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Yorktown, siege of

The allied armies joined Lafayette at Williamsburg, Va., Sept. 25, 1781, and on the 27th there was a besieging army there of 16,000 men, under the chief command of Washington, assisted by Rochambeau. The British force, about half as numerous, were mostly behind intrenchments at Yorktown. On the arrival of Washington and Rochambeau at Williamsburg they proceeded to the Ville de Paris, De Grasse's flag-ship, to congratulate the admiral on his victory over Graves on the 5th, and to make specific arrangements for the future. Preparations for the siege were immediately begun. The allied armies marched from Williamsburg (Sept. 28), driving in the British outposts as they approached Yorktown, and taking possession of abandoned works. The allies formed a semicircular line about 2 miles from the British intrenchments, each wing resting on the [478]

Route of Washington's army from the Hudson to Yorktown.

York River, and on the 30th the place was completely invested. The British at Gloucester, opposite, were imprisoned by French dragoons under the Duke de Lauzun, Virginia militia, led by General Weedon, and 800 French marines. Only once did the imprisoned troops attempt to escape from that point. Tarleton's legion sallied out, but were soon driven back by Lauzun's cavalry, who made Tarleton's horse a prisoner and came near capturing his owner.

In the besieging lines before Yorktown the French troops occupied the left, the West India troops of St. Simon being on the extreme flank. The Americans were on the right; and the French artillery, with the quarters of the two commanders, occupied the centre. The American artillery, commanded by General Knox, was with the right. The fleet of De Grasse was in Lynn Haven Bay to beat off any vessels that might attempt to relieve Cornwallis. On the night of Oct. 6 a heavy ordnance was brought up from the French ships, and trenches were begun at 600 yards from the British works. The first parallel was completed before the morning of the 7th, under the direction of General Lincoln; and on the afternoon of the 9th several batteries and redoubts were finished, and a general discharge of heavy guns was opened by the Americans on the right. Early on the morning of the 10th the French opened several batteries on the left. That evening the same troops hurled red-hot balls upon British vessels in the river, which caused the destruction by fire of several of them—one a 44-gun ship.

The allies began the second parallel on the night of the 11th, which the British did not discover until daylight came, when they brought several heavy guns to bear upon the diggers. On the 14th it was determined to storm two of the redoubts which were most annoying, as they commanded the trenches. One on the right, near the York River, was garrisoned by forty-five men; the other, on the left, was manned by about 120 men. The capture of the former was intrusted to Americans led by Lieut.-Col. Alexander Hamilton, and that of the latter to Freneh grenadiers led by Count Deuxponts. At a given signal Hamilton advanced in two columns—one led by Major Fish, the other by Lieutenant-Colonel Gimat, Lafayette's aide; while Lieut.-Col. John Laurens, with eighty men, proceeded to turn the redoubt to intercept a retreat of the garrison. So agile and furious was the assault that [479] the redoubt was carried in a few minutes, with little loss on either side. Laurens was among the first to enter the redoubt, and make the commander, Major Campbell, a prisoner. The life of every man who ceased to resist was spared.

Plan of the siege of Yorktown.

Meanwhile the French, after a severe struggle, in which they lost about 100 men in killed and wounded, captured the other redoubt. Washington, with Knox and some others, had watched the movements with intense anxiety, and when the commander-in-chief saw both redoubts in possession of his troops he turned and said to Knox, “The work is done, and well done.” That night both redoubts were included in the second parallel. The situation of Cornwallis was now critical. He was surrounded by a superior force, his works were crumbling, and he saw that when the second parallel of the besiegers should be completed and the cannon on their batteries mounted his post at Yorktown would become untenable, and [480]

British officers receiving news of Washington's approach.

he resolved to attempt an escape by abandoning the place, his baggage, and his sick, cross the York River, disperse the allies who environed Gloucester, and by rapid marches gain the forks of the Rappahannock and Potomac, and, forcing his way by weight of numbers through Maryland and Pennsylvania, join Clinton at New York.

Boats for the passage of the river were prepared and a part of the troops passed over, when a furious storm suddenly arose and made any further attempts to cross too hazardous to be undertaken. The troops were brought back, and the earl lost hope. After that the bombardment of his lines was continuous, severe, and destructive, and on the 17th he offered to make terms for surrender. On the following day Lieutenant-Colonel Laurens and Viscount de Noailles (a kinsman of Madame Lafayette), as commissioners of the allies, met Lieutenant-Colonel Dundas and Major Ross, of the British army, at the house of the Widow Moore to arrange terms for capitulation. They were made similar to those demanded of Lincoln at Charleston eighteen months before. The capitulation was duly signed, Oct. 19, 1781, and late on the afternoon of the same day Cornwallis, his army, and public property were surrendered to the allies.

The delivery of the colors of the several British regiments at Yorktown, twenty-eight in number, was performed in this wise: twenty-eight British captains, each bearing a flag in a case, were drawn up in line. Opposite to these were twenty-eight American sergeants in a line to receive them. Colonel Hamilton, who had the direction of the movement, appointed an ensign to conduct the ceremony. When that officer gave the order for the British captains to advance two paces and deliver up their colors, and the American sergeants to advance two paces to receive [481] them, the former hesitated, and gave as a reason that they were unwilling to surrender their fags to noncommissioned officers. Hamilton, who was at a distance, observed the hesitation, and rode up to inquire the cause. On being informed, he willingly spared the feelings of the vanquished captains, and ordered the ensign to receive them himself and then deliver them to the sergeants.

For the siege of Yorktown the French provided thirty-seven ships-of-the-line,

Map: plan of the storming of the British redoubts, Nos. 9 and 10. night Oct. 14th 1781.

Lynn Haven Bay.

and the Americans nine. The Americans furnished 9,000 land troops (of whom 5,500 were regulars), and the French 7,000. Among the prisoners were two battalions of Anspachers, amounting to 1,027 men, and two regiments of Hessians, numbering 875. The flag of the Anspachers was given to Washington by the Congress.

The news of the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown spread great joy throughout the colonies, especially at Philadelphia, the seat of the national government. Washington sent Lieutenant-Colonel Tilghman to Congress with the news. He rode express to Philadelphia to carry the despatches of the chief announcing the joyful event. He entered the city at midnight, Oct. 23, and knocked so violently at the door of Thomas McKean, the president of Congress, that a watchman was disposed to arrest him. Soon the glad tidings spread over the city. The watchman, proclaiming the hour and [482] giving the usual cry, “All's well,” added, “and Cornwallis is taken!” Thousands of citizens rushed from their beds, half

Lord Cornwallis.

dressed, and filled the streets. The old State-house bell that had clearly proclaimed independence, now rang out tones of gladness. Lights were seen moving in every house. The first blush of morning was greeted with the booming of cannon, and at an early hour the Congress assembled and with quick-beating hearts heard Charles Thompson read the despatch from Washington. At its conclusion it was resolved to go in a body to the [483] Lutheran church, at 2 P. M., and “return thanks to the Almighty God for crowning the allied armies of the United States and France with success.” A week later that body voted the thanks of the nation and appropriate honors to Washington, Rochambeau, and De Grasse, and their respective officers and men; and appointed a day for a general thanksgiving and prayer throughout the Union on account of God's signal favors to the struggling patriots. Everywhere legislative bodies, executive, councils, city corporations, and private societies presented congratulatory addresses to the commanding generals and their officers. The Duke de Lauzun bore the glad tidings of victory to the Court at Versailles.

The following is the full text of the articles of capitulation:

Copy of the articles of capitulation settled between his Excellency General Washington, commander-in-chief of the combined forces of America and France; his Excellency the Count de Rochambeau, lieutenant-general of the armies of the King of France, great cross of the royal and military order of St. Louis, commanding the auxiliary troops of his most Christian Majesty in America; and his

Appearance of the British works at Yorktown in 1860.

Excellency the Count de Grasse, lieutenantgeneral of the naval armies of Christian Majesty, commander-in-chief of the naval army of France in the

The Lutheran Church in Philadelphia.

Chesapeake on the one part: and the right honorable Earl Cornwallis, lieutenantgeneral of his Britannic Majesty's forces, commanding the garrisons of York and Gloucester; and Thomas Symonds, Esquire, commanding his Britannic Majesty's naval forces in York River, in Virginia, on the other part.

Article 1. The garrisons of York & Gloucester, including the officers and seamen in his Britannic Majesty's ships, as well as other mariners to surrender themselves prisoners of war to the combined forces of America and France. The land troops to remain prisoners to the United States; the navy to the naval army of his most his most Christian Majesty.


Art. 2. The artillery, guns, [484] accoutrements, military chest, and public stores of every denomination, shall be delivered unimpaired to the heads of departments appointed to receive them.


Art. 3. At twelve o'clock this day the two redoubts on the left bank of York to

Map showing plan of operations in the South.

be delivered; the one to a detachment of American infantry; the other to a detachment of French grenadiers.


The garrison of York will march out to a place to be appointed in front of the posts, at two o'clock precisely, with shouldered arms, colors cased, and drums beating a British or German march. They are then to ground their arms, and return to their encampments, where they will remain until they are despatched to the places of their destination. Two works on the Gloucester side will be delivered at one o'clock to a detachment of French and American troops appointed to possess them. The garrison will march out at [485] three o'clock in the afternoon; the cavalry with their swords drawn, trumpets sounding; and the infantry in the manner prescribed for the garrison of York. They are likewise to return to their encampments until they can be finally marched off.

Art. 4. Officers are to retain their side-arms. Both officers and soldiers to keep their private property of every kind, and no part of their baggage or papers to be at any time subject to search or inspection. The baggage and papers of officers & soldiers taken during the siege to be likewise preserved for them.


It is understood that any property obviously belonging to the inhabitants of these States, in the possession of the garrison, shall be subject to be reclaimed.

Art. 5. The soldiers to be kept in Virginia, Maryland, or Pennsylvania, and as much by regiments as possible, and supplied with the same rations or provisions as are allowed to soldiers in the service of America. A field-officer from each nation —to wit, British, Anspach, and Hessian— and other officers on parole in the proportion of one to fifty men, to be allowed to reside near their respective regiments and be witnesses of their treatment; and that their officers may receive and deliver

General return of officers and privates surrendered prisoners of war, Oct. 19, 1781, to the allied army under command of his Excellency General Washington—taken from the original muster-rolls.

Regiments or Corps.Lieutenant-General.Brigadier-General.Colonels.Lieutenant-Colonels.Majors.Captains.Lieutenants.Ensigns and Cornets.Chaplains.Adjutants.Quartermasters.Surgeons.Other Officers.Drummers and Trumpeters.Rank and File.Total Belonging to the Army.Followers of the Army.
General and Staff1112522657980
Light Infantry111016123313594671
Seventeenth Regiment113841913205245
Twenty-third Regiment361117205233
Thirty-third Regiment13511159225260
Forty-third Regiment1353112216307359
Seventy-first Regiment11111411299242300
Seventy-sixth Regiment161641113918628715
Eightieth Regiment1251731115020588689
Two Battalions Anspach21283212254259481077
Prince Hereditary11554113011425484
Regiment de Bose2521115016271349
British Legion168361177192241
Queen's Rangers1110151132245248320
North Carolina Volunteers15985114142
Loyal Foresters2125
Third New Jersey Volunteers1124
New York Volunteers1113
Virginia Volunteers112
King's American Regiment112
General De Lancey's Battalion224
North Carolina Ind. Company112
Taken 14th and 16th inst.122127684

Thomas Durie, Deputy Commissary of Prisoners.

Camp near Yorktown, October 27, 1781.

N. B.—Since finishing the above return, I find unaccounted for: 1 Ensign Loyal Foresters, 1 Wagon Master, 6 Conductors, 5 Artificers, 1 Clerk to the Deputy Quartermaster-General.

Thomas Durie D. C.P.

October 28, 1781. [486] clothing and other necessaries for them; for which passports are to be granted when applied for.


Art. 6. The general, staff & other officers, not employed as mentioned in the articles, and who choose it, to be permitted to go on parole to Europe, to New York, or any other American posts at present in possession of the British forces, at their own option, and proper vessels to be granted by the Count de Grasse to carry them under flags of truce to New York within ten days from this date, if possible, and they to reside in a district to be agreed upon hereafter until they embark.

The officers of the civil department of the army and navy to be included in this article. Passports to go by land to those to whom vessels cannot be furnished.


Art. 7. Officers to be allowed to keep soldiers as servants according to the common practice of the service. Servants, not soldiers, are not to be considered as prisoners and are to be allowed to attend to their masters.


Art. 8. the Bonetta sloop-of-war to be equipped and navigated by its present captain and crew and left entirely at the disposal of Lord Cornwallis from the hour that the capitulation is signed, to receive an aide-de-camp to carry despatches to Sir Henry Clinton; and such soldiers as he may think proper to send to New York, to be permitted to sail without examination, when his despatches are ready. His lordship engages on his part that the ship shall be delivered to the order of the Count de Grasse, if she escapes the dangers of the sea; that she shall not carry off any public stores. Any part of the crew that may be deficient on her return, and the soldiers passengers, to be accounted for on her delivery.

Art. 9. The traders are to preserve their property, and to be allowed three months to dispose of or remove them; and those traders are not to be considered as prisoners of war.

The traders will be allowed to dispose of their effects, the allied army having the right of pre-emption. The traders to be considered as prisoners of war upon parole.

Art. 10. Natives or inhabitants of different parts of this country, at present in York or Gloucester, are not to be punished on account of having joined the British army.

This article cannot be assented to, being altogether of civil resort.

Art. 11. Proper hospitals to be furnished for the sick & wounded. They are to be attended by their own surgeons on parole; and they are to be furnished with medicines & stores from the American hospitals.

The hospital stores now in York and Gloucester shall be delivered for the use of the British sick & wounded. Passports will be granted for procuring further supplies from New York as occasion may require; and proper hospitals will be furnished for the reception of the sick & wounded of the two garrisons.

Art. 12. Wagons to be furnished to carry the baggage of the officers attending on the soldiers, and to surgeons when travelling on account of the sick, attending the hospitals at public expense.

They are to be furnished if possible.

Art. 13. The shipping and boats in the two harbors, with all their stores, guns, tackling, and apparel, shall be delivered up in their present state to an officer of the navy appointed to take possession of them, previously unloading the private property, part of which had been on board for security during the siege.


Art. 14. No article of capitulation to be infringed on pretence of reprisals; and if there be any doubtful expressions in it, they are to be interpreted according to the common meaning and acceptation of the words.


Done at York Town in Virginia Oct 19 1781.


Thomas Symonds.

Done in the trenches before York Town in Virginia Oct. 19 1781.

G. Washington,

Le Comte De Rochambeau,

Le Comte De Barras, en mon nom & celui de Comte de Grasse.


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