13 Jul 2018

Commemorating Bastille Day

Commemorating Bastille Day

Saturday, we commemorate Bastille Day, the French holiday celebrating the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. A military fortress and prison, the Bastille was used to store firearms and cannons. To many, it symbolized the tyranny of the French monarchy. The storming of the Bastille by the people of Paris would usher in the French Revolution and lead to the overthrow of the Bourbon dynasty.

Just years prior, the French were aiding a different nation in its struggle for independence: the United States of America. France provided money, troops, armament, military leadership and naval support that paved the way for the Continental Army’s victory over Great Britain. Ultimately, that support made the critical difference in 1780, when French Gen. Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, with more than 5,000 French soldiers. In August 1781, he and Gen. George Washington trapped British Gen. Charles Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown the siege that would eventually lead to the end of the war.

The American fight for liberty also struck a particular chord with Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, who paid his own way to America in 1777, becoming a major general in Washington’s command.  More than a decade later, shortly after the storming of the Bastille in 1789, the prison's main key was turned over to Lafayette, who in turn had it presented to George Washington in 1790. The key remains at Mount Vernon today, displayed in a prominent place in Washington’s home.

This Bastille Day, we ask you to take a moment to reflect on the founding ideals of freedom and liberty, which shaped the path of our great nation and inspired both the American and French revolutions.  Thank you for all you do to protect this nation’s hallowed grounds, including places like Yorktown where Americans and Frenchmen alike gave their lives in the pursuit of freedom.

American Battlefield Trust

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