A Near Thing at Yorktown


In two respects the Battle of the Chesapeake marked the end of an era. On land the French and American armies now followed out in great detail the ancient siege ritual according to Vauban: investiture, circumvallation, countervallation, bombardment, and the opening of first and second parallels to the rolling of drums and the waving of banners. It was the last of a two-hundred-year series of feudal sieges. The campaign by sea was the last that was conducted under the tyranny of the Fighting Instructions. When Admiral Rodney, restored to his West Indies post, defied the rules and sailed into the midst of De Grasse’s becalmed fleet at the Saintes on April 12, 1782 (see “The Battle of the Saintes,” AMERICAN HERITAGE, June, 1958), thereby restoring “the empire of the ocean” to Britannia, the old naval order was finished. Yorktown not only enabled the French Navy to make us the decisive gift of our independence as a nation; it gave mankind “one flickering glimpse of war in its ancient panoply.”

*One, of course, later was burned and sunk (supra).