Monday, July 13, 2009



If people know anything about Yorktown, they consider it the final, major battle of the Revolution, and it was. But only because the loss of this battle set up the "perfect storm" of circumstances that forced Britain's hand. Some call it good fortune, some call it good strategy. General Washington knew that despite a bit of both of those elements, it was the hand of Providence that set the stage, making Yorktown more than merely a single American victory.

This village, and the surrounding battlefield, is an exquisite, essential slice of American history. Ironically, mere miles separate Yorktown—the place where America’s independence was essentially procured—from Jamestown--the first established American settlement--making this corridor both the beginning of American colonization and the beginning of America’s independence. Add Williamsburg to mix, and there’s no question as to why this corridor is a must-see stop for every American.

The Yorktown historical experience is very different from a visit to Williamsburg. It’s a quieter, more reflective experience, yet still packed with much to do, covering a wide variety of interests. My last visit to Yorktown was four years ago during a research trip to investigate a curious lead for Twilight’s Last Gleaming. We were in the company of friends, one loved it, as I did, one was more like my sweet husband—plenty entertained by the Visitors’ Center, but not too excited about traipsing through the battlefield. So prepare to see everything and adapt your schedule to fit your interests.

Start at the Visitors’ Center. Learn about the principles in the war, understand their motives, their living conditions. Did you know Britain was actually involved in a world war at the time, simultaneously engaged in battles with France and Spain? There are wonderful exhibits—items from General Washington’s camp, a glimpse of shipboard life for the British and French soldiers who crossed the Atlantic, maps, films, munitions, an encampment, etc. Reenactments and live demonstrations are available at specific times.

Now tour the battlefield on foot or by car. The terrain is either in historical grade or it’s been restored, with gun placements, bunkers and encampments marked. It’s an awe-inspiring thing just to stand where these patriots stood and to know they were fighting for the very liberty we currently enjoy. We toured the battlefield by car. There are pullouts and stops where you can get out and walk around. Much of the area is woods with key locations identified by placards that explain the significance of the site. This tour provides a wonderful opportunity to empathize with the soldiers’ experiences, but it can prove long for some, so I’d suggest you pump up the tour by reading excerpts from the brochures obtainable at the Visitors” Center now, or print out some of the background info available at the included links and read them during this drive.

Now drive over to the historic village of Yorktown, once an important tobacco port and critical naval defensive position. Stroll along pristine Main Street which sit up on a hill. and see this row of original period homes, restored like shiny pennies. This was my favorite part of the trip. After all, the importance of liberty is its impact on lives, and here on Main Street one can step back into time and consider what it must have been like to have tens of thousands of soldiers, and hundreds of cannons, pounding so close to your home. Most of the homes are available for tours. Many require a fee, but it’s well worth the charge to stroll through and observe what life in 1781 was like. Visit the docks and see the ships, then visit the Yorktown Victory Monument that required one hundred and three years to reach completion. It’s a must-see photo stop.

Lastly, stroll the waterfront area. This was once the more “seedy” part of town where sailors and merchants imbibed spirits and engaged in raucous behavior. Also restored, it’s now a quaint row of shops, restaurants and galleries—a perfect place to have lunch or buy a memento, or a refreshing spot to watch the ships on the harbor. Absolutely beautiful. Or better yet, buy a ticket and sail the harbor on a tour ship. I'm also attaching this link to beautiful bed-and-breakfasts to make your trip especially unique.

Here are a few spectacular links to great Yorktown history. If you can’t get there with the family this summer, perhaps spend an evening reading about this battle and the amazing, providential elements that combined to secure our freedom. It would make a worthwhile Family Night and an investment in your children’s appreciation of this great land.

Next week . . . Jamestown.

1 comment:

  1. Laurie, can you comment about the Battle of King's Mountain in S. Carolina on Oct 7, 1780? I was channel surfing and came across the last part of a PBS program about Appalachian men who banded together to scratch the itch some English commander had given them, by way of threats and force. The program's authorities claimed that the Appalachians' overwhelming victory gave Washington and his troops heart enough to overcome the British army at Yorktown.

    Marsha Ward (off to do research myself!)