“And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.” —Ecclesiastes 1:17
Death of Leo Tolstoy, November 20, 1910
everal Russian novelists produced works that appear on almost every list of “the greatest novels ever written;” Count Lev Nickolayevich Tolstoy usually sits atop that list. On November 20, 1910, he died of pneumonia after collapsing in a train station at age 83, while apparently trying to escape his wife’s tirades. He spent his last hours preaching love, non-violence, and the value of a single tax system to anyone on the train who would listen.
Count Lev “Leo” Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910)
Tsar Peter I, “The Great,” granted the title of Count to Pyotr Tolstoy in the early 18th Century, a grandee of an ancient noble family of Russia. Lev, usually known as Leo, was born in 1828 at the family estate, Yasnaya Polyana, 130 miles south of Moscow. He was the fourth of five children born to Count Nickolai Ilyich Tolstoy—a hero of the war against Napoleon—and Princess Mariya Volkonskaya, who died when Leo was two years old. Upon the death of his father seven years later, Tolstoy’s very loving relatives, grandmother and aunts, took him and his siblings and raised them as their own. He was schooled by tutors until he entered The University of Kazan in 1844.
The Yasnaya Polyana estate, birthplace and childhood home of Tolstoy
Leo was not a great student, trying out several majors and transferring to another school. He pursued literature and ethics academically, attracted to the writing of Charles Dickens and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Tolstoy tried to conform to the social conventions of his day by gambling, drinking, and debauchery, finally just abandoning the University and returning to the estate, where he hoped to learn management of the property and the serfs, and live the life of an autodidact (self-taught learner).
Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
The leopard could not change his spots, however, and he fell back into his previous addictions, finally leaving home again, to serve in the army with his brother. Tolstoy fought in the Crimean War in an artillery unit, serving heroically, but leaving the service after it, shocked by the senseless slaughter. After that experience, and witnessing a public execution in France, Tolstoy left his former life and became a “a non-violent spiritual anarchist” writing that “the truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all, to corrupt its citizens . . .I shall never serve any government anywhere.”
Tolstoy in uniform, 1854
Victor-Marie Hugo (1802-1885)
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865
During a two year sojourn through Europe (1860-61), Tolstoy met Victor Hugo and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, both of whose impact on his thinking and writing can be seen in his novels, especially in his greatest work, War and Peace, published in full in 1869. As a novel, some consider it the greatest ever written; he mixes in powerful narrative history and profound philosophical tropes. Fictional narratives express a worldview that the author desires to communicate, and Tolstoy’s work best expresses the ideas that motivated him the rest of his life, and effect many people since his times. Mahatma Gandhi in India was so moved that he corresponded with Tolstoy and adopted his non-violence ideas, which in turn, transformed the history of India and the British Empire. In the middle to late 20th Century, Martin Luther King cited Tolstoy as a great influence on his thinking and actions.
Mohandas “Mahatma” Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948)
Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr.; 1929-1968)
Russia emancipated its serfs in 1861 and Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana and founded thirteen schools for the newly liberated peasants. Tsarist secret police shut them down. Tolstoy married the following year, Sophia Andreyevna Behrs (known as Sonya), who bore him thirteen children, all of them Counts and Countesses, the last one dying in 1979. His last grandchild died in 2007. During the Bolshevik Revolution in the early 20th century, many Tolstoys left Russia, and his descendants are found today in Sweden, Germany, Denmark, the U.K. and the United States. In Russia, some of them are internationally known persons and one is a cultural advisor to President Putin.
The Tolstoy family at the family estate, Yasnaya Polyana, in 1887
Leo Tolstoy drew on his life experiences in writing his novels and short stories, some of his earliest works concerned the war and his life growing up at the Tolstoy estate. War and Peace and Anna Karenina remain his most popular and greatest books. The former tells the story of the Napoleonic Wars, fictional biographies of the main characters of the story, and essays on his philosophy of history. He rejects Carlyle’s idea that great men make history and teaches that it is actually made by an infinite number of decisions by ordinary people. History is therefore, virtually unknowable regarding causality and appears as a result of randomness, in Tolstoy’s vision.
Tolstoy fell into a deep depression, afraid of death. He turned to the Russian Orthodox Church for answers, but decided that all Christian churches had failed to discover the true faith. He rejected the Trinity, deity of Christ, immortality, existence of the soul and other salient doctrines. He ignored his excommunication and preached a religion based on five tenets which included love your enemies and do not resist evil, principles that attracted the Pacifists of the world, especially the aforementioned Gandhi. Tolstoy told his followers to avoid military service, voting, government work, or using the courts. His increasing irascible negativism caused a rift with his wife and their relationship became stormy and irredeemable although loving one another was at the core of his teaching.
Tolstoy in 1905
Leo and Sophia in 1910 on their 48th wedding anniversary, 6 weeks before his death
He continued writing popular novels, novellas, plays, and short stories until his death in 1910. His family remained essentially hostile to his beliefs. Both he and his wife kept intimate diaries for about 60 years, which have become grist for the literary mills themselves, regarding marriage, hypocrisy, and satire. His fiction remained realistic and often expressed moral lessons, and his international reputation exceeded all other Russian writers although, as he developed his cranky and unorthodox ideas, he criticized his own greatest works. He died at 82, an inspiration to some of the greatest writers of history and of socialists as well as anarchists. His life was so full of contradictions that he could be admired or vilified from every point of the political and literary compass.
Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana, 1908, the first color photo portrait in Russia
“And the promise belongs to you and your children and to those who are afar off, those whom God shall call.” —Acts 2:39
The Legacy of Robert Fairlie of Edinburgh, November 16, 1572
f Christians paid more attention to history and genealogy, they might find godly lines of many generations in their own past. A good example of such is the life and legacy of Robert Fairlie, who, of course never saw or knew who would benefit from his own covenant faithfulness.
The Royal Mile in Edinburgh, with the iconic crown-shaped tower of St. Giles Kirk
On Sunday, November 16, 1572 Robert Fairlie walked down the street from St. Giles Kirk to visit a dying friend, the “Trumpet” of the Protestant Reformation, John Knox. He pulled up a table close to the Reformer’s bed and they ate together for one of the last times they could do so alone. The end of life was near and Fairlie returned four days later. Knox leaned over to his old friend and whispered “I have been greatly indebted to you. I shall never be able to recompense you, but I can commit you to One who can do it—to the eternal God.” Remembering those final words, Fairlie passed them on to his children, and they to theirs, down the generations. Young Marion Fairlie was told by her father that her great grandfather Fairlie “was committed in prayer to the Eternal God by His servant, John Knox!”
A memorial stained glass window inside of John Knox’s home in Edinburgh
The “John Knox House” on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh
Born in 1638 at the very beginning of the “Second Reformation,” Marion Fairlie committed her life to Christ at a young age, and when she grew up, married one of the boldest and bravest of the Scottish Covenanter preachers—William Veitch, to whom she bore nine children, three of whom died in infancy. She also kept a diary which was discovered and published two hundred years later by the Free Church of Scotland (1846). Ironically, she was married almost exactly 92 years to the day after her great grandfather’s last visit to John Knox.
The small village of Roberton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland, birthplace of William Veitch
William Veitch was the son of John Veitch, both of whom had been ejected from the pulpit as non-conforming Presbyterian pastors. Marion’s friends tried to convince her not to marry a man whose future indicated both poverty and trouble with the government, since the Veitches were meeting for worship in the illegal conventicles and were hated by Murdoch McKenzie, the Bishop of Moray, and declared outlaws by the King of England. Marion—a woman of deep conviction and constant in prayer—was a member of the congregation in Lanark, where William came to preach after his expulsion from Moray. Marion declared that God was faithful and would see her through difficulties, as he had her family in the past, believing it His will to marry William.
A coventicle—a secret meeting of the Covenanters—for which many paid dearly
Two years later, her husband—a “bold and daring man”—joined the Covenanter forces assembled to petition the Scottish General Assembly, but who were confronted by the government army at the Pentland Hills and slaughtered. Marion concealed officers fleeing the battlefield and pursuit. Within two days, enemy General Dalziel arrived at Veitch’s home seeking the preacher, although he had escaped and was in the process of making his way to England. Troopers continued to surround the Veitch home every few weeks, but Marion just assembled the children and truthfully denied having seen her husband lately. She eventually joined him in England, and he continued preaching there at illegal conventicles. In 1779 the authorities finally caught Veitch at home. Marion stated to her family that the justices could only do what God permitted them to do, so she was not worried over their situation.
Sir Thomas Dalyell (or Dalziel) (1615–1685), a great persecuter of Covenanters
A replica flag as carried by the Army of the Covenant
Travel to Scotland this summer and walk where Robert Fairlie, John Knox and William Veitch trod out the Gospel everyday. Hearing these reformation stories on the ground where they happened is both instructive and inspiring. Take advantage of our Early Bird rates and register today!
Word came from the jail that prosecutor Thomas Bell had pronounced sentence and the pastor was to be hanged the following day. Marion hurried through the snows to be with her husband in jail. That night, Bell “tarried at a friend’s house drinking” before going out into the night. He never arrived at home and his frozen body was found in the river next day. William Veitch was released from prison shortly thereafter, no one with the authority to carry out the sentence being present. He was eventually also pardoned by royal authority.
The village of Dumfries, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, with St. Michael’s Church
William and Marion both lived to a ripe old age, their home being known for hospitality, friendship, and prayer. Two of their sons became captains in the Prince of Orange’s army (later King of England), one became the Governor of Nova Scotia, and one moved to America and raised a godly family in Philadelphia. Another son became a minister in Ayr, and one daughter married the pastor at Caerlaverock. All of them were taught the scriptures at home and passed on to their own children that covenantal legacy begun centuries before at the bedside of John Knox. William and Marion died one day apart in 1722, but the faith lived on in their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Samuel Vetch (1668-1732), son of William and Marion Veitch, was a Scottish soldier and colonial governor of Nova Scotia
Caerlaverock Parish Church and graveyard, Caerlaverock, Dumfriesshire, Scotland
“They that go down to the sea in ships, and occupy their business in great waters; These men see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. For at his word the stormy wind ariseth, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep.” —Psalm 107:23, 24
The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald,
November 10, 1975
he Great Lakes contain 21% of the world’s fresh water by volume—more than 94,000 square miles of surface. Lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie and Ontario interconnect with one another and access the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence River and Seaway. They have often been called inland seas due to their rolling waves, high winds and currents, as well as ocean-like depths, not to mention about 35,000 islands. Lake Superior is the largest freshwater surface lake in the world and provides shore-line to Canada, and the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. It is larger than five New England states combined and receives water from more than three hundred rivers and streams. It is known for the ferocious storms that occasionally arise on its waters.
A 2010 satellite image of the Great Lakes region, showing Lakes Superior,
Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario (L-R)
Collectively there have been more than 6,000 ships sunk in the Great Lakes, with the loss of about 20,000 lives. Three hundred fifty of those ships went down in Lake Superior. The most famous of the lost ships, immortalized in song, was the iron ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank with all hands on November 10, 1975.
The Edmund Fitzgerald underway in 1971
The Lake Superior iron ranges supply about 85% of the iron ore demands of the United States iron and steel industry, which today makes it a two billion dollar industry. An iron ore range is an “elongate belt of sedimentary rocks in which one or more layers consists of a banded iron formation . . . on a scale of a few centimeters.” Most of the iron ranges in the three states were discovered in the 1840s and 50s, and by the 1880s were in full iron ore production. Lake Superior became the super-highway of transporting ore to the factories around the United States, from the foundries and blast furnaces of Gary, Indiana to those in Elyria, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. In the 1950s, the shipments were changed to taconite, a pelletized version of the best ores, created at the mines.
The probable respective routes of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Arthur M. Anderson the fateful night of November 10, 1975
The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was launched in 1958 and was the largest ore transporter on the Great Lakes. Her length was seven hundred twenty-nine feet and seventy-five at the beam—more than two football fields long. For seventeen years the “Titanic of the Great Lakes” shipped out of Duluth, delivering taconite pellets to Detroit, Toledo and other ports. By ore freighter standards the “Mighty Fitz” was positively luxurious with deep pile carpeting, tile bathrooms, and leather swivel chairs in the guest lounge. The crew quarters were air-conditioned and fully stocked pantries for the two dining rooms. The pilothouse boasted state-of-the-art nautical equipment and an elegant map room.
The Northwest Mutual Company named the ship after its president and chairman of the board, a man whose grandfather and uncles had all been lake captains. The sideways launch of the new ship in 1958 created a wave so large it doused the 15,000 spectators! The Fitz quickly became the record-setting workhorse and flagship of the Columbia Transportation Fleet. She became a favorite of boat watchers, and the captain piped music day and night over the ship’s intercom system. Ore-carrying ships were built to last fifty years, but the Edmund Fitzgerald met an ill-wind of providence on that Sunday in 1975, after leaving with a load of taconite from her Superior, Wisconsin port, bound for Tug Island near Detroit.
Captain Ernest Michael McSorley (1912-1975)
The Arthur M. Anderson unloading at Huron, Ohio, November 29, 2008
Captain Earnest M. McSorley decided to follow the regular route despite the weather report of a possible storm, a normal forecast for that time of year. The Fitz was joined by the Arthur M. Anderson out of Two Harbors, Minnesota bound for Gary, Indiana. At 7:00 p.m., the National Weather Service issued a gale warning for the whole of Lake Superior. Both ships altered course seeking shelter along the Ontario shore, where they encountered a winter storm at 1:00 a.m. By 2:00 the Anderson registered winds of 50 knots (about 58 miles per hour). Within forty-five minutes snow obscured visibility and the Anderson lost sight of the Fitz. Captain McSorley radioed the Anderson that his ship was taking on water and a few minutes later reported they had lost their radar and were slowing down to rely on the smaller ship for guidance. McSorley hailed any ships in the area for information about a nearby lighthouse and reported that the Fitzgerald was listing badly and the seas were “over the deck” in the “worst seas I’ve ever been in.” The Arthur M. Anderson recorded waves twenty-five feet high and sustained winds at fifty knots and gusts up to eighty-six knots. At 7:10 Captain McSorley radioed that they were “holding their own,” but was never heard from again. There are many theories regarding the breakup and sinking of the ship, too many to summarize in this brief article.
Lifeboat No. 2, recovered after the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
A three-day search off Whitefish Point turned up a few lifeboats and wreckage, but no survivors or the ship. A Navy Lockheed P-3 Orion flying over the region with special radar found the Edmund Fitzgerald in two pieces, fifteen miles west of Deadman’s Cove in 530 feet of Canadian waters on November 14. A number of dives have been held on the wreck, and the ship’s bell has been recovered. The remains of one seaman with a life vest was recovered. An historical marker has been erected at Whitefish Point, Michigan and a replica of the bell etched with the twenty-nine crewmen’s names is on display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Chippewah County, Michigan. Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot composed and sang “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” in 1976. It became one of the most famous ballads in American history.
A sketch of the wreck as it was found
Canadian musician Gordon Lightfoot, who commemorated the loss with his famous ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” in 1976
Keep your eyes open for a new and exciting Landmark Events tour (late August or September of 2023) as we visit the numerous historical sites of the Duluth, Minnesota area, including the William A. Irvin, a floating iron ore ship museum that plied the Lakes for 40 years.
Annual lighting of the Split Rock Lighthouse to commemorate the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald
“All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives.” —Proverbs 16:2
Birth of Theodore Roosevelt, October 27, 1858
he birth of Theodore Roosevelt on October 27, 1858 presaged by one week the first ever capture of a branch of the federal government by the fledgling Republican Party. The takeover of the House of Representatives was followed two years later by the election of Abraham Lincoln, the takeover of both houses of Congress, an arrest warrant for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the incarceration at Fort McHenry of thirty suspected pro-Southern members of the Maryland legislature and mayor of Baltimore, for opposing the new President’s view of secession.
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (1858-1919), 26th President of the United States, often referred to as Teddy or TR
That political party’s stranglehold on the Presidency would continue, with only one exception, until after Roosevelt served two terms as their standard-bearer in the first decade of the 20th Century. He would expand the power of the presidency and make such an indelible mark in history that his visage is immortalized in stone on Mount Rushmore, along with his most admired predecessor, Abraham Lincoln. While never facing a crisis of the magnitude of secession, Theodore Roosevelt used the “bully pulpit” of his office to further an early form of the progressive agenda of his day, never envisioning the monster that would be unleashed by his successors of the Democratic Party.
Theodore Roosevelt Sr. (1831-1878), TR’s beloved and admired father
Martha “Mittie” Stewart (Bulloch) Roosevelt (1835-1884), TR’s mother
TR was born to a family of wealth and privilege in New York City. His namesake father, a man he would admire and love all his life, helped him overcome physical weakness to become a superb athlete and an accomplished pugilist by the time he matriculated at Harvard. Passionately in love with the created world, both flora and fauna, as well as with history, TR became a naturalist and a historian—pursuits that lasted his entire life. When his first wife died in child-birth, Roosevelt fled to the Dakotas to become a cowboy and test his mettle against the rugged culture and terrain, through ranching, law enforcement, and taking dominion over it all. Upon his return to the East, he embarked on a political career that would find him in the New York State legislature as the youngest member, assistant police commissioner in New York City, assistant Secretary of the Navy in Washington, and Lieutenant Colonel of a volunteer cavalry regiment in the Spanish American War.
TR with a jaguar in South America
Alice Hathaway (Lee) Roosevelt (1880–1884), first wife of TR, married from 1880 until her death in 1884
Edith Kermit (Carow) Roosevelt (1861-1948), second wife of TR, married from 1886 until his death in 1919
He married Edith Carow, who became the mother of his four boys and two girls, an almost perfect help-meet, and the only person that could actually control his outsized personality. In the Spanish-American War, TR rose to command the “Rough Riders,” leading them to victory and immortality in the Battle of San Juan Hill. Soon after his election to the governorship of New York, the Republican Party bosses who disliked and feared the robust hero, put him on the 1900 ticket as Vice President (a meaningless do-nothing job) with the popular William McKinley. One of them opined, that they “had put a madman one heartbeat from the Presidency.” Once again, Roosevelt was second in command and once again, providence contrived to put him in charge, this time as President of the United States. With the assassination of McKinley, the forty-year-old Roosevelt’s “crowded hour” extended to seven years in the Oval Office.
William McKinley (1843-1901) 25th President of the United States
TR (standing center) with his legendary “Rough Riders” at the Battle of San Juan Hill
It seemed as if TR was born to serve as President, and few were as successful as he. As historian Nathan Miller summarized:
“In a little more than a year in office, Roosevelt had captured the imagination of the American people. He had launched the “Square Deal,” brandished the “Big Stick” against the trusts, personally settled a major coal strike and won the support of labor and the public, enlarged the power and prestige of his office, and emerged as the leader of the Republican party. He had shown the will and skill to capitalize on the opportunities that came his way.”
The Roosevelt family in 1903: Quentin, TR, Theodore, Archie, Alice (TR’s daughter from his first marriage), Kermit, Edith, and Ethel
He did all that and maintained his primary goals as a husband and father, continuing to play with his children, lead them on rambles across the Potomac River and horseback rides at Sagamore Hill, the Roosevelt home on Long Island. He negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He dramatically expanded the national parks and the U.S. Naval fleet, and held a meeting in the White House with Booker T. Washington, an attempt at racial harmony unheard of since the days of Abraham Lincoln.
Sagamore Hill, home of the Roosevelt family
TR’s vision for a more powerful chief executive clashed at times with the “stand-pat-ism” of a Congress that was more characterized by ennui than activism. Nonetheless, his unbounded optimism and self-confidence (if not self-righteousness) marked him as one of the most beloved and successful chief executives of the 20th Century. Theodore Roosevelt ran for President four years later on the Progressive Party ticket, seeking to unseat his disappointing successor, William Taft. Having divided his former party, TR lost the election and spent his last few years in an adversarial relationship with the even more “progressive” Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson.
William Howard Taft (1857-1930) 27th President of the United States
Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) 28th President of the United States
All of TR’s sons and daughters and daughter-in-law served the country in some capacity in the First World War, his youngest one dying in combat and the other three boys receiving severe wounds. His oldest son and namesake was awarded the Medal of Honor as a result of his leadership on D-Day in the Second World War. Theodore himself received the same award posthumously, a hundred years after his extraordinary service “above and beyond the call of duty” in the Spanish American War.
Ted Roosevelt—TR’s son—led the assault on Utah Beach on D-Day and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service
Historian George Grant asserts that “Theodore Roosevelt stood foursquare on the legacy of Biblical orthodoxy…and made Bible reading and Bible study a vital part of his daily life.” He always said he was proud of his “Holland, Huguenot and Covenanting ancestors.” A professing Christian, however imperfect in life and in politics, Theodore Roosevelt’s fifty-one-year life has much to commend to us, by the Grace of God.
Ever the outdoor enthusiast, President Roosevelt is clearly enjoying his drive through the Wawona Tunnel Tree in Yosemite National Park, 1903
“Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.” —Isaiah 40:15
Victory at Yorktown, October 19, 1781
ew battles in history had larger repercussions than the Siege of Yorktown, Virginia, concluded on October 19, 1781. An army, representing thirteen rebellious colonies of Great Britain and led by General George Washington, trapped and forced to surrender a tired and bloodied professional English army, led by an experienced and undefeated officer of the Empire, Major General Lord Charles Cornwallis. Allied to the American colonial forces, both militia and regulars, was a professional army of French infantry and a naval task force which together, providentially, tipped the scales in favor of Washington’s cause.
General George Washington (1732-1799)
General Charles Cornwallis (1738-1805
The war raged on and off for six years before they met at Yorktown, then continued in desultory fashion for two more years. American forces had suffered defeats in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, often staving off total destruction, and winning small victories between major losses. An American army had blunted a three-pronged invasion and defeated and captured another English army at Saratoga, New York in 1777, but had subsequently suffered regular defeats in the southern colonies. The fledgling American Navy had won a number of confrontations on the high seas, but England still ruled the oceans and shipping lanes.
British General John Burgoyne surrenders to American General Horatio Gates
at Saratoga, New York, October 17, 1777
Throughout the year of 1781, General Washington’s army held a position along the Hudson River, with the British Army occupying New York City, under the command of General William Howe. The French settled in at Newport, Rhode Island, awaiting military developments. In North Carolina, Lord Cornwallis pursued the Americans under Nathanael Greene, seeking revenge for the destruction of British forces at Cowpens and King’s Mountain, and to finally drive the American army out of the Carolinas. On March 15, 1781 Lord Cornwallis caught up to Nathanael Greene’s American army at Guilford Court House in North Carolina.
General William Howe (1729-1814)
General Nathanael Greene (1742-1786)
Admiral Thomas Graves (1729-1814))
Lt. General François Joseph Paul de Grasse (1722-1788)
That fierce battle left the British holding the field, but at huge cost in lives and wounded. Cornwallis had to send his wounded to eastern North Carolina for treatment and marched the bedraggled remnant to Yorktown, Virginia for refitting and resupply from the sea. Man proposes, but God disposes. The British relief fleet met the French fleet off the Virginia Capes on September 5. Rear Admiral Thomas Graves intended to sail up the York River from the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, but French Lt. General de Grasse and twenty-eight ships of the line got there first, after a series of providential blunders and untimely decisions by the English commanders. In a short-range, broadside exchange that lasted from 5pm to sunset, the two sides pounded each other until the British squadron drew off and headed for New York, leaving Lord Cornwallis and his army isolated at Yorktown.
The French line (left) and British line (right) do battle in Chesapeake Bay
George Washington had slipped away from the warfront in New York after combining his army with the French reinforcements under General Comte de Rochambeau, giving him a total of more than 15,000 men. After several secret spy operations and mis-directions to fool the English high command in New York City, the allied force marched three hundred ninety miles and laid siege to Cornwallis’s more than 7,000 soldiers at Yorktown. The British had the York River barrier at their backs and classic siege works in their front, surrounded by two veteran armies, well supplied and determined. The siege lasted from September 28 to October 19—three weeks of bombardment, digging trenches, sorties, and finally a gallant rush and capture of the two most strategic British flanking forts defending the town (Redoubts 9 and 10). When Cornwallis tried to move his men across the river, a squall suddenly came up and blew the boats back to shore, the second time in the war that Washington was favored by the wind on the water.
General Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau (1725-1807)
The American commanders before the Siege of Yorktown: Rochambeau (center L), Washington (center R), Marquis de La Fayette (behind Washington, L), Marquis de Saint Simon (behind Washington, R), Duke of Lauzun (L, mounted) and Comte de Ménonville (R of Washington)
American storming of Redoubt 10 during the Siege of Yorktown
Realizing the hopelessness of his situation, Cornwallis raised the white flag and had the drummers beat the parley.
General Washington offered generous terms regarding prisoners, but forbade flying the British colors or the bands playing tribute to the victors, in response to similar treatment suffered by the Americans at the surrender of Charleston, South Carolina several years earlier. General Washington also directed the red-coat second in command to surrender to Benjamin Lincoln, his second in command, since Cornwallis was indisposed to attend the ceremony. The American General was a stickler for protocol and respect.
General Charles O’Hara—second in command to and standing in for General Howe—surrenders the British troops to General Benjamin Lincoln, second in command to and standing in for General Washington, who observes from the background
At the loss of less than four hundred casualties, George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau and the French fleet had humiliated and captured a major British army at a politically sensitive time. The loss brought down the English government and America’s allies in Parliament began negotiation for a final ending of the war, which took place in 1783. For all practical purposes, the Siege of Yorktown put an end to the War for Independence. Now it was up to the politicians to build a Republic, “if they could keep it.”