Siege of Yorktown

Siege of Yorktown

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The Siege of Yorktown, Battle of Yorktown, or Surrender of Yorktown in 1781 was a decisive victory by a combined assault of American forces
Continental Army
The Continental Army was formed after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in...

 led by General George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 and French forces
France in the American Revolutionary War
France entered the American Revolutionary War in 1778, and assisted in the victory of the Americans seeking independence from Britain ....

 led by the Comte de Rochambeau
Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau
Marshal of France Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau was a French nobleman and general who participated in the American Revolutionary War as the commander-in-chief of the French Expeditionary Force which came to help the American Continental Army...

 over a British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 commanded by Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis
Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis
Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis KG , styled Viscount Brome between 1753 and 1762 and known as The Earl Cornwallis between 1762 and 1792, was a British Army officer and colonial administrator...

. The culmination of the Yorktown campaign
Yorktown campaign
The Yorktown or Virginia campaign was a series of military maneuvers and battles during the American Revolutionary War that culminated in the decisive Siege of Yorktown in October 1781...

, it proved to be the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

 in North America, as the surrender of Cornwallis' army prompted the British government eventually to negotiate an end to the conflict.

In 1780, 5,500 French soldiers landed in Rhode Island
Rhode Island
The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, more commonly referred to as Rhode Island , is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area...

 to assist their American allies in operations against British-controlled New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

. Following the arrival of dispatches from France that included the possibility of support from the French West Indies fleet of the Comte de Grasse, Washington and Rochambeau decided to ask de Grasse for assistance either in besieging New York, or in military operations against a British army operating in Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

. On the advice of Rochambeau, de Grasse informed them of his intent to sail to the Chesapeake Bay, where Cornwallis had taken command of the army. Cornwallis, at first given confusing orders by his superior officer, Henry Clinton
Henry Clinton (American War of Independence)
General Sir Henry Clinton KB was a British army officer and politician, best known for his service as a general during the American War of Independence. First arriving in Boston in May 1775, from 1778 to 1782 he was the British Commander-in-Chief in North America...

, was eventually ordered to make a defensible deep-water port, which he began to do at Yorktown, Virginia
Yorktown, Virginia
Yorktown is a census-designated place in York County, Virginia, United States. The population was 220 in the 2000 census. It is the county seat of York County, one of the eight original shires formed in colonial Virginia in 1634....

. Cornwallis's movements in Virginia were shadowed by a Continental Army force led by the Marquis de Lafayette.

The French and American armies united north of New York City during the summer of 1781. When word of de Grasse's decision arrived, the combined armies began moving south toward Virginia, engaging in tactics of deception to lead the British to believe a siege of New York was planned. De Grasse sailed from the West Indies and arrived at the Chesapeake Bay at the end of August, bringing additional troops and providing a naval blockade of Yorktown. He was transporting 500,000 silver pesos collected from the citizens of Havana, Cuba, to fund supplies for the siege and payroll for the Continental Army. While in Santo Domingo, de Grasse met with Francisco Saavedra de Sangronis
Francisco Saavedra de Sangronis
Francisco Saavedra de Sangronis was a Spanish government official and soldier whose work in Cuba during the American Revolutionary War laid the foundations for the defeat of British forces in Florida and at Yorktown.-Early career:...

, an agent of Carlos III
Charles III of Spain
Charles III was the King of Spain and the Spanish Indies from 1759 to 1788. He was the eldest son of Philip V of Spain and his second wife, the Princess Elisabeth Farnese...

 of Spain. De Grasse had planned to leave several of his warships in Santo Domingo. Saavedra promised the assistance of the Spanish navy to protect the French merchant fleet, enabling de Grasse to sail north with all of his warships. In the beginning of September, he defeated a British fleet led by Sir Thomas Graves
Thomas Graves, 1st Baron Graves
|-|-...

 that came to relieve Cornwallis at the Battle of the Chesapeake
Battle of the Chesapeake
The Battle of the Chesapeake, also known as the Battle of the Virginia Capes or simply the Battle of the Capes, was a crucial naval battle in the American War of Independence that took place near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on 5 September 1781, between a British fleet led by Rear Admiral Sir Thomas...

. As a result of this victory, de Grasse blocked any escape by sea for Cornwallis. By late September Washington and Rochambeau arrived, and the army and naval forces completely surrounded Cornwallis.

After initial preparations, the Americans and French built their first parallel and began the bombardment. With the British defense weakened, Washington on October 14, 1781 sent two columns to attack the last major remaining British outer defenses. A French column took redoubt
Redoubt
A redoubt is a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort, usually relying on earthworks, though others are constructed of stone or brick. It is meant to protect soldiers outside the main defensive line and can be a permanent structure or a...

 #9 and an American column redoubt #10. With these defenses taken, the allies were able to finish their second parallel
Siege
A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by attrition or assault. The term derives from sedere, Latin for "to sit". Generally speaking, siege warfare is a form of constant, low intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static...

. With the American artillery closer and more intense than ever, the British situation began to deteriorate rapidly and Cornwallis asked for capitulation terms on the 17th. After two days of negotiation, the surrender ceremony took place on the 19th, with Cornwallis being absent since he claimed to be ill. With the capture of over 7,000 British soldiers, negotiations between the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 began, resulting in the Treaty of Paris
Treaty of Paris (1783)
The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, ended the American Revolutionary War between Great Britain on the one hand and the United States of America and its allies on the other. The other combatant nations, France, Spain and the Dutch Republic had separate agreements; for details of...

 in 1783.

Prelude




Franco-American cooperation


On December 20, 1780, Benedict Arnold
Benedict Arnold
Benedict Arnold V was a general during the American Revolutionary War. He began the war in the Continental Army but later defected to the British Army. While a general on the American side, he obtained command of the fort at West Point, New York, and plotted to surrender it to the British forces...

 sailed from New York with 1,500 troops to Portsmouth, Virginia
Portsmouth, Virginia
Portsmouth is located in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area of the U.S. Commonwealth of Virginia. As of 2010, the city had a total population of 95,535.The Norfolk Naval Shipyard, often called the Norfolk Navy Yard, is a historic and active U.S...

. On his way, he raided Richmond
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

, defeating the militia, from January 5–7 before falling back to Portsmouth. Admiral Destouches
Charles René Dominique Sochet, Chevalier Destouches
Charles René Dominique Sochet, Chevalier Destouches, also sometimes spelled Des Touches, was a rear admiral in the French Navy...

, who arrived in Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island
Newport is a city on Aquidneck Island in Newport County, Rhode Island, United States, about south of Providence. Known as a New England summer resort and for the famous Newport Mansions, it is the home of Salve Regina University and Naval Station Newport which houses the United States Naval War...

 in July of 1780 with a fleet with 5,500 soldiers, was encouraged by Washington and French Lieutenant General Rochambeau
Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau
Marshal of France Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau was a French nobleman and general who participated in the American Revolutionary War as the commander-in-chief of the French Expeditionary Force which came to help the American Continental Army...

 to bring his fleet south, and launch a joint land-naval attack on Arnold's troops. The Marquis de Lafayette was sent south with 1,200 men to help with the assault. However, Destouches was reluctant to dispatch many ships, and only sent three in February. After they proved to be ineffective, he took a larger force of 11 ships in March 1781, and fought a tactically inconclusive battle with the British fleet
Battle of Cape Henry
The Battle of Cape Henry was a naval battle in the American War of Independence which took place near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on 16 March 1781 between a British squadron led by Vice Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot and a French fleet under Admiral Charles René Dominique Sochet, Chevalier Destouches...

 of Marriot Arbuthnot at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay
Chesapeake Bay
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. It lies off the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. The Chesapeake Bay's drainage basin covers in the District of Columbia and parts of six states: New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West...

. Destouches withdrew due to the damage sustained to his fleet, leaving Arbuthnot and the British fleet in control of the bay's mouth.

On March 26, Arnold was joined by 2,300 troops under command of Major General William Phillips, who took command of the army. Phillips resumed raiding, defeating militia, and then burning warehouses of tobacco at Petersburg
Petersburg, Virginia
Petersburg is an independent city in Virginia, United States located on the Appomattox River and south of the state capital city of Richmond. The city's population was 32,420 as of 2010, predominantly of African-American ethnicity...

 on April 25. Richmond was about to suffer the same fate, but Lafayette arrived, and the British, not wanting to engage in a major battle, withdrew to Petersburg on May 10.

On May 20, Charles Cornwallis
Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis
Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis KG , styled Viscount Brome between 1753 and 1762 and known as The Earl Cornwallis between 1762 and 1792, was a British Army officer and colonial administrator...

 arrived at Petersburg with 1,500 men after suffering heavy casualties at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, joining the army of Phillips, who had recently died of a fever. Cornwallis had not received permission to abandon the Carolinas from his superior, Henry Clinton
Henry Clinton (American War of Independence)
General Sir Henry Clinton KB was a British army officer and politician, best known for his service as a general during the American War of Independence. First arriving in Boston in May 1775, from 1778 to 1782 he was the British Commander-in-Chief in North America...

, but he believed that Virginia would be easier to conquer, feeling that it favored an invading army.
With the arrival of Cornwallis and more reinforcements from New York, the British Army numbered 7,200 men. Cornwallis wanted to push Lafayette, whose force now numbered 3,000 men with the arrival of militia. On May 24, he set out after Lafayette, but Lafayette withdrew from Richmond, and linked up with forces under the command of Baron von Steuben and Anthony Wayne
Anthony Wayne
Anthony Wayne was a United States Army general and statesman. Wayne adopted a military career at the outset of the American Revolutionary War, where his military exploits and fiery personality quickly earned him a promotion to the rank of brigadier general and the sobriquet of Mad Anthony.-Early...

. Cornwallis did not pursue Lafayette; instead, he sent raiders into central Virginia, attacking depots and wrecking supply convoys, before recalling them on June 20. Cornwallis headed for Williamsburg, while Lafayette's force of now 4,500 men followed. General Clinton, in a confusing series of orders, then ordered Cornwallis first to Portsmouth and then Yorktown, where he was instructed to build fortifications for a deep water port.

On July 6, the French and American armies met at White Plains
White Plains, New York
White Plains is a city and the county seat of Westchester County, New York, United States. It is located in south-central Westchester, about east of the Hudson River and northwest of Long Island Sound...

, north of New York City. Although Rochambeau had almost 40 years of warfare experience, he never challenged Washington's authority, telling Washington that he had come to serve, not to command.

Washington and Rochambeau discussed where they should launch a joint attack. Washington believed that an attack on New York was the best option, as the Americans and French outnumbered the British 3 to 1. Rochambeau disagreed, arguing that the fleet under Admiral de Grasse, which was headed to the West Indies, was going to head to the American coast afterwards where easier operations other than attacking New York could be done. In early July, Washington suggested that an attack be made at the northern part of Manhattan Island, but both his officers and Rochambeau disagreed. Washington continued to probe the New York area, until August 14, when he received a letter from de Grasse that he was headed to Virginia with 29 warships and 3,200 men, but would only remain there until October 14. De Grasse encouraged Washington to come south where they could launch a joint operation. Upon receiving this news, Washington abandoned his plan to take New York, and began to prepare his army for the march south to Virginia.

March to Virginia


The march to Yorktown led by Washington and Rochambeau began on August 19, and has become known as the celebrated march
Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route
The Washington–Rochambeau Revolutionary Route is a 680-mile -long series of encampments and roads used by U.S. Continental Army troops under George Washington and French troops under Jean-Baptiste de Rochambeau during their march from Newport, Rhode Island to Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. The route...

, 4,000 French and 3,000 American soldiers began the march in Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island
Newport is a city on Aquidneck Island in Newport County, Rhode Island, United States, about south of Providence. Known as a New England summer resort and for the famous Newport Mansions, it is the home of Salve Regina University and Naval Station Newport which houses the United States Naval War...

, while the rest remained behind to protect the Hudson Valley
Hudson Valley
The Hudson Valley comprises the valley of the Hudson River and its adjacent communities in New York State, United States, from northern Westchester County northward to the cities of Albany and Troy.-History:...

. Washington wanted to keep absolute secrecy as to where they were headed. Washington sent out fake dispatches that reached Clinton, and convinced him that the Franco-American army was going to launch an attack on New York, and that Cornwallis was not in any danger.

The French and American armies paraded through Philadelphia from September 2 to 4, where the American soldiers proclaimed they would not leave Maryland
Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

 until they received one month's pay. The Continental Congress
Continental Congress
The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates called together from the Thirteen Colonies that became the governing body of the United States during the American Revolution....

 complied, giving them the money. On September 5, Washington learned of the arrival of de Grasse's fleet off the Virginia Capes
Virginia Capes
The Virginia Capes are the two capes, Cape Charles to the north and Cape Henry to the south, that define the entrance to Chesapeake Bay on the eastern coast of North America....

. De Grasse debarked his French troops to join Lafayette, and then sent his empty transports to pick up the American troops. Washington made a visit to his home, Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon
The name Mount Vernon is a dedication to the English Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon. It was first applied to Mount Vernon, the Virginia estate of George Washington, the first President of the United States...

, on his way to Yorktown.

In August, Admiral Sir Thomas Graves
Thomas Graves, 1st Baron Graves
|-|-...

 led a fleet from New York to attack de Grasse's fleet. Graves did not realize how large the French fleet was, and neither did Cornwallis. The British fleet was defeated by de Grasse's fleet in the Battle of the Chesapeake
Battle of the Chesapeake
The Battle of the Chesapeake, also known as the Battle of the Virginia Capes or simply the Battle of the Capes, was a crucial naval battle in the American War of Independence that took place near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on 5 September 1781, between a British fleet led by Rear Admiral Sir Thomas...

, and forced to fall back to New York. On September 14, Washington arrived in Williamsburg, Virginia
Williamsburg, Virginia
Williamsburg is an independent city located on the Virginia Peninsula in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area of Virginia, USA. As of the 2010 Census, the city had an estimated population of 14,068. It is bordered by James City County and York County, and is an independent city...

.

The siege



Initial movements


On September 26, transports with artillery, siege tools, and some French infantry and shock troops from the Head of Elk, the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay arrived, giving Washington command of an army of 7,800 Frenchmen, 3,100 militia, and 8,000 Continentals. Early on September 28, Washington led the army out of Williamsburg to surround Yorktown. The French took the positions on the left while the Americans took the position of honor on the right. Cornwallis had a chain of seven redoubt
Redoubt
A redoubt is a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort, usually relying on earthworks, though others are constructed of stone or brick. It is meant to protect soldiers outside the main defensive line and can be a permanent structure or a...

s and batteries linked by earthworks along with batteries that covered the narrows of the York River
York River (Virginia)
The York River is a navigable estuary, approximately long, in eastern Virginia in the United States. It ranges in width from at its head to near its mouth on the west side of Chesapeake Bay. Its watershed drains an area including portions of 17 counties of the coastal plain of Virginia north...

 at Gloucester Point. That day, Washington reconnoitered the British defenses and decided that they could be bombarded into submission. The Americans and the French spent the night of the 28th sleeping out in the open, while work parties built bridges over the marsh. Some of the American soldiers hunted down wild hogs to eat.

On September 29, Washington moved the army closer to Yorktown and British gunners opened up on the infantry. Throughout the day several British cannon fired on the Americans but there were few casualties. Fire was also exchanged between American riflemen and Hessian Jäger
Jäger (military)
Jäger is a term that was adopted in the Enlightenment era in German-speaking states and others influenced by German military practice to describe a kind of light infantry, and it has continued in that use since then....

s.

Cornwallis pulled back from all of his outer defenses, except for the Fusilier's
Fusilier
Fusilier was originally the name of a soldier armed with a light flintlock musket called the fusil. The word was first used around 1680, and has later developed into a regimental designation.-History:...

 redoubt on the west side of the town and redoubts 9 and 10 in the east. Cornwallis had his forces occupy the earthworks immediately surrounding the town because he had received a letter from Clinton that promised relief force of 5,000 men within a week and he wished to tighten his lines. The Americans and the French occupied the abandoned defenses and began to establish their own batteries there. With the British outer defenses in their hands, allied engineers began to lay out positions for the artillery. The men improved their works and deepened their trenches. The British also worked on improving their defenses.

On September 30, the French attacked the British Fusiliers redoubt. The skirmish lasted two hours, in which the French were repulsed suffering several casualties. On October 1, the allies learned from British deserters that, to preserve their food, the British had slaughtered hundreds of horses and thrown them on the beach. In the American camp, thousands of trees were cut down to provide wood for earthworks. Preparations for the parallel also began.

As the allies began to put their artillery into place, the British kept up a steady fire to disrupt them. British fire increased on the 2nd and the allies suffered moderate casualties. General Washington continued to make visits to the front, despite concern shown by several of his officers over the increasing enemy fire. On the night of October 2, the British opened a storm of fire to cover up the movement of the British cavalry to Gloucester where they were to escort infantrymen on a foraging party. On the 3rd, the foraging party, led by Banastre Tarleton
Banastre Tarleton
General Sir Banastre Tarleton, 1st Baronet, GCB was a British soldier and politician.He is today probably best remembered for his military service during the American War of Independence. He became the focal point of a propaganda campaign claiming that he had fired upon surrendering Continental...

, went out but collided with Lauzun's Legion
Lauzun's Legion
Lauzun's Legion was a French Regiment in the American War for Independence: Lauzun's Legion principal engagements were White Plains 1781, and Yorktown.-Unit History:...

, and John Mercer
John Francis Mercer
John Francis Mercer was an American lawyer, planter, and politician from Virginia and Maryland. Born in 1759 in Marlborough, Stafford County, Virginia, to John Mercer and Ann Roy Mercer, he graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1775 and was a delegate for Virginia to the Continental...

's Virginia militia, led by the Marquis de Choisy
Marquis de Choisy
Brig. Gen. Claude Gabriel marquis de Choisy was at the siege of Yorktown in command of Lauzun's Legion and Gen. George Weedon's Virginia militia, at Gloucester, Virginia, under the command of Rochambeau, opposite Banastre Tarleton.-Capture of Cracow:...

. The British cavalry quickly retreated back behind their defensive lines, losing 50 men.

By October 5, Washington was almost ready to open the first parallel. That night the sappers and miners worked, putting strips of pine on the wet sand to mark the path of the trenches.

Bombardment


After nightfall on October 6, troops moved out in stormy weather to dig the first parallel: the heavily overcast sky negated the waning full moon and shielded the massive digging operation from the eyes of British sentries. Washington ceremoniously struck several blows with his pick axe to begin the trench. The trench was to be 2000 yards (1,828.8 m) long, running from the head of Yorktown to the York River. Half of the trench was to be commanded by the French, the other half by the Americans. On the northernmost end of the French line, a support trench was dug so that they could bombard the British ships in the river. The French were ordered to distract the British with a false attack, but the British were told of the plan by a French deserter and the British artillery fire turned on the French from the Fusiliers redoubt.

On October 7, the British saw the new allied trench just out of musket-range. Over the next two days the allies completed the gun placements and dragged the artillery into line. The British fire began to weaken when they saw the large number of guns the allies had.

By October 9, all of the French and American guns were in place. Among the American guns there were three twenty-four pounders, three eighteen pounders, two eight-inch (203 mm) howitzers and six mortars. At 3:00 pm, the French guns opened the barrage and drove the British frigate, HMS Guadeloupe across the York River, where she was scuttled to prevent capture. At 5:00 pm the Americans opened fire. Washington fired the first gun; legend has it that it smashed into a table where British officers were eating. The Franco-American guns began to tear apart the British defenses. Washington ordered that the guns fire all night so that the British could not make repairs. All of the British guns on the left were soon silenced. The British soldiers began to pitch their tents in their trenches and soldiers began to desert in large numbers. Some British ships were also damaged by cannon balls that flew across the town into the harbor.

On October 10, the Americans spotted a large house in Yorktown. Believing that Cornwallis might be stationed there, they aimed at it and quickly destroyed it. Cornwallis sank more than a dozen of his ships in the harbor. The French began to fire at the British ships and scored a hit on the British HMS Charon, which caught fire, and in turn set two or three other ships on fire. Cornwallis received word from Clinton that the British fleet was to depart on October 12, however Cornwallis responded by saying that he would not be able to hold out for long.

On the night of October 11, Washington ordered that the Americans dig a second parallel. It was 400 yards (365.8 m) closer to the British lines, but could not be extended to the river because the British number 9 and 10 redoubts were in the way. During the night, the British fire continued to land in the old line; Cornwallis did not suspect that a new parallel was being dug. By morning of the 12th, the allied troops were in position on the new line.

Assault on the redoubts



By October 14, the trenches were within 150 yards (137.2 m) of redoubts #9 and #10. Washington ordered that all guns within range begin blasting the redoubts to weaken them for an assault that evening. Washington planned to use the cover of a moonless night to gain the element of surprise. To reinforce the darkness, he added silence, ordering that no soldier should load his musket until reaching the fortifications- the advance would be made with only "cold steel." Redoubt 10 was near the river and held only 70 men, while redoubt 9 was a quarter of a mile inland, and was held by 120 British and Germans. Both redoubts were heavily fortified with rows of abatis
Abatis
Abatis, abattis, or abbattis is a term in field fortification for an obstacle formed of the branches of trees laid in a row, with the sharpened tops directed outwards, towards the enemy. The trees are usually interlaced or tied with wire...

 surrounding them, along with muddy ditches that surrounded the redoubts at about 25 yards (22.9 m). Washington devised a plan in which the French would launch a diversionary attack on the Fusiliers redoubt, and then a half an hour later, the French would assault redoubt 9 and the Americans redoubt 10. Redoubt 9 would be assaulted by 400 French regular soldiers under the command of the German Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm von Zweibrücken and redoubt 10 would be assaulted by 400 light infantry troops under the command of Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

. There was briefly a dispute as to who should lead the attack on redoubt #10. Lafayette named his aide, the Chevalier de Gimat, However, Hamilton protested, saying that he was the senior officer. Washington concurred with Hamilton and gave him command of the attack.

At 6:30 pm, gunfire announced the diversionary attack on the Fusiliers redoubt. At other places in the line, movements were made as if preparing for an assault on Yorktown itself, which caused the British to panic. With bayonets fixed, the Americans marched towards redoubt #10. Hamilton sent Colonel John Laurens
John Laurens
John Laurens was an American soldier and statesman from South Carolina during the Revolutionary War. He gained approval by the Continental Congress in 1779 to recruit a regiment of 3000 slaves by promising them freedom in return for fighting...

 around to the rear of the redoubt to prevent the British from escaping. The Americans reached the redoubt and began chopping through the British wooden defenses with their axes. A British sentry called a challenge, and then fired at the Americans. The Americans responded by charging with their bayonets towards the redoubt. They hacked through the abatis, crossed a ditch and climbed the parapet
Parapet
A parapet is a wall-like barrier at the edge of a roof, terrace, balcony or other structure. Where extending above a roof, it may simply be the portion of an exterior wall that continues above the line of the roof surface, or may be a continuation of a vertical feature beneath the roof such as a...

 into the redoubt. The Americans forced their way into the redoubt falling into giant shell holes from the bombardment of the redoubts. The British fire was heavy, but the Americans overwhelmed them. Someone in the front shouted, "Rush on boys! The fort's ours!" The British threw hand grenades at the Americans with little effect. Men in the trench stood on the shoulders of their comrades to climb into the redoubt. The bayonet fight cleared the British out of the redoubt and almost the entire garrison was captured, including the commander of the redoubt, Major Campbell. In the assault, the Americans lost 9 dead and 25 wounded.

The French assault began at the same time, but they were halted by the abatis, which was undamaged by the artillery fire. The French began to hack at the abatis and a Hessian sentry came out and asked who was there. When there was no response, the sentry opened fire as did other Hessians on the parapet. the French soldiers fired back, and then charged the redoubt. The Germans charged the Frenchmen climbing over the walls but the French fired a volley, driving them back. The Hessians then took a defensive position behind some barrels but threw down their arms and surrendered when the French prepared a bayonet charge.

With the capture of redoubts 9 and 10, Washington was able to have his artillery shell the town from three directions and the allies moved some of their artillery into the redoubts. On October 15, Cornwallis turned all of his guns onto the nearest allied position. He then ordered a storming party of 350 British troops under the command of Colonel Robert Abercromby
Robert Abercromby of Airthrey
General Sir Robert Abercromby GCB , the youngest brother of Sir Ralph Abercromby, was a general in the army, a knight of the Bath, and at one period the governor of Bombay and commander-in-chief of the British forces in India.-Military career:...

 to attack the allied lines and spike the American and French cannons (i.e., plug the touch hole
Touch hole
A touch hole is a small hole, through which the propellant charge of a cannon or muzzleloading gun is ignited. In small arms, the flash from a charge of priming held in the flash pan is enough to ignite the charge within...

 with an iron spike). The allies were sleeping and unprepared. As the British charged Abercromby shouted "Push on my brave boys, and skin the bastards!" The British party spiked several cannons in the parallel and then spiked the guns on an unfinished redoubt. A French party came and drove them out of the allied lines and back to Yorktown. The British had been able to spike six guns, but by the morning they were all repaired. The bombardment resumed with the American and French troops engaged in friendly competition to see who could do the most damage to the enemy defenses.

On the morning of October 16, more allied guns were in line and the fire intensified. In desperation, Cornwallis attempted to evacuate his troops across the York River to Gloucester Point. At Gloucester Point the troops might be able to break through the allied lines and escape into Virginia and then march to New York. One wave of boats made it across but a squall hit when they returned to take more soldiers across, making the evacuation impossible.

British surrender


The fire on Yorktown from the allies was heavier than ever as new artillery pieces joined the line. Cornwallis talked with his officers that day and they agreed that their situation was hopeless.

On the morning of October 17, a drummer appeared followed by an officer waving a white handkerchief. The bombardment ceased, and the officer was blindfolded and led behind the Allied lines. Negotiations began on October 18 between two British officers, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Dundas
Thomas Dundas (British Army officer)
Major-General Thomas Dundas was a British military officer and Governor of Guadeloupe.-Military Service:Born the son of Thomas Dundas of Fingask, Dundas was educated at Edinburgh High School and entered the army in 1766, rising to Major of the 65th Foot...

 and Major Alexander Ross, and Colonel John Laurens, who represented the Americans, and the Marquis de Noailles, who represented the French. To make sure that nothing fell apart between the allies at the last minute, Washington ordered that the French be given an equal share in every step of the surrender process.

The Articles of Capitulation were signed on October 19, 1781. Cornwallis' British men were declared prisoners of war, promised good treatment in American camps, and officers were permitted to return home after taking their parole. At 2:00 pm the allied army entered the British positions, with the French on the left and the Americans on the right. The British had asked for the traditional Honors of War (marching out with dignity, flags waving, muskets shouldered, and playing an enemy [American] tune as a tribute to the victors), but remembering that the British, on taking Charleston earlier in the war, had refused the Americans (under Benjamin Lincoln
Benjamin Lincoln
Benjamin Lincoln was an American army officer. He served as a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War...

) the same privilege, Washington firmly denied their request. Consequently, the British and Hessian troops marched with flags furled, muskets reversed in shame, while according to legend the British drummers and fifers played the tune "The World Turn'd Upside Down
The World Turned Upside Down
The World Turned Upside Down is an English ballad. It was first published on a broadside in 1643 as a protest against the policies of Parliament relating to the celebration of Christmas. Parliament believed the holiday should be a solemn occasion, and outlawed traditional English Christmas...

" - actually a popular British marching tune of the time, and in line with custom, but curiously appropriate under the circumstances. The British soldiers had been issued new uniforms hours before the surrender and until prevented by General O'Hara some threw down their muskets with the apparent intention of smashing them. Others wept or appeared to be drunk. 8,000 troops, 214 artillery pieces, thousands of muskets, 24 transport ships, wagons and horses were captured.

Cornwallis refused to meet formally with Washington, and also refused to come to the ceremony of surrender, claiming illness. Instead, Brigadier General Charles O'Hara
Charles O'Hara
General Charles O'Hara was a British military officer who served in the Seven Years War, American War of Independence, and French Revolutionary War, and later served as Governor of Gibraltar...

 presented the sword of surrender to Rochambeau. Rochambeau shook his head and pointed to Washington. O'Hara offered it to Washington, but he refused to accept it, and motioned to his second in command, Benjamin Lincoln, who had been humiliated by the British at Charleston
Siege of Charleston
The Siege of Charleston was one of the major battles which took place towards the end of the American Revolutionary War, after the British began to shift their strategic focus towards the American Southern Colonies. After about six weeks of siege, Continental Army Major General Benjamin Lincoln...

, to accept it. The British soldiers marched out and laid down their arms in between the French and American armies, while many civilians watched. At this time, the troops on the other side of the river in Gloucester also surrendered.

Casualties


The French casualties were 60 killed and 194 wounded and the American casualties were 28 killed and 107 wounded: a grand total of 88 killed and 301 wounded.

The British official casualty return for the siege listed 156 killed, 326 wounded and 70 missing. Cornwallis surrendered 7,087 officers and enlisted men in Yorktown when he capitulated and a further 840 sailors from the British fleet in the York River. Another 84 prisoners had been taken during the assault on the redoubts on October 16. Since only 70 men were reported as missing, this would suggest that 14 of the men officially marked down as ‘killed’ had in fact been captured. This gives a grand total of 142 killed, 326 wounded prisoners and 7, 685 other prisoners. Jerome A. Greene mentions a German account that gives much higher figures: 309 killed and 595 wounded.

Article 10 controversy


George Washington refused to accept the Tenth Article of the Articles of Capitulation, which granted immunity to American Loyalists
Loyalist (American Revolution)
Loyalists were American colonists who remained loyal to the Kingdom of Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War. At the time they were often called Tories, Royalists, or King's Men. They were opposed by the Patriots, those who supported the revolution...

 and Cornwallis failed to make any effort to press the matter. "The outcry against the Tenth Article was vociferous and immediate, as Americans on both sides of the Atlantic proclaimed their sense of betrayal."

Effect of disease


Malaria was endemic in the marshlands of eastern Virginia during the time, and Cornwallis's army suffered greatly from the disease; he estimated during the surrender that half of his army was unable to fight as a result. The Continental Army enjoyed an advantage, in that most of their members had grown up with malaria, and hence had acquired resistance to the disease. As malaria has a month-long incubation period, most of the French soldiers had not begun to exhibit symptoms before the surrender.

Aftermath


Five days later, on October 24, the British fleet sent by Clinton to rescue the British army arrived. The fleet picked up several Loyalists who had escaped on October 18, and they informed Admiral Thomas Graves that they believed Cornwallis had surrendered. Graves picked up several more Loyalists along the coast, and they confirmed this fact. Graves sighted the French Fleet, but chose to leave because he was outnumbered by nine ships, and thus he sent the fleet back to New York.

After the British surrender, Washington sent Tench Tilghman
Tench Tilghman
Tench Tilghman was an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary war. He served as an aide de camp to General George Washington, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel....

 to report the victory to Congress. After a difficult journey, he arrived in Philadelphia, which celebrated for several days. This was entirely justified since Yorktown marked the last major battle of the war in North America. The British Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

, Lord North
Frederick North, Lord North
Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford, KG, PC , more often known by his courtesy title, Lord North, which he used from 1752 until 1790, was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1770 to 1782. He led Great Britain through most of the American War of Independence...

, is reported to have exclaimed "Oh God, it's all over" when told of the defeat. Washington moved his army to New Windsor, New York
New Windsor, New York
New Windsor is a town in Orange County, New York, United States. The population was estimated at 25,244 in 2010 by the US Census.The Town of New Windsor is in the eastern part of the county, bordering the Town of Newburgh and the City of Newburgh....

 where they remained stationed until the Treaty of Paris
Treaty of Paris (1783)
The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, ended the American Revolutionary War between Great Britain on the one hand and the United States of America and its allies on the other. The other combatant nations, France, Spain and the Dutch Republic had separate agreements; for details of...

 was signed on September 3, 1783, formally ending the war.

Legacy



On October 19, 1881, an elaborate ceremony took place to honor the battle's centennial. U.S. naval vessels floated on Chesapeake Bay, and special markers highlighted where Washington and Lafayette's siege guns
Siege engine
A siege engine is a device that is designed to break or circumvent city walls and other fortifications in siege warfare. Some have been operated close to the fortifications, while others have been used to attack from a distance. From antiquity, siege engines were constructed largely of wood and...

 were placed. President Chester Arthur, sworn in only thirty days before, following James Garfield's death, made his first public speech as president. Also present were descendants of Lafayette, Rochambeau, de Grasse, and Steuben
Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben
Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben , also referred to as the Baron von Steuben, was a Prussian-born military officer who served as inspector general and Major General of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War...

. To close the ceremony, Arthur gave an order to salute the British flag
Union Flag
The Union Flag, also known as the Union Jack, is the flag of the United Kingdom. It retains an official or semi-official status in some Commonwealth Realms; for example, it is known as the Royal Union Flag in Canada. It is also used as an official flag in some of the smaller British overseas...

.

There is a belief that General Cornwallis's sword, surrendered by Charles O'Hara after the battle, is to this day on display at the White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

. However, U.S. National Park Service historian Jerome Green, in his 2005 history of the siege, The Guns of Independence, concurs with the 1881 centennial account by Johnston, noting simply that when Brigadier General O'Hara presented the sword to Major General Lincoln, "he held it for a moment and immediately returned it to O'Hara."

The siege of Yorktown is also known in German historiography
Historiography
Historiography refers either to the study of the history and methodology of history as a discipline, or to a body of historical work on a specialized topic...

 as "die Deutsche Schlacht" ("the German battle"), because Germans played significant roles in all three armies, accounting for roughly one third of all forces involved. According to one estimate more than 2,500 German soldiers served at Yorktown with each of the British and French armies, and more than 3,000 German-Americans were in Washington's army.

See also

  • USS Yorktown
    USS Yorktown
    USS Yorktown may refer to one of many real-world or fictional vessels:In the United States Navy:, a 16-gun sloop-of-war commissioned in 1840 , the lead Yorktown-class gunboat commissioned in 1889 , the lead Yorktown-class aircraft carrier commissioned in 1937 , an Essex-class aircraft carrier...

    , for a list of U.S. Navy
    United States Navy
    The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

     ships named after the battle

External links