Table of Contents
- What Was the Battle of Yorktown?
- Battle of Yorktown Summary
- Battle of Yorktown Aftermath
- Battle of Yorktown Legacy
- Lesson Summary
The Battle of Yorktown, also known as the Siege of Yorktown, was the final decisive victory by the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. The siege involved the routing and entrapment of British General Charles Cornwallis and his troops by the American forces, which were led by General George Washington. Upon their surrender, it was clear that the British had been defeated in the war, and a treaty was signed shortly thereafter, granting the United States its independence from the British Empire.
The American Revolution began in 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord, following years of what American colonists saw as oppressive rule by the British. The American colonists sought to break away from the mother-country and unite their freedoms under a new nation. The war was bitter and often left troops on both sides fighting for survival both during skirmishes and while moving from battle to battle.
By 1781, the war had dragged on for 6 long years. Both sides were feeling the effects of low morale and wanted the war to end desperately. Britain had the added burden of being at war with both France and Spain in Europe at the same time, as they had declared war on Britain and allied together. King George of Britain was unable to send additional troops not only because the British military was stretched too thin, but also for another reason: Neither Parliament nor the English people supported sending more troops to fight in an American war.
By the spring of 1781, General Washington knew that he needed to act quickly to secure a final American victory. With naval assistance guaranteed by the French, who had allied with the Continental American Army, Washington decided to stage an attack on the British-controlled port of Yorktown. If the Americans gained control of this port, they would divide the British troops and entrap the commanding officer of the British southern efforts, Lord Cornwallis. Cornwallis was currently holding his troops in the city to be resupplied and receive additional support from the British navy. This was a strategic location for the British because they also planned to attack American supplies, disrupt American communications, and make a quick escape from the city if needed. Unfortunately for Cornwallis, French naval forces defeated the incoming support during the Battle of the Capes, also known as the Battle of the Chesapeake. The British were trapped in Yorktown, only being able to leave on foot, setting up Washington and his troops for a decisive outcome.
The largest troop movement of the American Revolution took place in late summer of 1781. General Washington ordered the majority of his troops to march from their headquarters in New York to the city of Yorktown, Virginia without delay. With the stage set for a battle and British naval forces deterred by American allies, the Siege of Yorktown was ready to begin.
The Siege of Yorktown began on September 28, 1781, when American forces arrived in the vicinity of Yorktown. The battle lasted 22 days in total, with fighting occurring for the majority of that time. On October 17, 1781, the British officially surrendered to American forces after 20 days of constant bombardment. Two days later, on October 19, British forces slowly left the city, flanked by American forces on both sides. This was the final major battle of the American Revolution and led to the signing of a peace treaty between the nations in 1783.
The Battle of Yorktown took place in and around Yorktown, Virginia. The city was a strategic location along the York River, which fed into the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Yorktown was a crucial point to have control over, because it meant that whichever faction held control was able to readily resupply and receive additional support from other areas of the country (America) or from back home (Britain). The city was heavily garrisoned and very defensive towards incoming attacks. The British had constructed 10 small forts around the city to retain control over it. As a result, the area around the city became heavily entrenched so that American troops were able to get close enough to attack the enemy forces occupying the settlement. By the end of the siege, most of the trenches surrounding the city were dug per order of General Washington.
What happened at the Battle of Yorktown? The following timeline will discuss the important events leading up to and during the 22-day siege:
The Siege of Yorktown was ended with the surrender of British forces under Lord Cornwallis on October 19, 1781. American and French forces emerged victorious, led by General George Washington and General Rochambeau. The win was a collective effort of both the Americans and the French, with the latter playing a crucial role in the surrender of the British at Yorktown. Before the battle, they denied the British critical supplies that may have turned the tides against the attackers. During the battle, they greatly assisted in the takeover of the British-built fortifications around the city. With a lack of defenses, the British were forced to surrender. The French victories at both the Battle of the Chesapeake and Battle of Yorktown allowed them to gain control of the city and turn the war in the Americans' favor.
Following the Battle of Yorktown, the British troops abandoned the city and returned home to England. American and French forces only levied about 100 casualties and 300 injuries in the assault, while the British suffered nearly 150 deaths, 350 wounded, and over 7,000 troops forced to surrender. On March 5, 1782, British Parliament passed a bill authorizing peace efforts to be made with America. The Treaty of Paris brought the war to an official end when it was signed on September 3, 1783.
The victory at Yorktown for American forces was a decisive one; it was the final major battle of the Revolution and proved to the world that America was capable and deserving of gaining its independence. The victory of American forces was also an inspiration to their French allies. The French Revolution, which took place just a decade after the end of the American Revolution, was influenced heavily by the American desire to be free. The French believed that if they could assist America in achieving their desires, then France was also capable of reforming its society into one of freedom and liberty.
Since the end of the American Revolution, the victory at Yorktown has been celebrated annually in the city. A monument was erected between 1881 and 1884 to commemorate the centennial of the victory, with each piece of the statue symbolizing some aspect of the battle. The podium represents the birth of a free nation, the column symbolizes prosperity, and the crown of the statue stands for liberty. The emblems of nationality, war, alliance, and peace are also set within the monument. Each year, a wreath ceremony is held to celebrate the heroes of both the American and French forces during the battle.
The French, who were allied with Spain in the fight against England, held the Peace of Paris to arrange peace terms between the nations following the British surrender at Yorktown and subsequent return to Europe. The Americans and Great Britain benefitted the most from the treaty. After the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, France remained one of the United States' strongest allies. The United States showed sympathy towards the French during their revolution to gain freedom in its early phases, but the situation turned dire and the United States remained out of the affairs of France. They maintained a good relationship after the revolution had settled and order was restored to the country. Other alliances were formed with major European powers in the 1800s, mostly following the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States.
The Battle of Yorktown was an important turning point in the American Revolution which paved the way for American independence. This lesson has described what happened at the Battle of Yorktown, who won the Battle of Yorktown, and other important information. Upon completion of this lesson, be able to recall:
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The Battle of Yorktown was George Washington's plan for a final victory over the British that would weaken them enough to signify the end of the American Revolution.
The Siege of Yorktown was George Washington's risky final attempt to end the war quickly. The Revolution had dragged on for 6 years by 1871 and both sides wanted an end to the war. Reclaiming Yorktown for the American colonists would prove to be a harsh blow against the British, so Washington decided to move his forces there and trap the British soldiers within, who were waiting for a resupply of rations, ammunition, and soldiers.
The Battle of Yorktown was the final decisive victory for the American colonists in the Revolutionary War. By defeating one of the highest ranking British officers and his troops and taking control of the port of Yorktown, the colonists shows that they were capable of defeating the largest power in the world at the time and deserved to gain their independence.
The Battle of Yorktown was won by the American Colonial Army and their French allies. General George Washington, in a bold and risky move, marched most of his troops to Yorktown, which was being held by the British. After 22 days of siege, the British surrendered because they were low on supplies, which had been denied to them by the French at the Battle of the Chesapeake.
The siege began on September 28, 1781, when Washington's forces arrived in the area. They dug trenches around the city to get within firing range of the British forces, who were caught off guard. The Americans and their French allies bombarded Yorktown heavily on October 9 and claimed 2 of the 10 British fortifications around the city on October 14. On October 17, after over a week of siege, the British sent forth a drummer bearing a while flag on the end of a sword, marking their surrender. The official surrender came on October 19; the siege ended when British troops marched out of the city.
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