By the 1720s, several taverns stood on New Kent Road (also called the Old Stage Road) between Williamsburg and New Kent Court House. During two wars, the road served opposing armies as well as travelers. In June 1781, near the end of the Revolution, British commander Gen. Charles Cornwallis marched his army from Richmond to Williamsburg on the road, with the Marquis de Lafayette and his army in cautious pursuit. During the Civil War, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate army withdrew west on the road toward Richmond after the Battle of Williamsburg on 5 May 1862; Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac slowly followed.
New Kent Road has been an important pathway in both the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars. It had previously been known as the “Old Stage Coach Road.”
Around the later portion of the American Revolutionary War, General Cornwallis of the British army had used this road to move his troops between Williamsburg and Richmond in June of 1781. The Marquis de Lafayette had cautiously followed. Upon watching, Lafayette had a tactic of keeping a solid defense in the case of Cornwallis turning around and launching an attack against his pursuers. This was a focus on maneuvering and complete abstinence of any general engagement (Johnston, 54).
The exact date in which Cornwallis had passed along this road was on June 24, 1781, and a day later he passed by the American reconnaissance group at Bottom’s Bridge. Lafayette, who arrived two weeks prior and lied in wait for the British troops to pass by, had beaten him there. The primary reason for this surveillance tactic was to enable the General Washington to know if a surprise attack would be launched against the American troops (Harris, 19).
“My Dear Sir,
By the time you receive this you must have accounts from the enemy. Should they be near us, this would be the good time for the night attack; but I am afraid we shall not have the opportunity. Whatever road the enemy take, you will please to proceed in that route, and, if opportunity offers; to attack them. You will do for the best.
Along the way, General Cornwallis had destroyed American goods. Some of the goods included tobacco, food, uniforms, flour, and muskets (Russell, 261)
Harris, Malcolm Hart. Old New Kent County, Vol. 1. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2006.
Johnston, Henry Phelps. The Yorktown Campaign and the Surrender of Cornwallis, 1781. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1881.
McClellan, George B. Letter of the Secretary of War Transmitting Report on the Organization of the Army of the Potomac and of Its Campaigns in Virginia and Maryland Under the Command of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan from July 26, 1861 to November 7, 1862. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1864.
Rafuse, Ethan Sapp. McClellan’s War: The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.
Russell, David Lee. The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies. New York: AS Barnes, 1877.
Symonds, Craig L. Joseph E. Johnston: A Civil War Biography. New York: WW Norton and Company, 1992.
“Bottom’s Bridge,” The National Archives, http://arcweb.archives.gov (accessed May 2, 2012).
Earle, Alice Morse, “Old Stage Coach,” The Project Gutenberg. Stage Coach and Tavern Days. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1900 www.gutenberg.org (accessed May 2, 2012).
Historical Marker “New Kent Road W-26,” courtesy of Lindsey Smith, 2012.