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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Reichley: The battle that helped 'cause' America

  • I don't write about this battle every year as it was so long ago and so far away, and there was absolutely no Fort Leavenworth connection to it.
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  • I don't write about this battle every year as it was so long ago and so far away, and there was absolutely no Fort Leavenworth connection to it. Reason for that is that it happened almost 50 years before the fort was founded.
    But since the battle ended on this date, it is thus an "exact" date, so here we go. And since it was the battle that sort of caused America to happen is another good reason.
    On this date in 1781, in far off Virginia, the little American army defeated one of the most powerful armies in Europe at the Battle of Yorktown. Today it is a shrine of sorts, and a much visited national park.
    That is, it was before the government shutdown.
    Many years ago, before I became a Leavenworth columnist, I wrote several feature articles that were published. One became my very first article published on the front page of the Times.
    I met an Army Reserve officer at the fort as a CGSC student, and since he was a high school history teacher we hit it off.
    I once asked what he did during his hiatus in the summer, and he said he was a guide at the Yorktown Battlefield. He'd even brought his uniform jacket to the fort with him.
    He had some interesting stories to tell, so I wrote an article about some of his experiences.
    The editor liked the article and asked me to have the student drop by for a photo of him wearing jacket.
    He did, and imagine the surprise of both of us when the photo and article were on the front page.
    He became an instant hero back at the battlefield.
    Yorktown is perhaps one of the most unique battlefields in America to visit as it was fought over in two wars, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. There is a nice museum there today, and a well marked drive through the battlefield.
    My last visit there was about six years ago when I visited old friend Maj. Gen. (ret) Ken Bowra who lived in Smithville, Va.
    When we got to Yorktown and found there was an entry fee, Bowra told me to check on a "senior pass." I did, and it got us both in for much less than individual fees would have.
    I think Bowra, now overseas, is still laughing at the answer I got from the cashier when I asked her when the pass expired.
    With a straight face she said "It expires when you do, sir." As of today, we both are still going relatively strong, that pass and me.
    But back to the surrender at Yorktown. The British commander, Maj. Gen. Charles Cornwallis, had been battling the American commander, Gen. George Washington, for months.
    Page 2 of 2 - The British forces moved to Yorktown, a tiny town with Chesapeake Bay to the east, and dug in.
    Washington had some French forces with him, and had requested a blockade from the sea by French ships. Cornwallis had sent for reinforcements to come by sea. Fortunately for us the French fleet got there first and blocked entrance.
    Cornwallis had little choice but to surrender when his supplies were cut off.
    But he was not very pleased at the turn of events, and sent a surrogate to surrender. The British band played The World Turned Upside Down" as troops marched into surrender.
    Cornwallis' surrender led to the overthrow of the British cabinet and the formation of a new government that decided the war in America was not worth further effort and declared it over.
    Most of us think that the war ended immediately at Yorktown, but Washington left two armies intact near New York and Charleston for two more years, with some small skirmishes occurring.
    But in essence, the war was "over, over here," 232 years ago today.
    John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.

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