We traveled from Maryland to Virginia and camped at the Kings Creek RV Park at the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station. This is a very nice park with concrete pads and full hookups. It is well off the beaten path which is a mixture of good and bad. It’s good because it is nice and quiet. It’s not so good because it is not close to much of anything. Fortunately it is in the middle of the Historic Triangle. The Historic Triangle includes the three historic colonial communities of Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown. What a great base to explore Colonial America!
We started our exploration by visiting the Yorktown Battlefield. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing many modifications to local attractions. Many of the local museums and exhibits are either closed or limited in scope. For example, the Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center is closed, but the battlefield can still be toured. There was a Ranger on duty outside the Visitor Center to give advice, maps, and guides, but no Ranger-led tours. On his advice, we downloaded the Yorktown Tour App (available for iPhone and Android). This provided us with a narration for every stop on the Battlefield. The app also includes a tour for Historic Yorktown.
The Battle of Yorktown was a decisive victory by a combined force of American Continental Army troops led by General George Washington, and French Army troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau. They defeated the British army commanded by General Charles Cornwallis. The siege proved to be the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War. The surrender by Cornwallis prompted the British government to negotiate an end to the conflict.
The guide led us to the critical places on the battlefield. The two places that impressed me the most were Redoubts 9 and 10 and the Surrender Field. Redoubts 9 and 10 were part of the outer fortifications of the British Army. The Americans and French could not defeat Cornwallis until these positions were taken. On the night of October 14, 1781, the French attacked Redoubt 9 and the Americans attacked Redoubt 10. The allies approached with unloaded muskets and fixed bayonets. Sappers (Engineer soldiers) led the way with axes to chop through the log abatis (log obstacles) that protected the redoubt. Looking inside the redoubts I was amazed that the defenders and attackers would even fit inside. The attacks were successful and the defeat of Cornwallis’ Army was close at hand. The assault on Redoubt 10 is even highlighted in the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, GA.
The Surrender Field was where the British Army formally surrendered to the French and the Americans. General Cornwallis claimed illness so he wouldn’t have to personally surrender to what he felt was an inferior enemy. When Cornwallis’ deputy General O’Hara, leading the British troops, tried to surrender to the French, General Rochambeau calmly pointed to General Washington. Washington was so enraged by Cornwallis’s snub that he directed his Deputy Commander, General Benjamin Lincoln to accept the surrender.
After the Battlefield Tour we parked and walked around Yorktown. It’s a small, quiet community and it made me wonder what it must be like to live in a “living museum.” We visited the Yorktown Victory Monument. On October 24, 1781, LTC Tilghman, Washington’s Aide de Camp, reached Philadelphia and advised the Continental Congress of Washington’s victory at Yorktown. Five days later the Congress authorized the construction of the Victory Monument. It was to be, “a marble column, adorned with emblems of the alliance between the United States and his Most Christian Majesty.” However, the monument was not constructed until 100 years later. This should have been an early warning to anyone who expected the government to act quickly on anything.
After dinner at the Yorktown Pub, we walked to the Yorktown Riverwalk Landing and attended an outdoor concert. This was part of a series of free concerts presented by York County and we enjoyed both the setting and the music. Ice cream cones from Ben & Jerry’s was a special treat!
On Sunday we explored the Jamestown Settlement. We drove to the Chickahominy Riverfront Park and rode our bikes along the Virginia Capital Trail to the Jamestown Settlement, a seven-mile ride, one-way. The Jamestown Settlement is operated by the State of Virginia and the nearby Jamestown Island is operated by the National Park Service.
The Jamestown Settlement is a good mix of indoor and outdoor exhibits. All of the outdoor exhibits have living history docents to explain and demonstrate how the early settlers lived. Our first stop was the Powhatan Village.
Next stop was the Jamestown Wharf. Here we were able to board and explore a replica of the Susan Constant, one of the three ships the original Jamestown settlers traveled aboard from England. A new fact I learned was that the passengers were considered cargo and had no living quarters. They would eat and sleep on the exposed deck or wedged in among the casks and bundles of the non-human cargo. I can’t imagine how much fun a cross-Atlantic voyage would have been in those conditions!
James Fort was constructed to protect the settlers from foreign attackers and the local Indian tribes. Throughout the days of the settlement, relations with the Indian tribes were tenuous. The spread of the settlers into traditional Indian hunting grounds was a constant irritant and the poor communications between the two groups only acerbated the situation. For example; in 1609, Chief Powhatan ordered a siege of James Fort that led to the “Starving Time” that killed all but 60 of the settlers. The folk tale of Pocahontas marrying John Smith is mere fiction. In fact she was kidnapped in a raid by the settlers. However, she did marry John Rolfe in 1614, a marriage that resulted in a seven-year peace.
The inside exhibits are impressive. They describe, in detail, the challenges faced by the settlers and the Indians as they strove to coexist in the area.
On Wednesday, October 7th, we checked out a local distillery and a winery. It was an interesting exploration of different tastes. One of the unique aspects of the Copper Fox Distillery was that it had been a “speakeasy” with a doorway hidden by a bookcase. The Williamsburg Winery offered a great view in addition to some fine wines.
Thursday, we drove to Fort Monroe. This fort was built in 1834 and is the largest stone fort built in the United States. It was vital to the coastal defense of the U.S for hundreds of years. This was the headquarters for the Army Training and Doctrine Command until 2011, when it was designated as a National Monument. What I found most interesting is that the quarters in the fort can now be rented through the Fort Monroe Authority. Some lucky family is now living in the former quarters of 2LT Robert E. Lee and his wife! The fort also houses the Casemate Museum that chronicles the history of Fort Monroe and features a room where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was held prisoner following the Civil War. There is also a guide for a walking tour of the fort available.
Friday, we went back to Yorktown to tour the American Revolution Museum. This, like the Jamestown Settlement, is operated by the State of Virginia. If you’re in the area I suggest that you visit both of these museums, be sure to buy the pass for entrance to both museums and get a 15% discount. The displays and movies were just outstanding! I particularly liked the personal stories contained in many of the exhibits. There were outdoor displays of a Continental Army encampment and a tobacco farm. The encampment’s field kitchen was a circular trench with alcoves for the cooking fires. I found it interesting the Captain’s tents have not gotten any bigger over the last 200+ years!
On Monday, October 12th, we drove to Fort Eustis to shop at the commissary and tour the Army Transportation Museum. The last time I was at Fort Eustis, was decades ago when I was a student in the Surface Deployment Planning Course. The Museum has certainly improved since then. The exhibits traced the history of military transportation from the horse-drawn wagons and pack mules of the Revolution to the HUMVEEs and helicopters of today. Interestingly, the Army actually used pack mules again in parts of Afghanistan, some things never change! The Transportation Corps is the “Spearhead of Logistics.” You can have all the stuff you ever wanted, but if you can’t get it to where it needs to be, then it is worthless. While I spent the bulk of my career as an Infantry officer, I am both proud and have fond memories of the short time I was assigned to the Transportation Corps.
Some of the special events that are highlighted are
1. The motor convoy that traveled from coast to coast in 1919 to test the Army’s ability to move equipment over extended distances, led by Lieutenant Colonel Eisenhower.
2. The “Red Ball Express” in WW II to rush supplies to fast moving Allied forces in Europe.
3. Rebuilding and operating a railroad system in Europe after it was destroyed by pre-invasion bombing.
4. The deployment of forces to Saudi Arabia for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. My own Transportation Detachment, the 1009th Movement Control Team, was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation for supporting this effort.
The Transportation Corps operates trucks, but also operates trains, surface ships, and aircraft. These numbers may be out of date, but at one time, the Army had the fourth largest Navy and the tenth largest Air Force in the world.
We made one more trip to Yorktown to sail on the Schooner Alliance for a tour of the York River. It was a pleasant cruise, but we were disappointed by the lack of wind and we motored around the area most of the time. The crew did a great job narrating about the sites in the area. As we approached the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station we could see a submarine that was unloading its ammunition before going to the Norfolk Naval Station for maintenance and refitting. However, the highlight of the cruise was discovering a pod of dolphins. They entertained all of us with a great show as they played around our schooner.
After doing so much sightseeing in the area, we spent our last week taking it easy and enjoying the quiet of the campground. On October 21st, we departed for Havelock, NC and Marine Corps Air Station – Cherry Point.