The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route
America's Route to Destiny
219 years ago the armies of Generals George Washington and Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau were parading through the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, en route to their rendezvous with destiny with the British army of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. If all the cards fall right, 225 years from that history-making event, in 2006, heritage tourists from around the country and the world will be able to follow one of the most historic marches in American history along the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route (W3R). The W3R is a project of the 225th Anniversary of the American Revolution that will link nine states from Massachusetts to Virginia to commemorate the considerable contribution that Washington and the Continental Army and Rochambeau and his French Expeditionary Corps made for American liberty and independence. The route commemorates a Franco-American campaign in 1781 to immobilize General Sir Henry Clinton's army in New York City and lay siege to the main Southern British army under General Charles Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. Without this historic alliance there would not have been an American republic and maybe not even a French republic. We now have the opportunity to remember and to preserve this accomplishment for present and future generations.
The Franco-American journey was an amazing feat of endurance and military achievement with British armies at both ends of the route. Elements of the French Army marched 629 miles to their destiny at Yorktown from Providence, Rhode Island, after a boat ride from Newport, from June until September 1781. Americans made the march of over 400 miles from Philipsburg (Greenburg), New York, to the York River. In 1782 the French Army retraced its steps back to Boston, Massachusetts, to board ships for the Caribbean. The French Expeditionary Corps used thirty-eight camps in its march to Virginia and fifty-four for the return. Before it is too late, we must find, interpret, and preserve what is left of these individual sites and link them together into a National Historic Trail. Many of the historic vistas associated with the American Revolution will be lost to urban sprawl if action is not taken now. This W3R is an opportunity to combine historical and environmental preservation. The protection of the sites will have an environmental benefit with linkages to greenways that will save the available open space along the route. It would be of great value to save and to interpret the important historical sites associated with the French and American camps along the W3R.
The citizens of Connecticut are leading the way in the campaign to put into place the W3R that passed through their state. The Connecticut Historical Commission has commissioned historical and archeological studies of the camps and the connecting routes in order to nominate the appropriate sites on the National Register of Historic Places. As an initiative of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, New York is following Connecticut's lead and will link its sites to those of the Nutmeg State and New Jersey.
The W3R Committee wants to have the Route in place to commemorate the 225th Anniversary of the Yorktown Campaign in 2006. While a reenactment of the march in 2006 will draw world attention to the final military campaign of the American Revolution, the identification and preservation of the sites and the marking of the W3R will allow citizens and heritage tourists from around the world to retrace the steps of the French and American soldiers by following maps, signs, and taped commentary along the National Historic Trail. Unlike the celebration of the march in 1981 during the Bicentennial, concrete results will come from this 225th effort. The W3R will be an instrument of education in the new Millennium about the War for Independence, the social and cultural activities of the period, the environment, and French-American relations.
U.S. Representative John Larson, D-1st District, Connecticut, introduced H.R. 4794, "Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Heritage Act of 2000" to make the vision for the W3R a reality. New York's Representatives Benjamin Gilman, Maurice Hinchey, Sue Kelly, Nita Lowey, John Sweeney, and Anthony Weiner have joined him as co-sponsors. Altogether forty of his colleagues are co-sponsoring the legislation in the House of Representatives. Senator Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut, is planning to introduce a companion bill in the Senate. If passed, this act would direct the National Park Service to conduct a resource study of the entire W3R. The completion of the W3R will allow New York and the other eight states along the way to showcase the Allied armies' march to American independence and eventually even the French Revolution for the 225th Anniversary of the American Revolution and the future. Of key importance locally, the W3R will give Yorktown, New York, alongside the other Yorktown, its due as a major contributor to independence.
Dr. James M. Johnson
Military Historian for the Hudson River Valley
Visiting Professor of History, Marist College