An American Song
Early in the Revolutionary War, the British attacked the Americans held up in a fort along the Hudson River. The Americans fought bravely but were so outnumbered that they were forced to surrender.
The British General demanded that the Americans lay down their arms and walk down a road lined on both sides by British soldiers. The British taunted and hurled insults at the dejected American volunteers as they passed through this barrier of their enemies.
Suddenly, the British general called out to his band to play “Yankee Doodle Dandy” for the American boys. (“Yankee Doodle Dandy” was an old British drinking song designed to humiliate the American Colonist.) Note the words: They were not gentlemen; they were pretenders to the gentile ranks…”Dandies”. They didn’t ride horses, they rode “ponies”. They didn’t wear the great curled, plumes, shaped like macaroni in their hats that the English nobility wore; they wore feathers and called them macaroni. This was purely a song meant to demean the Americans.)
The American general was forced to surrender his sword to the English General. During this time, there was no greater insult then to surrender ones sword.
This was indeed a very low point for the Americans in the war.
Several years later when Washington captured the British forces under Cornwallis at Yorktown in Virginia and compelled him to surrender, thus ending the revolution, Washington demanded the same of the British General that they lay down their weapons and pass through the ranks of Americans that lined the road.
Cornwallis was so embarrassed by his defeat that he refused to meet Washington and surrender his sword. Therefore, he sent his second in command, the very same General who had accepted the American surrender years before and who had imposed such humiliation upon the American forces. This general refused to surrender his sword to Washington and instead presented it to the French commander that was present at the surrender. The Frenchman refused to accept it and pointed to Washington indicating that it was he who should receive the sword for it was he, Washington, who had defeated the English. The Englishman with great scorn approached Washington who immediately turned his head away and pointed to the American General who was forced to surrender at the fort years before. (The American who surrendered his sword was now about to receive the sword from the general he was forced to surrender to. What irony!)
Just as the British Officer was about to hand the sword to the American, Washington suddenly stopped him. “Wait”, he called out. Then turned to the American Band and said “play Yankee Doodle for this gentlemen. He seems to like it so.”
As the British soldiers passed through the ranks of the victorious American Army, the band played Yankee Doodle over and over and every American soldier in line laughed and sang along with the tune.
One British officer asked his companion “who do they think they are?” “A new breed of men” was his fellow’s answer. “A breed that bows to no king.”
This is the origin of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and how it became important to America.