The idea of touring old battlefields dates to even before the Civil War. In the July 1854 issue of Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art, a correspondent visited Yorktown to see what had become of the spot where American and French forces finally put a stop to the British under Lord Cornwallis. What he found was “a quiet, unobtrusive little town, of between twenty and thirty houses, half of them uninhabited, with the ruins of the tenements destroyed during Cornwallis’s siege, meeting you at every turn”; even so, “one can scarcely realize that it was once the scene of a contest, more portentous to the welfare of the human race than any that has occurred since the dawn of the Christian era.”
After inspecting the various battleworks and associated buildings, the writer discovers one Mr. Robert Anderson, old-timer.
Mr. Anderson, who was born during the siege, and of course is over seventy years of age, has resided nearly all his life in Yorktown; consequently, it has been in his power to gather many interesting incidents connected with the siege, from those who were active participators in it. These may be denominated its unwritten history, and are highly interesting. Besides the incidents, he has collected numerous relics at different times from the field; among those which he showed us was a small belt-plate, bearing the inscription of “A. Gordon, Guards,” and several others, one with a date as far back as 1755. He also exhibited part of a wax-candle, which is said to have belonged to Cornwallis. There was also a heavy dragoon’s sabre, and a cart load of cannon-shot and bomb-shells.
IMAGE: Nelson House and Main Street, Yorktown, ca. 1902 (Detroit Photographic Co.)