Today, Williamsburg, Virginia, is recognized as the “world’s largest living history museum,” but during the 18th century, the meticulously restored colonial capital was Britain’s largest settlement in the New World.
The city was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699, and it was here that the basic concepts of the United States of America were formed under the leadership of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and many others.
Named Williamsburg in honor of England’s reigning monarch at the time, King William III, the colonial mecca also became a center of learning. The College of William and Mary, founded in 1693, counts political leaders such as Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler as graduates.
During its time as the capital of Virginia, Williamsburg flourished as the hub of religious, economic and social life in the state. A palatial Governor’s Palace was built as were markets, taverns, a theatre, a church (those living in the New World were required by law to worship in the Church of England), and countless homes. Market Square was the site of celebrations, festivals, fairs, contests, and even puppet shows; tradesmen, such as wig makers, tailors, blacksmiths, and cabinetmakers, practiced their craft along Duke of Gloucester Street. Restaurants and taverns offered onion soup, ham, carrot and chicken dishes, pudding, and pie.
Following the Declaration of Independence from Britain, however, the American Revolutionary War broke out, and the capital of Virginia was moved 50 miles (80.4 kilometers) north to Richmond. It was feared that Williamsburg’s location allowed easy access for the British to attack.
The United States of America’s independence from Great Britain was a turning point in world history. Key players from Williamsburg helped lay the foundation of America, and the preservation of the colonial town has allowed present-day visitors to experience what life was like back then. Today, visitors will find employees dressed in colonial-era garb strolling the streets, using colonial grammar and diction. Popular buildings open for exploration include the Governor’s Palace, the Peyton Randolph House, the George Wythe House, the Capital, the Courthouse, the Raleigh Tavern, and the Bruton Parish Church.
The Peninsula Campaign And The Battle Of Williamsburg
The Civil War Battle Of Williamsburg..was a key part of the Peninsula Campaign. The civil war’s early days set the tone for the bloody struggle that would cause so much trauma to not one nation, but two. The Peninsula Campaign was the campaign that encompassed the Battle Of Williamsburg. The Union plan to flank Richmond from the East would be marked with logistical struggles and human tragedy.
In many ways the Peninsula Campaign was a continuation of Union woes. A hesitant Union commander named George McClellan was not aggressive enough to really challenge the tactical expertise of the Confederates and as such never really commandeered the battlefields of the lush woodlands of Eastern Virginia.
Like so many Union offensives, it represented a slow beleaguered advance toward an objective. A key point in that objective was the Battle of Williamsburg.
Union Strategic Goal Of The Peninsula Campaign: Get To Richmond
On paper the Union Army strategic goal seems very simple. Attack the east flank Of The Confederacy in the vicinity of the Confederate Capital. Use larger manpower to overpower the Confederacy and force them to defend a critical strategic position. From there use siege tactics to grind the Confederate capital and army into submission. Of course the devil is in the details.
It would take the prodding of the President Of The United States to get General McClellan Of the Union to even go on the offensive. McClellan’s natural tendency was to dig in and not aggressively pursue his enemy. Regardless the Peninsula Campaign would quickly fade into the backdrop as the Confederates pursued future strategic moves of their own.
Find Out The Truth
Williamsburg Walking Tours focuses on what actually happened at the Battle Of Williamsburg during the Peninsula Campaign. This is history as it actually was, not historical marketing that sugarcoats the truth.
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More On The Battle Of Williamsburg And The Peninsula Campaign
Here are more articles on the Battle Of Williamsburg:
Williamsburg Walking Tours Hosts Blind Students from DBVI
For the third year, Williamsburg Walking Tours hosted 30 students from the Virginia Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired for a special 1 ½-hr. tour. On Saturday, July 20, 2019, Co-Owner and Master Storyteller Trish
Thomas entertained the group with little-known facts about Williamsburg drawn from the company’s repertoire of stories from its tours which include:
To understand the occupation of Williamsburg put yourself in these shoes..
A year ago you lived as a free woman in peace. You went to the market, to church, and to your home without any thought of safety, food, or your future. Times were good. Food was plentiful and you are healthy. Now it is 1862.
A Foreign Army Is Occupying Williamsburg
This is the reality of your hometown of Williamsburg Virginia. It is occupied by troops you despise. They wear a different color than those of the soldiers you support. They are in every street, every public building, and every place you go. They are your sworn enemy. The town is filled with refugees from Hampton, victims of the conflict caused by this invading army. They hang a flag you do not pledge allegiance too. It is the flag of the army that has invaded your town. The flag of the enemy is the stars and stripes of the United States Of America. They are the invaders of the South, or so this how you see it.
Welcome To The Occupation Of Williamsburg
The difference between whether it was the occupation of Williamsburg or the protection of the United States is a matter of perspective. To the local population of Williamsburg, Virginia the overall allegiance was to a new government and an old way of life. Many would say the Town of Williamsburg, Virginia pledged their allegiance to the Confederate States Of America. Many in the Union occupying army would tell you that the town was a nest of traitors, sworn enemies of the United States of America.
The Confederate Army In Williamsburg
The Confederate Army held Williamsburg for a very short time. Regardless, the territory, and a large number of the people that were denizens there, were loyal to the Confederacy. The true impact of this becomes very clear when you see daily life for the average Williamsburg citizen who lived most of the war under Union occupation.
Many citizens had open hostility and aggression toward the occupying Union Army. Many sympathizers would find ways to signal the Confederates of Union positions and movements. At times this aggression would come into the open with raids on Union positions in Williamsburg. There was limited interaction between many citizens and the uniformed representatives of the occupying Northern Army.
Learn About These Perspectives On Our Civil War Tour
Williamsburg Walking Tours helps you discover the truth, one story at a time. Our Civil War Tour, known as Richmond Was A Hard Road To Travel illuminates history in its plainest and often most honest perspective. From stories of struggle, to insights on the battle itself, you will discover history in a new way.
Mark St. John Erickson. (2013, April 26). Rebel raids, Yankee occupation. Retrieved from https://www.dailypress.com/features/history/civilwar/dp-civil-war-williamsburg-20130114-story.html
The boundaries or battlefield area of the Battle of Williamsburg stretched from Jamestown to Yorktown. The apex of the battlefield would be Fort Magruder in Williamsburg. This would be the South’s position that they would have to hold in the Williamsburg Conflict.
How The Battle Of Williamsburg Boundaries Formed
The Battle of Williamsburg boundaries form as the Union, centered around Fort Monroe, threaten to move up the Virignia Peninsula. This would start in Hampton and move progressively West through the Peninsula towns of Newport News, Yorktown, and subsequently, Williamsburg.
From The Peninsula To Richmond..
With Richmond, the current confederate capital in 1862, only 51 miles away, the need to block this advance was critical. Thus, the Battle of Williamsburg would be a key conflict point between the two armies.
Battle of Williamsburg: Key Point In The Peninsula Campaign
The Peninsula Campaign is the bigger picture in this Williamsburg Civil War clash. The Battle of Williamsburg marks a key clash in the Union’s advance towards Richmond. The Union goal was to come up the Eastern Peninsula to get to the Confederate Capital in Richmond. The Confederates slowed this advance by clashing in Wiliamsburg. The Union pursued them but was unable to foil their tactical retreat back up the Peninsula. Other battles would ensue but ultimately the Union would come up short in their quest of a Richmond conquest and Confederate defeat in 1862.
Looking for more information on the Battle of Williamsburg?
Check out our tour, Richmond Was A Hard Road To Travel for an in depth, on site look at this often forgotten key to the Peninsula Campaign. Also check out this article on the Battle of Williamsburg for a quick strategic overview of the strategic impact of this Virginia Civil War conflict.
Williamsburg Walking Tours Is Offering A New Civil War Tour. The Name of the tour is Richmond Is A Hard Road To Travel.
The Civil War Comes To Williamsburg
It is based upon a song written during the war The song is…”Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel.” There are many versions each slightly different but one famous rendition is the from the 97th Regimental Strings. The 97Th Regimental String Band sings songs of the Civil War Era, which can often show a different perspective of what the actual solider really felt about the events occurring around them.
You can see the song and hear the lyrics at this Youtube clip
Tour The Civil War In Williamsburg
Come explore The Battle Of Williamsburg Tour. Come explore new insights in a tour where you see events that lead to a greater escalation of the war.
Around midnight on August 7,1861 General Magruder and 500 Confederate soldiers entered the city of Hampton and set fire to the buildings. It was estimated that Hampton had around 500 buildings, by sunrise on August 8 only seven or eight remained standing. The reason for this was so the Union troops would have no place to live.
The Civil War Peninsula Campaign: New Tactics In A Long War
In March 1862, seeking to avoid an overland route to Richmond,( the Battle of Manasses did not work out well) the Union Army transported 130,000 troops,15,000 horses, 1,100 wagons and 44 artillery batteries down the Chesapeake Bay to Fort Monroe.
The goal of the Union army was to take Richmond by going up the Peninsula. After Hampton was burned the only city close to Richmond (from the south) was Williamsburg. Refugees from Hampton fled to Williamsburg.
After the Battle of Williamsburg, May 5,1862, Williamsburg became a Union occupied town until the end of the war.
Tour Williamsburg’s Civil War History From A Human Perspective
The Civil war was known as brother versus brother. But it was also schoolmate versus schoolmate, friend versus friend, and solider versus officer. The soldiers, including enlisted and officer alike had served in ONE United States Army. They had fought together in Mexico and served all over the United States as colleagues and friends. Now they were pitted against one another in a civil war death struggle. As time passed generations forget how human this war really was. And among those many stories you may not know..George Armstrong Custer.
Learn About Lieutenant Armstrong Custer And The Battle Of Williamsburg
In researching the history one story can change the way you see those men and women, who in old photographs appear as statuesque soldiers stoically posed for the camera. Among them Lt. Armstrong Custer (Union) found a confederate friend on the battlefield and made sure he was taken to a private house to recover. This friend ended up marrying the daughter of the house and Lt. Custer was invited and attended the wedding.
And It All Culminates At The Battle Of Williamsburg
The Battle Of Williamsburg is often overlooked due to the tidal size carnage that followed in battles like Antietam and Gettysburg. These battles certainly lived up to their reputation but the Williamsburg tour has significance as well. Some of the things to consider are:
Turning Point For Civil War Strategy?
The battle marks some key changes in the civil war. The Union changes it’s strategy from a Northern assault to Richmond after the disasters at Bull Run. The Union Army shows their resolve by using their strengths in logistics and maneuvere by traversing the wet,muddy marshy flatlands of the Virginia Eastern Peninsula. The Confederate strategy changes as well. The South realizes that unchecked, the Union army will eventually power there way to Richmond. A strategy of all out assaults on the North would follow in years to come at places like Antietam and Gettysburg. And the groundwork for this can be traced back to events transpiring out of the Battle Of Willamsburg.
The Confederates Are Forced To Respond
Only hours from Richmond, Williamsburg Virginia is a strategic vantage point to assault Richmond. A Union intrusion to this flank position forces the Confederates to bolster their Eastern Defense. It also draws the Confederates to battle…forcing them to use energy to conform to Union plans. But what happens next?
Learn What Happens.. Experiencing It For Yourself
Join us for a Civil War Tour In Williamsburg and experience parts of America’s Second Revolution in the same place as it’s first!