Finally, finally sorted through my Washington-Rochambeau weekend (with a later side-trip to Richmond) photos. Hoped to get these up by the anniversary of the Cornwallis’s surrender (230th anniversary this year!), but it didn’t work out that way. Let’s just say I’m early for next year.
Since the last couple of posts have been text-heavy, let’s start this one with a photographic bang:
That’s an English gun that Lafayette recognized on his 1824 “victory lap” as one he took during the big fight thanks to this cannonball dent on the side:
The gun was also used to fire the half hour salute at Lafayette’s death ten years after.
The “Lafayette Gun” is in the welcome center at the Yorktown battlefield, which is now a national park and a sad, sad monument to diminishing park funding. There is a small museum inside that looks like it was last updated in the 1970s. The same can be said of the grainy film in the welcome center theater. There’s also a shocking $10 entry fee to the park which struck me as exceedingly high and made the condition of the welcome center and some parts of the park all the more frustrating. It does include admission to Jamestowne, though. Although I couldn’t take advantage of the dual admission, knowing this takes a little sting out of the sticker shock.
I made the whole trip the week of September 11. While the rest of the country was self-flagellating over the anniversary of the attacks 10 years ago, I thought it would be more constructive to celebrate Washington and Rochambeau’s ride south in reverse, ending with a reenactment in celebration of their Mount Vernon encampment anniversary on Sept. 10-11. (I’ve also been nursing an inexplicable obsession with the Marquis de Lafayette this year, and I had to see all these places while I was still in the area.) So, I started where it all ended at the Yorktown battlefield.
(I was also stupid enough to try doing Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg on the same day after driving down from Washington, D.C. It CAN be done, but there’s lots you won’t see. Unless you’re like me, and you have no other choice, I don’t recommend it.)
The ranger at the welcome center front desk had his spiel down so well that he couldn’t really deviate from it. I listened to him give the same robotic speech to the visitors in line before me, and he couldn’t be convinced that I didn’t need to hear it again when I got to the counter. When I stopped him to ask if he could just tell me where Lafayette’s troops had been, I swear I heard the record skip while he stopped, thought a second, told me he had no idea, and then finished the spiel.
He did give me a driving map, though, that lacked any mention of Lafayette but did have all the major beats of the story and their locations.
Emphasis on the words “driving map.” I thought I’d be able to walk, which tells you how ill-planned this trip was.
I was on a schedule, and I was already late, so I didn’t get out or get any good photos at any of the weed-covered redoubts. Also, I always fail to realize how battlefields will affect me emotionally. I had an unexpected dread at the idea of walking out where so many died so painfully, so I took advantage of my tight schedule and cruised on past to the battlefield’s famous warm fuzzy: the surrender field.
It’s here where Cornwallis sent an underling to deliver his surrender to Washington either out of shame at the loss or pride that wouldn’t allow him to deliver the surrender in person to a rebel general. George took it in stride by sending his own underling to accept it in his stead.
Love that man.
It’s not a suprise to me that my favorite part of the whole park was Washington’s headquarters.
No idea how it looked then, but today it’s a small cul-de-sac off the main drag in the middle of a copse of trees. Even with the shade, it was the brightest, most beautiful, best-situated spot in the entire park. Typical Mason.
Despite my hurry I had to get out of the car and stand in the sun for a bit, and I saw what looked like a picnic area.
I can’t help but think that it would make George very, very happy to see what’s become of this space.
I’m not so sure I can say the same about the French cemetery, though, and I have to say it was the low point of my visit. When I saw it on the map, I didn’t really know what to expect.
From a distance, the single, simple cross is striking and makes me think more than a little of the American cemetery at Colleville sur Mer in Lower Normandy.
Up close? Not so much.
You’ll note a few things about the cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer and this unknown American’s tomb: its beauty, its impeccable upkeep, its decided lack of satanic graffiti.
Oh no. I’ve given away the surprise. Well, anyway, let’s get closer to that grave at Yorktown.
Here Lie Fifty Unknown French Soldiers, Dead at Yorktown for American Independance, 1781
Let’s have a look at that tombstone.
[I’ve freed up the rights on these two so you can view large versions of them on Flickr and read the graffiti for your own groans and giggles.]
“Mike Loves Hope” (front). Aww. Well, they were Frenchmen, and they were probably all about the love. But the back with “Lucifer” and all the X’s? Somebody’s been watching too much Supernatural. Classy, Park Service. Would it be possible to sand down the stone and get rid of that stuff? (Or would it damage something special? I honestly don’t know anything about the marker or its history.)
At this point, I have to wonder if the French troops are actually still “resting” there or if they were dug up for nefarious purposes by some jackass long ago. I doubt anyone knows, and if they can’t be cared for better than this, it might be best to exhume what’s left and move it to someplace that I can point out to my French friends with a little less shame.
After that, I decided it was high time I get to Williamsburg and get some lunch. (Being a vegetarian, I was more successful with the first than the second task, but more about Williamsburg in a later post.)
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Yorktown Battlefield, part of Colonial National Historical Park
$10 for Seven-Day Park Entrance Pass
(Includes Historic Jamestowne, which I sadly couldn’t visit, in addition to Yorktown.)
See website for dates and hours of operation.