Saturday, September 4, 2010

Yorktown

From Album Newport News and Yorktown
     On Monday I woke up at 6:30am without assistance.  Crazy how waking up early comes naturally with camping.  As part of my goal to optimize my travel time, I decided to combine two of my morning activities: drinking coffee and hiking.  The area I was in was very isolated from other campers.  I had passed an RV farm on the way in, but was camped in a tent only area in the back of the park.
    I hoped on a trail that lead down to a small river that ran through the center of the park.  Much to my surprise, the trail lead to where a small Civil War battle occurred.  There was a Confederate and a Union sign explaining what happened at the battle and it was interesting to read both perspectives, each of which shined a brighter light on their own side’s activities.  Basically a group of Federalists had crossed the river and overtaken a handful of Confederate forces defending along the bank (Louisianans included).  A few Medals of Honor were awarded.  On my way back to camp, I was ambushed by a couple of Asian Jehovah’s witnesses, “Good news fo you,” one said as she handed me a brochure.  Can’t even get away from them in the middle of the forest.
    I drove to Yorktown and watched an introductory video (these things are at almost every National Historic site and battleground and are very useful for refreshing my memory on history although in this case it was probably almost all new information).  After the video, I joined a walking tour which was originally supposed to go about three hundred yards away from the visitor’s center, but only ended up going about thirty due to the heat.
    Basically what happened (if you’re a history buff you may just want to skip this section) is that the British, under command of Clinton, were camped out in New York.  Clinton decides to send about half his force to the South.  The British had a big victory at Charleston, but were slowed when Washington sent some of his best leaders and some soldiers down there to regain control of things.  The British, under Cornwallis, then headed to Virginia in an attempt to split the colonies in half and get the southern colonies to join the British forces.  He set up a fort in Yorktown at the advice of his engineers. 
       Back up north, there’s a few things abrewin’.  First, the French and Americans are now allied and the French have a few thousand ground forces and a decent sized naval support force.  Basically, GW knows they either need to attack New York or go south to meet Cornwallis in Virginia.  The French commander says he’s going to go to Virginia, so GW jumps on it and takes a large group of his forces to (he does a lot of things to try to make Clinton think he’s going to attack NY though).
       At some point, Clinton, who is apparently having a grand ole time in NY (and who can blame him) sleeping with some chick, having parties and just generally enjoying himself, figures out that Washington is going to Virginia, so he sends word to Cornwallis and tells him that he is sending him reinforcements by ship.  The problem, for the British, is there’s a huge group of French ships waiting for this British ships and when they get there, they duke it out for awhile and then the British decide to go back to NY (largest naval battle of American Revolution and Americans not involved).  Well, poor Cornwallis does nothing because he thinks reinforcements are coming.  I think at one point, the British are going to send ships again, but then a potential heir to the throne shows up and they throw this grand several day feast for him.
       Anyway, at this point Washington and Rochambeau begin their siege of Yorktown.  Washington is the commander, but Rochambeau basically leads the siege because of his greater siege experience.  At this point, they basically start kicking ass.  They set up one trench line, pound them with cannon fire.  They set up a closer trench line (at “point blank” range) basically over night, a couple small British outposts are charged by 400 American and French forces armed with only bayonets (to maintain silence) one night.  Cornwallis can’t escape, so he surrenders.
       I walked around the battlefield some and then drove into Yorktown (which still has an active community and is very small).  I ate at a pub and watched some of my first NFL preseason highlights.  On the way back to my car, I passed a bike rental place and decided what the heck.  My plan was to bike the Yorktown battle driving tour.  It would have worked except some combination of me not being used to reading a map while biking and the map being pretty crappy caused me to go down the wrong road and into a heavy traffic area.  After a few cars almost got in head on collisions trying to pass me, I headed back into town where basically all roads are closed to cars.  It had been awhile since I had ridden a bike and it was nice riding around town.  After I turned the bike in, I swam in this river which had this sandy beach running along side it.  I dried out in the sun and got back in my car to continue the driving tour by car.  I think I’m getting a little burned out on battlefields.  There’s only so much I can get from them.  I definitely want to read up on the Marquis de Lafayette.  The ranger on the walking tour said his role in the Revolution was only second to Washington.  The guide was also a fan of reading first hand accounts of all sides of war which I agree with.
       I drove through Colonial Williamsburg and then headed north to Pocahontas State Park just south of Richmond where I arrived a little before 9pm.  Today was intended to be a relaxing day (no rushing around trying to see everything) and was for the most part (except for biking in heavy traffic).  I definitely want to hit up the beach more often in the near future.

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