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Reliving the Decisions of the Battle of Yorktown

Robertson School of Government (RSG) students went beyond classroom discussions and textbook reading to play out the parts of historical figures from the American Revolutionary War. They traveled to Yorktown on April 18 as Dr. Ionut Popescu, RSG assistant professor, led them on a staff ride of a battlefield from the Battle of Yorktown. They stepped into the shoes and replicated the decisions of military leaders while walking the field.

Students assumed roles in the battle like British commander Lord Cornwallis, General George Washington or Marquis de Lafayette, while other students acted as journalists who dug into the motives, strategies and personal opinions of the characters that influenced the outcome of the battle.

“While learning about the battle and decisions that led to the victory of the United States, students had to dive further into the material, as their character, and discover why that person chose to do something and what that student would have done as the player in that time period,” said Popescu. “Not only did students get the chance to become a commemorated figure from history, but also they were able to engage with other figures of the war and have a dialogue with them; something that would not have happened during the actual event in some instances.”

“It was a very interesting and interactive educational experience,” said Samantha Graham, ’15 (RSG). “Portraying an important character of the battle of Yorktown and seeing the terrain helped me achieve a better understanding and appreciation for the significance of the battle in the American Revolution. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was really fun interacting with everyone and their characters.”

The staff ride began by recounting the naval battle that set the stage for the siege of Yorktown. Later in the afternoon, the group walked the battlefield, and eventually completed the exercise several hours later at the Moore House, where the official British surrender took place. The day ended with a group dinner, fellowship and reflections on the lessons learned at a beachside restaurant.