Trail History

The Siege of Yorktown

American map of the Siege of Yorktown. Courtesy of Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.
American map of the Siege of Yorktown. Courtesy of Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

On September 28, the allied armies arrived at Yorktown and the siege began. The artillery, aboard a sloop stuck on a sandbank, did not arrive until the first day of October. The First Parallel was dug on October 6, and the allied armies opened fire on the British.

The planned Second Parallel was partially blocked by British outer works, called Redoubts 9 and 10. The redoubts were only 400 yards from the main British line. The only way for the allied armies to complete the Second Parallel was to attack and overtake the British redoubts. On October 14, the artillery bombarded Redoubts 9 and 10 in preparation for attack. That night, Continental soldiers attacked Redoubt 10 and French soldiers attacked Redoubt 9. The Continental and French both prevailed.

The Second Parallel could then be completed, creating the Grand American Battery. Combined with the French batteries, the allied armies formed a continuous line within point-blank range of the British defense line.

Four days later, on October 18, two British officers, an American officer, and a French officer met to negotiate surrender terms. On October 19, 1781, the British troops along with American loyalists, marched out of Yorktown to lay down their arms. Cornwallis had surrendered and the allied armies were victorious.

While a great blow to the British, their defeat did not immediately end the war. Admiral de Grasse’s fleet sailed back to the Caribbean. The Continental Army headed north, back to winter quarters in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The French spent the winter of 1781-82 mostly at sites in and around Williamsburg, Virginia.

In July, the French Army began their return march north. Rochambeau’s march north provided Americans an opportunity to give thanks to their country’s ally. The Continental Army reassembled at an encampment near Crompond (Yorktown Heights), New York in August, awaiting the French Army. The French arrived on September 17, kicking off a week-long celebration of the Franco-American brotherhood-in-arms forged at Yorktown. The French Army then made their way north, sailing out from Boston Harbor on December 25, 1782.

On February 4, 1783, King George III issued a Proclamation of Cessation of Hostilities,  ending all fighting. The Second Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, officially ending the Revolutionary War.

The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, October 19, 1781 by John Trumbull. Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery, Trumbull Collection.
The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, October 19, 1781 by John Trumbull. Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery, Trumbull Collection.

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