Knox

General Henry Knox was another character that I encountered and learned about when visiting Colonial Williamsburg. I listened to the actors portraying General Knox and General Anthony Wayne discussing about their plan to attack the British troops under Lord Cornwallis in Yorktown.

One of the topics they discussed during the planning was whether the light infantry under General Wayne should attack the British troops first, or whether they should perform a siege using the artillery under General Knox. True to the character, General ‘Mad Anthony’ Wayne suggested they should attack more aggressively, while General Knox suggested for bombardment by the artillery. They could not resolve the decision, and later asked General Washington for his opinion (who went for the siege — as it ended up happening in Yorktown). I thought it was pretty entertaining to listen to these actors reenacting such discussion among the leaders of the Continental Army on this decisive siege that was going to happen. It truly brought the history alive.

I noticed also that General Knox wore a black cloth covering one of his hands. I wondered why, and found out later through reading that Knox accidentally fired a shotgun on his left hand at one point and took off two of his fingers. So true to the real character, the actor also had the black cloth to cover his hands.

Like several other historic characters I ‘met’ during my visit to Colonial Williamsburg, General Henry Knox was honored by having places named after his name (Knoxville, Tennessee; Fort Knox, Kentucky).

Below you can see the reenactment of General Henry Knox addressing the troops before they went to Yorktown.

General Knox addressing troops

Advertisements

Mad Anthony

General Anthony Wayne was another historic character I came to learn about during my visit to Colonial Williamsburg. As I went to a historic home in the old town where the generals gathered to plan for their attack on Yorktown, I listened to a couple of generals, General Anthony Wayne and General Henry Knox, discussing the plan of attack with a couple of guests who seemed to know the history very well and engaged the characters in discussion as if they were talking with the real characters. The actors portraying the generals knew their characters very well, and answered the questions from the guests as if they were answering in first person.

One of the questions asked by the guests was whether General Wayne was really mad like his nickname ‘Mad Anthony’ suggested. The actor who portrayed General Knox answered that the reason for the nickname was because General Wayne was know to have fiery temperament and ‘hot blooded,’ and the nickname came about because of his treatment on a subordinate who showed incompetence. But he was also known as a strict disciplinarian who demanded obedience and loyalty from his men, and in return he showed loyalty and constantly tried to improve their circumstances. Many people in Pennsylvania where he came from repeatedly returned to fight with him.

General Wayne was one of the trusted generals who served under the command of General George Washington. When Washington became the first president of the country, his high regard for General Wayne’s military skills and judgment was demonstrated by appointing Wayne as the commander-in-chief of the American armies. Wayne led the Continental Army in fighting a confederate of Indian tribes in the Northwest Territory (now the Midwest states of Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan) that secretly served the British. Today we find places named after Wayne in those areas (the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana; Wayne County in Michigan) as well as in his home state of Pennsylvania.

In the photo below, you can see the actor who portrayed General Wayne explaining how his light infantry troops planned to attack the British in Yorktown.

General Anthony Wayne

Lafayette

After listening to the lecture in front of the Courthouse at Colonial Williamsburg, I stayed to watch a reenactment of the Continental Army under General Washington arriving in Williamsburg. Several actors who played generals of the Continental Army waited in front of the Courthouse until General Washington arrived. He was greeted by one general who spoke in French accent. Later on, I found out that the general was supposed to be Marquis de Lafayette.

The name Lafayette today can be seen in many places in the United States — streets, parks, cities, etc. I remembered also hearing about Marquis de Lafayette as a friend of Thomas Jefferson’s when I visited Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia. I thought it was quite curious however to have one Frenchman among the Americans during the reenactment in Williamsburg. So later on, I read some more about Lafayette and watched a documentary about this historical figure on Netflix.

There were several facts about Marquis de Lafayette that I found interesting. He was born into a noble family in France, so he was among the wealthiest in the nation during his youth. At early age (sixteen), he joined the French army and he learned about the struggle for independence in America. He decided that he wanted to help the cause, even when it meant he had to find his way to get to America, and even enlisted in the Continental Army as a volunteer to avoid being perceived as a mercenary. General George Washington took Lafayette under his wings. His first battle was the Battle of Brandywine, where he was wounded but received citation from Washington for his bravery.

Lafayette then was given the command of a division of the Virginia troops, and later fought the British in New Jersey and Rhode Island. He also went home to France to lobby for French aid to America. Working with Benjamin Franklin, he secured French troops under General Rochambeau to come to America and helped the Continental Army to fight the British. When he came back to America, General Washington ordered Lafayette to lead the troops to pursue and capture Benedict Arnold (a Continental Army general who defected to the British). While he was not able to capture Arnold, he was able to help defend Richmond from being occupied by the British. Later that continued to his participation in the Siege of Yorktown, where the British surrendered and marked the end of the Revolutionary War.

After the war, Lafayette went back to France and continued to be an advocate for the Americans. In return he was given an honorary American citizenship by the Congress; he was the only foreigner to receive such honor until Winston Churchill in 1963. He came to America in 1824 to celebrate the country’s 50th anniversary at the official invitation of President James Monroe and the US Congress. He was honored as the only surviving general from the American Revolution through a grand tour around to visit all 24 American states in the period of almost a year.

When Lafayette died in 1824, the US gave him the same funeral honors as given to other American heroes. Today, his gravesite in Paris is decorated with an American flag. A park in Washington, DC very close to the White House was also named after him, Lafayette Park.

The photo below was the actor who played Lafayette providing explanation of the plan to attack the British in Yorktown.

Lafayette

Battle Planning

My visit to Colonial Williamsburg started with an orientation by a staff dressed in the era’s costume, providing the lay of the land of the area and giving us pointers to interesting things to see and programs to attend during the day. After the orientation, I continued with attending the first program of the day, a retelling of the history by a resident historian.

I was not expecting to attend a lecture, but listening to the historian providing the background about the events that led to the particular event we were commemorating (the battle of Yorktown) provided an excellent context to understand the historical event reenactments throughout the day.

One of the unique things you can do at Colonial Williamsburg is to locate an actor playing a historical character and interacting with him/her as if you were talking to the real character during the Colonial period. The actors not only dress up in periodic costume, but also talk like those from that era. They are also very knowledgeable about the historic character they represent, and can answer questions about the character that may not even be directly related to their relation to Williamsburg.

After the lecture, I went to one of the houses in the middle of the old town where the Continental generals spent time planning before their march to Yorktown. It was pretty neat to listen to a couple of actors who played the role of two prominent generals during the war, General Anthony Wayne and General Henry Knox, talking with each other and also interacting with a couple of visitors who seemed to know a lot about the history behind these two characters. They asked them some trivia questions about these characters’ personal lives, and the actors answered the questions with ease that you could have thought for a moment you were transported back in the history and listened to the real characters talking about themselves.

Here were the two generals sitting near a make shift discussion table and talking with audience about their plans to attack the British in Yorktown.

Battle Planning

History Triangle

The area around Williamsburg is also known as the History Triangle as there are three places where important events in the American history happened. Jamestown is the site of the first British settlement in the new world. It was the first capital of the colony of Virginia until it was moved to Williamsburg. Williamsburg then served as the capital of the colony for several years. Yorktown entered the history due it’s strategic location from maritime perspective, and it was the place where the British troops surrendered that led to the end of the American Revolutionary War and the United Stated became gaining recognition as an independent nation.

Today history buffs can come to the area and spend some time to learn and relive history by visiting these three places. They are connected through a route called the Colonial Parkway, so you can easily drive between the places. Alternatively, you can also park your car at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center, and take shuttle bus to visit the three places.

During my day trip to the area, I arrived at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center right before it opened around 9 am in the morning. I considered trying to visit the other sites on the same day, but later I decided to just spend the day in Williamsburg and attend the special events that went on throughout the day as part of commemorating the siege of Yorktown.

The photo below was taken right at the heart of Colonial Williamsburg. You can see the governor’s palace at the end of the grassy area, and a reenacted encampment of the Continental Army to commemorate their stay in Williamsburg prior to going to Yorktown.

Governor's Palace

Day Trip to Colonial Williamsburg

Williamsburg, Virginia, is a city located about 3.5 hour-drive away from Washington, DC. The city was the capital of the Colony of Virginia before it was moved to Richmond. It is the home of the second oldest college in the United States, the College of William and Mary. Part of the city is known as Colonial Williamsburg, where an area consisting around 50 buildings has been preserved from the Colonial era. It serves as a living interactive museum as life from that era is reenacted by actors daily.

I had heard of the Colonial Williamsburg since a long time ago, having lived in Virginia for several years. However, I had never visited the place until earlier this fall when I made a last minute trip on Saturday. I found out that during that particular weekend, they were going to commemorate the preparation before the American troops went on to nearby Yorktown to attack the British under General Cornwallis. The siege that happened in Yorktown was an important event during the American’s fight for its independence as it marked the surrender of the British troops during that war.

I did not grow up and go to primary or secondary school in the US, so I never really learned about the US history. During this visit to Colonial Williamsburg, I learned some interesting historical facts and about some important figures from that era. So in the next few posts I will write about that day trip to Williamsburg.

The photo below was taken in the Colonial Williamsburg area. You can see here the actors and volunteers reenacted the American troops marching into Williamsburg following General George Washington, on their way to Yorktown. For a moment, you can be transported to that era and feel that you are reliving the history.

Colonial Williamsburg

Reflection on the Journey

The coast-to-coast road trip that my brother and I completed was a special one because of many reasons. It was the first road trip for both of us that covered the entire span of the country from the West Coast to the East Coast. It was the first road trip where the journey and the route we took was the star attraction in itself. And for my brother, this trip marked a closure of the California chapter in his life and the start of his second New York City chapter (not long after this trip he ended up meeting his wife, purchasing a home, and now expecting a child — so pretty much settling down as a New Yorker now).

Looking back at the trip to complete this blog series, I have some thoughts that came to mind. On planning for such an epic trip, here are some things to consider:

  • Transportation Options: Many people would do a coast-to-coast or other long distance trip like this as part of relocating from one place to another. In such cases, the transportation option is given (e.g., using one’s own private vehicle). Otherwise, you need to consider either driving round trip (double the distance to cover), or perhaps driving one way and then flying the other way (in which case you need to think of what to do with the car for the road trip part). In our case, since my brother was going to sell his car in CA before leaving and he was relocating, we decided to fly to LA from our respective city, meet there, and rent a car one way.
  • Drop-off Fee: Beware of the fine prints when looking for rental car options. Some rental car companies institute a ‘drop-off fee’ when you plan to pick up the car in one city and returning it in another city in a state that is not adjacent to the pick-up place. The drop-off fee would be calculated by distance traveled, and it was about 25-40 cents per mile at the time of our travel. Not a big deal if you travel short distance, but when you go for more than 2,000 miles like us, that drop-off fee ends up being even more expensive than the quote for the rental car itself. We ended up using Hertz, which had slightly higher rental cost but no drop-off charge.
  • Theme for the Trip: To make the trip memorable, think of a theme for the trip and plan the places to visit along the way based on the theme. That would allow you to come up with a nice story about the journey rather than simply a long drive from one place to another with rest stops in between. In our case, the theme was obvious once we selected the particular route, Route 66. To make it even more fun, we decided to also do a ‘scavenger hunt’ and locate the places that inspired the animated movie Cars.
  • Time Management: When planning the trip itinerary, my tendency is to try fitting in as many activities as I can to make the best use of my limited travel time. When planning for a long road trip, you need to take account several factors. Consider the drive for each segment of the trip. That would consume part of your available time that otherwise you could use for sightseeing. If you choose to be more efficient and start the day early and/or end it late so you can cover longer distance and do more things, but keep safety in mind and ensure that you do not drive when fatigue sets in. Make sure whoever is driving has enough rest (or stop if you need some). Also consider allocating some buffer time for traffic if you go through major metropolitan area especially during the rush hours. Lastly, consider time zone change if you are traveling across time zone boundaries. If you go east bound, you will gain an hour every time you pass a time zone boundary, and conversely you will lose an hour if you travel east bound.
  • Places to Stay: When you are doing a multi-day road trip, you need to consider places where you stop, get some rest, freshen up, or even visit as a destination. The options can range from stopping at a rest stop or parking lot and sleeping in your own car, camping at a camp ground, staying at a budget motel, staying at a boutique hotel / bed & breakfast, staying at a luxury resort hotel, or if you happen to know someone along the route, staying at their place. Consider your budget (time and money), how important is the place itself as a destination or part of the experience of your trip, and also how easy or difficult it is to make reservation. In our case, we ended up staying at budget motels because we wanted to drive as far as we could on the first couple of days and only needed a place to rest and freshen up. And then for one night we stayed at my brother’s friends’ home, and on the last night, we stopped at my home.

On the road trip itself, here are some thoughts from reflecting about it:

  • Authentic Americana: When we started with the idea of going through this route, I was wondering exactly what kind of experience we would have as we seem to be going through mostly small town and rural areas of the US that on my previous trips I would drive past as fast as I could to get to the destinations of my trip. The perspective changed once we looked at these places as the ‘star’ of the trip; these are places that authentically represent the American culture, especially in the rural areas. The people were not pretentious, and many of them had been living in the same place for a long time that they represent the culture and heritage of the place.
  • Local Cuisine: You can find fast food chain restaurants along the way, but you can also enhance your experience by eating your meals at local restaurants that focus on regional cuisines that also highlight the ingredients grown locally. Within our route, we could find fish tacos in CA, prickly pear salad in AZ, Mexican food with red and green chile sauce in NM, steak and barbecue in TX and OK, snoots in MO, and red hots (Chicago-style hot dogs) in IL.
  • Story Behind a Place: When you visit a place, try to find out the story behind it: the history how it came about, the people associated to the place past and present, and how it impacts the culture both locally and beyond. We learned some interesting history about a ghost town that was founded after a gold rush, a hotel built as a home away from home for Hollywood stars coming to shoot western movies, and the place that claimed to be the origin of a food/snack that is now popular around the country.
  • Route 66 Characters: Along the journey on Route 66, you can also learn and meet some people play an important role in keeping the Route 66 story as an important part of the American culture. The folks treasure the history and culture that was shaped by the existence of the Mother Road and they work tirelessly in promoting and preserving the history for future generations, and we have them to thank for.
  • Enjoy the Journey: In the end, the most valuable lesson about life I was reminded of by this trip was to enjoy the life journey and not just focus on the destination. While getting to the destination or goal is important, the majority of time spent is in the journey to get there. It makes life richer and rewarding if we can also enjoy the moments and the steps along the way.

The photo below was taken in Santa Monica, CA, at the beginning of our trip. This is the official marker of the West end of Route 66 (traditionally people would travel the route from East to West). We took this photo to mark the beginning of our journey. Unfortunately we could not find a similar marker in Chicago, IL, at the East end of Route 66, but we did get another photo taken to mark the end of our journey in New York City.

West End of Route 66