The Yorktown Victory Monument is the name most commonly used to describe this monument, however, officially it is the Monument to the Alliance and Victory. The first idea of constructing a monument to victory came as soon as word was received back in Philadelphia of Cornwallis' surrender.
General Washington wanted congress to know about the decisive victory as soon as possible so he sent his aide-de-camp Lt. Col. Tench Tilghman with the news. He arrived with the news of the October 19th surrender 5 days later. It took congress 4 days to agree on the resolution authorizing the construction.
That the United States in Congress assembled, will cause to be erected at York, in Virginia, a marble column, adorned with emblems of the alliance between the United States and his Most Christian Majesty; and inscribed with a succinct narrative of the surrender of Earl Cornwallis to his excellency General Washington, Commander in Chief of the combined forces of America and France; to his excellency the Count de Rochambeau, commanding the auxiliary troops of his most Christian Majesty in America, and his excellency the Count de Grasse, commanding in chief the naval army of France in the Chesapeake.
However, since money was short, funding for the project was delayed. After a number of years had passed with no action being taken by the government, the good citizens of Yorktown followed up with congress in 1834, requesting that the monument be built. Nothing happened. The request was made again 2 years later. It would take repeated requests and it wasn't until 1879, just 2 years before the 100th anniversary of the "glorious event" did any positive action occur.
In 1880, congress passed an act authorizing an expenditure of $100,000 to carry out the 1781 resolution to build the monument. On October 18, 1881, 100 years after the event, the corner stone was ceremonially laid. Henry Van Brunt of Boston was chosen as the architect and J. Ward was the actual sculptor. It would be 3 years before the crowning figure was set atop the ornate column.
Originally, an iron fence was in place around the marble walkway and an enlisted army man was ordered to guard the monument similar to the Tomb of the Unknown soldier at Arlington Cemetery. However, the idea of building a keeper's house next to the monument for the security detail was not successful.
In 1942, severe damage was caused to the monument after a lightning strike. A new duplicate figure, sculpted by Oskar Hansen, had to be created and was installed in 1957. Although lightning protection was added at that time, in 1990, the Liberty figure was again struck by lightning. The statue was repaired in the same year, the lightning protection was upgraded.
The monument's main shaft is made of Maine granite and is 84 feet tall. The Liberty statue on tops adds another 14 feet to the overall height.
Although the name Victory Monument is the most common, officially it is the Monument to the Alliance and Victory. That alliance was between the United States and France. The monument pays tribute to that alliance that was officially formed in 1778 between the US and Louis XVI, King of France to maintain the Liberty, Sovereignty and Independence of the United States.
At the base of the monument are several tablets listing the Americans who made the "supreme sacrifice in the Yorktown Campaign." Also included is a similar plaque with the names of French sailers who died in the naval phase of the Yorktown Campaign in the battle of the Virginia Capes on Sept. 5, 1781 and another plaque listing the sacrifices made by French army. The plaques were paid for by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1931.