ERW Weekender – Yorktown



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.

If you’re a Rev War Nerd, you probably know that Yorktown is famous for being the site of the last major battle of the American Revolution, where British General Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington after the Siege of Yorktown on October 19, 1781. But did you know that Yorktown was also the site of a Civil War siege, too? Yorktown was again the site of siege warfare in the spring of 1862 as the Union Army of the Potomac marched west up the peninsula, aimed at capturing the Confederate capitol at Richmond.

Yes, Nerds and Nuts! Two sieges for the price of one!

You can learn about the history and landscape of both sieges by stopping at the National Park Service’s visitor’s facility, located just off Colonial Parkway. Tours of the battlefield can be self-guided, utilizing NPS literature and interpretive markers found throughout the park, either on foot or in your car for driving tours of the 1781 battle’s siege lines and encampments. You might opt for the park’s ranger-led tour, which cover the 1781 siege lines in a 30-minute walking tour.

Moore House, 1862 (LoC
Moore House, 1862

Of particular interest on your tour is the Moore House, where representatives from the British and American armies met to discuss Cornwallis’s surrender terms, and the house was also caught in the middle of 1862’s Peninsula Campaign. Don’t forget to visit Surrender Field, where British soldiers laid down their arms and surrendered to Washington’s Army. While you are enjoying your tour of Surrender Field, dear Nerd, send your Nut to the nearby Yorktown National Cemetery. Designated as a burial site in 1866, the cemetery is the final resting place of 2,204 individuals. Of the 747 known persons, most are Union Army soldiers.

Yorktown National Cemetery
Yorktown National Cemetery

The village of Yorktown is home to quite a few important monuments to our nation’s history. If you are able, I recommend parking in one of the town’s public parking facilities and exploring the streets by foot. Along your way, you’ll discover the Nelson House, home of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the circa 1720 Custom House. Built in 1697, Grace Episcopal Church and its historic cemetery are not to be missed. You’ll also find the York County Historical Museum on Main Street, which houses artifacts related to the town’s Revolutionary and Civil War history.

Nearby is also the Yorktown Victory Center, a museum which tells the story the American Revolution through artifacts and media.  Outside, the museum has two areas of living-history interpretation, a recreated Continental Army encampment and a Revolutionary War-era farm. The outdoor areas have daily demonstrations including artillery drills and musket-firing.

Yorktown Waterfront, 1862 (LoC)
Yorktown Waterfront, 1862

After a full day spanning two centuries of our nation’s history, you’re going to need a place to eat, drink, and swap battle trivia. Of course you could always have seafood, steak, and wine while enjoying the breathtaking view of the York River at The Riverwalk Restaurant, but local oysters and cold beer are always available at the Yorktown Pub.

As just one point of interest in the nation’s Historic Triangle (which also includes Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia), Yorktown is a wonderful weekend destination to embrace your inner Rev War Nerd—and don’t worry, your Civil War Nut will be happy, too.



3 Responses to ERW Weekender – Yorktown

  1. I know that earlier in the Sesqui Williamsburg had a program called “The Civil War in Williamsburg.” Is this still going on? I hope so–the history of Williamsburg wouldn’t be complete without it, and I hope to be able to see it soon, if possible.

    1. Meg,
      Unfortauntly, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation no longer offers weekly Civil War tours. On occasion they do offer a program at the DeWitt Wallace museum called, “Yankees in the Streets” which is an overview of the May 5 1862 battle and subsequent occupation of the city. You can find Civil War programming on occasion at Yorktown National Battlefield and a great exhibit at Lee Hall just down the road from Yorktown and Williamsburg in Newport News. Additionally, the Mariner’s Museum has a great exhibit about the U.S.S. Monitor. Lots to do and see here in the ‘Historic Triangle.’

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!