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Ldot Vets - The American Revolution 1775-1783

The Battle of Yorktown

October 6-19, 1781

The Battle of Yorktown began after the Battle of Guilford Court House. At that time, British General Cornwallis moved his battered army to the North Carolina coast, then, disobeying orders from General Clinton to protect the British position in the Carolinas, he marched north to Virginia and took command from Loyalist (Tory) General Benedict Arnold.

At the same time, General Washington was planning to attack New York with the help of the French, who had been convinced by Benjamin Franklin to join the Patriots. Because the British knew of the Patriots' plan to attack New York, they did not send reinforcements to General Cornwallis in Yorktown. General Cornwallis had been ordered to bring all his men to New York, but again he did not obey orders. Instead, Cornwallis kept all of his troops, totaling about 7,500, and began fortifying Yorktown and Gloucester, across the York River.

Washington sent his French aide, the Marquis de Lafayette, to Virginia in the spring of 1781 with a few Continental troops. Lafayette observed Cornwallis’s troop movements up the Carolina coast and their settling in at Yorktown. Upon hearing this news, Washington abandoned his plans to attack New York and Washington and French General Rochambeau, with 2,500 Continental and 4,000 French troops, started their march to Philadelphia. General Clinton realised the Americans were not going to attack New York, and ordered the British fleet to the Chesapeake Bay.

On August 30, Admiral de Grasse, with the French fleet arrived at the Chesapeake Bay and the British fleet from New York arrived on September 5. A naval battle ensued, with the French navy driving off the British fleet. 3,000 French troops from the naval fleet joined with General Washington’s army. After waiting a few days while the British admirals Graves and Hood sailed back to New York, the Americans attacked. Cornwallis was besieged by a Franco-American force of 16,000 troops. They captured two main redoubts on October 14. The British launched a counterattack but it failed. Cornwallis was outnumbered, outgunned, and was running out of food. Realizing that his situation was hopeless, Cornwallis asked for a truce on October 17. He surrendered to George Washington on October 19, 1781.

Back in New York, the British admirals had been deciding on how and when to rescue Cornwallis. On October 17th a British fleet finally set sail out of New York, but it was too late. And when General Clinton, who had been marching towardsYorktown with 7,000 reinforcement troops, learned of the surrender, he turned back to New York.

The surrender of Yorktown ended the fighting in the War for American Independence, except for some minor fighting that continued in the south, and other battles that still went on overseas. Losses on both sides were light: British and Hessian 156 killed and 326 wounded; French, 52 killed and 134 wounded; American, 20 killed and 56 wounded.

The Battle of Yorktown, is recognized as one of the most skillful military actions in history. The British prime minister, Lord Frederick North, resigned after Cornwallis's surrender. The new leaders signed the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783, which officially ended the American Revolution.

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