Five Questions: The Virginia Campaign of 1781, with Richard Britton

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis | public domain

The Revolutionary War wrapped up in Virginia, with the French assisting the Colonists in defeating the British at Yorktown. The final steps leading up to this final American/French victory—including why British Gen. Charles, Lord Cornwallis was there in the first place—are explored on an upcoming BGES tour, The Virginia Campaign of 1781, slated for November 20–24, 2019. Esteemed author, historian, and cartographer Richard Britton is the man leading the group to Richmond, Charlottesville, and Williamsburg’s outskirts, where Cornwallis was finally ambushed. We caught up with Rick to ask a few questions about this third and final Revolutionary program this year.

Rick Britton

BGES Blog: What is your personal interest in the Virginia aspect of the Revolutionary War?

RB: As a military historian and a Virginian by birth, I’ve always been fascinated by the 1781 campaign. I studied Virginia’s participation in the Revolutionary War at the University of Virginia, but when I learned that Charlottesville, my current home town, was raided by British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton—quite possibly the most hated enemy commander—I was totally hooked.

BGES Blog:  Why this tour? What do you offer that others won’t?

RB: This tour is important because it’s important to understand: 1) Why George Washington felt the war was to be won elsewhere; 2) Why British Gen. Charles, Lord Cornwallis decided to shift his forces to Virginia; and 3) Why and how so many disparate Allied forces—on land and on sea—managed to converge on the Virginia Peninsula in almost a miraculous fashion. (As I’ve never taken anyone else’s 1781 Virginia Campaign Tour, it’s impossible for me to answer the second question.)

The Battle of Yorktown by Auguste Couder | public domain

BGES Blog:  What on-the-ground elements are you most excited to share with your tour participants in the upcoming tour?

RB: A few of the Charlottesville-area sites are little known, and hardly ever visited. We’ll see, for example, the site of the Barracks (where British Gen. “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne’s army was quartered after its surrender at Saratoga, New York, on October 17, 1777), and the Farm (Tarleton’s Charlottesville headquarters during his Central Virginia raid). At the Farm, by the way, one of the Revolution-era structures still stands!

First Marquis of Cornwallis | John Singleton Copley

BGES Blog:  How would you sum up the importance of Virginia in the Revolutionary War?

RB: The Revolution began in New England, and dozens of actions were fought there and in the mid-Atlantic states, but the final nail in the British coffin was hammered home in Virginia in 1781.

BGES Blog: What do you hope your tour will add to the discussion about what democracy means today?

RB: Understanding how much our Revolutionary ancestors sacrificed to establish this great nation can only serve to stiffen our resolve to preserve and protect those aspects of our democracy currently under assault.

 BGES Blog: Any last words?

RB: Join us in November for a great Revolutionary War tour!

Yorktown Victory Monument | Wikipedia