the general area later this year.
With two less days than we’d originally planned, the Dreamchaser pulled into First Landing State Park late on a Friday afternoon. That broke one of our guidelines, “Don’t come in on a Friday or leave on a Sunday”. Virginia State Parks make reservations for a space to fit your RV but not site specific reservations. We were directed to campground G. The park was unusually full for this time of year due to the Shamrock Marathon being held on St. Patrick’s Day which was this coming Sunday. The turns were a bit tight so we really didn’t want to do more than one pass to find a site. We needed a Blue site. Every one we came to was occupied. Then we saw a site that had no registration tag on the post but did have two chairs and a grill sitting in the middle of the site. “I think someone’s trying to play games and save a site.” “I’ll call the office and check.” We were assured that no one was registered if there was no tag on the post. After moving the chairs and the grill out of the way, Steve backed in. It wasn’t an easy back in due to the curve in the road, the post from another campsite being close to the road and overhanging branches. Another camper came over to help direct Steve while Opal and I just stayed out of the way. When we moved the slides out, one of them missed a low branch by an inch! A few minutes later the people who had placed the chairs and grill there came to claim their stuff. They knew the sites were first come first serve and didn’t cause any problem. Once the marathon was over the park cleared out and there were only five or six people left in the 37 site circle. I made a mental note to check on special events in an area before making reservations if we couldn’t reserve a specific site. The park was lovely and very pet friendly. Dogs are allowed on the beach and Opal enjoyed her long walks. Just offshore were several ocean going freighters that gave a spectacular view at sunset as they turned on their lights.
The weather took a turn for the worse, cool and cloudy, and was only going to get worse over the next three days so we headed over to the Yorktown Battlefield Victory Center National Park Site which was about an hour away. We all know from our American history textbooks that this was the last major battle in the American Revolution and it occurred on October 19, 1781. Following their defeat the British started negotiations culminating in the Paris Treaty of 1783. So what more is there to know? The answer: A lot! We arrived around 2:30p just in time to sign up for the last Ranger led tour of the day. As with most of our NPS visits, the tour was so informative. So you think this battle was a rout and the Redcoats had finally had enough of the feisty Colonials? Not by a long shot. The fact that we are an independent nation today was due to a series of events; some luck, some help from France and some might say Divine intervention.
Truth was the Colonials were a rag tag group of farmers and shopkeepers going up against the best army in the world. Washington had is hands full up north. The Colonials had lost Charleston and the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. The British thought they were on the run. Why didn’t Cornwallis turn to follow the rebels as they turned south? Because he had burned his supplies so he could move inland from Charleston faster and avoid raids from Francis Marion, The Swamp Fox. He had to get resupplied at Wilmington, NC. Then Cornwallis moved on to set up a defensible base at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Sensing an opportunity Washington and Comte de Rochambeau marched their combined forces south rapidly to meet up with additional French troops, ships and artillery under Admiral De Grasse. Over 7,000 troops marched from New York to Virginia in less than two weeks. They lost 1,500 men to disease and exhaustion along the way. A series of false maneuvers led the British to believe the attack would come at New York City. Time and money were running out. The French Navy protecting the Chesapeake Bay and preventing Cornwallis escape by sea would be returning to the Caribbean at the end of October. For now they were keeping the British ships out in the ocean. Lafayette was in Williamsburg spying on Cornwallis’ troops and sending information to Washington.
Cornwallis had built two rows of earthen mounds as protection but then pulled his troops back from the outer ring. Why he left his outer defense ring unmanned except for two earthen forts known as redoubts remains a mystery. A daring attack under the dark of a new moon was devised by Alexander Hamilton. The Colonials attacked Redoubt #10 while the French took Redoubt #9. Their guns were unloaded to prevent accidental misfire that would negate the surprise attack. They attacked with bayonets and knives only. With large cannon now well within range the British forces planned to retreat by small boats across the bay and turn north to New York. Cornwallis had burned all but his smallest boats so they wouldn’t fall to the rebels. Almost across, the first troops were sunk in a sudden and severe storm that happens only rarely. Cornwallis was trapped. The next day Cornwallis signaled surrender. Surrender took place at the Moore House. A new country was born. Eighty years later war would return to Yorktown during the Peninsular Campaign of the Civil War as the same country stood on the brink of dissolution. After touring the museum I asked the ranger where Cornwallis’ sword was located. He explained that in that time surrender was accomplished by the ritual of the winner touching the hilt of the losers sword but the sword itself is returned. They have tried to locate the sword but not even the British Museum knows where it is. The family says he was buried with it and this was the custom. Cornwallis is buried in a mausoleum (oddly much like the Jefferson Memorial) in India.
I was planning just one entry for this stay but I can see that we have way too much information for that so I’ll close for now and resume with our visit to the Mariner’s Museum.