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Title: Yorktown and the Siege of 1781
Author: Hatch, Charles E.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Yorktown and the Siege of 1781" ***

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    [Illustration: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR · March 3, 1849]

                     Stewart L. Udall, _Secretary_

                         NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
                      Conrad L. Wirth, _Director_


This publication is one of a series of handbooks describing the
historical and archeological areas in the National Park System,
administered by the National Park Service of the United States
Department of the Interior. It is printed by the Government Printing
Office and may be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents,
Washington 25, D. C. Price 25 cents

                         and the Siege of 1781

                       _by Charles E. Hatch, Jr._

    [Illustration: Quill pen, inkwell, and paper]

                 Washington, D. C., 1954 (Revised 1957)

_The National Park System, of which Colonial National Historical Park is
a unit, is dedicated to conserving the scenic, scientific, and historic
heritage of the United States for the benefit and inspiration of its



  THE VIRGINIA CAMPAIGN                                                 1
      Battle of Green Spring                                            6
      The British Move to Yorktown                                      7
  SIEGE OF YORKTOWN                                                     9
      Strategy of the Siege                                             9
      Battle of the Virginia Capes                                     11
      Assembly of the Allied Armies                                    15
      Investment of Yorktown                                           18
      British Position                                                 18
      Opening of the Siege                                             21
      Gloucester Side                                                  22
      First Allied Siege Line                                          23
      Second Allied Siege Line                                         25
      Capture of Redoubts No. 9 and No. 10                             25
      Last Days of the Siege                                           27
      Negotiation and Surrender                                        30
      The Sequel                                                       31
  THE “TOWN OF YORK”                                                   32
  GUIDE TO THE AREA                                                    39
      Battlefield Tour                                                 40
      “Town of York”                                                   47
  HOW TO REACH YORKTOWN                                                50
  COLONIAL PARKWAY                                                     51
  ABOUT YOUR VISIT                                                     51
  ADMINISTRATION                                                       52
  CLOSELY RELATED AREAS                                                52
  SUGGESTED READINGS                                                   53
  Appendix 1—CORNWALLIS’ PAROLE                                        55
  Appendix 2—ARTICLES OF CAPITULATION                                  56

    [Illustration: _The reconstructed Grand French Battery—a strong link
    in the First Allied Siege Line._]

    [Illustration: Colonial home]

_On the level fields outside the small colonial village of Yorktown
occurred one of the great decisive battles of world history and one of
the most momentous events in American history. Here, on October 19,
1781, after a prolonged siege, Lord Cornwallis surrendered his British
Army to an allied French and American Army force under George
Washington, virtually ending the American Revolution and assuring
American independence. While hostilities did not formally end until 2
years later—on September 3, 1783, when the treaty was signed—in reality
the dramatic victory at Yorktown had ended forever the subservience of
the American colonies to England. Because of this victory the United
States became truly a free and independent nation._

                        _The Virginia Campaign_

At Yorktown, in the early autumn of 1781, Gen. George Washington, ably
assisted by the Count de Rochambeau of the French Army and supported by
the Count de Grasse of the French Navy, forced the capitulation of
Lieutenant General Earl Cornwallis. On October 19, the allied French and
American forces accepted the surrender of the British troops in what was
the climax of the last major British field operation of the American
Revolution—the Virginia Campaign.

The early campaigns, except the decisive repulse of British arms in the
Carolinas in 1776, were fought mostly in the New England and Middle
Atlantic colonies. After 1778, most activity was to the south. In 1780
and early 1781, Lord Cornwallis led his victorious British Army out of
Charleston and through the Carolinas; not, however, without feeling the
effective use of American arms at Kings Mountain (October 7, 1780) and
at Cowpens (January 17, 1781). On March 15, 1781, he was at Guilford
Courthouse in north-central North Carolina and there Gen. Nathanael
Greene accepted his challenge to battle.

The battle of Guilford Courthouse was a British victory which left the
victor weakened to the extent that he was unable to capitalize on his
success. Cornwallis’ loss in officers and men was so heavy that his army
was “crippled beyond measure.” In April, he decided to move to
Wilmington, N. C., on the coast, for the avowed purpose of recruiting
and refitting his exhausted force. Thus the stage was set for the final
campaign of the war.

Cornwallis’ next move changed the strategy of the Southern Campaign. He
did not believe himself strong enough for field action out of Wilmington
and declined to return to Charleston and South Carolina. According to
his own statement, “I was most firmly persuaded, that, _until_ Virginia
was reduced, we could not hold the more southern provinces, and that
after its reduction, they would fall without much difficulty.” He made
this decision alone, and Commanding General Sir Henry Clinton in New
York never approved. On April 25, he marched from Wilmington, reaching
Petersburg, Va., on May 20, where he formed a junction with Gen. William
Phillips who commanded the British forces already in the State.

By this time there was already a considerable concentration of troops in
Virginia. Gen. Alexander Leslie had been sent there with a detachment of
troops in October 1780, but he had gone on to join Cornwallis in South
Carolina. Shortly thereafter, another British force under Benedict
Arnold was sent to operate in the area. To contain Arnold’s force, or at
least to watch it, Washington had dispatched the Marquis de Lafayette to
Virginia to work in conjunction with the Baron von Steuben, and later
with Greene. Clinton then countered by sending Phillips with a large
detachment to join Arnold. As a result of these and other moves, but by
no prearranged plan, the stage was set in May 1781, for Virginia to be
the battleground. From the British point of view the subjugation of the
province was the tempting prize. For the Americans, the goal was to
prevent this, and prevent it they did. The strategy of Yorktown was in
the making, but had not yet taken form.

Cornwallis, leading a reasonably well-supplied and able field force of
more than 5,300 troops, was opposed by Lafayette, commanding a small
force not strong enough to risk battle. Lafayette had been ordered by
Greene to remain in Virginia, take command of the troops there, and
defend the State. Even though Lafayette expected reinforcements from the
Pennsylvania Line under Gen. Anthony Wayne, it would not give him battle
strength or even enable him to resist seriously the progress of the
enemy. Consequently, the young general’s first move was to apply in
every direction for more men and supplies.

In the meantime, Cornwallis prepared to force the issue. He selected his
field force and dispatched the remaining units to the British base at
Portsmouth. After assuring the commander there that he would reinforce
him further should a French fleet appear in Chesapeake Bay, he put his
army in motion toward that of Lafayette. On May 24, he reached a point
on the James River opposite Westover, about 24 miles below Richmond, and
began to cross the river. At this point General Leslie arrived with
reinforcements, further augmenting British strength. With these men,
Cornwallis planned first to dislodge Lafayette from Richmond and then to
employ his light troops in the destruction of magazines and stores
destined for use by American forces in Virginia and farther south.

    [Illustration: _The Marquis de Lafayette (Gilbert du Mortier)
    commanded a division of Continental troops at Yorktown._]

Lafayette, with his small army of about 3,250 men, did not attempt a
stand at Richmond, but withdrew northward. The role of this youthful
commander was “that of a terrier baiting a bull.” He had a heavy
responsibility and was faced by an experienced commander in the person
of Cornwallis. In the weeks that followed, Lafayette distinguished
himself. He continually repeated a series of harassing, threatening,
feinting, and retiring tactics. He retreated, usually northward, always
maintaining a position higher up the river and nearer the Potomac, thus
insuring that Cornwallis would not get between him and Philadelphia.

While encamped in Hanover County, Cornwallis learned that Wayne was only
a few days away from a junction with Lafayette. Consequently, he
hesitated to move further from his base at Portsmouth, but decided on a
quick dash westward before withdrawing. With this in mind he dispatched
Banastre Tarleton to Charlottesville to break up the Virginia
Legislature then in session—a move that disrupted the assembly and might
have led to the capture of Governor Jefferson but for the ride of Capt.
“Jack” (John) Jouett to warn him—a ride which is reminiscent of the
better-known ride of Paul Revere. At the same time, Cornwallis sent
Simcoe to harass Von Steuben who was then at Point-of-Fork on the James
River. Von Steuben withdrew, but Simcoe was able to destroy a quantity
of arms, powder, and supplies, which had been assembled there, before he
rejoined Cornwallis.

About June 15, with the season hot, his troops tired, and Lafayette
still evading him, Cornwallis decided that it was time to return to the
coast. He had accomplished as much as possible in the destruction of
supplies, he had found no great body of Loyalists to join him, and his
opponent was gaining strength daily. He moved east through Richmond and
proceeded down the Peninsula toward Williamsburg. Lafayette followed,
venturing closer to him all the while.

On June 10, Wayne joined the American force with 1,000 men, and 2 days
later Col. William Campbell—one of the famous American leaders at Kings
Mountain—provided an additional 600 “mountain men.” On the 19th, Von
Steuben appeared with his detachment. These reinforcements made
Lafayette’s corps strong enough for more aggressive action. His strength
was now about 4,500, but heavily weighted with untrained militia and
short of arms, artillery, and cavalry.

    [Illustration: _Lieutenant General Earl Cornwallis, Commander of the
    British forces which surrendered at Yorktown._]

On June 26, there was “a smart action” at “Hot Water Plantation”
(Spencer’s Ordinary), 7 miles northeast of Williamsburg, where Col.
Richard Butler with a detachment of the Pennsylvania Line engaged
Simcoe’s Queen’s Rangers. Following this, the British Army came to a
halt at Williamsburg, sending out patrols to various points on the York
and James Rivers, including Yorktown.

    [Illustration: THE VIRGINIA CAMPAIGN OF 1781]

By this time, the controversy, or misunderstanding, between Cornwallis,
in Virginia, and Clinton, his superior, in New York, which involved
matters of strategy, the theater of operations, and troop deployment,
began to shape the direction of affairs in Virginia. Cornwallis received
instructions to take a defensive station at Williamsburg, or Yorktown,
reserve the troops needed for his protection, and send the remainder of
his army by transport to New York to help Clinton in the siege that he
expected there. In the execution of these orders Cornwallis readied his
army for a move across the James (a move for which Clinton severely
criticized him) and a march towards Portsmouth, where he could direct
the dispatch of troops to New York.


On July 4, Cornwallis broke camp at Williamsburg and moved toward
Jamestown Island, the most convenient point for crossing the James. He
sent some troops immediately across the river, but ordered the bulk of
the army to encamp on the “Main” a little beyond Glasshouse Point,
within sight of Jamestown, as a precaution in the event Lafayette should
attempt to hinder the crossing.

Cornwallis was right—Lafayette did intend to strike the British at this
unfavorable moment. On July 6, Wayne, commanding the American advance
unit, made his way slowly toward the British encampment. Lafayette,
cautious and not wanting to be deceived about the enemy strength, went
with him to make personal observations. The young general quickly
decided that Cornwallis was laying a trap, as indeed he was, but before
he could call in his scouts and advance units, action had been joined.
Wayne, with only about 800 men and 3 field pieces, came face to face
with the major part of the British Army. To halt the advancing enemy,
Wayne called for a charge against a seemingly overwhelming force—a brave
and daring action by a leader already marked as a man of courage. Both
American and British troops fought well, but the charge stopped the
British advance momentarily. At this point Wayne called for a retreat,
which was effected with reasonable success. Marshy terrain and the
approach of darkness prevented effective pursuit by Cornwallis’ units.
The British losses, killed and wounded, apparently numbered about 70
rank and file and 5 officers. American losses approached 140 killed,
wounded, and missing.

The engagement at Green Spring, sometimes called the “Affair Near James
Island,” was a direct prelude to the struggle at Yorktown. The same
forces later faced each other over the parapets on the York. Actual
military victory, as at Guilford Courthouse, rested with the British.
The most significant result of the encounter, however, may have been the
stimulating effect on the Americans of the bravery and courage displayed
by soldiers and officers alike. It was another good test of training and
discipline—a detachment of American troops had confronted Cornwallis’
main force and again they had fought well.


Following the action at Green Spring, Cornwallis continued his move
across the James River, and, on July 17, he was able to report by letter
to Clinton that the troops which the latter had requested were about
ready to sail from Portsmouth. Three days later, Cornwallis learned that
all plans had been drastically changed. Clinton now instructed him to
hold all of his troops and await further orders. More detailed
instructions reached Cornwallis on July 21, including strong words about
the necessity for holding a position on the peninsula—the area between
the York and James Rivers. Clinton, it seems, now thought that Yorktown
was a good location for a naval station, offering protection for large
and small ships—a vital necessity.

In compliance with his new orders, Cornwallis ordered a careful survey
of Old Point Comfort and Hampton Roads to find the best location for
such a naval station. This was done by Lt. Alexander Sutherland, of the
Royal Engineers, who recommended against Old Point Comfort, which had
been mentioned at length in the more recent correspondence between the
British commanders in Virginia and New York as a possible location for a
base to replace Portsmouth. Cornwallis wrote to Clinton: “This being the
case, I shall, in obedience to the spirit of your Excellency’s orders,
take measures with as much dispatch as possible, to seize and fortify
York and Gloucester, being the only harbour in which we can hope to be
able to give effectual protection to line of battle ships. I shall,
likewise, use all the expedition in my power to evacuate Portsmouth and
the posts belonging to it....”

Having stated his intentions, Cornwallis began to take action. On July
30, the British transports, loaded with about 4,500 men, left Portsmouth
and set sail for Yorktown, where they arrived on the night of August 1.
On August 2, landings were made at both Yorktown and Gloucester.
Banastre Tarleton, with his men and horses, crossed Hampton Roads in
small boats and proceeded to Yorktown by road, arriving on August 7. By
the 22d, the detachment which remained at Portsmouth to level the works
completed its assignment and joined the main army. The construction of
defenses was begun immediately at Yorktown and Gloucester, a job that
Cornwallis estimated would require 6 weeks. On August 31, one of the
British soldiers wrote from “Camp Yorktown” that “Nothing but hard
labour goes on here at present in constructing & making Batteries
towards the River, & Redoubts toward the Land.” Actually, the siege of
Yorktown began before this task was completed.

    [Illustration: STRATEGY OF THE SIEGE]

—Cornwallis entrenched with an army of approximately 7,500 (British,
  German, and American Loyalist forces).

—About 4,500 troops with Lafayette, including over 3,000 militia under
  Thomas Nelson, Jr.

—Approximately 8,000 troops under General Washington including a French
  force of more than 4,500 commanded by the Count de Rochambeau.

—The French fleet under the Count de Grasse which blockaded the sea
  approaches to Yorktown. With de Grasse were 3,200 troops under St.

Meanwhile, the Americans were still keeping watch on the British. When
the British Army moved south toward Portsmouth after the engagement at
Green Spring, Lafayette dispatched Wayne to the south side of the James
to follow Cornwallis and to attempt to check Tarleton’s raiding parties
in this area. The Marquis himself took position at Malvern Hill. When
Cornwallis left Portsmouth, Lafayette supposed that his destination was
Baltimore. Acting quickly, he broke camp at Malvern Hill, and, with his
Light Infantry, moved toward Fredericksburg. When he learned that the
British were actually “digging in” at Yorktown and Gloucester, he took
position on the Pamunkey River near West Point, Va., about 30 miles
northwest of Cornwallis’ position. Wayne, with the Pennsylvania Line,
remained south of the James. From this point Wayne was to have begun his
march toward Greene in the Carolinas. On August 25, however, Lafayette
learned that the Count de Grasse, with a sizeable fleet, was expected in
Virginia, and he immediately cancelled Wayne’s orders for leaving the
State, requesting instead that he remain where he was pending further

                          _Siege of Yorktown_


As the year 1781 opened, Clinton continued to hold New York with a
strong force of about 10,000. Washington’s force opposing him numbered
some 3,500. American leaders saw that recruiting was poor and supplies
were low. The whole civilian system on which the army depended had
proved loose and difficult, and apathy had come with a long period of
inactivity. As the year progressed, change was in the air. There was
thought of action and a plan. The commander in chief continued to be
troubled, however, by the lack of assistance to the South and the now
long-standing inability to achieve anything decisive in the North.

New hope came when the French Government approved additional assistance
for the struggling colonies. Already a sizeable naval force was being
organized for operations in American waters. The excellent French army
corps under the Count de Rochambeau was then at Newport, R. I., to
cooperate with Washington. From February 10 to August 14, Washington was
engaged with the French in working out a plan of operations. His initial
thought, perhaps, was to invest New York should Clinton’s position be
deemed vulnerable and the expected French fleet move inside Sandy Hook
for action. An alternate plan was to attempt the capture of the British
force in Virginia or to project an operation elsewhere in the South.

On May 22, 1781, a planning conference was held at Wethersfield, Conn.,
between Washington and Rochambeau and members of their staffs. A general
outline of movement was laid down; but not knowing that Cornwallis was
in Virginia or when or where to expect the French fleet under the Count
de Grasse, it was necessarily fluid. The plan called for a union of
French and American armies for a demonstration against New
York—something that might induce Clinton to call troops from the South,
thereby relieving, to some extent, the pressure there. This move,
executed in July, actually did cause Clinton to ask for troops then in
Virginia and resulted in the removal of Cornwallis to Portsmouth,
already described.

It was early in June that Washington learned of Cornwallis’ move into
Virginia. Shortly afterwards, there was more definite word of the plans
of De Grasse, although the point at which he would support military
operations was not fixed. It was during the first week in July that
Rochambeau and his army joined Washington on the Hudson, and some
opening moves were made against Clinton in New York. On July 20
Washington entered in his diary that the uncertainties of the situation
“rendered it impracticable for me to do more than to prepare, first, for
the enterprize against New York as agreed to at Weathersfield and
secondly for the relief of the Southern States if after all my efforts,
and earnest application to these States it should be found at the
arrivl. of Count de Grasse that I had neither Men, nor means adequate to
the first object....”

At last, on August 14, Washington received dispatches telling him that
the Count de Grasse was to sail from the West Indies with a substantial
fleet and 3,200 troops. These troops had been requested by Rochambeau in
previous dispatches to Admiral de Grasse. His destination was the
Chesapeake; he could be in the area only a short time; and he hoped
everything would be in readiness upon his arrival. Washington saw
immediately that a combined land and naval operation in Virginia was the
only possible plan, and he moved quickly to effect this insofar as he

In preliminary maneuvers every attempt was made to deceive Clinton as to
the real destination of the units that were now scheduled for operations
at Yorktown. These troops included the French Army and units from the
American Army, totaling some 8,000 men. The remainder of Washington’s
force, less than 4,000, under Maj. Gen. William Heath, was left before
New York to guard West Point, N. Y., and the Highlands.

The movement toward Virginia began on August 19, 4 days after receipt of
definite news from De Grasse. The troops used three distinct and
separate routes as far as Princeton, N. J. This was partly to confuse
Clinton, who did not fully understand what was happening, until
Washington was well under way. Few in the French and Americans camps
actually knew the objective. Jonathan Trumbull, Washington’s secretary,
wrote: “By these maneuvers and the correspondent march of the Troops,
our own army no less than the Enemy are completely deceived. No movement
perhaps was ever attended with more conjectures, or such as were more
curious than this ... not one I believe penetrated the real design.”

From Princeton, the march continued to Trenton where they found there
were not enough ships available to transport the men and stores. The
decision was to continue on foot to the head of Chesapeake Bay. The
passage of the French and American troops through Philadelphia early in
September became almost a festive occasion. With the American units
leading the way, the trek continued through Chester, Pa., and
Wilmington, Del., to Head-of-Elk. It was at Chester, on September 5,
that Washington learned that the Count de Grasse had arrived in the
Chesapeake Bay with 28 ships of the line, a number of frigates and
sloops, and 3,200 troops. At that time these troops, under the Marquis
de St. Simon, had already debarked at Jamestown for union with
Lafayette’s growing force.

On September 8, Washington, Rochambeau, and the Chevalier de Chastellux
left to subordinates the task of preparing the allied armies for
transport down the bay by ship. They, themselves, proceeded overland to
Williamsburg, stopping en route for several days at Mount Vernon. This
was Washington’s first visit to his home in 6 years. The party reached
Williamsburg on September 14, and there was “great joy among troops and
people” as Washington assumed active command of the growing American and
French forces.


The Count de Grasse left Cape Français, on the northern coast of Haiti
in the West Indies, for the Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay on August
5. He had reached the West Indies in April, after a 38 days’ crossing of
the Atlantic from Brest, France. There had been some contact with the
sizeable British fleet under Rear Adm. Sir Samuel Hood who, with his
superior in this theater, Sir George Rodney, did not seem willing to
bring on a general action at this time. De Grasse had moved on against
Tobago, proceeded to Santo Domingo, and reached Cape Français on July

At Santo Domingo, negotiations for land forces for use in Virginia were
completed with M. de Lillancourt, the new commander there, who agreed to
supply from the West Indies garrison a detachment from the Gatinois,
Agenois, and Touraine regiments, as well as some artillery, dragoons,
and field and siege ordnance. It was further agreed that the troops
could be maintained on the continent only until October 15, as they
might be needed in the West Indies after that time. In Havana, De
Grasse, as had been requested of him, concluded arrangements for
financial aid—a virtual necessity at this point.

De Grasse approached the Virginia Capes on August 30, encountering the
British frigate _Guadaloupe_ and the corvette _Loyalist_ which had been
posted as lookouts. Both were pursued, the corvette being taken and the
frigate forced into the York River. The next day, the French fleet moved
into Chesapeake Bay for anchorage, individual ships having been
delegated to block the mouths of the York and the James. On September 2,
the land forces under the Marquis de St. Simon were sent up the James in
long boats for landing at Jamestown.

Dispatches telling of the arrival of De Grasse were sent to Washington
and Rochambeau, contact having already been established with Lafayette.
De Grasse felt that there was urgent need for action, but Lafayette,
even with the reinforcements of St. Simon, thought that it would not be
wise to attack before Washington and the army under his command reached
the area. He wrote “... having so sure a game to play, it would be
madness, by the risk of attack, to give any thing to chance.” Perhaps De
Grasse was wondering how he had been able to reach Virginia and
establish a blockade of Cornwallis’ position without interference from
the British fleet. Such good fortune might not continue.

The undisturbed voyage had indeed been a stroke of luck. In July, word
had been received by Rear Adm. Thomas Graves, in command of the British
naval units at New York, that a convoy, with valuable aid for the
American cause, had sailed for America and that it was important that it
be intercepted. This led him to put to sea, believing that Rodney, in
the West Indies, would take steps to cover any movement of the French
fleet of De Grasse which was known to be in that area. As a
precautionary measure, however, he sent some light craft on
reconnaissance south along the Atlantic coast.

    [Illustration: _Count de Grasse, Admiral of the French fleet in the
    Battle of the Virginia Capes and in the blockade of Yorktown in
    September-October 1781. (From a painting in the U. S. Naval Academy,
    Annapolis, Md.)_]

Graves left Sandy Hook, off New York harbor, on July 6. He was still at
sea when a sloop reached New York with dispatches from Rodney telling of
De Grasse’s fleet and the fact that at least a part of it was destined
for North America. Rodney further reported that if the situation should
require him to send a squadron to contact the French that he would order
it to “make the Capes of Virginia,” proceed along the Capes of the
Delaware, and move on to Sandy Hook. Not finding Graves, the commander
of the sloop put to sea to locate him, but was attacked by a privateer
and forced ashore. Thus, Graves did not get word of De Grasse from
Rodney until he himself returned to New York on August 18.

Needing repairs, Graves did not want to sail again until his fleet was
in readiness. Another matter that was troubling him was the French
squadron of eight ships under Admiral De Barras at Newport; and it was
tentatively agreed that when he was at full strength joint operations
would be undertaken against that station. Then, on August 28, Rear Adm.
Samuel Hood anchored off Sandy Hook with the greater part of the West
Indies fleet. Rodney, suffering from poor health, had turned over his
command to Hood and sailed for home, but one of his last acts had been
to dispatch Hood northward along the Atlantic coast with comprehensive
instructions to act against, or to head off, De Grasse. Hood, on August
25, had entered the Chesapeake and found no enemy, since he had sailed
in advance of De Grasse. From Virginia he had continued on to New York.
Thus Hood had missed De Grasse, and the latter was now in the

    [Illustration: _The_ VILLE DE PARIS.
    _A model of the flagship of the Count de Grasse during his
    operations in Virginia waters in the autumn of 1781._]

An intelligence report was received about this time by the British that
De Barras had sailed from Newport with his entire squadron and that he,
too, was headed for Virginia. Immediate action was imperative. Graves
assumed command of the entire British fleet, now made up of Hood’s ships
and all of his own that were ready for duty. On August 31, he sailed
south, hoping to intercept either De Barras or De Grasse, or of engaging
them both.

On the morning of September 5, Graves approached the capes of the
Chesapeake. The French fleet was sighted and a signal was made to form a
line of battle. By noon, his ships were getting to their stations. The
fleet was divided into three divisions, with Graves directing operations
from his flagship, the _London_, of 98 guns. Division commanders were
Rear Adm. Samuel Hood and Rear Adm. Francis Samuel Drake.

Meanwhile, in the French fleet, De Grasse ordered all hands to prepare
for action. The tide was right by noon, and, even though 90 officers and
1,800 men were not aboard, his ships got under way and moved out into
the Atlantic to allow more room for maneuver. De Grasse commanded from
his flagship, the _Ville de Paris_, a 110-gun ship, and deployed his
fleet in three sections, commanded respectively by Le Sieur de
Bougainville, De Latouche-Treville, and Le Sieur de Monteil. Action
began about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and continued for 2½ hours, when
darkness necessitated a cease-fire order. A French account of the battle
related that:

  At four o’clock the van, commanded by M. de Bougainville, began the
  action with a very brisk fire and successively the ships of the line
  of battle took part. Only the eight leading ships of the English line
  took any great part in the fight. The combat was violent here. For the
  most part the center of their fleet and their rear held themselves at
  half a cannon shot without inclining to engage. The wind failed the
  nine last vessels of our line entirely.... At five o’clock the winds
  having continued to vary up to four points placed again the French van
  too much to windward. Count de Grasse desired ardently that the action
  be general, and in order to have the enemy at command there he ordered
  his van to bear down a second time. That of Admiral Graves was very
  abused, and that admiral profited by the advantage of the wind which
  rendered him master of distance, in order to avoid being attacked by
  the French rear-division which was making every effort to reach him
  and his center. Sunset ended this battle.... The first fifteen ships
  in the French line were the only ones to participate in the battle....

It was later learned that the “ship London commanded by Admiral Graves
had been so well raked by the Ville de Paris that they [the English] had
been obliged to change all its masts.”

In the action, 24 French ships of the line, carrying approximately 1,700
guns and 19,000 seamen, were opposed by 19 British ships of the line,
having about 1,400 guns and 13,000 seamen. Casualties for the British
were 90 killed and 246 wounded. The French counted about 200 in killed
and wounded. Several English ships were damaged, and one, the
_Terrible_, had to be sunk several days after the engagement.

During the night of September 5-6, the two fleets remained close
together. At a conference on the _London_, on the 6th, Graves decided
that with a number of his ships disabled it would be too hazardous to
renew the action. He also declined Hood’s suggestion to try to slip into
the Chesapeake. De Grasse, having stopped the British and having
inflicted considerable damage, likewise hesitated to renew the
engagement. On the 7th and 8th, the two fleets remained from 2 to 5
leagues apart. Meanwhile, a northeast wind was carrying them south. On
the 9th, they were below Albemarle Sound, and by the next day the
British fleet was off Cape Hatteras. It was on the 9th that De Grasse
lost sight of the British and, fearing that a change of wind might
prevent it, sailed toward the Chesapeake Bay, which he reached on the
11th. On the 10th, De Barras reached Virginia with his squadron from
Newport, R. I., and entered the bay, later to join De Grasse. Admiral
Graves followed De Grasse northward, realizing that the situation was
now out of hand. On September 14, he sailed from the Virginia coast for
New York, where he intended to “... use every possible means for putting
the Squadron into the best state for service....” His departure had
momentous consequences for Cornwallis.

The Battle of the Virginia Capes, as the action of September 5 has come
to be called, was a most important phase of the siege of Yorktown. At a
critical point the French had seized control of the sea and had sealed
in the British at Yorktown. This prevented the evacuation of Cornwallis
and ended his hopes of reinforcement and supply. The next phase of the
combined operation against Cornwallis was encirclement by land. Already
this was being accomplished.


On September 7, Lafayette moved his force from the Pamunkey River to
Williamsburg where he could at least temporarily block any movement that
Cornwallis might make up the peninsula. His army was substantially
enlarged the next day by the more than 3,000 troops under St. Simon, who
had arrived with De Grasse and landed at Jamestown. On September 14,
Washington arrived at Lafayette’s headquarters in Williamsburg for a
“joyful reunion” with the young French general and to assume direct
command of the operations in the Virginia theater.

The combined French and American forces, which Washington had left at
the head of the Chesapeake early in September, found a shortage of
shipping also at Head-of-Elk. It was necessary to use most of the
vessels available for the transport of ordnance and stores, with the
result that the bulk of the troops had to march on to Baltimore and
Annapolis to embark. On September 15, Washington wrote to De Grasse
about the transport of his army. The French admiral had anticipated this
need, and had already dispatched the transports brought to the area from
Newport by De Barras plus some frigates which had been seized—enough to
accommodate about 4,000 troops.

    [Illustration: _Count de Rochambeau, Commander of the French wing of
    the allied armies which besieged Yorktown._]

On September 17, Washington, with Rochambeau, Chastellux, Henry Knox,
and the Chevalier Duportail, visited De Grasse aboard the _Ville de
Paris_ to pay their respects and to confer on the joint operation now in
progress against Cornwallis. In the discussion, Washington was able to
prevail on De Grasse to extend his stay in Virginia waters past the
October 15 deadline which he had originally set. He agreed to remain at
least through the month of October. He did not, however, approve plans
to move ships into the York River.

By September 22, when Washington returned to Williamsburg, parts of the
allied armies from the North had arrived, having landed along College
Creek and at other points on the James. Included among the troops, too,
was a force under M. de Choisy which had come down from Newport with De
Barras. Late in the same day other parts of the convoy, which De Grasse
had sent up the bay, began to arrive, and De Grasse was able to write:
“Everything is entering the river today, even your artillery.” Landing
operations continued for several days with much of the artillery being
put ashore at Trebell’s Landing below College Creek.

About this time the allied commanders learned that the English fleet in
New York had been augmented by the arrival of a squadron under Adm.
Robert Digby. This led to apprehension on the part of De Grasse and
increased the need for haste in operations against Yorktown. De Grasse
debated the need of putting to sea—a turn of events that caused
Washington moments of “painful anxiety.” In the end, however, De Grasse
was persuaded against this move, and he remained in the bay.
Nevertheless, the need for immediate land action had become imperative.

By September 27, the organization of the allied French and American
armies assembled at Williamsburg had been completed. There were three
parts—American Continentals (approximately 5,200), French auxiliaries
(about 7,500), and American militia (over 3,000). The Continentals were
grouped in three divisions, commanded respectively by Major General
Lafayette, Major General von Steuben, and Major General Lincoln. In
addition to his divisional duties, Lincoln also commanded the American
wing. Detachments of artillery, with siege and field pieces, several
companies of sappers and miners, and other units, were under the command
of Brig. Gen. Henry Knox of Massachusetts. There was a cavalry grouping
too, under Col. Stephen Moylan of Pennsylvania.

The French wing of the allied armies made up approximately one-half of
the total land forces which opposed the British. Commanded by the Count
de Rochambeau, it included 7 infantry regiments grouped in 3 brigades.
The cavalry was under the Duke de Lauzun and the artillery under Colonel
d’Aboville. The French engineers were headed by Colonel Desandrouins and
Lieutenant Colonel Querenet, both of whom were instrumental in the
preparation of an excellent set of siege plans.

    [Illustration: _Gen. George Washington, Commander in Chief of the
    allied French and American forces at Yorktown. (From the Peale
    portrait in the State House, Annapolis, Md.)_]

The third component of the allied armies was the militia, chiefly from
Virginia, commanded by Gen. Thomas Nelson, Jr., a native of Yorktown,
who was supported by Brig. Gen. George Weedon, Brig. Gen. Robert Lawson,
and Brig. Gen. Edward Stevens.


On September 27 all was in readiness for the movement of the allied
armies against the British position at Yorktown and an “Order of Battle”
was drawn up. At 5 o’clock in the morning of September 28 the French and
American units, on instruction from Washington, their commander in
chief, began to move toward Yorktown. The Continentals, followed by the
French troops, formed the left column and the militia, the right. The
route lay over the principal highways down the peninsula. At the
“Halfway House,” midway between Williamsburg and Yorktown, the American
regulars moved off to the right, while the French continued on the more
direct route.

About noon both sections approached Yorktown, and contact was made with
British pickets who fell back. Lt. Col. Robert Abercrombie’s Light
Infantry, covering the British right, first gave the alarm, and some
shots were exchanged with Tarleton’s Legion, which covered the British
left, as the American and French troops reached the approaches to
Yorktown. By nightfall, the allied units reached temporary positions
along Beaverdam Creek within a mile of the main enemy posts. At this
point, orders were issued that “The whole army, officers and soldiers,
will lay on their arms this night.”

The investment of Yorktown, which began so auspiciously on the 28th, was
more securely established during the 2 days that followed. On the 29th,
the American wing moved more to the east (right) and nearer to the
enemy, while both French and American units spread out to their
designated campsites, forming a semicircle around Yorktown from the York
River on the northwest to Wormley Creek, a tributary of the York, on the
south and east. Reconnoitering was extended within cannon range of the
enemy’s works, and several skirmishes developed with British patrols.
There was also some minor action at Moore’s Dam over Wormley Creek,
where the British had thrown up temporary positions.


When the British entered Yorktown in August 1781, the town, one of the
most important in the lower Chesapeake region, was described by one of
the soldiers as:

  This Yorktown, or Little-York, is a small city of approximately 300
  houses; it has, moreover, considerable circumference. It is located on
  the bank of the York River, somewhat high on a sandy but level ground.
  It has 3 churches, 2 reformed English and 1 German Lutheran, but
  without steeples, and 2 Quaker meeting houses, and a beautiful court
  or meeting house, which building, like the majority of the houses, is
  built of bricks. Here stood many houses which were destroyed and
  abandoned by their occupants. There was a garrison of 300 militia men
  here, but upon our arrival they marched away without firing a shot
  back to Williamsburg, which is 16 English miles from here.

  We found few inhabitants here, as they had mostly gone with bag and
  baggage into the country beyond.

The task confronting Cornwallis was the fortification of this town and
Gloucester Point, just across the York, as a base. In early August, he
had little reason to expect that 2 months later he would be besieged.
Nevertheless, on arrival in Yorktown he turned to the task at hand with
vigor. As the days passed, Cornwallis began to realize that enemy forces
were assembling around him.

In planning his defense, he established a line of fortifications, close
in about the town, supported by small enclosed earthworks, or redoubts,
and batteries. Just in advance of the main line he constructed two
positions, Redoubts Nos. 9 and 10, to command the high ground in that
sector. Along the York-Hampton Road he strengthened the main line by
extending it outward on the highway in the form of a point, or wedge,
that was called the “Horn-Work.” In the inner and principal line, he had
10 redoubts and 14 batteries in which were mounted some 65 guns, the
largest being 18-pounders. Some of this ordnance came from the British
ships anchored offshore in the York.

The British outer line utilized the protective features of ravines and
creeks. Close on the west of Yorktown was Yorktown Creek. On the east,
but at a greater distance, ran Wormley Creek. These creeks, with their
marshes and irregular terrain, constituted rather formidable barriers to
the rapid advance of troops. The area between the headwaters of these
two creeks, however, was a weak link. This high ground, less than half a
mile wide, carried the road from Yorktown to Hampton. To control this,
British engineers laid out four redoubts and some gun emplacements. On
the west side of Yorktown Creek, near the point where a road to
Williamsburg crossed, a large star-shaped work was built. This, manned
by a part of the Royal Welch Fusiliers (23d) Regiment, was known as the
Fusiliers Redoubt. These positions, some works at Moore’s Mill Dam, and
the two creeks constituted the British outer line at Yorktown.

The village at Gloucester Point, across the river, was fortified with a
single line of entrenchments with 4 redoubts and 3 batteries. In the
York River, between Yorktown and Gloucester, there were British
transports, supply boats, and some armed vessels, notably the _Charon_
and _Guadaloupe_.

Behind his lines, Cornwallis had a force of some 7,500 troops, most of
them seasoned veterans. To aid his gunners, all buildings, trees, and
other obstructions in front of his main line were removed for a distance
of 1,000 yards. All roads were blocked, and the completion of fixed
positions was pushed.

    [Illustration: _The Fusiliers Redoubt (reconstructed), a position
    which supported the right side of the British main line._]

Cornwallis had begun to feel the pinch of the French fleet blockade even
before the allied armies reached Yorktown. On September 11, one of his
soldiers wrote: “We get terrible provisions now, putrid ship’s meat and
wormy biscuits that have spoiled on the ships. Many of the men have
taken sick here with dysentery or the bloody flux and with diarrhea.
Also the foul fever is spreading, partly on account of the many
hardships from which we have had little rest day or night, and partly on
account of the awful food; but mostly, the nitrebearing water is to
blame for it.” Sickness and also a lack of officers were to remain a
severe handicap for the British.

Cornwallis continued to keep in touch by letter with Clinton in New
York. On September 16, he had received word that Clinton was planning to
move south with a sizeable force to aid him. When he received this word,
Cornwallis decided against any offensive action and so wrote to Clinton.
On September 29, a dispatch from New York, written on the 24th, told of
ship repairs and a strengthened British fleet, as well as the
preparation of reinforcements for Cornwallis’ Virginia garrison. Clinton
continued: “There is every reason to hope we start from hence the 5th

About 10 o’clock on the night of September 29, Cornwallis made an
important decision which he described in a letter to Clinton: “I have
this evening received your letter of the 24th, which has given me the
greatest satisfaction. I shall retire this night within the works, and
have no doubt, if relief arrives in any reasonable time, York and
Gloucester will be both in possession of his Majesty’s troops.” This
decision to abandon his outer line without a fight definitely shortened
the siege of Yorktown. It was a move for which Cornwallis has been
criticized and an advantage which the allied armies quickly seized.


Washington wrote of the morning of September 30: “... we discovered,
that the Enemy had evacuated all their Exterior Line of Works, and
withdrawn themselves to those near the body of the Town. By this Means
we are in possession of very advantageous Grounds, which command, in a
very near Advance, almost the whole remaining line of their Defence.”
Even before Washington had written, American and French units had moved
into these works. Within the day, the construction of an additional
redoubt and a battery was begun in this sector.

On the morning of the 30th, while these moves were being made on the
south side of Yorktown, on the extreme west a French unit from St.
Simon’s command drove in the British pickets in the vicinity of the
Fusiliers Redoubt. A sharp skirmish resulted, with several casualties—an
action that enabled the allies to take a more advantageous position in
this quarter.

One event only marred the successful moves of the 30th. Col. Alexander
Scammell, of New Hampshire, a well-known soldier with much service, was
wounded during the early morning while reconnoitering with a small party
south of Yorktown. He died from his wound a week later in the base
hospital in Williamsburg.

    [Illustration: _American Battery No. 2._]

In the first days of October, the allies completed their surveying and
planning and pushed the construction and collection of siege material
which consisted of gabions (wickerwork-like baskets to be filled with
earth to support embankments); fascines (long bundles of sticks of wood
bound together for use in filling ditches, strengthening ramparts,
etc.); fraises (pointed stakes to be driven into embankments in an
upright or inclined position); and saucissons (large fascines). There
was some delay while the heavy guns were being transported from the
landing points on the James. Perhaps James Thacher penned an accurate
short description when he wrote on October 1-2: “Heavy cannon and
mortars are continually arriving, and the greatest preparations are made
to prosecute the siege in the most effectual manner.” By October 6,
however, the work of reconnoitering the abandoned British positions
south of Yorktown and constructing supporting works there was complete.
All was in readiness for the next move—construction of the First Allied
Siege Line.

Throughout this interval the British had maintained a steady and
effective artillery fire which tended to slow the work of the allies.
The journals of the siege are full of accounts, such as that written by
Lt. William Feltman on October 2: “A continual cannonading this whole
day at our fatigue parties. One Maryland soldier’s hand shot off and one
militia man killed.” Behind the British lines feverish activity
continued, and there was fear of a general “alarm.” Ships were sunk in
the river immediately in front of the town to block any allied landing
attempt from that quarter. Cornwallis’ positions were not complete, nor
were his magazines. Every available man was on the line to help in the
construction, particularly the large force of Negro labor which the
British general had acquired. To complicate the picture for Cornwallis,
smallpox was taking its toll.

    [Illustration: _View of Gloucester Point, across the York River from
    Yorktown, before construction of the Coleman Memorial Bridge._]


Even though Washington was directing his principal force against
Yorktown where the main British force was located, it was necessary that
he take measures to contain the enemy post at Gloucester Point on the
north side of the river. This would close a possible means of escape for
Cornwallis and halt the heavy foraging parties that were sweeping the
Gloucester countryside. The first allied force here was 1,500 militia
under Brig. Gen. George Weedon. By September 28, Weedon had been
reinforced by the Duke de Lauzun’s Legion of 600, half of them mounted.
Several days later, 800 marines were landed from the French fleet and
Brigadier General Choisy was assigned to command the whole. By early
October, the British garrison on the Gloucester side had grown and
included both Simcoe’s and Tarleton’s cavalry, as well as ground units.

On October 3, as Choisy moved down toward Gloucester Point to tighten
his lines and to force the enemy into their fixed positions on the
point, a brief but spirited encounter occurred at “the Hook,” near
present Hayes Store, in which the daring cavalry leaders, Lauzun and
Tarleton, had major roles. Casualties numbered about 16 for the allies
and perhaps 50 for the British. The allies succeeded in holding the
ground. The British withdrew behind their works where they remained
until the end of the siege.


By the evening of October 6 all was in readiness for the opening of the
First Allied Siege Line—a series of positions which, together with
terrain advantages, completely encircled the British works and brought
men and artillery within firing range of the enemy. The first line was
based on the York River southeast of Yorktown and extended westward just
above the headwaters of Wormley Creek, across the York-Hampton Road, to
Yorktown Creek, which in a real sense functioned as a continuation of
the line. The first line was about 2,000 yards long and was supported by
four redoubts and five batteries. Its average distance from the main
British works was about 800 yards, although, on the right, this was
somewhat greater because of two detached British Redoubts, Nos. 9 and
10. About half of this line, the right or York River end, was assigned
to American units; the left was built and manned by the French.

At dusk on October 6, more than 4,000 allied troops paraded and marched
to their assigned stations. The entrenching party, 1,500 strong,
carrying knapsacks, guns, and bayonets, as well as shovels, found a line
of split pine strips already on the ground. They had been placed by the
engineers to mark the line where the digging was to begin. Twenty-eight
hundred soldiers lay under arms close at hand to repel attack should it
come. Evidently the British were caught unawares, for their guns were
not particularly active. The night was dark and cloudy, with a gentle
rain falling—a factor which may have aided the troops who were being
directed by General Lincoln and the Baron de Viomenil. By morning, the
work was well advanced, enough to give those in the trenches protection
from British gunners.

During the next few days, with precision and dispatch, unit followed
unit on fatigue duty as the trenches, redoubts, and batteries were
brought to perfection. Major General von Steuben, one of the few
veterans of siege warfare in the American wing, had a leading role in
planning and constructing the siege works. Brigadier General Knox, with
the American artillery, played a significant part, too, since effective
gunnery was a prime prerequisite to success in the operation.

While the main line was taking form south of Yorktown, the French
constructed a trench and battery between the York River and one of the
branches of Yorktown Creek west of town. This closed a possible point of
break-through for the enemy, partly encircled the Fusiliers Redoubt, and
permitted the installation of ordnance at a point where it could, and
did, sweep the British ships anchored in the river. This French battery
on the left, with its four 12-pounders and six mortars and howitzers,
was the first to go into action, firing about 3 o’clock on October 9.
Two hours later, an American battery southeast of Yorktown added its six
18- and 24-pounders, four mortars, and two howitzers to the bombardment.
Washington, seemingly, fired the first round from this battery with
telling accuracy. On October 10, other batteries, including the Grand
French athwart the York-Hampton Road, were completed and began firing.
For the next 2 days there was no let-up in the concentrated and
methodical bombardment of Yorktown, with Gen. Thomas Nelson, reportedly,
even directing fire against his own home.

The effect was terrible as charge after charge was sent pounding into
the British works or went ricocheting or skipping along the ground.
Enemy batteries were knocked out or were slowly silenced. Cornwallis’
headquarters were all but demolished and he himself narrowly escaped
with his life at one point. All the while, the tempo of the cannonade
mounted. Johann Conrad Doehla, a soldier in the British Army, wrote:

  Tonight [October 9] about tattoo the enemy began to salute our left
  wing and shortly afterward our entire line with bombs, cannons, and
  howitzers.... Early this morning [October 10] we had to change our
  camp and pitch our tents in the earthworks, on account of the heavy
  fire of the enemy.... One could ... not avoid the horribly many cannon
  balls either inside or outside the city ... many were badly injured
  and mortally wounded by the fragments of bombs which exploded partly
  in the air and partly on the ground, their arms and legs severed or
  themselves struck dead.... [October 11] One saw men lying nearly
  everywhere who were mortally wounded.... I saw bombs fall into the
  water and lie there for 5, 6-8 and more minutes and then still explode
  ... fragments and pieces of these bombs flew back again and fell on
  the houses and buildings of the city and in our camp, where they still
  did much damage and robbed many a brave soldier of his life or struck
  off his arm and leg.

Such was the bombardment of Yorktown as described by one participant and
testified to by others who witnessed it. The fire had been devastating.
Its effect was reported first-hand to the allied leaders by Secretary
Thomas Nelson, who, “under a flag of truce,” was permitted by the
British to leave Yorktown and seek the allied lines.

The bombardment was directed, too, against the British ships in the
harbor with equal effect. Here “red hot shot” were used to ignite the
heavily tarred rigging and ship timbers. On the night of October 10,
artillery “set fire to two transport vessels and to the ship of war
Charon ... [44 guns], which burned completely. The other ships anchored
under York set sail in the night and went over to anchor at Gloucester,
to put themselves under shelter and out of range of our fire.” Other
boats, large and small, including the _Guadaloupe_ (28 guns), were hit
and burned. On the night of the 11th, a British “fire ship,” designed
for setting fires to enemy vessels, was struck and burned with a
brilliant blaze. Against such heavy artillery fire, Cornwallis found it
difficult to keep his own batteries in operation, and even the sailors
and marines from the English vessels added little strength.


The destruction caused by the superior French and American artillery,
firing at ranges from 800 to 1,200 yards, was so great and the enemy
batteries were so completely overpowered that Washington was soon ready
to open the Second Allied Siege Line, which would bring his troops
within storming distance of the enemy works. An “over the top” charge by
the infantry would be the final stage of the siege should Cornwallis
continue to hold out.

Work on the second line began on the night of October 11-12, about
midway between the first siege line and the left front of the British
works. By morning, the troops had wielded their shovels, spades, and
“grubbing hoes” so effectively that the work was well advanced and
casualties were few. For the next 3 days the construction continued and
artillery was moved from the first line into the new positions where it
could be even more deadly. The British gunners did all they could with
“musketry, cannon, cannister, grapeshot, and especially, a multitude of
large and small bombs and shells” to delay the work, but, although they
exacted some casualties, they were not particularly successful.

At this time, however, only half of the second siege line could be
undertaken. British Redoubt No. 10 near the river, a square position
manned by about 70 soldiers, and Redoubt No. 9, a 5-sided strong point
held by approximately 125 troops, near the road from Yorktown to the
Moore House, blocked the extension of the second line on the allied
right. Before work could proceed, these would have to be reduced.


Prior to the attacks on these redoubts, Washington had ordered a feint
on the extreme left against the Fusiliers Redoubt and also a
demonstration at Gloucester Point to distract the enemy. For several
days before the assault, allied gunners directed fire to weaken the
positions, a fire that actually was not very harmful. The attacks were
made at 8 o’clock, after dark, on October 14, in one of the most
dramatic and heroic moves of the siege of Yorktown, and it proved to be
a definite turning point in the operations.

    [Illustration: _Representative objects recovered at the site of
    British Redoubt No. 9 during the archeological exploration that
    preceded its reconstruction._]

Redoubt No. 10 was attacked by 400 Americans drawn from Lafayette’s
Light Infantry Division and commanded by Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton,
who, being officer of the day, had claimed this honor, when the
assignment was first given to another. He was assisted by Lt. Col.
Jean-Joseph Sourbader de Gimat, Lt. Col. John Laurens, and Maj. Nicholas
Fish. The detachment moved out at the prearranged signal—the burst of
six shells. The American soldiers carried unloaded muskets, as they
advanced in darkness, since the assignment at hand was to be done with
bayonets. On reaching their objective, they charged without waiting for
the removal of the abatis (an entanglement of pointed tree tops and
branches which ringed the redoubt), and thereby saved a few minutes—an
interval that could have been costly. Within 10 minutes the position was
in American hands with a loss of 9 killed and 31 wounded, according to
Hamilton’s own report.

As the Americans were moving out for their attack from the right end of
the First Allied Siege Line, a party of 400 French soldiers led by Col.
William Deux Ponts, with the Baron de l’Estrade second in command,
launched an assault on Redoubt No. 9 from the temporary end of the
second siege line. French casualties mounted when the detachment halted
until the abatis was cleared. Then the cry was “on to the redoubt.” A
British charge was met by musket fire and a countercharge which took the
French over the top, and the redoubt was theirs. Losses, however,
totaled almost 25 percent, including 15 killed. The entire operation
lasted less than half an hour.


Immediately following the capture of the two key redoubts, troops moved
up to resume work on the second siege line. Before morning, this line
was extended all the way to the York River and incorporated the formerly
held British Redoubts No. 9 and No. 10. Communicating trenches were
opened to the First Allied Siege Line and, adjacent to Redoubt No. 9, a
large American Battery was begun. On October 15, Ebenezer Wild recorded:
“The works were carried on last night with such spirit that at daylight
we found the parallel [line] extended quite to the river on our right
and nearly completed. Batteries are erecting with great expedition.”

With this turn of events, Cornwallis knew that he must act and act
quickly or all would be lost. The web had tightened; and the destruction
of his positions, plus sickness and casualties among his troops, made
his situation critical, even perilous. Against the fully operating
allied second line, he would be unable to hold out for 24 hours.

On the night of October 15-16, Cornwallis ordered an attack against the
second line. This was launched, 350 strong, under Lt. Col. Robert
Abercrombie at a point near the center of the line. It was a gallant
sortie, yet it accomplished little, for, within a few hours, the guns
which had been spiked by the British were again firing upon Yorktown.

On the night of October 16-17, Cornwallis ordered all of his effectives
moved across the river to Gloucester Point. This, he thought, might
enable him to make a breakthrough, which could be followed by a quick
march north toward New York. The effort was futile. He was handicapped
by a shortage of small boats, and a storm about midnight further
interfered with the operation.

Early on the morning of the 17th he recalled those who had crossed the
river. Later that morning he held a council with his officers, and at 10
o’clock a drummer in red, accompanied by an officer, was sent to a point
on the parapet on the south side of Yorktown to beat a “parley.”

Cornwallis’ situation was hopeless. Casualties (killed, wounded, and
missing) during the siege, it seems, numbered about 552 for the British,
275 for the French, and 260 for the Americans. Of these totals, more
than one-fourth were killed in action. Yorktown was surrounded at close
range, relief had not yet come, and the enemy was superior in men and
firepower. In short, his position was untenable. Surrender was now the
only alternative. Cornwallis himself reported: “We at that time could
not fire a single gun.... I therefore proposed to capitulate.”


                          High-resolution Map]

  2. REDOUBT NO. 9
  4. REDOUBT NO. 10

    [Illustration: _The restored Moore House where the Articles of
    Capitulation for the British Army were drafted._]


When the British flag of truce was seen by the allied officers on the
morning of the 17th, the incessant and devastating artillery fire
ceased. It had been continuous since October 9, except for short
intervals when batteries were being shifted or a flag of truce was
passing between the lines. Cornwallis’ letter, which was transmitted
immediately to Washington, read: “I propose a cessation of hostilities
for twenty four hours, and that two officers may be appointed by each
side, to meet at Mr. Moore’s house, to settle terms for the surrender of
the posts of York and Gloucester.”

Washington replied that he would grant the British general 2 hours in
which to submit definite terms. At about 4:30 p. m., Cornwallis replied.
Washington found his proposals satisfactory in part, and in his reply
stated that the British could expect that: “The same Honors will be
granted to the Surrendering Army as were granted [by the British] to the
[American] Garrison of Charles Town [in 1780].”

Arrangements were concluded for the differences of opinion to be ironed
out during a meeting of commissioners at the home of Augustine Moore in
the rear of the first siege line. The commissioners (Lt. Col. Thomas
Dundas and Maj. Alexander Ross, representing the British; the Viscount
de Noailles, the French; and Lt. Col. John Laurens, the Americans) met
there on October 18 and, after a heated and prolonged session, drafted
the Articles of Capitulation. On the morning of the 19th, Washington
reviewed the draft and, after some modification, had the articles
transcribed. The document was then sent to Cornwallis for his signature,
with a deadline of 11 a. m. Cornwallis duly signed, as did Capt. Thomas
Symonds, representing the British naval units in the York. The allied
commanders, Washington and Rochambeau, appear to have signed the
document in captured British Redoubt No. 10. The Count de Barras,
designated to act in place of the Count de Grasse for the French fleet,
also signed for the allies.

The articles provided that the troops, seamen, and marines should
surrender as prisoners of war. Officers were to retain their sidearms
and private papers and property. The soldiers were to be kept in prison
camps in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Cornwallis and certain of
the officers were to be allowed freedom on parole and the sloop
_Bonetta_ was to be made available for the British commander to carry
dispatches to Sir Henry Clinton, after which she was to be surrendered.

At noon on October 19, two redoubts southeast of Yorktown were occupied
by allied troops—one by an American unit and the other by a French
detachment. At 2 p. m., the British Army, clad in a new issue of
uniforms and led by Brigadier General O’Hara (Cornwallis was ill),
marched out from Yorktown along the York-Hampton Road to the tune of an
old British march titled “The World Turned Upside Down.”

In the vicinity of the present national cemetery, O’Hara reached the
head of the allied column. It appears that he sought first the Count de
Rochambeau, but was referred to Washington. Washington, in turn, sent
him to Major General Lincoln, who accepted his sword—the token of defeat
and surrender—and then returned it. Following this, the British Army
marched down Surrender Road between columns of allied troops, Americans
on the British left (east) and French on the British right (west), to
Surrender Field where the formal surrender was effected. “... we came
directly onto a level field or large meadow, where ... we ... marched
one regiment after another, stacked muskets and lay down all arms ...”,
wrote one of the British soldiers. Thus, the siege of Yorktown ended,
the climax of the Revolution had passed, and America could look forward
toward a free and independent status. A new nation had been born!


After the surrender, the British units returned to Yorktown. After 2
days’ rest, the rank and file and junior officers were marched off to
prison camps in western Virginia and Maryland. Both Washington and
Rochambeau invited their distinguished prisoners to their tables, and
for several days camp dinners were the fashion, the English attending as
guests. The American units of the Allied armies took up the return march
to the Hudson about November 1. The French, for the most part, remained
on the peninsula until spring and then left for Rhode Island, having
wintered in Yorktown, Williamsburg, Hampton, and other nearby points. De
Grasse sailed for the West Indies shortly after the siege was over. The
British expedition, which was to relieve Cornwallis, reached Virginia
waters late in October, too late to be of any use.

                          _The “Town of York”_

Yorktown had its origin in the Virginia Port Act of 1691—one of the
legislative measures by which British colonial authorities and Virginia
leaders sought to force urban development in the colony. It specified
that 50 acres should be procured for a port to serve York County and
that it would be upon “Mr. Benjamin Reads land.” This was a part of the
Capt. Nicholas Martiau property (originally patented about 1635) which,
by 1691, had descended through Martiau’s daughter, Elizabeth, and George
Read to their son, Benjamin Read. The 50 acres were situated at the
point where the York River narrows to about half a mile. There had been
a ferry here for many years. Maj. Lawrence Smith was engaged to make the
survey, and a plat made by him is still preserved in the official
records of York County.

Although Yorktown (variously called Port of York, Borough of York, York,
Town of York, and Yorktown) was not established until 1691, the area
around Yorktown had been well known to the English for generations. The
river itself had been explored, and frequently visited, by Capt. John
Smith and his fellow settlers at Jamestown. They came most frequently by
water, but it was not until the 1630-32 period that early Virginians
began to push overland from the James River and to establish homes on
the banks of the York. Among the men who braved the Indians, the
forests, and natural enemies to establish homes on the creeks and
tidewaters above and below Yorktown were Capt. John West (who became
Governor in 1635), Capt. John Utie, Capt. Robert Felgate, and, a little
later, Henry Lee. The Indians before them had seen, and recognized, the
strategic value and beauty of this location. Chief Powhatan was residing
on the north side of the river, above Gloucester Point, when Smith first
saw him in 1607, and the Chiskiack Indians lived on the south side near
present-day Yorktown until pressure from the white man caused them to

Nicolas Martiau, a French Huguenot, first received a grant of land in
the Yorktown area. It was a part of this tract, which originally lay
between the holdings of Gov. Sir John Harvey and the estate of Richard
Townsend, that in 1691 was acquired and laid out into the original 85
lots of Yorktown. Through the marriages of his descendants, Martiau
became the earliest-known American ancestor of George Washington. A
granite marker in his honor now stands on Ballard Street.

The earliest settlers on the York pointed the way for others who came in
increasing numbers in the years that followed. The population grew to
such an extent that in 1634 a county was laid out to embrace the
settlements which had been made on the York (those around later Yorktown
and those on the Back and Poquoson Rivers some miles to the southeast).
Designated Charles River Shire, it was one of Virginia’s eight original
shires (counties). At that time, the York River was known as the
Charles, this having replaced the Indian name of Pamunkey. About 1643,
the name of the river was changed to York, from which both town and
county take their name.

About 2 miles southeast of Yorktown is a tidal inlet, Wormley Creek,
named for Christopher Wormley, a local property owner and a member of
the council of colonial Virginia. On the west side of this inlet, a
little town (perhaps best described as a small settlement) took form. It
seemingly grew up around “Yorke Fort,” built on the point formed by
Wormley Creek and York River. In 1633, “Yorke” was selected as a
receiving point, and stores were ordered built to serve this settlement
and that of Chiskiack just up the river. “Yorke” was separate and
distinct from present Yorktown, but actually a direct antecedent. Early
courts convened here, and there were a church and a courthouse with its
customary instruments of justice (stocks, a pillory, and a ducking
stool). The tomb of Maj. William Gooch here is one of the oldest
existing dated tombs in the United States.

In establishing his survey of Yorktown in 1691, Lawrence Smith proceeded
to the high bluffs above the river and laid out 85 half-acre lots
arranged along a principal street (Main Street) running parallel with
the river and seven streets which intersected Main. Many of the original
street names still remain, as do original lot lines. In proceeding to
the high ground to make the survey, a strip of land, described in 1691
as “a Common Shore of no value,” was left between the town and the
river. This area actually proved of considerable value. Here, Water
Street took form as the second Yorktown street running parallel with the
river. Along it developed wharves, loading places, ships, stores,
lodging accommodations, and considerable miscellaneous development. It
was officially made a part of the town in 1738, but designated a commons
until surveyed into lots in 1788.

Yorktown’s history has been continuous since 1691, although its
prosperous era of growth was not destined to extend beyond the colonial
period. Soon after its establishment lots were taken up, homes began to
appear, and a number of vigorous families settled in the town. Public
activities for the county were soon concentrated here. In 1697, the
meeting place for York County Court was moved to a building on Lot 24,
and this lot still functions for county purposes. About the same time,
too, the York Parish Church was erected on Lot 35.

The excellent harbor in the York River, plus restrictive legislation on
trade, stimulated the growth of the town as the framers of the Port Act
had hoped. It became a tobacco port of first importance as it drew on
the crops grown on the plantations round about. None was better known,
perhaps, than the famous “E. D.” brand grown on the Digges estate (later
Bellfield) just above Yorktown. Ships came singly and in fleets to get
hogsheads of tobacco which had been duly examined by the inspectors
provided through the Colonial Government. Warehouses and wharves were
busy with tobacco shipments, and later in the century, with other crops.
Incoming freight for the town residents, plantation owners, and others
included clothing of latest fashion, wines and liquor, furniture,
jewelry and silver plate, riding gear and coaches, swords and firearms,
books, and slaves for the fields and kitchens. This was the trade that
made Yorktown a thriving business center in the 18th century—a port that
led in Chesapeake Bay commerce until it was later outstripped by its

Yorktown stood overlooking the York River, with the better homes, inns,
and public buildings on the bluffs in the town proper. Below the bluffs
on the waterfront wharves, warehouses, small stores, and drinking places
predominated. Along the water’s edge, too, were establishments such as
that of Charles Chiswell, who was given a patent for land there on which
to build accommodations “for his greater Conveniency in Victualing His
Majesties Ships of War according to his Contract.”

    [Illustration: _Yorktown in 1754. From a sketch (now in the
    Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, Va.) drawn by a British Naval

When fully extended and at peak prosperity, colonial Yorktown must have
been a rather pleasant little town. At best, its population very likely
never exceeded 3,000—a small number by present standards, yet sizeable
for that period. An English visitor who stopped here in 1736 wrote of

  You perceive a great Air of Opulence amongst the Inhabitants, who have
  some of them built themselves Houses, equal in Magnificence to many of
  our superb ones at _St. James’s_.... Almost every considerable Man
  keeps an Equipage.... The Taverns are many here, and much
  frequented.... The Court-House is the only considerable publick
  Building, and is no unhandsome Structure.... The most considerable
  Houses are of Brick; some handsome ones of Wood, all built in the
  modern Taste; and the lesser Sort, of Plaister. There are some very
  pretty Garden Spots in the Town; and the Avenues leading to
  Williamsburg, Norfolk, &c., are prodigiously agreeable.

Between 1691 and 1781, fortunes were made at Yorktown in the tobacco
trade. But not everyone was a wealthy merchant or prosperous planter.
There were men of all types and classes on the streets, in the taverns,
and on the wharves—merchants, planters, planter-merchants, propertied
yeomen, unsuccessful merchants, shopkeepers and innkeepers in large
number, indentured servants, and slaves. Apprentices rose to become
partners, as in the case of Augustine Moore in the Nelson firm. In 1781,
he was the owner of the Moore House, where the Articles of Capitulation
were drafted.

The more prominent families were united by marriage with all the noted
Tidewater families. The most famous son of Yorktown was Thomas Nelson,
Jr., signer of the Declaration of Independence, Governor of Virginia,
and commander of the militia at the siege of 1781. His remains rest in
the churchyard of Grace Church in Yorktown.

From the point of view of growth and prosperity, Yorktown was at its
peak about 1750. The shops continued busy and the wharves full, perhaps
for another quarter of a century; yet, even before the Revolution,
evidences of decline were discernible. Whatever commercial good fortune
may have been expected for the town was rendered difficult by the
destruction and waste that came with the siege of 1781. Other forces of
decline, however, were also at work. Rival points of trade, because of
location, took much of the produce that might have come to Yorktown. The
soil of the surrounding country was worn thin, and the center of tobacco
culture moved southwest. All in all, it meant that Yorktown would not
continue to grow.

The events of September and October 1781 gave Yorktown its position of
first rank in the story of the American Revolution, yet its earlier and
less publicized history in that war is both interesting and significant.
The leaders of opinion in Yorktown were merchants who stood to suffer
much as supporters of the patriotic cause. Their losses were heavy in
many cases, but they stood behind the Revolution practically to a man.

As early as July 18, 1774, York County had called a meeting “to consider
what was to be done in the present distressed and alarming situation of
affairs throughout the _British_ Colonies in _America_.” Five months
later there was a miniature “tea party” in the Yorktown harbor. In 1775,
Thomas Nelson, Jr., and Dudley Digges were named as delegates to the
Virginia Convention of that year. In 1776, Nelson went on to the
Continental Congress, became a signer of the Declaration of
Independence, and in 1781 was elected Governor of Virginia. Other
Yorktown personalities prominent on the political scene during the
Revolution include David Jameson, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in
1781; Thomas Everard, a commissioner of accounts from 1776 to 1781;
Dudley Digges, councilor and leader; Jaquelin Ambler, a councilor and
then, in 1781, State Treasurer; and Thomas Nelson, Sr., made Secretary
of the Commonwealth in 1776.

In the spring of 1775, Governor Dunmore of Virginia became fearful of
the vulnerability of the powder stores in Williamsburg and, during the
night of April 20-21, he had them moved secretly to the man-of-war,
_Fowey_, anchored off Yorktown. This was the spark that set off the
Revolution in Virginia. Then came Patrick Henry’s march on Williamsburg
and more alarm. At this point Dunmore became greatly disturbed. He sent
his family aboard the _Fowey_, still at Yorktown, and he himself set up
headquarters on this warship in the harbor on June 6. The assembly
refused to meet in Yorktown, as Dunmore suggested, and proceeded to do
business without the governor. It was mid-July before Dunmore finally
left Yorktown harbor, thus ending royal government in Virginia.

The enlistment of troops soon got under way in York County. The first
move was for two companies of minutemen. The one with Yorktown men was
to be captained by William Goosley. The council ordered Yorktown to be
garrisoned in June 1776, since the strategic location and value of the
port were recognized from the very beginning. These troops were soon
sent elsewhere, however, and the barracks at Yorktown were often
woefully empty. The garrison apparently continued active until the
British occupied the town in 1781. The battery built here and manned,
first in 1776, to protect the town and “to command the River,”
particularly the means of “trade and commerce,” suffered varying
fortunes, but mostly, it seems, from “too little and too late.” In 1777,
a troop hospital was set up in the town in time to render service in the
smallpox epidemic of that year.

From 1776 to mid-1781, Yorktown residents heard the drums roll, became
familiar with the tread of marching columns, and witnessed periodic
scares of attack and invasion. They contributed supplies, work, money,
men, and life. They saw trade decline, “hard times” set in, property
wantonly destroyed by thoughtless troops, and received the varying news
of war with rejoicing, or with sorrow.

In the winter of 1779-80, French war vessels used the York River and may
have found some comfort in the guns of the Yorktown fort. In March 1781,
Lafayette stepped ashore here, after his trip down the bay at the
beginning of his operations in Virginia. The raid on Yorktown by
Lieutenant Colonel Simcoe and his Queen’s Rangers in April of the same
year was a foretaste of what was soon to come, as was Cornwallis’
preliminary inspection of the post on June 28. There was little active
campaigning, however, and the full meaning of conquest and occupation by
the enemy was not understood until the advance units of Cornwallis’ army
entered the town in August 1781.

When the siege of 1781 was over, Yorktown quickly entered upon its
decline. The damages of the siege had been devastating, trade fell off,
and citizens—even whole families—moved away. It quickly became a village
with no major commercial or business activity. In this category it has
continued. Its history in the 19th century was punctuated by only an
occasional significant event or development.

    [Illustration: _A park historian tells visitors about this original
    siege cannon overlooking the York River. (Courtesy, Thomas L.

    [Illustration: _The Ship Exhibit—a section of a gun deck and a part
    of the Captain’s Cabin (reconstructed) of the 44-gun British
    frigate_ CHARON.]

In 1814, a great fire began on the waterfront and swept into the town
destroying many of the old buildings, rich in colonial associations.
Lafayette visited Yorktown in 1824, and there was a celebration in
commemoration of the events of 43 years earlier. By 1840 the sandy beach
before the town had begun to attract visitors, as it does today, in
increasing numbers. In 1862, there was a second siege of Yorktown—a
lesser engagement in the Civil War. Many of the fortifications built
then still stand. Being much more massive, they are in sharp contrast
with the earlier Revolutionary works. In the early 20th century,
residential suburban development around Yorktown was begun with a great
flourish, but did not take hold.

The Centennial Celebration staged at Yorktown in 1881 once more brought
the town into national prominence. Large crowds journeyed to the little
village to attend and to participate in exercises which extended over a
period of several days. Fifty years later, in 1931, there was the larger
Sesquicentennial Celebration. Visitors came from far and near to
participate in this extensive observance of the American and French
victory at Yorktown. Another major observance was in 1957 when Yorktown
contributed its part to the year-long activities marking the 350th
anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, 20 miles away, in 1607.

                          _Guide to the Area_

At Yorktown, the National Park Service is seeking to preserve and to
interpret all surviving features and reminders of the 18th century and
to restore the scene as closely as possible to what it was in
1781—before and during the siege. Accordingly, development has included
the reconstruction and restoration of buildings, fortifications, roads,
and other features after prolonged historical research. Where needed,
archeological excavations have revealed additional information on
location and identification. In addition to the program affecting the
area administered by the Service, every effort is made to encourage
private building and development in the neighborhood to follow a pattern
that will add to and enhance the picture and the atmosphere which are
being sought.

The following numbers correspond to those on the guide map (pages 28 and

1. VISITOR CENTER.   It is suggested that you stop first at the Visitor
Center located high above the York River and nestled in a curve of
existing fortifications. It is on the southeast edge of town with
convenient connection to the Colonial Parkway. Park personnel is
available here to assist you in planning your visit, as well as an
information desk, literature, a series of exhibits including
_Washington’s Tent_, and several dioramas. An introductory program of
slides and motion pictures is featured. Included, too, is the _Ship
Exhibit_—a reconstructed section of a gundeck and of the captain’s cabin
of a British 44-gun frigate, the _Charon_, which was sunk at Yorktown in
1781. It aids in the display of objects salvaged from the river. On the
roof of the Visitor Center is an _observation deck_ where you can view
the town, the battlefield, and the river. Adjacent to the building are
old existing embarkments on which are Revolutionary War artillery
pieces. One is the _Lafayette Cannon_, a piece taken from the British at
Yorktown by troops under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette and
later recognized by him in 1824 when he saw it at the Watervliet Arsenal
in New York.

                           Battlefield Tour.

A self-guiding auto tour begins and ends at the Visitor Center. Along
the drive are the major points of interest which are briefly described
below. The complete tour is some 15 miles long but you can take a
shorter tour of the 5-mile inner loop. It embraces the battlegrounds,
the French and American encampment areas, and the village of Yorktown.
The route is marked by uniform signs.

2. REDOUBT NO. 9 (reconstructed).   A detachment of 400 French soldiers
distinguished itself on the night of October 14 by storming this British
strong point. The fall of this redoubt, and its neighbor, Redoubt No.
10, which was stormed by the Americans on the same night, was a decisive
action of the siege.

capture of Redoubts Nos. 9 and 10, it was one of the most important
positions of the second siege line. There are several original artillery
pieces mounted in this reconstructed battery.

    [Illustration: _French sailors visit British Redoubt No. 9 which
    their countrymen captured in 1781._]

    [Illustration: _The Lafayette Cannon—a 12-pounder made by W. Bowen
    in 1759._]

4. REDOUBT NO. 10.   Close to the edge of the riverbank, a small part of
the moat of this siege position is preserved and the parapet has been
rebuilt. This is all that now remains. The rest of the position has been
destroyed by erosion of the cliffs in the years since 1781. It was
captured from the British on the night of October 14 in a bayonet attack
led by Alexander Hamilton. Among those who distinguished themselves was
Sgt. William Brown who later was the recipient of one of the first
Purple Heart awards ever made. This award then was made only for
extraordinary bravery in action.

Five days after its capture, the allied leaders met in Redoubt No. 10
and affixed their signatures to the Articles of Capitulation which
already had been signed by the British commanders. This is, perhaps, the
most memorable spot on the Yorktown Battlefield.

across the field, open as in 1781, between the allied lines. Part of the
reconstructed communicating trench is visible. The next stop is in the
American sector of the first siege line at a point where the Americans
began to build their entrenchments (partly reconstructed).

6. AMERICAN APPROACH ROAD.   The tour now follows the road used by the
American troops as they approached the fighting line. It passes the
location of their temporary supply depot. It is of interest to note that
the road is well down in a ravine and this gave protection from
shellfire. It led to the encampment area where troops bivouacked and
lived. Before crossing Wormley Creek, however, the road turns back
toward the York River.

7. MOORE HOUSE.   Here in the private home of Augustine Moore on October
18, 1781, commissioners met to draft the Articles of Capitulation.
Constructed about 1725, the restored house is furnished as a home of the
1776-81 period. It is open daily.

8. MOORES MILL DAM.   On the return from the Moore House the tour
crosses Wormley Creek over a dam where Augustine Moore had a grist mill,
as part of his 600-acre plantation. Ice for storage was probably cut
here in winter.

    [Illustration: _Mill dam road across Wormley Creek._]

The marked drive now passes through a section of the American
encampment. Markers identify the more significant sites including:


    [Illustration: _“Surrender Room” in Moore House where the Articles
    of Capitulation were drafted._]

11. SURRENDER FIELD.   The next stop is at the south end of the field
where the British laid down their arms as called for in the Articles of
Capitulation. A sweeping view of a part of this field is possible from a
raised platform especially designed for the purpose. In front of this is
the trace of the old Warwick Road and bounding it on the right is the
still existing York-Hampton Road. It was along the latter that the
British troops marched out from Yorktown and this section of it is now
known as Surrender Road.

12. SURRENDER ROAD.   From Surrender Field it is possible to go directly
back to Yorktown. It is suggested, however, that the route through the
encampment area and to the British outer works be chosen.

13. ENCAMPMENT DRIVE.   Here the road passes through historically
interesting, and scenically beautiful, countryside. This is the only
access to such areas as:

A. _Von Steuben’s Headquarters Site._ Major General von Steuben, like
Lincoln and Lafayette, commanded a division of American troops.

B. _Rochambeau’s Headquarters Site._ Rochambeau commanded the French
Army under Washington.

C. _Washington’s Headquarters Site._ This is reached by a spur road from
the main tour drive. The ford, restored to use as it was in 1781, is
safe for vehicular travel.

D. _French Cemetery._ This is thought to be the burial site of a number
of the French soldiers killed during the siege.

E. _French Artillery Park._ This was a place for repairing and storing
cannon. Existing ground evidences indicate the manner in which carriages
were parked.

F. _French Army Encampment._

    [Illustration: _The French Cemetery in the battlefield encampment
    area. The cross marks the traditional burial site._]

G. _British Outer Works._ Cornwallis constructed several positions
between the headwaters of Yorktown and Wormley Creeks as a part of his
outer line. One of these has been partly reconstructed and is visible
from the tour road. Another is _an original position which remains
undisturbed_. A spur road from the main tour route gives access to it in
the area known as “Long Neck.”

14. GRAND FRENCH BATTERY.   This position was the largest and one of the
most effective in the First Allied Siege Line. A part of it, including
gun platforms and magazines (powder and ammunition storage points), has
been reconstructed. The artillery now mounted here (a trench mortar,
siege cannon, mortars, and howitzers) are types used in the
Revolutionary period. Some of the pieces were actually used at Yorktown
during the siege.

15. NATIONAL CEMETERY.   Established in 1866, this is chiefly a burial
ground for Union soldiers killed in the vicinity in the Civil War.

16. SECOND ALLIED SIEGE LINE.   This is another point on the same
encircling line that came to include British Redoubts Nos. 9 and 10.

17. YORKTOWN.   The tour now enters Yorktown proper where the British
army was encamped and in which it made its stand. The old Civil War line
rings the town today and under it is the British line of 1781.

    [Illustration: _The figure of “Liberty” atop the Yorktown Victory
    Monument. Sculptured by Oskar J. W. Hansen._]

    [Illustration: _The Nelson House where Cornwallis may have had his
    headquarters in the last days of the siege._]

A. _Site of Secretary Nelson’s House._ Here Cornwallis had his
headquarters when the siege opened. He remained until allied artillery
forced him out. Secretary Thomas Nelson was, for many years, Secretary
of the Colony of Virginia. The site has been marked by the Yorktown
Branch of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

B. _Victory Monument._ Authorized by Congress in 1781, the shaft was not
begun until 1881 (completed 3 years later) as a part of the Yorktown
Centennial Celebration. The original figure of “Liberty” was damaged by
lightning in 1942 and replaced by a new figure in 1956.

C. _Cornwallis Cave._ This natural cave in a marl cliff was undoubtedly
used by the British in 1781. Staff conferences could have been held here
late in the siege.

D. _Nelson House._ This residence is believed to have been Cornwallis’
headquarters in the last days of the siege. It was built prior to 1745
by “Scotch Tom” Nelson and was later the home of his grandson, Gen.
Thomas Nelson, Jr. The house has cannonballs imbedded in its east wall
that are thought to have been fired during the siege of 1781.

    IN THE

    [Illustration: _The West House—owned by the Digges family for a long

18. FUSILIERS REDOUBT.   Located on the west side of Yorktown, it
protected the road to Williamsburg. Because of erosion of the bluffs at
this point, it has been possible to reconstruct only a part of the
original position.

“TOWN OF YORK”   Much of the old has continued, or is being recaptured,
in Yorktown and many of its buildings and sites have their individual
messages. In the following text, the letters correspond to those on the
map of the “Town of York,” page 46.

A. _West House._ This residence is one of the few remaining colonial
frame structures in Yorktown. Its inner timbers bear the scars of
artillery fire to which it was subjected in 1781. It is thought to date
from the mid-18th century.

B. _Archer Cottage._ Below the bluffs is a small cottage thought to be
of colonial origin and to have been property of the Archer family. This
is the only surviving structure in this once busy waterfront section of
the port of Yorktown.

C. _Remains of Town Wharf._ Rock piles and some of the timber crib of
the public wharf which served Yorktown before the Revolution can be seen
at exceptionally low tide near the foot of Read Street.

    [Illustration: _Grace Church. In the foreground are the Nelson
    family tombs, including Thomas Nelson, Jr.’s._]

D. _Digges House._ This brick dwelling, constructed early in the 18th
century, stands at the once busy corner of Main and Read Streets.

E. _Somerwell House._ This restored residence, built, it is thought,
before 1707 by Mungo Somerwell, was at one time a part of the Lightfoot
family holdings.

Many of the fine old homes are no longer standing, such as the Lightfoot
mansion that is shown so prominently on the sketch of Yorktown made from
a vessel in the harbor about 1754 (see pages 34 and 35). The Buckner
residence in the west end of town, a second Lightfoot townhouse, two of
the spacious home of the Nelsons, and the Ambler dwelling have long
since been destroyed, except for foundation remains below ground.

F. _Grace Church._ This church, in York-Hampton Parish, is the oldest in
Yorktown. It has been active since its construction about 1697. The
present structure incorporated much of the original native marl walls.
This church was used for various military purposes in the two wars that
engulfed Yorktown, but parish organization has continued unbroken and
services are held regularly. In its churchyard lie the remains of
prominent men of Yorktown and of many others less well known. The church
is normally open every day.

    [Illustration: _Richard Ambler’s storehouse is better known as the
    “Customhouse” because he was a customs collector at Yorktown for
    many years._]

G. _Medical Shop._ This reconstructed shop is across Main Street from
Swan Tavern.

H. _York County Courthouse._ This structure, the fifth such to stand on
Lot 24 in Yorktown, was completed in 1955. Although not a
reconstruction, it does capture some of the architectural flavor of the
time. It serves the town and county, as buildings on the lot have done
since 1697.

    [Illustration: _The Sessions House._]

I. _Swan Tavern Group._ This group of reconstructed buildings, including
the tavern, kitchen, stable, smokehouse, and privy, all stand on
original foundations. One of the characteristics of colonial Yorktown
was the large number of its inns and taverns. The Swan, opened for
business in 1722, was the most noted of all.

J. “_Customhouse._” Directly across the street from the Digges House,
this structure appears to have been built prior to 1733 and to have
begun its history as Richard Ambler’s “large brick storehouse.” It has
been acquired and restored by the Comte de Grasse Chapter, Daughters of
the American Revolution, and now serves them as a chapter house. The
building, on occasion, is open to visitors.

K. _Edmund Smith House._ This brick residence is south of the Nelson
House and faces Nelson Street. It dates from about 1730.

L. _Ballard House._ Also located on Nelson Street, this cottage,
sometimes called “Pearl Hall,” presumably was built by John Ballard.

M. _Sessions House._ This house is the oldest building still standing in
Yorktown. It was built in the late 17th century, and is named for its
builder and first owner—Thomas Sessions.

Many of the houses mentioned here are private homes which are sometimes
open during Garden Week and other special occasions. These old homes add
charm to Yorktown and do much to preserve a quiet dignity along the
narrow, shaded streets far removed from the busy thoroughfares of a
20th-century town.

For those interested in geology, mention should be made of the famous
_Yorktown Cliffs_, particularly those in the area between Yorktown and
the Moore House. In the steep banks eroded by the river, extensive and
significant deposits of seashells are visible. These are of marine life
that existed in the Miocene Epoch of the Tertiary Period millions of
years ago.

                        _How to Reach Yorktown_

Yorktown is on U. S. 17 and is located 106 miles south of Fredericksburg
and 32 miles north of Norfolk, Va. The approach from the north is from
Gloucester Point by a bridge over the York River. U. S. 60 and State
Route 168 pass a few miles to the west and are connected with Yorktown
by State Route 238. The nearest rail terminal is 5 miles away at Lee
Hall. Buses of the Greyhound Lines connect with Yorktown, and special
sightseeing buses operate from Williamsburg.

    [Illustration: _The Colonial Parkway with the York River on the

                           _Colonial Parkway_

The most interesting approach to Yorktown is from Williamsburg by car
over the Colonial Parkway. This highway, combining scenic beauty and
historical interest, is a part of Colonial National Historical Park and
connects Yorktown and Jamestown, two of the principal areas in the park,
by way of Williamsburg. From Yorktown it follows the high ground along
the south side of the York River for approximately 5 miles and then
turns inland to traverse forested countryside into
Williamsburg—Virginia’s 18th-century capital. The route then is south to
the James and along this river to Jamestown. Parking overlooks have been
provided at vantage points and markers carry informative messages about
history and locality. There is a picnic ground adjacent to the roadway
about midway between Yorktown and Williamsburg.

                           _About Your Visit_

The Yorktown Visitor Center is on the southeast edge of Yorktown.
Literature is available here, and attendants, on request, will outline
self-guided tours of the battlefield. The center is open daily except
Christmas Day.

The Moore House is open daily, except during the winter season, and
there is an attendant on duty to assist you. There is a nominal
admission charge which is waived for children under 12 years of age and
for groups of school children 18 years of age or under when accompanied
by adults assuming responsibility for their safety and orderly conduct.

No regularly scheduled guided tours of the battlefield are offered, but
arrangements for guide service, especially for educational groups, may
be made in advance. There is no charge for this service.

_Yorktown Day_ (October 19) is observed each year with a special program
and patriotic exercises.

In Yorktown there are several small restaurants, a number of tourist
homes, and two small hotels. There is a picnic area of limited capacity
along the river below the Yorktown Victory Monument, but trailer courts
and organized camping facilities are not available.


The Yorktown Battlefield is a part of Colonial National Historical Park,
which also includes the major part of Jamestown Island, together with
some of the adjacent area, the Colonial Parkway, and the Cape Henry
Memorial at Cape Henry, Va. The park was first established as a national
monument by Presidential proclamation in 1930 and given its present
designation by act of Congress in 1936.

The battlefield, except for areas in private ownership, is administered
by the National Park Service of the Department of the Interior. At
present, park holdings in the battlefield embrace about 4,175 acres.

Headquarters for the entire park are in Yorktown, and all communications
relating to the area should be addressed to the Superintendent, Colonial
National Historical Park, Yorktown, Va.

                        _Closely Related Areas_

Other areas in the South included in the National Park System connected
with the Revolutionary War are: Kings Mountain National Military Park,
S. C.; Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, N. C.; Cowpens
National Battlefield Site, S. C.; and Moores Creek National Military
Park, N. C.

Closely related to Yorktown and Jamestown, both geographically and
historically, is Williamsburg (Virginia)—a national shrine of
outstanding significance and interest. Much of the heart of the old
18th-century section of the city has been restored, or reconstructed,
including the palace of the royal governors and the capitol building.
Arts and craft shops have been developed, as well as an extensive
educational program, making it possible to observe and study many
aspects of life as it was in the 80-year period when Williamsburg was
the capital of Virginia after the removal of the seat of government from
Jamestown in 1699. The restoration of the town is being made possible
through the generosity of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and it is
administered by Colonial Williamsburg as a nonprofit, educational, and
inspirational shrine “That the Future May Learn from the Past.”

                          _Suggested Readings_

  Doehla, Johann Conrad. “The Doehla Journal.” _William and Mary College
          Historical Quarterly_, 2nd Series, Vol. 22, pp. 229-274.
  Hatch Charles E., Jr. “The Moore House: A National Shrine.” _William
          and Mary Historical Quarterly_, 2nd Series, Vol. 21, pp.
          293-317. October 1941.
  ——, and Pitkin, Thomas M. _Yorktown, Climax of the Revolution._
          National Park Service Source Book Series No. 1, Superintendent
          of Documents, Washington, D. C. 1941.
  Johnson Henry P. _The Yorktown Campaign and The Surrender of
          Cornwallis, 1781._ Harper & Brothers, New York. 1881.
  Landers, H. L. _The Virginia Campaign and the Blockade and Siege of
          Yorktown, 1781._ Superintendent of Documents, Washington, D.
          C. 1931.
  Willcox, William B. “The British Road to Yorktown: A Study in Divided
          Command.” _American Historical Review_, Vol. 52, pp. 1-35.
          October 1946.

                              _Appendix 1_

                         CORNWALLIS’ PAROLE[1]

Charles Earl Cornwallis Lieutenant General [of his Brita]nnick Majesty’s

Do acknowledge myself a Prisoner of War to the [United] States of
America, & having permission from His [Excellen]cy General Washington,
agreeable to Capitulation, to proceed to New York & Charlestown, or
either, & to Europe.

Do pledge my Faith & Word of Honor, that I will not do or say any thing
injurious to the said United States or Armies thereof, or their Allies,
untill duly exchanged; I do further promise that Whenever required, by
the Commander in Chief of the American Army, or the Commissary of
Prisoners for the same, I will repair to such place or places as they or
either of them may require.________

Given under my Hand at York Town 28th day of October 1781________


                              _Appendix 2_

                      ARTICLES OF CAPITULATION[2]

Articles of Capitulation settled between his Excellency General
Washington Comander in Chief of the combined Forces of America &
France—His Excellency The Count de Rochambeau Lieutenant General of the
Armies of the King of France—Great Cross of the Royal & Military Order
of St. Louis—Commanding the Auxiliary Troops of his most Christian
Majesty in America—And -His Excellency- the Count de Grasse Lieutenant
General of the Naval Armies of his Most Christian Majesty, Commander of
the Order of St. Louis, comand^g in Chief the Naval Army of France in
the Chesapeak—on the One Part—And His Excellency The Right Hon^ble Earl
Cornwallis Lieu. General of His Britannick Majesty’s Forces, Commanding
the Garrisons of York & Gloucester and Thomas Symonds Esq^r Commanding
his Britannick Majesty’s Naval forces in York River in Virginia on the
other part.

Article 1^st

The Garrisons of York & Gloucester including the Officers and Seamen of
his Britannic Majesty’s Ships as well as other Mariners, to surrender
themselves Prisoners of War to the Combined Forces of America &
France—The Land Troops to remain prisoners to the United States. The
Navy to the naval Army of his Most Christian Majesty—

Article - 1^st


Article 2^nd

The artillery, Arms, Accoutrements, Military Chest and public Stores of
every Denomination, shall be delivered, unimpaired, to the Heads of
Departments appointed to receive them—

Article 2^d


Article 3^d

At 12 ^oClock this Day the two Redoubts on the left Flank of York to 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 2 ^oClock precisely, with
Shouldered Arms. Colours cased and Drums beating a British or German
March.—they are then to ground their Arms, & return to their Encampment,
where they will remain untill they are dispatched to the place of their
Destination.—Two Works on the Gloucester Side will be delivered at One
^oClock to Detachments of French & American Troops appointed to possess
them.—The Garrison will march out at three ^oClock in the Afternoon—The
Cavalry with their Swords drawn, Trumpets sound^g & the Infantry in the
Manner prescribed for the Garrison of York—they are likewise to return
to their Encampments untill they can be finally marched off.—

Article 3^d


Article 4^th

Officers are to retain their Side Arms—both Officers & 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 &
papers of officers & Soldiers taken during the Siege, to be likewise
preserved for them. It is understood that any Property obviously
belonging to -any of- the Inhabitants of these States, in the possession
of the Garrison, shall be subject to be reclaimed—

Article 4^th


Article 5^th

The Soldiers to be kept in Virginia, Maryland, or Pennsylvania, & as
much by Regiments as possible, and supplyed with the same Rations or
Provisions as are Allowed to Soldiers in the Service of America:—A field
officer from each Nation, viz—British, Anspach & Hessian, & other
Officers on parole, in the proportion of One to fifty Men, to be allowed
to reside near their respective Regiments, to visit them frequently and
be witnesses of their Treatment—And that there Officers may receive &
deliver Cloathing and other Necessaries for them for which passports are
to be granted when applied for

Article 5^th


Article 6^th

The General, Staff & other Officers not employed as mentioned in the
above Article, & who choose it, to be permitted to go on parole to
-England- Europe, to N York, or to any other American maritime posts, at
present in possession of the British Forces, at their own Option, &
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,
& they to reside in a District to be agreed upon hereafter, untill they
embark—The Officers of the civil Departments of the Army & navy to be
included in this Article.—passports to go by Land, to be granted to
those, to whom Vessels cannot be furnished.—

Article 6^th


Article 7^th

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 & are to be allowed to attend their Masters.

Article 7^th


Article 8^th

The Bonetta Sloop of War to be equipped & navigated by its present
Captain and Crew & left entirely at the Disposal of L^d Cornwallis, from
the Hour that the Capitulation is signed, to receive an Aid de Camp to
carry Dispatches to Sir H^ry Clinton—and such Soldiers as he may think
proper to send to N York to be permitted to sail without Examination,
when his Dispatches are ready. His Lordship engaging on his part, that
the Ship shall be delivered to the Order of the Count de Grasse if she
escapes the Dangers of the Seas—that she shall not carry off any public
Stores—Any part of the Crew, that may be deficient on her Return, & the
Soldiers passengers, to be accounted for on her Delivery—

Article 8^th


Article 9^th

The Traders are to preserve their Property, & to be allowed three Months
to dispose of, or remove them—And those Traders are not to be considered
as prisoners of War—

Article 9^th

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 on parole—

Article 10^th

Natives or Inhabitants of different parts of this Country at present in
York or Gloucester are not to be punished on Acc^o of having joined the
British army—

Article 10^th

This Article cannot be assented to—being altogether of civil Resort—

Article 11^th

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—

Article 11^th

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 them further Supplies from N York as Occasion may require—&
proper Hospitals will be furnished for the reception of the Sick &
wounded of the two Garrisons—

Article 12^th

Waggons to be furnished to carry the Baggage of the Officers attending
the Soldiers, and to Surgeons when travelling on Acc^o of the
Sick—attending the Hospitals at public Expense

Article 12^th

They will be furnished if possible—

Article 13^th

The Shipping & Boats in the two Harbours, with all their Stores, Guns,
Tackling, & 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.

Article 13^th


Article 14^th

No Article of the Capitulation to be infringed on pretext of Reprisal, &
if there be any doubtful Expressions in it, they are to be interpreted,
according to the common Meaning & Acceptation of the Words.—

Article 14^th


Done at York in Virginia this 19^th day of October 1781

                                                           Tho^s Symonds

[Done in the trenches before York Town in Virginia October 19 1781.

                                                           G. Washington
                                                  Le Comte de Rochambeau
                                          Le Comte de Barras, en mon nom
                                             & celui de Comte de Grasse]

                         U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE: 1961 OF—520228


[1]In the Virginia State Library.

[2]From the Washington Papers, Library of Congress.


(Price lists of National Park Service publications may be obtained from
the Superintendent of Documents, Washington 25, D.C.)

  Chickamauga and Chattanooga Battlefields
  Custer Battlefield
  Custis-Lee Mansion, the Robert E. Lee Memorial
  Fort Laramie
  Fort McHenry
  Fort Necessity
  Fort Pulaski
  Fort Raleigh
  Fort Sumter
  George Washington Birthplace
  Guilford Courthouse
  Hopewell Village
  Jamestown, Virginia
  Kings Mountain
  The Lincoln Museum and the House Where Lincoln Died
  Manassas (Bull Run)
  Montezuma Castle
  Morristown, a Military Capital of the Revolution
  Petersburg Battlefields
  Richmond Battlefields
  Scotts Bluff
  Statue of Liberty
  Vanderbilt Mansion
  Wright Brothers

    [Illustration: _Restored French Battery, showing siege guns in

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—Corrected a few palpable typos.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

—In the text version only, text with a line through it, is delimited by

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