Saving 1862 Battlefield Land But Really Saving Land From the Siege of Yorktown

Emerging Revolutionary War would like to thank Drew Gruber, for bringing this connection to our attention.

During the May 5th, 1862 Battle of Williamsburg as Confederate soldiers ran down into what would be called the bloody ravine they ran headlong into men from New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. In an effort to push the Union soldiers out of the ravine and sweep them from the field brigade after brigade was sent into the fight. Among those was four Virginia regiments under AP Hill. After leaving the relative safely of the City they deployed in some form of a line and pitched down into the ravine too. 

Portion of the map of the Battle of Williamsburg, showing the land the American Battlefield Trust is currently working to purchase (map courtesy of LOC)

In the ravine hand-to-hand combat, fallen trees, driving rain, and the thick smoke made communication almost impossible and command fell on company commanders to keep the battle moving in their favor. Among the men in Hill’s brigade fighting down in the bloody ravine was Tipton Davis Jennings of the 11th Virginia Infantry. His account of the fighting here at Williamsburg will be of particular interest to your readers of the ERW blog. 

Writing in 1897 his “Incidents in the Battle of Williamsburg” appeared in the Confederate Veteran Magazine. In fact Kate and I covered this in an earlier ERW post titled, Revolutionary Memory. (click here to read that post). 

“Just then,” he wrote, “we happened upon what was apparently an ancient line of grass-grown earthworks. We learned afterward that portions of Washington’s line of entrenchment were yet discernible thereabouts. And so it is possible that we ragged ‘Rebs’ were actually defending the same works were [sic] once stood the ragged continental ‘Rebs’ fighting, the hessian of Europe, as we were now, some eighty years later. So doth history repeat itself.”

At first glance is this a cool anecdote and yet rather odd. However, when you consult french maps from the Williamsburg region created during the Yorktown Campaign you’ll find references to Mulhenburg’s “lights” camped in this very area. Moreover, almost hidden in plain sight on one of Sneden’s 1862 maps is and “Old Fort of 1781.” Civil War soldiers seemed wholly cognizant of the Revolutionary landscape around them and like Jennings used it to spur on their cause(s). 

Yesterday, on the 158th anniversary of the May 5th, 1862 battle the American Battlefield Trust launched a campaign to save the 29 acres over which Jennings charged. Perhaps it is this very same ground where the original cast of “ragged continental ‘Rebs'” also campaigned. Click here to read about that initiative and for further information on how to donate.

“The Sword is Now Drawn…” The Powder Incident, Lexington and Concord moves Virginia to Revolution

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Battle of Lexington by Amos Doolittle, December, 1775

One of the most amazing parts of the events on April 19, 1775 is just how sophisticated the colonial information network was. As soon as Lt. Col. Francis Smith’s British Regulars began to move across the Charles River, riders fanned out from Boston and to neighboring towns. Each town then had more riders that spread out and soon dozens of men were riding through the New England countryside warning of the fighting that took place. Soon information spread to the mid-Atlantic colonies and Philadelphia on April 24th. In the age of no electricity, the complexities and speed that news traveled from Boston to the other colonies was pretty amazing. Stories grew from person to person and it would take months and even years to decipher truth from exaggeration. It was imperative for both the “Patriots” and General Thomas Gage to get their version of the events of April 19th out as fast as possible. Facts or not, the importance of the public relations was of utmost importance to both sides to win the hearts and minds of the other colonies.

As the news reached Virginia, the colony was already at a crossroads with their

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Virginia Lt Governor, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore

Governor. The last House of Burgesses that met in Williamsburg was dissolved in August 1774 over their vocal support of the people of Massachusetts after the Boston Port Act. The once popular Governor, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore (Governor Dunmore), was angered over their overt support and ordered them dissolved and returned home. The legislature defied his orders and met soon after at the nearby Raleigh Tavern, thus constituting the “First Virginia Convention.” With questionable legal authority, the Convention called for solidarity and non-importation of British goods. They also agreed to meet again in the future. The “Second Virginia Convention” met in March of 1775 in Richmond, a safe distance from the Governor’s influence in Williamsburg. It was at this Convention that Patrick Henry made his famous “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” speech on March 23. Though considered radical at the time, the speech energized the Convention and set the tone. When the Governor learned of the Convention and especially Henry’s speech, he made a fateful decision to remove the gunpowder stored in the magazine in Williamsburg. Continue reading ““The Sword is Now Drawn…” The Powder Incident, Lexington and Concord moves Virginia to Revolution”

The Post Script

At 3:00 in the afternoon on April 21, 1781 Virginia militia Colonel James Innes sat down to write a letter near Hickory Neck Church, just shy of the halfway point between Virginia’s old colonial capitol at Williamsburg and its new capitol at Richmond. Perhaps with a heavy heart and a weary hand, Innes picked up his pen to scrawl a letter to Governor Thomas Jefferson. The situation in Virginia was bleak. It had only been a year since, in apprehension of a British attack, the Virginia Assembly voted to move the seat of government from the Peninsula west to Richmond, and along with it the public stores for outfitting, equipping, and otherwise supporting Virginia’s patriot forces in the fifth and sixth years of the war with the British. The gamble hadn’t paid off. January 1781 saw Benedict Arnold’s forces sacking Richmond. Everywhere they went, it seems, a new combined force of British, Hessian, and Loyalist forces left destruction in its wake.

he approximate landing site of the the main body of British soldiers with Col. Simcoe’s detachment landing further downstream in an effort to catch the Virginians by surprise. “…On a signal given, they all, except the gun-boat turned and rowed rapidly towards the point where the landing was to take place…” (author collection)
Continue reading “The Post Script”

The 245th Anniversary of "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death"

On this date, in 1775, Virginian Patrick Henry, a delegate to the Second Virginia Convention from Hanover County, Virginia sat in on the ongoing debate at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.

Patrick Henry

The 28-year old then stood to give his defense of his proposed amendments to the petition then being debated. Below is the last few lines of his now famous statement, with the last sentence being the one most remembered;

If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

Continue reading “The 245th Anniversary of "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death"”

Sixth Annual Conference on the American Revolution

Is it too early to make plans for March? Never, right?

Well, if you are looking forward to spring and want to mix in some Revolutionary War history, look no further than the America’ History LLC Conference the weekend of March 24 through 26, 2017 in Historic Williamsburg, Virginia.

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For those arriving early, you can take advantage of a Yorktown Battlefield Tour led by Bill Walsh on Friday afternoon. That evening the conference adds a new element in 2017 with a welcoming reception with the speakers. A panel discussion with all the speakers will focus on “Lies and Legends of the American Revolution.” In regards to the speakers for the event, America’s History LLC. have compiled an all-star lineup.

Spearheaded by Edward Lengel and David Preston. These two gentlemen will be joined by historians James Kirby Martin, Mark Lender, John Grenier, Michael Gabriel, Dennis Conrad, Robert Smith, and Robert Selig.

The conference wraps up on Sunday. For more information and how to register for the conference, click here.

Thomas Blackburn: Forgotten Patriot

Emerging Revolutionary War is honored to share the post below by guest historian Kerry Mitchell

Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, George Mason, Patrick Henry…when thinking about the period before and during the American Revolution these names come up as some of the great Virginians who were involved in the founding of our nation. While these men were great on their own accounts, there were other Virginian men who helped shaped our nation. Thomas Blackburn of Prince William County is one of these who history tends to glance over even though during the 1760s and 1770s, he was an important figure in American history.

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Rippon Lodge in Prince William County, Virginia, home of Colonel Thomas Blackburn

Thomas was born in Prince William County around 1742 to Richard and Mary (nee Watts) Blackburn. Richard Blackburn was a native from Ripon, England who came over in the early 1700s and settled in Gloucester County, Virginia before moving to Prince William County in 1733. In addition to being a carpenter and farmer, Richard was involved in Prince William County politics and served as a Justice of the Peace. Not much is known about Thomas’s early childhood. He inherits his family home and farm, Rippon Lodge in 1760. That same year he marries Christian Scott with whom he has six children with.  By 1762, Thomas receives a captain’s commission from the governor. With the French and Indian War ending it is unclear to what extent he served. We do know that in September 1766 he was serving as a Justice of the Peace for Prince William County. In 1772, Thomas was elected to be one of the Prince William representatives to the House of Burgesses.

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A photo of the interior of one of the rooms of Rippon Lodge

Thomas’s election to the House coincided with the brewing unrest brewing between the colonists and Great Britain. After the Boston Tea Party and Britain’s passage of the intolerable Acts, Thomas was amongst the group of members who drafted the resolution that would call for a day of prayer and fasting for the people of Boston.  Lord Dunmore believed the resolution was an insult to King George III and he dissolved the House on My 26th. Thomas was among the 22 ex-members who met at Raleigh Tavern and decided they would support a continental boycott of British goods. He went back to Prince William County to have the resolution passed by county leaders (which they did on June 6th). From 1774-1776, Thomas served in the first four Virginia conventions and involved himself in many committees dealing with the unrest. He was part of the committee offering George Washington the command of Virginia’s militia and as well as the committee with George Mason and Henry Lee II raising troops to defend Virginia. In the spring of 1776, Thomas lost his seat to attend the 5th Virginia Convention to Cuthbert Bullitt.

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Gravestone and D.A.R. marker for Colonel Thomas Blackburn

After losing his seat to Bullitt, Thomas was appointed as a Lt. Colonel of the 2nd Virginia State Regiment. After being passed over for a promotion, Thomas gave in his resignation on June 10, 1777. While he was out of the army officially, Thomas did not stay out of the fight for long. He rejoined the Virginia Militia as a volunteer. He fought at the battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania in October 1777. During this battle, he was wounded in the leg which ended his military career. He returned to Rippon Lodge in Woodbridge, Virginia to continue farming and entertaining his many friends. This included George Washington whom Thomas became related to through marriage when his daughter, Julia Ann, married George’s nephew, Bushrod Washington.  On July 7, 1807, Thomas passed away at Rippon Lodge where he is buried in the family cemetery.

Thomas Blackburb Obituary Virginia Gazette Aug 29th 1807
Thomas Blackburn Obituary, Virginia Gazette, August 29, 1807

*Originally from New York, Kerry Mitchell is currently the Historic Interpreter at Rippon Lodge Historic Site, part of Prince William County’s Historic Preservation Division. She has a B.A. in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington, a M.A. in American History from George Mason University and a graduate certificate in Museum Collection Care and Management from The George Washington University. She has previously worked at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Reston Historic Trust, and the Fire Island National Seashore.*

Tragedy After Success

On October 19, 1781, General George Washington had one of the ultimate highs in his military career. With the help of the French army and navy, Washington forced the surrender of British Lord Charles Cornwallis’ forces at Yorktown, Virginia.

To best sum up the impact of this momentous victory for the Americans in their cause for independence, British Prime Minister Lord Frederick North exclaimed when receiving the news:

“Oh God, it’s all over.”

But, weeks before North learned of the calamity in the Tidewater of Virginia, Washington dealt with his own calamity. One very personal. The death of his stepson.

John Parke Custis, affectionately known as “Jackie” or “Jack” as he got older, was one of two children that Martha Custis Washington brought into the marriage with George Washington on January 6, 1759.

Jack Parke Custis
John Parke Custis

The other child, Martha Park Custis, known as “Patsy” had died in 1773 of an epileptic seizure.

Now, seventeen days after the successful completion of the Siege of Yorktown, Jack Custis would be dead.

Custis had joined his stepfather as a volunteer aide-de-camp for the Yorktown Campaign and contracted “camp fever” a catch-all term for a whole litany of illnesses. With the disease quickly causing his health to fail, Custis had one last wish before leaving the lines at Yorktown. He wanted to see the surrender, so faithful attendants lifted Custis in a stretcher to the top of one of the redoubts.

From there Custis had a complete view of the proceedings, the crowning achievement of his stepfather.

To remove him from the scene of pestilence and in a hopeful attempt to save 26-years old life, Custis was moved 30 miles up the Tidewater Peninsula of Virginia to Eltham Landing, where his uncle, Burwell Bassett owned a plantation. His mother, Martha and wife, Eleanor Calvert Custis was summoned to his bedside.

Before Washington could arrive at the bedstead, Jack died on November 5, 1781. He was the last of five children Martha had given birth too. Martha was, understandably, slipped into a “deep and solemn distress.” Even the general exhibited some rarely seen emotion, And”clasping his [Jack’s] bereaved widow to his bosom and proclaiming that henceforth he regarded Jacky’s two youngest children as his own.”

Jack was buried in the family plot near Williamsburg, Virginia at Queen’s Creek.

The funeral was a week later and afterward Washington accompanied Martha and Eleanor back to Mount Vernon. George and Martha Washington would spend considerable energy in the pursuing years raising their late son/stepson’s children. Jack’s widow, Eleanor, would leave the two youngest children in the care of the Washington’s and by war’s end had remarried to a Dr. David Stewart of Alexandria in which the couple would have 16 more children.

But, all that was in the future. In the meantime, after leaving Mount Vernon in mid-November, George Washington had a revolution to see through to its successful conclusion.

The loss of his stepson, whose limited service in the war does not diminish the anguish felt by his family, put Washington in the company of countless parents whose sons had given their lives in the same cause.

And the war had approximately two years left in America.

 

Sources Used:

Ron Chernow’s “Washington, A Life”

George Washington’s Mount Vernon website – http://www.mountvernon.org – accessed October 18, 2015

ERW Weekender – Yorktown

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Rev War Wednesday and Emerging Revolutionary War is pleased to welcome guest historian Kate Gruber. 

Let me guess– you are a Rev War Nerd who is the best friend of/dating/married to a Civil War Nut.

I recognize the symptoms. You have often thought that the third person in your relationship might just be Shelby Foote.  Hardtack is just not something you can get voluntarily excited about. The idea of blue and grey is not nearly as appealing as red and blue. You have been dragged to Gettysburg when you really wanted to check out Valley Forge.

Friends, you are not alone. I myself am a Nerd married to a Nut, and I am here to tell you that your problems might just be solved by spending some quality time in historic Yorktown, Virginia. Continue reading “ERW Weekender – Yorktown”

Fashion in the Historic Triangle

RevWarWednesdays-headerWhen one heads to the Historic Triangle of Jamestown-Williamsburg-Yorktown, Virginia becoming immersed in early American History is almost a given.

At the same time, when one is looking for fashion in the area, the Premium Outlets in Williamsburg would usually be the direction one would head.

However, thanks to Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center, fashion and American history come together. But, the clothing styles does not end with just Colonial American history, as fashion from British military uniforms to Native American and West African cultures will also be on display. Continue reading “Fashion in the Historic Triangle”