2012-10-10 / Local & State

Special Objects From 1781 Yorktown Battle On Display

Museum showcases rare battle map and flag fragments on the anniversary of Yorktown Battle

George Washington’s estate, Mount Vernon, displays the Yorktown, Va., battle map on the anniversary of the American victory over the British, October 19, 1781. On loan from Ambassador and Mrs. Nicholas F. Taubman, this important American document is believed to be the most accurate depiction of the American and French allies’ positions and plan of attack. Preserved in the family of George Washington’s close friend and aide, Tobias Lear, this original map was very likely owned by Washington himself. Also on view inside the gallery are fragments of a flag from the Battle of Yorktown. The silk fragments are some of the few remaining flag fragments from Yorktown.

“The surrender at Yorktown was an absolutely stunning blow to the British,” said Mount Vernon curator Susan P. Schoelwer. “Looking at this first-hand, meticulously drawn map sends shivers down my spine – it’s almost like being inside the tent with General Washington, listening to him plan the tightening siege with the French commander, Count Rochambeau. Without the decisive victory at Yorktown, America might never have established our independence from Great Britain. It doesn’t get much closer to seeing history in action.”

The Yorktown siege map documents the fortifications and troops movements of American and French forces as they tightened their siege of British forces, encamped near the mouth of the York River. Two lines of American and French batteries are marked in yellow, encircling the British positions marked in red. It was produced – just days after British General Lord Cornwallis’ surrender, under the personal direction of French Lt. Col. Jean Baptiste Gouvion.

The allied American and French victory at Yorktown proved to be the last major battle of the American Revolution. The allies’ successful siege at Yorktown led to the surrender of the entire army commanded by British General Lord Cornwallis. The British’s surrender of more than 7,000 troops diminished the kingdom’s support for the war, prompting the British government to negotiate for peace. Upon hearing of the defeat at Yorktown, Britain’s prime minister, Lord North, reportedly exclaimed, “Oh God, it’s all over.”

The map and flag fragments will remain on display in the Gilder- Lehrman Gallery in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center until March 18, 2013.

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