Yorktown, Battle of2018-01-15T14:32:14+00:00

Battle of Yorktown Quick Facts

September–October 19, 1781

Quick Facts About Battle of Yorktown

After a bloody campaign in the southern colonies, Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis moved his army of 7,000 British and Hessian troops to fortifications he had constructed at Yorktown, Virginia during August of 1781.

During the late summer of 1781 American General George Washington and French General Rochambeau decided to move their forces from New York to engage Cornwallis’ army at Yorktown.

On August 20, 1781, the American and French forces quietly left New York and began moving south to Virginia.

When word of the advancing American and French armies reached General Cornwallis, he decided to stay at Yorktown, rather than move back south, because he expected Major General Henry Clinton to sail from New York with a reinforcements and supplies.

On August 28, 1781, a French naval fleet commanded by Admiral François Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse blockaded the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay preventing Cornwallis to extract his army, or from receiving supplies or reinforcements by sea.

On September 5, 1781, British naval forces failed to break the French blockade at the Battle of the Capes.

On September 28, 1781, the American and French armies arrived before Yorktown, forming a semi-circle around the entrenchments and putting the British under siege.

On October 9, the American and French armies had moved sufficiently close to began an artillery bombardment of Cornwallis’ army.

On October 17, 1781, running short on supplies and with no relief from General Clinton in sight, Cornwallis proposed surrendering to Washington.

On October 18, 1781, representatives of the British, French and American forces met to negotiate terms of surrender.

On October 19, 1781 Washington delivered the surrender document to Cornwallis. Cornwallis signed and surrendered sometime before noon.

On October 19, 1781, at 2 p.m., the British and Hessian defenders of Yorktown officially surrendered.

The British bands are reputed to have played “The world turned upside down” as the troops marched out to surrender.

General Cornwallis did not attend the surrender ceremonies, claiming he was ill.

Brigadier General Charles O’Hara, representing Cornwallis at the surrender ceremonies, attempted to surrender Cornwallis’ sword to French General Rochambeau. Rochambeau refused and directed O’Hara to General Washington.

As Cornwallis had sent his second in command to surrender, Washington directed O’Hara to surrender to the American second in command, General Benjamin Lincoln.

Over 7,000 British and Hessian troops were surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown.

Finally appreciating the gravity of the situation at Yorktown, General Clinton dispatched a relieving force, which arrived in the Chesapeake on October 24, 1781, too late to render any assistance to Cornwallis.

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.

Frenchmen outnumbered Americans nearly three to one at the Battle of Yorktown. Washington had 11,000 men engaged in the battle, while the French had at least 29,000 soldiers and sailors.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Battle of Yorktown Quick Facts
  • Coverage September–October 19, 1781
  • Author
  • Keywords battle of yorktown
  • Website Name American History Central
  • URL
  • Access Date June 26, 2019
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 15, 2018

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