Battlefield Guide Services

Monday, April 29, 2013

Siege of Yorktown, 1862 - Then and Now

     Last week, on April 26, I had my first opportunity to visit the Yorktown, Virginia area. I set off on this adventure as part of a family visit. One of my stepdaughter's husband is stationed near there, and spending time with them was a welcome opportunity to see the sights. Initially, having no preconceived notions of what the battlefield park offered, I had one very specific goal, and that was to visit the Moore House, site of the October 18, 1781 surrender negotiations of British General Cornwallis's army. That event was the opening door to the final cessation of hostilities during the Revolutionary War. However, my primary focus was, predictably some would say, to examine the 1862 Civil War connection to the site, as well as the unfounded rumor that Colonial-era Governor Alexander Spotswood was buried on the property. (therein is my Spotsylvania County connection, and excuse for posting about it here.) Below, is a May 1862 Gardner photograph of the Moore House, showing damage it suffered during the first month of the Peninsula Campaign, April 5 to May 4, 1862. Ironically, the structure had escaped damage during the 1781 conflict, having been located well east of that fighting's concentration. Today it is beautifully restored and managed by the National Park Service, as seen in the modern view. This view is looking roughly 112 degrees southeast. 

     Arriving at the park's visitor center, I began to formulate where I would need to go to focus on the Civil War  story, of which very little is presented. Taking a fast perusal of the souvenir/book store, I was delighted to find a thin, but quite informative book entitled, A Guide To Civil War Yorktown, by Dr. Thomas Adrian Wheat, Col. USA Retired. Within its 46 pages was a well designed walking tour of the siege works and the town itself, all based around Civil War era images. Included are some well detailed maps that provide the location and direction of each image. It does not, however, provide modern comparison images, but they are easily ascertained with the use of the maps provided.  Having set out on my adventure with only two predetermined 1862 images on hand, I was extremely pleased to have found this volume. Armed with it, I was now able to assemble some interesting then and now comparisons. I recommend that visitors seek out this guide. Without it I would have been at a loss to understand how the 1862 campaign utilized a good portion of the former British fortifications. Beginning with the photo below, I will present some of the images covered in the book. I have attempted to create as accurate modern views as I could, but I acknowledge that some could benefit from a bit of tweaking. Two in particular have been deliberately shifted, slightly, to adjust for modern obstructions. Be sure to click on any image for larger viewing.

 Looking roughly 150 degrees southeast along a portion of the
 Confederate, "High Bastion", near the visitor center.

 Looking roughly 278 degrees west, within "High Bastion", toward the visitor center.

 On Main Street, looking northwest, from in front of the Nelson House, in the town.

 On Main Street, looking southeast. The Courthouse is on the left.

 A battery of eight-inch Columbiads, on the east side of Church Street,
 near Grace Episcopal Church. The view is looking southeast.

 Looking roughly northward at the end of Church Street, across the York River,
 with Glocester Point on the opposite shore. The modern view is shifted slightly.

 The Sessions House and the Nelson House, looking southwest, from within a deep ravine.
The Nelson House was used as a hospital in 1862, and had been Cornwallis' headquarters in 1781.
 Attempting to achieve the same modern view is difficult due to current vegetation.
 Moving forward of the vegetation provides a similar, but not identical view. The ravine is evident.
     The Custom House on Main Street at the corner of Read Street, looking south. Photograph by George Barnard. The building served as headquarters for Confederate General John B. Magruder. The ruins of the Ambler House are at right. It was destroyed most likely by Federal incendiary shells, around May 3, 1862, during the Confederate evacuation of the town.


Diane said...

There are Civil War exhibits in the National Cemetery Lodge at Yorktown.

Diane said...

The perplexing thing regarding the Ambler House is there is no evidence of fire in the 1862 photograph. It is possible it was dismantled by the Confederates. There is a list of buildings they proposed taking down, if I remember correctly, dated 1861.