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Revolutionary War Buffs Retrace Washington-Rochambeau Route

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2006 – Four people wearing Revolutionary War-era clothing are making a 600-plus-mile hike for history that celebrates Franco-American cooperation and friendship.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Revolutionary War re-enactors Michael S. Fitzgerald, Rose Morin, David T. Holloway, and David Fagerberg pose for a photograph near the intersection of Rhode Island and Eastern avenues in northeast Washington, D.C., Sept. 20. They are making a 600-plus-mile march that traces the historic Revolutionary War route taken by Continental Army Commander Gen. George Washington and French Lt. Gen. Jean-Baptiste, Count of Rochambeau. The two forces acted in concert and forced the surrender of British Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis and his 7,000-man army at Yorktown, Va., on Oct. 19, 1781. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Military re-enactors David T. Holloway, Michael S. Fitzgerald, David Fagerberg and Rose Morin crossed into northeast Washington, D.C., from Maryland early this morning. They’re retracing the famous 650-mile Revolutionary War march – known as the Washington-Rochambeau Route -- to Yorktown, Va.

France’s help to the American colonists during the War for Independence was invaluable, said Pat Archer-Jacob, commemorative events chairperson for the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which supported the marchers as they made their way through the District of Columbia.

“Without their support we may not have had a United States of America or won the Revolutionary War,” she pointed out.

The re-enactors departed Newport, R.I., on June 17. They plan to reach Yorktown in mid-October in time to observe the 225th anniversary of British Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis’s surrender to Franco-American forces on Oct. 19, 1781.

Continental Army Commander Gen. George Washington and French Army Lt. Gen. Jean-Baptiste, Count of Rochambeau, joined forces at what’s now Dobbs Ferry in New York state, before marching to Virginia to engage Cornwallis’ army. The 6,500-man French contingent had traveled from Rhode Island to link up with Washington in New York.

The re-enactors march an average of 16 miles each day, Fitzgerald, a 58-year-old documentary film producer from Sewickley, Pa., said. Shorter daily distances covered, he said, usually involve a lot of walking up and down hills.

“We follow the original schedule, marching the same distance each day as the army did,” Fitzgerald said. “We try as much as possible to camp on the original campgrounds that the army camped on.”

Fitzgerald and Fagerberg, a 57-year-old insurance consultant from Prairie Village, Kan., wear authentic red, white and blue wool Continental Army uniforms. Holloway is clothed in the white wool uniform of a French soldier in Rochambeau’s regiment.

However, the marchers don’t wear authentic Revolutionary War-era footgear. Instead, they’ve opted to wear modern sneakers or hiking boots.

“The buckle shoes would be very hard on the feet,” Fagerberg explained, noting people in the 1700s walked everywhere and had tougher feet.

Morin, a 56-year-old registered nurse from Branford, Conn., tends to her friends’ foot blisters. She doesn’t march much, since she drives the group’s support vehicle. Morin is dressed as a military camp follower in a homespun outfit topped with a straw bonnet.

Holloway proposed the idea of the march last November, she recalled.

“I knew it was the chance of a lifetime for me,” Morin said. So far, the main concern of the marchers has been blisters, she affirmed.

“They use a lot of duct tape on their feet to prevent the friction that causes the blisters,” Morin said, noting she became interested in reenacting 10 years ago after visiting a Revolutionary War-era encampment.

“I just got chills,” Morin said. “I’d felt like I’d been there before.”

The men carry a United States’ flag, a French regimental banner and Washington’s command flag as they march. They also usually carry reproduction Brown Bess smoothbore flintlock muskets, Fitzgerald said. However, because of local regulations they’d left their firearms in the support vehicle with Morin, he said, before they entered the District of Columbia.

Holloway, a carpenter from Wallingford, Conn., said retracing the Washington-Rochambeau marching route is a good way to salute the French for their support to America during the Revolutionary War.

“If it hadn’t been for the French Army helping us, we could still be British today,” Holloway said.

At Yorktown, Cornwallis and his army were boxed in on a peninsula with no way out, Holloway said. The British general was confronted on land by 17,000 American and French troops, he noted. And, Cornwallis couldn’t leave by sea, because French Navy ships under the command of Adm. Francois de Grasse blocked that escape route.

How’d this happen? First, Cornwallis was strategically deficient at Yorktown. The senior British officer was also unlucky, because Benjamin Franklin had convinced France to help the American cause.

France and England were competitors for dominance on the world stage, Holloway noted, and the French “wanted to score another victory against the British.”

Thanks, in part, to France’s military land and sea power, Cornwallis surrendered his 7,000-man army at Yorktown. England soon decided to cut its losses in America. In 1783, the British signed the Treaty of Paris, recognizing the United States.

Très magnifique!

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