Two Sieges, 173 years apart, were a mirror image of each other.
France was involved in both.
Often, as is the case, a single episode makes the difference in determining whether a country gains its independence, Yorktown served that purpose for the United States and Dien Bien Phu for Vietnam.
Yorktown, VA – 1781
The British commander, General Clinton, ordered Lord Cornwallis to return to the Carolinas. Instead, Cornwallis chose to remain in Virginia and await reinforcements.
Cornwallis assumed he’d only face the forces under Lafayette, “After all how large an army can he muster?” Instead of attacking Washington’s army when it was most vulnerable, Cornwallis allowed them to occupy the territory surrounding Yorktown without challenge.
The British believed they could support and reinforce their stronghold by sea. The French Admiral de Grasse aided by a squadron under Admiral de barras, however, defeated a British fleet and took control of the mouth of the Chesapeake, preventing supplies and reinforcements from reaching Cornwallis.
The redoubts surrounding and protecting Yorktown were the first to be captured.
Before the Welsh fusiliers could make it to safety from Yorktown, a horrific gale descended upon them, swamping the long-boats already in the water, cutting off the last possibility of escape.
Ending a short siege, Irish-born General Charles O’Hara, after being informed by Lord Cornwallis that he was too ill to surrender and ordered him to do the honors, directed a drummer to beat out the wish for a parley. O’Hara with his head held high led the prisoners out of their works along Hampton Road past mile long lines of Americans in their war-torn clothes and French brilliant in their white uniforms and plume headed officers with embroidered golden fleu-de-lis standards.
O’Hara first offered Cornwallis’s sword to General Rochambeau, who refused to accept it, pointing to Washington saying, “He’s the one.” Washington also refused and indicated General Lincoln. Lincoln accepted the sword and immediately returned it to O’Hara.
Selecting an old British marching tune, “The World Turned Upside Down,” O’Hara, nodding to his troops, had them march to a field on the right where they grounded their arms.
His cheeks wet with tears, a corporal in the 76th, clasped his musket to his breast and then threw it down, uttering: “May you never get so good a master.”
Dien Bien Phu, North West, Vietnam – 1954
French General Castries occupied Dien Bien Phu without approval from Paris.
Castries was totally surprised when Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap occupied the high ground around the 10-mile valley with 50,000 battle-hardened Vietminh who rained the French stronghold with heavy artillery.
Initially, the French had the advantage of supplying their force by air. Giap’s forces’ shelling, however, destroyed both French airfields. Many of the subsequent airdrops went astray and ended up in Giap’s hands.
The redoubts surrounding and protecting Dien Bien Phu were the first to be overrun. It must have been most painful for Castries who named them after former girlfriends.
In Vietnam, the heavens opened up and flooded the French trenches.
The French and their Legionnaire allies continued fighting until their ammunition was exhausted then remained in their trenches awaiting capture.
The Siege of Yorktown, covering both the American/French as well as the British side of the engagement may be found in James Francis Smith’s, Irish in the American Revolution. The Siege of Dien Bien Phu can be found in Rory O’Donnell and the Kennedys—both available in soft-cover from Amazon’s Bookstore as well as Kindle and Nook.