On 19 October 1781, five years after the American Revolution began, Lord Cornwallis surrendered his command of over 8,500 soldiers and sailors to the combined French and American forces at Yorktown.
There are two main driving tours of the battlefield areas. The first is the "Battlefield Tour" which takes you to the British Inner Defense Line, the Grand French Battery, the Second Allied Siege Line, Redoubts 9 and 10, the Moore House, and finally Surrender Field. The Allied Encampment Tour allows you to see the American and French Artillery Parks, General Washington’s Headquarters, the French Encampment Area, and the French Cemetery.
Across the York River at Gloucester Point, Cornwallis had further lines manned by about 700 troops under Tarleton. There are some small areas of earthworks remaining, but nothing like the areas around Yorktown. To get to the Gloucester Point's battlefield area, take Hwy 17 over the York River. Immediately after the tolls, take a left on Lafayette Heights Road, then a left on Riverview Street, to Battery Drive and Tyndall's Point Park.
Entrance to the battlefield areas costs $5 for a seven-day pass or $10 if combined with Jamestown.
I have visited Williamsburg two or three times in my life, but I've never been as impressed with the town as so many others seem to be. Maybe it's the partially restored, partially recreated area of town called Colonial Williamsburg or its neighbor Busch Gardens that throw me off. I love history, but Colonial Williamsburg has destroyed more history than it has restored, and a theme park in a historic town seems like a stretch. I think areas where tasteful new buildings live next to well-maintained old buildings have a much more compelling story to tell (think Rome)... no matter how hard we like to try, we can't freeze time.
Colonial Williamsburg got its start in the early 1900s when the Rockefeller family began buying up the historic town center. That was great because they preserved all of the significant buildings from the 1700s that were threatened; unfortunately, in an effort to return the town to its 18th century charm, they destroyed some 700 19th and 20th century buildings and replaced them with replica buildings that resembled those from the 1700s. Today colonial Williamsburg boasts some 80 original buildings, but they stand alongside about 500 modern reproductions. The end result is a theme-park like town full of actors and no citizens, with key historic structures next door to imitations, so a visitor can barely tell the authentic from the fake. To me, the real history of the area has been watered down and cheapened in exchange for the almighty dollar.
Williamsburg actually has real history that is not part of a theme park. It was established in 1632 and named Middle Plantation. The College of William and Mary was established in 1693, and the town became the permanent capitol of Virginia in 1699, now renamed as Williamsburg after King William III of England. In 1780, during the American Revolution, the state capitol was moved to a safer area in Richmond (of course, Richmond was attacked by British soldiers under the command of American traitor Benedict Arnold). During the American Civil War, Williamsburg saw limited action in the Battle of Williamsburg, where Confederate General Magruder executed a brilliant action in delaying overwhelming Union forces on their way to Richmond.
And most importantly, Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Tomlin is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, along with Presidents Thomas Jefferson, John Tyler, and James Monroe; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; Generals Winfield Scott and David McKiernan; and the Daily Show's Jon Stewart.
the completion of the american and french second siege line was blocked by a portion of the british outer works called redoubts 9 and 10. on october 14 th general george washington ordered his army to take this position. the redoubts were bombarded during the day and at 8:00 pm american and french infantry stormed the redoubts and over ran them. the capture of redoubts 9 and 10 was an important american victory in the battle of yorktown.
the yorktown national cemetery was established in 1866 for the internment of civil war dead during the 1862 peninsular campaign. there are 1,596 marked graves in the cemetery. of the total 2,204 burials only 10 confederate soldiers are interned here.
on october 19 th 1781 the soldiers of lord conrwallis' army marched down this road and filed off into a field to the left. this place is designated as the formal capitulation of cornwallis' british garrison. the siege of yorktown and the defeat of lord cornwallis was the last major land battle in the revolutionary war.
pictured is part of the american and french second siege line. after the capture of british redoubts 9 and 10 the second siege line was completed. by this time in the battle lord cornwallis knew that defeat was emanate.
this plantation house was built by lawrence smith in the 1730's. in 1768 the smith family sold temple farm plantation to augustine moore. in the fall of 1781 the moore family fled to richmond to avoid the battle of yorktown. on october 17 th lord cornwallis contacted general george washington to begin the british surrender of yorktown. the surrender negotiatons were completed at the moore house a day later.
pictured is the first american and french siege line. on october 6 th 1781 french and american soldiers began constructing these fortifications. from this position american and french forces on the 9 th of october began the siege of yorktown.
in 1781 a congressional resolution mandated the construction of a monument to commemorate the surrender of lord cornwallis to general george washington at yorktown. however the monument was not built until 1881 a hundred years after the resolution. this 98 ft monument is topped by a statue of lady liberty. the statue was destroyed by lightning and was replaced in 1957. the surrender of cornwallis at yorktown led to the end of the revolutionary war and the establishment of the united states of america.
mungo somerwell established a ferry across the york river in 1702. somerwell was also a merchant and town constable. somerwell died around 1707. little is known about his early life or the date of construction of his house.
swan tavern was established in 1722 by thomas nelson and joseph walker. swan tavern remained in operation just prior to the civil war. in 1862 the union occupied yorktown and used the building to store munitions. in december 1863 a fire set off stored munitions and an explosion destroyed the tavern. the building you see today was reconstructed in 1935.
cole digges built this house around 1720. digges was a member of the royal governor's council and was a wealthy tabacco merchant. on his death in 1744 digges owned this house, two plantations, a warehouse, wharf, and other properties in yorktown.
dudley digges was the son of royal council member cole digges. dudley digges built this classic virginia tidewater style house around 1760. digges was a member of the virginia assembly and was captured by the british in charlottesville in june 1781. the digges house was damaged during the battle of yorktown and after the war digges moved to williamsburg.
thomas nelson built this brick colonial home around 1730. thomas nelson jr. was a virginia governor and general of the virginia militia. thomas nelson jr. was a signer of the declaration of independence in 1776. as general of the virginia militia nelson participated in the patriot victory in the battle of yorktown.
in 1691 virginia's colonial legislature passed an "act for ports" in an effort to better regulate trade and for the collection of import and export duties. during yorktown's peak as a commercial port in the mid 18 th century richard ambler and later his son jacquelin served as the collector of ports. the custom house was built by richard ambler in 1721. in 1776 virginia militia troops used the custom house for barracks. the custom house is open to the public by tour.