In the decisive battle of the American Revolution, Cornwallis surrendered his army to Washington on October 19, 1781 at Yorktown.
Battle of Yorktown Summary
The Battle of Yorktown occurred during the months of September and October 1781, at Yorktown, Virginia. American and French ground forces under the commands of General George Washington and General Jean Comte de Rochambeau, in concert with French naval forces under the command of Admiral François-Joseph, Comte de Grasse, surrounded and entrapped the British army commanded by Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis. Following a siege and bombardment lasting about 20 days, Cornwallis surrendered his army to Washington on October 19, 1781. Although sporadic and bitter fighting continued in the South for several months, the victory at Yorktown was the last major engagement of the American Revolution and effectively ended the conflict in the Americans’ favor.
Battle of Yorktown Timeline
Prelude to the Siege of Yorktown
Lord Cornwallis settles in at Yorktown, after conducting raids in Virginia. General George Washington instructs Marquis de Lafayette to use his 5,000 troops to block Cornwallis from escaping by land.
August 21, 1781
American forces, led by George Washington, begin their march from New York to Virginia. They are joined by French forces, led by General Comte de Rochambeau.
August 30, 1781
French ships, under the command of Admiral Comte de Grasse, arrive from the West Indies. They deliver supplies and men to the Marquis de Lafayette.
September 5, 1781
The French defeat the British in a naval battle in the Chesapeake Bay, off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. The victory at the Battle of the Chesapeake is strategic, because it keeps the British from reinforcing their troops in Yorktown, or evacuating them.
September 14, 1781
De Grasse begins taking Washington and de Rochambeau’s men to Virginia.
Siege of Yorktown
September 28, 1781
Washington and de Rochambeau arrive in Yorktown, and the Siege begins.
October 9, 1781
American and French forces begin to bombard British positions in Yorktown. De Grasse brings 3,000 additional troops to Yorktown.
October 14, 1781
American and French forces attack strategic British positions outside of Yorktown. Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm Graf von Zweibrücken leads 400 men and takes Redoubt Number Nine. Colonel Alexander Hamilton led another 400 troops, and took Redoubt Number Ten.
October 15, 1781
British troops led by Colonel Robert Abercromby attack, attempting to spike American and French cannons. Although they are able to damage several cannons and guns, they are turned back by the French. The cannons and guns were repaired by morning and the bombardment of Yorktown resumed.
October 16, 1781
The British attempt to sneak out of Yorktown by crossing the York River, but a storm blows in and ruins the plan. They are forced to halt the operation. Cornwallis meets with his officers, and they agree they have no option but to surrender.
British Surrender at Yorktown
October 17, 1781
A drummer boy, followed by an officer waving a white handkerchief, appeared and approached the American and French troops.
October 18, 1781
The Americans, French, and British negotiate the terms of surrender.
October 19, 1781
Articles of Capitulation are signed. Cornwallis surrenders more than 7,000 officers and men. Cornwallis refuses to attend the formal ceremony, and sends General Charles O’Hara in his place. O’Hara offers the sword of surrender to Rochambeau, who refuses, and directs O’Hara to give it to Washington. Washington also refuses, and instructs O’Hara to give it to his second in command, Benjamin Lincoln. At that point, the British soldiers laid down their arms between the American and French armies.
Visit the Yorktown Battlefield
The Yorktown Battlefield is part of the Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia, and is open throughout the year to visitors.