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"Cornwallis' dinner table" Topic


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42flanker20 Jun 2019 6:09 a.m. PST

Greetings all, this may be a little off topic, but I should like to know more about the story, presumably apocryphal, that the first shot fired by the siege artillery at Yorktown, supposedly set off by General Washington, smashed into the building housing Cornwallis' headquarters and smashed the dinner table where he was dining with his staff.

I gather the house in question- the Nelson House- did in fact have to be abandoned because of the bombardment. Other than that, is anyone familiar with such a story?

historygamer20 Jun 2019 9:08 a.m. PST

Never heard that one.

42flanker20 Jun 2019 11:39 a.m. PST

I first heard it from a Ranger at Yorktown NBP who rebuffed my suggestion(tentative; as it proved, incorrect) that my forbear had been Cornwallis' QMG during the siege, telling me that this was unlikely given that the individual concerned had his head taken off by a cannon shot while sitting at Cornwallis' dinner table. No mention of who fired the shot.

I now know better regarding my ancestor's service during the American war but it turns out that the gentleman in a Smokey hat was a little adrift himself. The unfortunate officer that he must have been thinking of was Major Charles Cochrane, who had made it through the French cordon with letters from Clinton, was appointed ADC by Cornwallis and, a week later, when accompanying his Lordship on an inspection of the trenches he was decapitated by a round shot as he peered over a parapet.

The dinner table incident remains a possibility. My old man, however, was in Charleston at the time.

historygamer20 Jun 2019 7:19 p.m. PST

The Guns of Independence, the Siege of Yorktown, 1781, page 191.

Washington's round hit a couple of houses, finally hit a wood structure where a group of officers were dining (5pm). The round killed commissary general Perkins and tore the leg from Lt Robertson, quartermaster and adjutant of the 76th. One other officer was wounded.

historygamer20 Jun 2019 7:20 p.m. PST

So not the Nelson house and his Lordship was not present.

42flanker20 Jun 2019 11:09 p.m. PST

Oh my word! Spot on. Thank you, hg. That is fascinating, (Though not for Messrs Perkins and Robertson).

So, all the right notes. Not necessarily in the right order.

Mr Smoky, with his smart Ranger hat on, but a few hundred yards from the actual spot, really should have known better. This is how rumours start.

historygamer21 Jun 2019 1:16 a.m. PST

Unless some new info was found since the book. I believe that book is regarded as one of the best in that campaign.

42flanker21 Jun 2019 1:23 p.m. PST

I see that the episode was recorded by Ewald, who included the detail that Commissary Perkins' wife was sitting between Lieut Robertson and her husband at the dinner table.

Ewald appears to have been unaware that it was Washington, seemingly, who had set off the gun that fired the shot, the first in the allied bombardment.

historygamer22 Jun 2019 3:50 a.m. PST

I wonder if it really was, or it just makes a good story? I believe the French had already opened fire.

MiniPigs22 Jun 2019 6:35 a.m. PST

Wow, if there was ever an argument for eating out. Seems like eating at home can cost you an arm and a leg.

42flanker22 Jun 2019 8:43 a.m. PST

I wonder if it really was, or it just makes a good story? I believe the French had already opened fire.

I think the fact that the casualties are named makes it more likely the disrupted dinner happened (and more possible to confirm)- and presumably at the start of a bombardment, otherwise we might perhaps have expected them to take cover.

Whether it was the opening salvo from the French artillery, and set off by the Commander in Chief, is more open to question.

von Schwartz22 Jun 2019 5:06 p.m. PST

Wow, if there was ever an argument for eating out. Seems like eating at home can cost you an arm and a leg.

I'll get your coat

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