Yorktown was the decisive battle in the Revolutionary War. The major players in battle were George Washington, Lt. General Cornwallis, Lt. General Rochambeau, and the Marquis de LaFayette. Britain's Cornwallis encamped in Yorktown during August of 1781. Washington decided to travel from New York to Virginia and join forces with Rochambeau and LaFayette to defeat Cornwallis.  With the aid of the French blockading the Chesapeake Bay, Cornwallis could not escape and was forced to fight.

Map of Yorktown

Hearing news of Yorktown

Cornwallis hoped General Clinton would arrive with reinforcements so he did not retreat to Richmond. Unfortunately, Clinton never really deciphered the message sent to Washington so he did not know the American's were on their way to Yorktown. He had several redoubts armed with 65 pieces of artillery primed and ready. Across the river, Lt. Colonel Tarleton manned a line in Gloucester. Twelve ships were trapped in the York River by the French. None of this helped Cornwallis.

York River through the treees

battlefield with Redoubts in the distance

The Americans and French repeated shelled the British troops as they took shelter in their Redoubts. Several men even volunteered to charge the redoubts in an effort to crush the British forces. These brave men were called "the Lost Hope" because there was little chance of survival. Rochambeau's 7,800 men came in from the northwest.  The Americans under Washington had almost 9000 troops. Divided into three sections they came in from the south.  Finally, a third division of Virginian militiamen came from the southeastern area. An additional force was sent from the north.

mortar shells


heavy artillery

Cornwallis finally received word from Clinton on September 30th. The troops were to arrive in five days and Cornwallis thought he could last until then. When Cornwallis abandoned 3 outposts, Washington quickly took them over. The American and French troops fired round and round, bombarding the British troops who could only get off 6 rounds per hour. The damage had been done and Cornwallis, knowing the end was near, still battled for several more days.

small but powerful artiller

Redoubt captured by the Americans

LaFayette captured Redoubt 10 with the help of Brigadier General Alexander Hamilton. In only 10 minutes, he overran the Redoubt and captured the forces and artillery.

Redoubt captured by the French

artillery captured by Americans

more artillery captured

With the combined American and French forces, Cornwallis had no other choice but to surrender. On October 19, 1781, Cornwallis' troops did exactly that - they surrendered.  Cornwallis himself refused to face Washington, claiming he was sick and sent one of his aids, Brig. General O'Hara to sign the papers. Since Cornwallis would not sign, Washington would not accept the letter of surrender himself, but had one of his aids, Lincoln do it. Cornwallis himself is rumored to have hidden in a cave along the shore. His men, 8,000 troops, became prisoners of war.

Captain's tent



On October 16, 1781, Cornwallis ordered his troops to retreat. The terms of surrender were negotiated and on October 19, the documents were signed and delivered to Washington. The terms included - the British being allowed to march out with their colors cased and drums playing a British march, the officers could return to England, officers were allowed to keep their sidearms and personal effects, and finally all troops would be marched to camps in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

cave where many believed Cornwallis hid after the surrender

General Clinton finally arrived in the Chesapeake Bay on October 27, only to find out the battle was over.

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