Yorktown Day – Our Country's "Other Birthday"

The "Old Guard" will present a demonstration of 18th-century tactical skills as part of the festivities at "Yorktown Day" on October 19. NPS photo.

Our nation will celebrate its 227th birthday on October 19, 2008 in Yorktown, Virginia—and you're invited to the party! "Whoa, not so fast," some of you may be thinking; what happened to the Fourth of July?

Actually, both dates are key milestones in our history. We properly observe July 4th as the date our forefathers declared their independence from Great Britain, but that freedom was actually won on October 19, 1781, at the little village of Yorktown. The surrender of the British army on that day, to combined American and French forces commanded by George Washington, marked the end of the fighting phase of the American Revolution and made the dream that began in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, a reality.

Yorktown Battlefield is now part of Colonial National Historical Park, and a classic small-town American celebration occurs in Yorktown every year on October 19th. Since "Yorktown Day" falls on a Sunday this year, the traditional schedule has been adjusted a bit, and additional activities have been scheduled on Saturday, October 18th, as well.

Most of the events will occur within walking distance of the National Park Service Visitor Center, at the end of the Colonial Parkway in Yorktown. Newcomers to the area shouldn't confuse that location with the similarly named Yorktown Victory Center, a fine but separate state-operated facility on the opposite side of the village of Yorktown. You'll find directions to the national park here.

Here are some highlights of this year's schedule. All activities are at the Visitor Center unless otherwise indicated.

Saturday, October 18

The Royal Marines, called the most trusted troops in the British army, will camp at the Visitor Center on Saturday and Sunday, showing how the troops lived in the field. They will provide musket firing demonstrations at 11:15 a.m., 1:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m.

10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tours of the historic Moore House, site of the negotiations in 1781 that ended the battle. (The house is a short drive from the Visitor Center.)

10:15 am. Guided walking tour to Redoubts 9 & 10 will discuss the importance of the British fortifications and the pivotal hand-to-hand assaults against these positions that helped secure the Allied victory at Yorktown.

11 am to 6 pm. The Godspeed, a re-creation of one of the three ships that brought America’s first permanent English colonists to Virginia in 1607, will host free public tours on Saturday and Sunday at Riverwalk Landing, on the waterfront in Yorktown.

7:00 pm. "The Siege at Night." Discover how both the British and Allied armies took advantage of the darkness during the 1781 Siege of Yorktown. This one-hour program will feature nighttime firing of an 18-pounder siege cannon by the Lamb's Artillery, a re-creation of Colonel John Lamb’s Second Continental Artillery.

Sunday, October 19

Lamb’s Artillery will demonstrate the firing of an18-pounder siege cannon at 11:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 1:15 p.m.

Musket firing demonstrations by the Royal Marines 11:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.

11 am to 6 pm. Free public tours of the sailing ship Godspeed. Riverwalk Landing in Yorktown.

12 noon. Annual outdoor luncheon with ham biscuits, Brunswick stew, and homemade pies. Sponsored by the Yorktown Woman’s Club, in the Churchyard of Grace Episcopal Church, 111 Church Street (just off Main Street.) (Fee charged.)

1:30 pm. Parade along Main Street and past the Yorktown Victory Monument, erected in 1881 to commemorate the military victory a century before. The parade will include representatives of all branches of the U.S. military, fife and drum corps, JROTC and NJROTC units, and patriotic organizations.

2:15 pm. Patriotic ceremony at the Yorktown Victory Monument on Main Street includes a "pageant of flags," a colorful display that includes the American and French national colors, the flags of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the flags of the 13 members of the Yorktown Day Association. Pierre Vimont, ambassador of France to the United States, will deliver the keynote address and greetings from France, a key American ally in the defeat of the British in 1781.

3:30 pm. The final event will be a definite highlight. The 3rd United States Infantry (The Old Guard) will present a demonstration of 18th-century tactical skills on the Yorktown Battlefield near the National Park Service Visitor Center. The demonstration will include the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard and the Old Guard Fife & Drum Corps. This is a great opportunity to see these units of the Old Guard, which is the oldest infantry unit in the active Army, dating to 1784. The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is the only unit of its kind in the armed forces. Their colorful 1781-era uniforms consist of black tricorn hats, white wigs, waistcoats, colonial coveralls, and red regimental coats.

Whether or not you're a "history buff," these activities are a great way to help bring key events from our nation's past to life. If you decide to attend, don't forget to bring your camera!

Comments

Jim,

Thanks for a great article about this event. I wish I could attend this year, but sadly have prior commitments.

Yorktown and the "Historic Triangle" areas including Jamestown and Williamsburg are a must-see if your ever in that part of Virginia. The area is rife with Colonial history and period structures, as well as National Battlefields and parks from both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

I've been on the Godspeed several times, as she makes fairly regular visits to assorted events in the area throughout the year. It's quite a sight to behold, and all the hands on deck actually sail her to and from the various locations. Said crew members are also more than glad to show you below decks, as well as answer any questions as to vessel design and operation. Built as part of the Jamestown 400th anniversary celebration, she sailed as far as Boston harbor on an East Coast tour beginning in 2006. May she continue to ply the seas for many years to come!

Many of the Colonial-era reenactments can be seen during other times of the year at the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area, for
those who cannot make the Yorktown event.