Sunday, July 28, 2013

How I spent my Summer Vacation - Part II

Let me say up front this is the first summer that I have been able to go on two different trips - one north - one south. However, both took me to coastal beaches. And both took me back in least notionally. Part two took me to North Carolina.  I briefly lived in North Carolina many years ago but my Army duties and other interests kept me from truly exploring the state.  This trip convinced me of the error of my ways. I stayed at Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks.  My place was within sight of the place where the Wright brothers changed the world forever and about twenty five yards from the beach.

Outer Banks

Mary Washington's home, Fredericksburg, Va

Driving down to the Banks took me through some notable places during the time of the Yankee Doodle Spies.  I took Highway 15 and then 17 instead of the interstate. The route took me through the Virginia Piedmont to Fredericksburg, which was an operating seaport during the 18th century. There begins a trip through the upper tidewater region. Mary Washington's last  home, purchased for her by her son in 1772, is in Fredericksburg, Va.

American field guns at Yorktown

Highway 17 takes you through Gloucester, which is across the York River from the famous town of that name. Crossing the York River you find yourself at historic Yorktown. The National Park Service maintains a fabulous battlefield center there and the park extends into part of the town itself. As most know, a combined French-American force besieged General Cornwallis there and caused his surrender in 1781, forcing the British to begin negotiations with the rebels and the French.

Portsmouth, Va

My GPS routed me through Yorktown, Newport News, Smith Island and finally to Portsmouth and meandered south. At that point, I left 17 for the more traditional (and traffic-laden) approach to the Banks.

 Had I stayed on 17 I would have passed near the Great Dismal Swamp, a hundred mile square area of marsh connected by a series of small streams - all heavily wooded at the time of the Yankee Doodle Spies.  George Washington and many of his Virginia peers lost a bit of money in a venture aimed at developing the swamp as an inland waterway.

Great Dismal Swamp

Little of this has anything to do with the time of the Yankee Doodle Spies but geography often dictates history.  And so I expand on that idea a bit. The British government's main advantage over their rebellious colonies was the Royal Navy. They had the largest and best navy in the world and the Americans had none at the war's start. However, navies need ports to make them most effective - and North Carolina had few of note. To that end, the Outer Banks served as a more than 100 mile long barrier against British naval supremacy in North Carolina. This limited British operations from the sea and thus no naval actions of note took place there. Late in the  war, when the British invaded North Carolina, they did so over land, and the series of events leading to Yorktown ensued.

Ruins of earthworks mark Fort Johnston today

Fort George marker 

But further down the coast from the Banks there was an attempt to maintain a coastal bases at New Bern, Wilmington, and Bald Head Island, which guards the mouth of the Cape Fear River. The main British forts were Fort George (on Bald Head itself) and Fort Johnston. The British clung to these but never found a way to exploit them, thanks to aggressive patriot actions that continued throughout the war.

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