Williamsburg And Yorktown

Again we cross over southward from the Rappahannock to another broad tidal estuary, an arm of Chesapeake Bay, the York River. This is formed by two comparatively small rivers, the Mattapony and the Pamunkey, the latter being the Indian name of York River. It is quite evident that the Indians who originally frequented and named these streams did not have as comfortable lives in that region as they could have wished, for the Mattapony means “no bread at all to be had,” and the Pamunkey means ” where we were all sweating.” To the southward of York River, and between it and James River, is the famous ” Peninsula,” the locality of the first settlements in Virginia, the theatre of the closing scene of the War of the Revolution, and the route taken by General McClellan in his Peninsular campaign of 1862 against Richmond. Williamsburg, which stands on an elevated plateau about midway of the Peninsula, three or four miles from each river, was the ancient capital of Virginia, and it has as relics the old church and magazine of the seventeenth century, and the venerable College of William and Mary, chartered in 1693, though its present buildings are mainly modern. This city was named for King William III., and was fixed as the capital in 1699, the government removing from Jamestown the next year. In 1780 the capital was again removed to Richmond. This old city, which was besieged and captured by McClellan in his march up. the Peninsula in May, 1862, now has about eighteen hundred inhabitants.

Down on the bank of York River, not far from Chesapeake Bay, with a few remains of the British entrenchments still visible, is Yorktown, the scene of Cornwallis’s surrender, the last conflict of the American Revolution. Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander-in-chief in 1781, ordered Lord Cornwallis to occupy a strong defensible position in Virginia, and he established himself at Yorktown on August 1st, with his army of eight thousand men, supported by several warships in York River, and strongly fortified not only Yorktown, but also Gloucester Point, across the river. In September the American and French forces effected a junction at Williamsburg, marching to the investment of York-town on the 28th. Washington commanded the besieging forces, numbering about sixteen thousand men, of whom seven thousand were Frenchmen. Upon their approach the British abandoned the out-works, and the investment of the town was completed on the 30th. The first parallel of the siege was established October 9th, and heavy batteries opened with great effect, dismounting numerous British guns, and destroying on the night of the 10th a frigate and three large transports. The second parallel was opened on the 11th, and on the 14th, by a brilliant movement, two British redoubts were captured. The French fleet, under Count De Grasse, in Chesapeake Bay, prevented escape by sea, and Cornwallis’s position became very critical. On the 16th he made a sortie, which failed, and on the 17th he proposed capitulation. The terms being arranged, he surrendered October 19th, this deciding the struggle for American independence. When the British troops marched out of the place, and passed between the French and American armies, it is recorded that their bands dolefully played ” The World Turned Upside Down.” Considering the momentous results following the capitulation, this may be regarded as prophetic. Yorktown was again besieged in 1862 by McClellan, and after several weeks was taken in May, the army then starting on its march up the Peninsula.