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Siege of Yorktown summary

The Siege of Yorktown or Battle of Yorktown was a decisive victory by a combined force of American Continental Army troops led by General George Washington and French Army troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau over a British Army commanded by Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis.

  1. The French and American armies united north of New York City during the summer of 1781. In the beginning of September, the French West Indies fleet of the Comte de Grasse defeated a British fleet led by Sir Thomas Graves that came to relieve Cornwallis at the Battle of the Chesapeake. As a result of this victory, de Grasse blocked any escape by sea for Cornwallis. By late September the army and naval forces completely surrounded Cornwallis. The French took the positions on the left while the Americans took the position of honor on the right.
  2. After an initial artillery exchange Cornwallis pulled back from most of his redoubts (a small fort outside a larger one). The Americans and the French occupied the abandoned defenses and began to establish their own batteries there.
  3. On September 30, the French attacked the British Fusiliers redoubt.
  4. The fight lasted two hours, in which the French were repulsed suffering several casualties. On October 1, the allies learned from British deserters that, to preserve their food, the British had slaughtered hundreds of horses and thrown them on the beach.
  5. On the 3rd, a foraging party of the British cavalry and infatrymen went out but collided with Lauzun's Legion, and John Mercer's Virginia militia, led by the Marquis de Choisy.
  6. The British cavalry of the foraging party quickly retreated back behind their defensive lines, losing 50 men.
  7. By October 9, all of the French and American guns were in place and a parallel trench was completed just out of musket-range of the British. The Franco-American guns began to tear apart the British defenses. All of the British guns on the left were soon silenced. Some British ships were also damaged by cannon balls that flew across the town into the harbor.
  8. On October 10, Cornwallis sank more than a dozen of his ships in the harbor. The French began to fire at the British ships and scored a hit on the British HMS Charon, which caught fire, and in turn set two or three other ships on fire.
  9. On October 14 redoubt 9 was attacked by the French and 10 by the Americans. The French also made a diversionary attack on the British Fusiliers redoubt.
  10. On October 15, Cornwallis turned all of his guns onto the nearest allied position. He then ordered a storming party of 350 British troops under the command of Colonel Robert Abercromby to attack the allied lines and spike the American and French cannons (i.e., plug the touch hole with an iron spike). The British party spiked several cannons in the parallel and then spiked the guns on an unfinished redoubt.
  11. A French party came and drove them out of the allied lines and back to Yorktown. The British had been able to spike six guns, but by the morning they were all repaired.
  12. On the morning of October 16, Cornwallis attempted to evacuate his troops across the York River to Gloucester Point. One wave of boats made it across but a squall hit when they returned to take more soldiers across, making the evacuation impossible. The fire on Yorktown from the allies was now heavier than ever as new artillery pieces joined the line.
  13. On the morning of October 17, a drummer appeared followed by an officer waving a white handkerchief. The officer was blindfolded and led behind the French and American lines. Negotiations began on October 18. The articles of capitulation were signed on October 19, 1781. 8,000 troops, 214 artillery pieces, thousands of muskets, 24 transport ships, wagons and horses were captured.