The Siege of Yorktown had begun in late September of 1781. General Charles Cornwallis, having first arrived earlier in the year with a handful of troops, now held charge of a garrison numbering more than 7,000 soldiers. Located in southeastern Virginia, Yorktown sat (and still sits) at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay just northwest of Norfolk.
With such a large force of British soldiers, it was bound to attract the attention of the Continental Army. Even so, General Washington had originally wanted to launch attacks in New York, where his forces held a numerical advantage. But it was the Navy that would have the last word…the French Navy.
The Navy, under the command of Admiral de Grasse, notified the American commander in August that his force of warships, with 3,000 additional soldiers, was headed for Virginia and suggested the American forces join them there. In late September, everyone was in place. The British fleet, sent to attack the French, was bested in the Battle of the Chesapeake and Washington, de Lafayette, and Rochambeau had nearly 20,000 men on station at Yorktown.
As September turned into October, the siege was on. While subjecting the trapped British soldiers to constant shelling from both the French warships and hundreds of artillery pieces, the squeeze was slowly put on Yorktown. Cornwallis sent messages for help, but the promised relief from New York (Washington’s original target) was late in arriving. With ammunition almost gone and food just as scarce, the British commander was left with little choice but to sue for peace, which he did on October 17th.
General Cornwallis and Captain Thomas Symonds (representing the British Navy) both signed the instrument of surrender on October 19, 1781…five days before the promised relief forces arrived from New York. Though it would be nearly two years before the Treaty of Paris was signed, the Revolution was, for all intents and purposes, over. British rule in the American Colonies was finished.
Recommended Reading: His Excellency: George Washington – In the last 3 or 4 years, I’ve become a real fan of Ellis’ works.