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An unexpected and glorious victory page 4

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Date published: 5/24/2003

By Gwen Woolf


An unidentified British officer recalled, "It is a sorry reminiscence this; yet the scene made a deep impression: The mortification and unfeigned sorrow of the soldiers will never fade from my memory. Some went so far as to shed tears . Nevertheless, to do them justice, the Americans behaved with great delicacy and forbearance."

In all, 5,800 British surrendered from Yorktown and another 1,000 on the Gloucester side. (This did not include the naval prisoners taken by the French.) Plans were set in motion immediately to disperse the prisoners.

On Oct. 21, a fair and warm Sunday, the Yorktown prisoners began their march--the British in scarlet uniforms, the two Highland regiments in their tartans, and the following Hessian regiments in green and blue.

The prison column took several hours to march out of town and made camp just outside Williamsburg.

On the same day, Gen. Weedon set off with 1,000 prisoners of war from the Gloucester side. At least another 1,300 sick and wounded were left behind at Gloucester until transportation could be arranged, about half of them too ill to be moved.

The two columns, with about three days' provisions, were to rendezvous at Fredericksburg, a full week's march away. Gov. Thomas Nelson Jr. wrote to the commissary at Fredericksburg that he should be prepared for about 6,000 men in all: "They will draw some hay and provisions which you will therefore have ready."

The militia escort, wearing tattered uniforms and buckskins, was mostly from the Piedmont and the Shenandoah Valley. According to the surrender agreement, British officers were permitted to monitor the treatment of the prisoners, but only a few dozen--less than the allowed number--accompanied them. (The rest of the officers were paroled to New York.)

The column from Yorktown reached the Rappahannock River on the evening of Oct. 29, encamping in a glade 11/2 miles south of the town, where they received provisions and money. Some visited nearby farms to purchase poultry and vegetables.

On the following day, they were joined by the 1,000 prisoners from Gloucester, and the combined troops moved through Fredericksburg to a new campsite two miles beyond the town on the bank of the river. On Nov. 1, according to the recollection of a Hessian prisoner, "we broke camp and waded the river. We came to a small place called Fallmouth (sic). We marched through it."

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