Memoirs of the 225th Anniversary of the Siege of Yorktown Reenactment
Donald R. Warner
October 25, 2006
Friday Oct. 20, 2006
We barely arrived here at Yorktown today when we got into a smart little engagement with the enemy. (Reenactment of the Battle of the Hook Oct. 3, 1781) A party of the enemy was sent out to collect cattle and sheep near their lines thinking there was no one to oppose them. The Virginia Militia having intelligence of their activity advanced towards the enemy position until contact was made. After the initial clash the enemy fell back. But soon they mounted a counter attack and began to push our lads back. Our rifle company was brought onto the field to protect our right flank and soon we were pushing them back. Additional militia reinforcements soon arrived and the enemy was slowly beaten back and withdrew to their defensive lines. After several volleys from both sides we retired from the field. This ended the engagement and we returned to camp.
After setting up our tents and cleaning our rifles we sat down to a meal. Whole wheat bread, cheese and ham never tasted so good. By this time it was getting late and I decided to turn in for the evening.
Saturday Oct. 21, 2006
We were aroused quite early (around 6) by the French drummer’s wake up call. Then the same from the Northern Brigade about 15 to 20 minutes later and finally by our southern Brigade’s drummer another 15 to 20 minutes later. After I rather sleepless night, it seams late October nights in Virginia can be rather chilly, I had my usual breakfast.
Assembly call came about an hour later and after weapons inspection we were off to assist the French (Reenactment of the French attack on the Fusiliers Redoubt Oct. 1781). The French were assigned to create a diversion at the Fusilier’s redoubt. They bravely charged forward and were met by several volleys from the redoubt before falling back. British reinforcements poured in from the road on the British right and from the woods on their left. Our regulars were sent forward to cover the French as they fell back to regroup. The British reinforcements were to strong and they began to falter. Our Pennsylvania Rifles were sent in to stall the British advance and gain time for our forces to regroup and for the extra reinforcements to be called up. With all resources brought to bear on the enemy they began to fall back to their defenses and the battle ebbed to a close. The Royal Welch Fusiliers Redoubt never fell during the siege of Yorktown.
After returning from the battle I had an opportunity to visit the Sutler’s tents and then headed back to camp grabbed a bite to eat and cleaned my rifle. Tried to take a short nap in the afternoon but was interrupted several times by the roar of heavy artillery pounding the British positions. Late afternoon and the drums are beating again calling us to assemble.
The British have mounted an attack on American and French artillery positions to spike the cannons (Reenactment of Abercrombie’s Sortie to spike allied guns Tue. 4 AM Oct 16, 1781 ). The line is being established and the Rifles are called forward to repulse the attack. The rifles attack in open order fire teams and the enemy falters giving time for the regulars and the militia to come on line. The rifles take up a position on the far left as numerous volleys erupt from both sides in the fading light. Once again the British attack is repulsed and they return to their works. They managed to inflict several casualties and spike 3 American 18-pounders and 4 French 16-pounders.
We marched back to camp and were dismissed for the evening. I cleaned my rifle in the fading light and lit the lantern to finish the job. Made my evening meal and ate at the campfire with a group of the Pennsylvania rifles. Fire is pleasant and warm but evening is already getting cold. I returned to my tent to retire for the evening. Expecting another cold night, I put the blanket I used the previous night for my pillow on my bed and used my haversack as a pillow. I put on my extra shirt and my extra pair of wool stockings, which I soon discovered the moths had found for they had some holes in them. I crawled under 3 wool blankets and tried to get some sleep. I awoke several times during the night cold and uncomfortable needing to change positions but not wanting to for fear of letting the cold under the blankets.
Sunday, Oct. 22, 2006
Morning arrived too soon with the rat-a-tat-tat of that darned French drummer. Had my usual breakfast and then went to the campfire to get it started for the others. Soon there is a fine fire going and the water is on to boil. Each morning the musicians of the various camps begin playing and they march a couple of times around their respective camps. Enjoying the music and looking east over the encampment I noticed what a beautiful sunrise there is this morning. However the thought comes to mind… red in the morning. Next I am off to the Divine Services of the true commander of the universe. After singing a song we read from Psalms 44:1-8 in both English and in French for our allies. This was followed by a short sermon, a blessing and the singing of the doxology.
Soon the artillery opened up again and after several barrages an officer and a drummer appeared on the defensive works of the British (Oct. 17, 1781). This was to signal a parley. The cannons ceased and a British officer and aid came onto the field with a white flag. A group of allied officers left our side to meet them and discuss conditions of surrender talks.
Terms of surrender have been established (Oct 19, 1781) and we are called to assembly. Everyone this time, New England Brigade, Middle States Brigade, Southern Brigade, Continental Artillery, Dragoons, Light Corps and the French. News comes down the line we will be marching the 3 miles to surrender field where the British forces will arrive, surrender Cornwallis’ sword, their colors and weapons. As we start off it begins to rain lightly, so much for that beautiful sunrise. Although the rain dampens some spirits the march is a joyous event for us, although it must be a somber one for the British. We line the road 2 deep for at least a half mile before the British arrive. It is a quiet affair. The British officers and most of the men look like they have been sucking lemons. The rain has stopped as they march with their flags furled and covered. Cornwallis is not in attendance he claims he is sick and sends his sword with his second in command. Because of the surrender proceedings far ahead of where we are stationed the British column moves and stops several times. At one point the Hessians stop in front of us. They are very fierce looking and it’s interesting to hear all their commands given in German. The next group that stops in front of us are British Red Coats and at this point they are calling all the colors forward to be surrendered. The officer in charge calls another officer forward and quietly asks for their colors to be brought forward. As they pass forward there is dead silence not a word from either army a very moving experience. Then the column moves forward again stopping occasionally as each unit surrenders their weapons grounding them to specific areas of the field.
The official ceremony is over and we wheel left to form ranks in the road and march onto surrender field. The British retrieve their weapons and form their column opposite ours. The colors are paraded between the armies and then we all begin the march back to camp. Once back at camp it’s time to pack it up and head for the next campaign.
Donald R. Warner
Selin’s Rifle Company
Please accept this account of events pertaining to the campaign at Yorktown.
Thursday evening Oct. 19, 2006
I traveled to Don Warner's place to spend the night and to ensure an early
start for Yorktown. I really appreciated Don's suggestion to travel together.
Friday Oct. 20, 2006 6:02 am
Left for Yorktown by direct route with one stop for fuel and one stop for
necessities. Arrived at Endview Plantation shortly after 3:00 pm.
Registration was smooth and after securing powder in the magazine we
approached the Southern Brigade to take part in the Battle of the Hook.
The British were well defended which was apparent after a company of
militia were sent first to attack and were decimated. The rifles were
then deployed in open order by file partners. Rifles numbered slightly
over 30. We quickly secured positions along a fence line and stopped the
British advance. We then were deployed to the flanks of the advancing
Southern Brigade and pushed the British off the field.
We then made way to Yorktown and set-up camp. We camped among the rest of
the rifle companies:
Penn. State Reg. ..... 8 or 9 men
1st Virginia ......... 2 men
Selin's Ind. Coy ..... 2 men
Morgan's Rifle Coy
New Jersey .... 5 to 8 men
California .... 10 to 15 men
Sat. Oct. 21, 2006
Revielle at 6:00 am, formation at 8:00 am and then headed for Endview for
the attack on Redoubts 9 & 10. The Southern Brigade fought in support of
the French Army who initiated the assault. The French were repulsed and
the rifles were deployed to cover their retreat.
Returned to camp for nooning and formation for afternoon drill. The
afternoon drill was cancelled.
Formation of the whole Continental Army along with the French Army called
at 6:00 pm. We then marched to the 2nd Parallel Line (the actual forward
position of the army in 1781) and repulsed a British attempt to spike one
of the cannon. When the British movements were detected to our left flank,
the rifles were sent to stop them, and we did. The rest of the Army shot
volleys upon the British as they retreated back to town. As dusk descended
volley fire continued between both armies, the smoke settling into pockets
across the field. This was perhaps the most impressive scene I have
experienced as a re-enactor.
Sunday Oct. 22, 2006
Formed the army at 10:30 and after a long wait marched to Surrender Road.
I thought it was about 1 1/2 miles, other said 3 miles. The rain drizzled
during the march, but once at the field and in position all rain stopped.
The British army approached after awhile and laid down their arms. Both
armies then deployed upon the field for ceremonial tributes. All in all a
very solemn and dignified affair.
We then broke camp to return home.
Regarding the volley fire between the armies Sat. night. Several times
the next day I had British soldiers tell me how impressed they were to see
the firing from our line. The said the volleys were uniform and
impressive. The firing went on for most of an hour. The park rangers
wanted us to use up all our rounds.
That ends the details of this report.
Your most Humble and Obedient servant,
David Fancher, pvt.