Yorktown

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alpinealan
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Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2015 4:28 pm

Yorktown

Post by alpinealan » Thu Oct 19, 2017 8:46 pm

It is one thing to proclaim one's independence; it is quite another to win it. We typically celebrate the 4th of July as if the outcome were a forgone conclusion. As if....

The year 1780 was a horrible year for American Patriots. Continental currency distributed by the Continental Congress was worthless. Washington faced Clinton in a widely dispersed and feeble encirclement of New York City. Clinton and the British Army were quite cozy in Tory New York City...where British officers danced with the lovely ladies of high society in spacious buildings, and the farmers of Long Island provided a buffet of delicacies for officer and soldier alike. (That city always has been rather treasonous...) Washington could barely put shoes on his soldiers...let alone pay them.

Because of the lack of pay and horrible squallor, there were mutinies in Washington's Army. The most prominent was the mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line in late 1780-early 81. This was followed by mutinies in the New Jersey line...where several of the leaders were executed.

Charleston, South Carolina was captured by Clinton and Cornwallis in May, 1780. General Lincoln surrendered 5266 soldiers--the very first of three American Armies to ever surrender to a foreign power. (The second being Detroit under Hull in the War of 1812, and the third was Wainwright at Corregidor in May, 1942.) This was followed up by a devastating defeat of a second Continental Army under Gates at Camden, South Carolina in August. Gates was said to have rode 50 miles in his cowardly flight from the battlefield that afternoon alone. The one favorable event for the Americans was the defeat of Ferguson's Loyalist forces by back-woods Indian fighters/frontiersman who were VERY pissed at all the raping and pillaging Fergeson's forces had done in the interior. Then that impromptu frontier force melted back to the woods where they came from.

And to top it all off, Benedict Arnold--the hero of Ticonderoga, Quebec, Valcour Island and Saratoga, betrayed his countrymen in September, 1780; attempting to surrender the strategic position of West Point on the Hudson.

How could the Americans continue their fight? I recently finished watching the Ken Burns PBS series on the Vietnam War. The entire premise of the series was that American involvement in Vietnam was doomed from the very beginning...and everyone--from the president on down--was supposed to know it. So with the forlorn outlook of 1780...how could Washington possibly cling to hope?? (Maybe explaining away that is why the liberal Burns would chronicle the progressive fetishes of the Civil and Vietnam Wars...but not the most important formative war for our nation...the American Revolution.)

In January, 1781, Daniel Morgan whipped Banestre Tarleton and his elite British Legion at the Cowpens. Then Greene lead Cornwallis on "the race to the Dan"...where the British were grinded down substantially by the chase alone. Greene promptly turned back on Cornwallis and destroyed a large portion of the British Army at Guilford Courthouse (depicted by Mel Gibson in his movie "Patriot".) Cornwallis was forced to withdraw to the coast...then to Yorktown, where he hunkered down in July to await supplies and reinforcements. And Washington was presented with a golden opportunity...if only he could seize it...

Comte De Grasse and his 29 battleships would come north and blockade the British Fleet. Washington with 12,000 Americans and Rochambeau with 5500 French started marching for Yorktown in August, arriving in Williamsburg in September. Rochambeau even paid the American Army (the last time they were paid, by the way) in gold coin. On September 5th, De Grasse and his 29 ships-of-the-line (battleships...the Americans had none) turned back Graves and his 19 battleships in the crucial Battle of the Virginia Capes (or the Battle of the Chesapeake.) In retrospect, this was one of the most important naval battles in US history.

Washington and Rochambeau commenced work on the outer siege line starting September 28 and finished Oct 4. With that, the bombardment commenced. Running out of ammo and supplies, Cornwallis decided to pull back from his outer defense line except for three outer forts. On Oct 14th, these forts were stormed and captured by allied forces in a night bayonet attack. From that point on, the British position became hopeless in face of heavy point-blank bombardment.

On Oct. 17th, amid the cannon fire and roar of battle, a drummer boy appeared on the ramparts of Yorktown beating a common call to truce. He was joined by an officer with a white flag. A huge cheer erupted from the allied forces...and the guns went silent. Two days of surrender negotiations ensued.

On Oct. 19th, 1781, 8300 British and Loyalist soldiers marched between the assembled lines of the French and American forces...ostensibly to the tune of "The World Turned Up Down"...and stacked their arms. The French wore nice uniforms...the Americans looked like a ragged mob. It was by far the most consequential day in American History.

I was privileged to walk that battlefield this past May. The toil of the journey from New York to Virginia would not have been inconsequential...digging trenches and redoubts in a swamp could not have been fun. Yet for all the darkness of 1780...they pulled it off. And incredibly, the French suffered 60 killed and 194 wounded; the Americans 28 killed and 107 wounded; and the British 156 killed, 326 wounded and 70 missing. It is a tribute to Washington that he valued human life to the degree that he did not order daytime frontal attacks on fortified positions...which had proved so costly at battles such as at Bunker Hill. (Compare this to the 22,717 killed at Antietam--the bloodiest single day in American history.)

The American Revolution in my opinion is one of the most righteous wars ever fought. But we celebrate Veteran's Day on November 11th in honor of one of the most wicked wars our nation has ever fought...WW I. I offer you this tribute on Oct. 19th--Yorktown Surrender Day--to reflect on one of the most remarkable days in our nation's history which isn't celebrated. Also, to remind everyone that it is one thing to declare and/or celebrate independence as if it is a forgone conclusion...it is quite another to actually win it.

Respectfully submitted with gratitude.


"Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." Mark 9:24

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