Significant Past Events - Siege of Yorktown 2006

Chronology borrowed from the National Park Service Website


     In March of 1781, British forces win a technical victory at the Battle of Guilford Court House, but are so badly mauled that they must cease operations. Cornwallis decides to leave the Carolinas and invade Virginia. Cornwallis believes that if he can defeat Virginia, American resistance to the Crown will collapse. In May, Cornwallis and his army enter Virginia. He assumes overall command of all British forces in Virginia and begins his campaign of economic and military destruction.


     In June, British forces under Tarleton raid Charlottesville, capturing several legislators, including Yorktown's Dudley Digges and Daniel Boone. Governor Jefferson escapes by hiding in the woods near Monticello. A month later, Lafayette's small American force barely escapes destruction during the Battle of Greenspring, near Jamestown.


     On August 1, 1781, Cornwallis marches on Yorktown to occupy the city, planning to use the port as his base for resupply as he continues his Virginia campaign. Even as he sets up camp, Lafayette's spies bring news of the plan, and Lafayette relays word to Washington. Washington learns of Cornwallis at the same time he receives word that French Admiral DeGrasse is sailing for the Chesapeake Bay with a large battle fleet (28 battleships and many support vessels) and a 3,000 man army from the Caribbean. The fortunes of war smile on Washington and the time to strike is now. Washington secretly begins to move his allied army south. A week later, DeBarras leaves Newport, Rhode Island with supplies and heavy siege guns.


     DeGrasse arrives at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay at the end of August. Up in New York, Graves sets sail with the British fleet, bound for Virginia. The allied army marches through Philadelphia, greeted with acclamation and joy. In early September, the British Navy spots the French naval forces and they clash for the first time in the Battle of the Capes. The fleets maintain contact for several days, but do not re-engage. Ultimately, Graves returns to New York for repairs, and DeGrasse returns to the Chesapeake Bay to resume the blockade. As the battle fleets are engaged, DeBarras and the supply fleet enter the Chesapeake Bay, and sail to the James River. Cornwallis is informed that Clinton will arrive shortly with supplies and reinforcements.


     In mid-September, Washington and Rochambeau arrive in Williamsburg and prepare for the arrival of the army. Three days later, on September 18, 1781, Washington, Rochambeau, DeGrasse and Knox meet on the Ville de Paris (DeGrasse's flagship) for a final strategy meeting. Two days later the allied troops begin to arrive in Williamsburg. British fireships are released on the ebb tide, forcing French ships blockading the York River to move downstream, but the French ships maintain the blockade.


     Clinton again promises to soon relieve Cornwallis. The allied army leaves Williamsburg, marches to Yorktown, and begins to invest the British works. Cornwallis, believing that Clinton's arrival is imminent, evacuates his outer works. As allied engineers begin to decide on the layout of siege lines, troops begin construction of gabions, fascines and other items for siege warfare. The British artillery attempts to disrupt the allied efforts. In early October, allied forces in Gloucester defeat Tarleton, forcing the British back within their lines at Gloucester Point. This is particularly important in that it cuts off British supplies of fresh food and fodder for British horses. Cornwallis orders many of his horses to be killed to prevent them from starving to death.


     The allies begin digging the first siege line. Several days of rain have softened the ground, making digging quick, easy and quiet. The line goes up in a single night. The artillery batteries are completed and the French open fire at 3:00 p.m. on October 9, 1781, from the French Trench opposite the Fusilier's Redoubt. Washington fires the first American gun two hour later, followed by more batteries. French hot shot ignites H.M.S Charon, which quickly burns and sinks.


     The next day, Clinton sends word that he will arrive in 2-3 weeks with reinforcements. The allies begin to dig the Second Parallel. Allies storm and capture Redoubts 9 and 10, then complete the Second Siege Line and advance the artillery. A British sortie attempts to spike allied guns, but the raid is ineffective. With allied artillery firing point-blank into his works, destroying his fortifications, and causing high casualties, Cornwallis realizes Clinton will not arrive in time. Cornwallis decides to escape from Yorktown. Late on the night of October 16, Cornwallis moves his able bodied troops to the waterfront and begins to ferry them across the river to Gloucester Point. After some are evacuated, a sudden storm arrives in such intensity that the evacuation must be abandoned.


     Cornwallis is running out of heavy ammunition and lacks transportation for his equipment. Many of his guns are disabled, his troops are reduced to eating "rancid meat and wormy biscuits" and dysentery and smallpox have broken out in his army. Clinton is still weeks away, so Cornwallis decides that the only humane thing to do is to seek terms of surrender.


     On October 17, 1781, an officer with a flag of truce appears on the British parapet, accompanied by a drummer beating a "parley." Cornwallis seeks a cease-fire so commissioners can negotiate surrender terms. The commissioners meet and the British argue the terms for many hours, but to no avail. The Americans are setting the terms. On the afternoon of October 19, 1781, the British garrison at Yorktown marches to Surrender Field to lay down their arms. This action surrenders one third of all British forces in North America, and is a devastating military disaster.


     Clinton and the British Navy leave New York, heading for Yorktown. When they arrive off the Virginia coast five days later, they find they are too late, and sail back to New York.


CLICK HERE (DOC 13 Kb) to see the statistics for both the British and allied forces for the battle


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An original and replica button

French flags assembled in camp

We all were snatched for a shot if we got close to our colors by the public!

Les posing with the colors

Capitaine en Seconde Blocksom at the first assembly Friday night

Gatinois awaiting the first battle at Enview Plantation

Advancing on the Redoubt

A LONG line of troops

Say "Formage!" - cheese in French

Soldat Stroud at work with his lady

Main assault on Redoubt #9 - the scaling begins

British Lights scramble for position with the French in the redoubt

Redoubt #9 in Gatinois hands!!

The French push on the retreating British army

It's nice to have backup!!

The 2nd RI on parade

French on parade, Vive la Roi!!

The crown jewel of Yorktown - The Regiment de Gatinois!!

French flags assembled in camp

Under the fly of the Gatinois Regiment

The entire French camp

The French assemble for Ambercrombie's Sortie

French camp/Gatinios Fly

Sunday morning - Les getting camp going

Beautiful day for a surrender ceremony!

Justin can't resist the opportunity to use an axe!

Rocheambeau arrives to review the troops

The fine Royal Deux-Pont Regiment

Regiment de Gatinois at the ready

Presenting baonets

Ensign Baker gets a final adjustment

The fine soldats of our corps

The Capitaine en Seconde inspects his line

General Washinton arrives

The massed Allied colors

The parading of French colors

The Gatinois rendering honors

The Exqusite French music

Pat Jordan and the Light Corps

The 24th CMR and assorted Militia

Learn more about Siege of Yorktown at the National Park Service website

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