What is the Yorktown Battle?

Dee S.
Dee S.

The Yorktown Battle of 1781 was the one of the last major battle on land during the American Revolutionary War. It began on 28 September 1781 and ended on 19 October 1781. During the course of the Yorktown Battle, the American forces were joined by the French in a fight against the British Army. General George Washington led the American troops, General Comte de Rochambeau led the French soldiers, and General Lord Cornwallis commanded the British Army.

General George Washington led the American troops at Yorktown.
General George Washington led the American troops at Yorktown.

It all began in the late summer of 1781, Washington and Rochambeau had just received word that Cornwallis was camped in Yorktown, Virginia. As a result, they hurried from New York to meet up with the French fleet that was under the command of Admiral Comte de Grasse. By the time Washington and his men arrived, they were able to stall the British army.

Yorktown is a city in southeastern Virginia.
Yorktown is a city in southeastern Virginia.

When the Yorktown Battle was truly underway, the British General, Cornwallis, asked for reinforcements of his troop. The French and American armies began a lengthy bombardment. However, the French artillery was highly accurate. Since reinforcements were never sent to Cornwallis and the French and Americans continued their bombardment by French and Americans, doubt began to form in the mind of Cornwallis. Then, two key hilltop fortifications were lost after a night attack. This cinched the end and surrender was inevitable.

Many patriots fought at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.
Many patriots fought at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.

There were many patriots during the course of the brief Yorktown Battle of 1781. For one, Thomas Nelson, who signed the Declaration of Independence, actually encouraged Washington to fire on his own estate, since Cornwallis was headquartered there. Because of the patriotism of Nelson and many like him, victory was able to be declared on the side of the American for the Yorktown Battle.

Cornwallis surrendered to Washington on 19 October 1781. At the end of the Yorktown Battle of 1781, 8,000 British troops were taken prisoner. There were only a few casualties. Cornwallis would not formally meet with Washington and never attended the surrender ceremony. In addition, the Revolutionary War was about to come to a decisive end in favor of America.

As an interesting side note, five days after the Yorktown Battle of 1781 had ended, the British fleet arrived – but too late to help the British army defeat the Americans and the French. One hundred years after the Yorktown Battle of 1781, in 1881, a ceremony occurred. United States Navy vessels were sent to the Chesapeake Bay. Even today, Cornwallis’s sword that was taken during the surrender is on display at the White House – for without the Yorktown Battle, who knows if the Americans would have ever defeated the British in the battle for independence.

General Cornwallis' sword, taken during the surrender of the Battle of Yorktown, is still on display at the White House.
General Cornwallis' sword, taken during the surrender of the Battle of Yorktown, is still on display at the White House.
Dee S.
Dee S.

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to wiseGEEK.

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Discussion Comments

christym

@gardenturtle: Yorktown is in Virginia and on the northern border of the large peninsula that is formed by the York River on the north and the James River on the south. The town is on the southern shore of the York River. Gloucester Point is on the opposing bank. Both are right at 35 miles inland, 15 miles east of Williamsburg, and northwest of Cape Henry.

GardenTurtle

Where exactly is Yorktown?

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