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Lord Cornwallis Surrenders To Washington At Yorktown

Today on October 19, 1781, Lord Cornwallis finally surrenders to George Washington at the Siege of Yorktown - effectively ending the American Revolution.

The Siege of Yorktown was the last major battle of the American Revolution. Under the command of General Washington, the Continental Army consisted of approximately 8,000 regulars, 3,000 militia and several artillery units. The colonial forces recently were reinforced with an additional 5,500 regulars from France. More importantly, they received much-needed support from the sea with warships from the French West Indies fleet. At this point in the war, the British were on the defensive after a number of successive losses. The main British army in the south was commanded by Lord Charles Cornwallis. He had received orders from his superior, Henry Clinton, to begin constructing a defensible deepwater port in Virginia.

The French forces under the command of Comte de Grasse arrived in August to initiate the naval blockade of Yorktown. The Royal Navy made a failed attempt to break the blockade at the Battle of Chesapeake in early September. The French naval victory essentially removed any chance for Cornwallis retreating from Yorktown by sea. All the British could do now was prepare for a long siege and hope for reinforcements. The joint American and French army built their first parallel trench on September 28 and began bombarding the British fortifications.

Within a few weeks, the outer defenses had fallen and the artillery bombardment became horrific. With few options left, Cornwallis asked for capitulation terms on October 17. After two days of negotiations, the British Army formally surrendered to Washington. The famous painting above depicts Cornwallis surrendering, however, on the actual day he was absent from the ceremony. He was likely still in shock at the recent chain of events and the British defeat against the seemingly inferior American soldiers. The revolution formally ended in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris. The Siege of Yorktown was undoubtedly one of the most important moments in American history.


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