Battle of Yorktown


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Yorktown Battle

Cornwallis Surrender at Yorktown

Yorktown Battle MapYorktown, SIEGE OF. The allied armies joined Lafayette at Williamsburg, Virginia, September 25, 1781, and on the 27th there was a besieging army there of 16,000 men, under the chief command of George Washington, assisted by Rochambeau. The British force, about half as numerous, were mostly behind entrenchments at Yorktown. On the arrival of Washington and Rochambeau at Williamsburg they proceeded to the Ville de Paris, De Grasse's flagship, to congratulate the admiral on his victory over Graves on the 5th, and to make specific arrangements for the future. Preparations for the siege were immediately begun. The allied armies marched from Williamsburg (September 28), driving in the British outposts as they approached Yorktown, and taking possession of abandoned works. The allies formed a semicircular line about 2 miles from the British entrenchments, each wing resting on the York River, and on the 30th the place was completely invested. The British at Gloucester, opposite, were imprisoned by French dragoons under the Duke de Lauzun, Virginia militia, led by General Weedon, and 800 French marines. Only once did the imprisoned troops attempt to escape from that point. Tarleton's legion sallied out, but were soon driven back by Lauzun's cavalry, who made Tarleton's horse a prisoner and came near capturing his owner. In the besieging lines before Yorktown the French troops occupied the left, the West India troops of St. Simon being on the extreme flank. The Americans were on the right; and the French artillery, with the quarters of the two commanders, occupied the centre. The American artillery, commanded by General Knox, was with the right. The fleet of De Grasse was in Lynn Haven Bay to beat off any vessels that might attempt to relieve Cornwallis. On the night of October 6 a heavy ordnance was brought up from the French ships, and trenches were begun at 600 yards from the British works. The first parallel was completed before the morning of the 7th, under the direction of General Lincoln; and on the afternoon of the 9th several batteries and redoubts were finished, and a general discharge of heavy guns was opened by the Americans on the right. Early on the morning of the 10th the French opened several batteries on the left. That evening the same troops hurled red-hot balls upon British vessels in the river, which caused the destruction by fire of several of them—one a 44-gun ship.

Washington Yorktown MapThe allies began the second parallel on the night of the 11th, which the British did not discover until daylight came, when they brought several heavy guns to bear upon the diggers. On the 14th it was determined to storm two of the redoubts which were most annoying, as they commanded the trenches. One on the right, near the York River, was garrisoned by forty-five men; the other, on the left, was manned by about 120 men. The capture of the former was entrusted to Americans led by Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Hamilton, and that of the latter to Freneh grenadiers led by Count Deuxponts. At a given signal Hamilton advanced in two columns—one led by Major Fish, the other by Lieutenant-Colonel Gimat, Lafayette's aide; while Lieutenant-Colonel John Laurens, with eighty men, proceeded to turn the redoubt to intercept a retreat of the garrison. So agile and furious was the assault that the redoubt was carried in a few minutes, with little loss on either side. Laurens was among the first to enter the redoubt, and make the commander, Major Campbell, a prisoner. The life of every man who ceased to resist was spared. Meanwhile the French, after a severe struggle, in which they lost about 100 men in killed and wounded, captured the other redoubt. Washington, with Knox and some others, had watched the movements with intense anxiety, and when the commander-in-chief saw both redoubts in possession of his troops he turned and said to Knox, "The work is done, and well done." That night both redoubts were included in the second parallel. The situation of Cornwallis was now critical. He was surrounded by a superior force. his works were crumbling, and he saw that when the second parallel of the besiegers should be completed and the cannon on their batteries mounted his post at Yorktown would become untenable, and he resolved to attempt an escape by abandoning the place, his baggage, and his sick, cross the York River, disperse the allies who environed Gloucester, and by rapid marches gain the forks of the Rappahannock and Potomac, and, forcing his way by weight of numbers through Maryland and Pennsylvania, join Clinton at New York.

Siege of Yorktown

Plan for the Siege of Yorktown

Boats for the passage of the river were prepared and a part of the troops passed over, when a furious storm suddenly arose and made any further attempts to cross too hazardous to be undertaken. The troops were brought back, and the earl lost hope. After that the bombardment of his lines was continuous, severe, and destructive, and on the 17th he offered to make terms for surrender. On the following day Lieutenant-Colonel Laurens and Viscount de Noailles (a kinsman of Madame Lafayette), as commissioners of the allies, met Lieutenant-Colonel Dundas and Major Ross, of the British army, at the house of the Widow Moore to arrange terms for capitulation. They were made similar to those demanded of Lincoln at Charleston eighteen months before (See Yorktown Articles of Capitulation). The capitulation was duly signed, October 19, 1781, and late on the afternoon of the same day Cornwallis, his army, and public property were surrendered to the allies.

Siege of YorktownThe delivery of the colors of the several British regiments at Yorktown, twenty-eight in number, was performed in this wise: twenty-eight British captains, each bearing a flag in a case, were drawn up in line. Opposite to these were twenty-eight American sergeants in a line to receive them. Colonel Hamilton, who had the direction of the movement, appointed an ensign to conduct the ceremony. When that officer gave the order for the British captains to advance two paces and deliver up their colors, and the American sergeants to advance two paces to receive them, the former hesitated, and gave as a reason that they were unwilling to surrender their flags to noncommissioned officers. Hamilton, who was at a distance, observed the hesitation, and rode up to inquire the cause. On being informed, he willingly spared the feelings of the vanquished captains, and ordered the ensign to receive them himself and then deliver them to the sergeants.

For the siege of Yorktown the French provided thirty-seven ships-of-the-line, and the Americans nine. The Americans furnished 9,000 land troops (of whom 5,500 were regulars), and the French 7,000. Among the prisoners were two battalions of Anspachers, amounting to 1,027 men, and two regiments of Hessians, numbering 875. The flag of the Anspachers was given to Washington by the Congress.

Lord CornwallisThe news of the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown spread great joy throughout the colonies, especially at Philadelphia, the seat of the national government. Washington sent Lieutenant-Colonel Tilghman to Congress with the news. He rode express to Philadelphia to carry the dispatches of the chief announcing the joyful event. He entered the city at midnight, October 23, and knocked so violently at the door of Thomas McKean, the president of Congress, that a watchman was disposed to arrest him. Soon the glad tidings spread over the city. The watchman, proclaiming the hour and giving the usual cry, "All's well," added, "and Cornwallis is taken!" Thousands of citizens rushed from their beds, half dressed, and filled the streets. The old State-house bell that had clearly proclaimed independence, now rang out tones of gladness. Lights were seen moving in every house. The first blush of morning was greeted with the booming of cannon, and at an early hour the Congress assembled and with quick-beating hearts heard Charles Thomson read the dispatch from Washington. At its conclusion it was resolved to go in a body to the Lutheran church, at 2 P.M., and "return thanks to the Almighty God for crowning the allied armies of the United States and France with success." A week later that body voted the thanks of the nation and appropriate honors to Washington, Rochambeau, and De Grasse, and their respective officers and men; and appointed a day for a general thanksgiving and prayer throughout the Union on account of God's signal favors to the struggling patriots. Everywhere legislative bodies, executive. councils, city corporations. and private societies presented congratulatory addresses to the commanding generals and their officers. The Duke de Lauzun bore the glad tidings of victory to the Court at Versailles.



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