Monday, October 19, 2009



This day is the 228th anniversary of the most famous battle of the War for Independence--Yorktown. The Yorktown campaign began when Lord Cornwallis advanced into Virginia from the Carolinas. The Marquis de Lafayette was sent, with a small army, to distract and occupy the British. As a result of Lafayette's clever strategies, Cornwallis encamped at Yorktown. A map will show you that Yorktown is located along the Chesapeake Bay and the James River. Cornwallis' hope was that the Royal Navy would sail down the James, pick up him and his troops, and drop them off at New York City to join General Clinton. The British Navy was sent to Yorktown, but so was Admiral de Grasse and his fleet of French ships. The fleets met on September 5th, and fought a hard battle. The French won and blockaded Yorktown.

Now Cornwallis was trapped both by the French Navy and the Allied army, which had marched down secretly from New York. However, he hoped that either General Clinton would send help or his cavalry commander, Banastre Tarleton, could escape from his post across the James River. However, the French and Americans blockading Tarleton had other plans and beat back Tarleton's attack in the Battle of the Hook (October 3rd).

The Americans had powerful French artillery to pound Cornwallis' fortifications. Washington fired the first shot, which ushered in a tremendous bombardment. The Americans fired heavily for days, and the British attempted to reply with their cannons. The allies were constructing a second siege line, but two small forts, called redoubts, blocked their way. The Americans and French stormed the redoubts and finished their siege line. When it was completed, they unleashed their cannon fire at point-blank range.

Cornwallis realized he had to run. His plan was simple: ferry his soldiers across the James River, join Tarleton, attack to end Tarleton's blockade, and congratulate themselves for getting out of this mess. In the evening, his boats were ready, but (providentially) a storm blew in that night. Only a few soldiers made it across the river until Cornwallis called it off.

Shortly thereafter, Cornwallis sent to negotiate surrender terms, and, on October 19, the British army in Yorktown surrendered. While this was not the final battle, it was the last major battle and also marked the beginning of the end of the War for Independence.

~The Historiographer

No comments: