Artistic License and the French Artillery Park at Yorktown, A Case Study

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Karl G. Elsea

It is common for artists to use “artistic license” when painting historic events including American Revolutionary War art. The problem is this practice also

aids inaccuracies persisting. Here is one case study of one picture involving an historic event that is presented by the National Park Service (NPS) at Yorktown. Please note the staff is helpful and the grounds are beautiful. As for the severity of the problem, the reader can decide after reading the information.

The following picture is from the field at Yorktown where the French Artillery Park was located. The picture illustrates the idea of what an artillery park was.

The problem is this picture contains a number of images that are wrong. For example, the carriages, wagons, carts, and limbers should be painted light blue. The French Army artillery had been painted light blue prior to 1750. There is a lot of confusion to this day concerning gun and limber carriage colors. This confusion may have been generated by a current belief there was one French artillery color. The French used the color of the items to assist which department owned the material. The French Navy department [Ministry of Marine] was responsible for the colonies, including North America, and their cannon were on red carriages with, in all most all cases, iron barrels. The French Quartermaster’s department had their wagons were painted a brighter red. The French Army artillery was painted light blue with bronze barrels. Thus, the French Army barrels shown should appear to be “brass.”

Continue reading “Artistic License and the French Artillery Park at Yorktown, A Case Study”

Abercrombie’s Sortie

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Kevin Pawlak

On October 15, 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis penned a note to his superior officer General Sir Henry Clinton. Cornwallis told Clinton that American and French forces seized two redoubts, 9 and 10, along the York River the previous night. “My Situation now becomes very critical,” he glumly said. Before his army, entrenched outside of Yorktown, “shall soon be exposed to an Assault in ruined Works,” Cornwallis desperately sought to break the Allied stranglehold slowly bleeding his army. The general turned to Lt. Col. Robert Abercrombie to break the Allied lines anyway he could.

Map of the Allies’ Second Parallel and Abercrombie’s Sortie (from Jerome Greene, The Guns of Independence)
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George Washington; October 17, 1781

While reading background on the siege and victory at Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781, I came across the following passage written by historian Jerome Greene.

     “The officer was then quickly escorted to Washington’s headquarters in a nearby house,       where he delivered Cornwallis’s message: “I propose a Cessation of Hostilities for 24             hours, & that two Officers may be appointed by each side, to meet at Mr. Moore’s house         to settle terms for the Surrender of the Posts of York & Gloucester.” One can only                   imagine the emotions coursing through Washington’s body as he read these words.”

That last line is what really struck me.

Every image we have of George Washington depicts a stoic expression staring back out of us. Historians have a few instances from a long life of the Washington behind the marble, behind the self-imposed restraint, that he crafted for posterity.

However, he was human, he did have a fiery temper and he was a passionate person. One of the reasons he strove so hard to mask those emotions, to keep them in check, to keep perspective, and to persevere.

Those competing inclinations would have been bubbling at the surface on October 17, 1781, when that written communication was handed to him outside Yorktown, Virginia. What that moment must have been like, for Washington, for the French and American forces, and for all those fighting in favor of American independence.

Jerome Greene wondered about it. I am curious about it. Are you?

 

Siège_de_Yorktown_(1781)
Siege of Yorktown 1836

Three American Revolutionary War Luminaries

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit Yorktown National Battlefield. This evening I was scrolling through my cache of American Revolution photos on an external hard drive, when I came across the picture below.

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A simple monument to three luminaries of the American Revolution. Three brilliant young men, one of which, John Laurens, would fall in one of the last small engagements of the war.

Could you imagine the conversation between the three that fateful October evening of 1781?

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.