In this decisive Revolutionary War battle, George Washington triumphed over British General Charles Cornwallis, effectively ending the war in North America.
The Siege of Yorktown was fought from September 28 to October 19, 1781 between American and French forces commanded by General George Washington and Marshal Comte de Rochambeau, and British forces commanded by Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis during the American Revolutionary War. The battle was a complete American and French victory, with Cornwallis and his army surrendering. Approximately 1,200 soldiers from either side were killed or wounded.
In July 1781, American forces commanded by George Washington met French forces commanded by Comte de Rochambeau north of New York City, where they faced a decision. They could either use their combined force to besiege British controlled New York City, or move south to confront a British army under Charles Cornwallis, which had won a costly victory in North Carolina at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse before marching north into Virginia. They chose to move south.
Cornwallis, commanding approximately 7,000 British and 3,000 Hessian troops, had been ordered to build a deep water port at Yorktown on the Virginia Peninsula. On September 26, Washington and De Rochambeau consolidated a force of 18,900 men in nearby Williamsburg. With help from François Joseph Paul, comte de Grasse’s fleet, they bottled up Cornwallis’ men and settled in for a siege.
Cornwallis withdrew to his interior defenses under the mistaken impression that help was on its way, and American and French forces occupied, improved, and extended his outer trenches. For over a week, the two sides traded artillery fire. Then, on October 14, American forces stormed and captured two British redoubts. With the siege tightening, Cornwallis felt he had no choice but to surrender his army, which he did on October 19th.
The loss was devastating to the British war effort in North America. American and French allies lost 88 killed and 301 wounded to 156 killed and 326 wounded for the British. While casualties seemed light, Cornwallis’ entire remaining force of 7,685 men were taken prisoner. 214 British artillery pieces and 24 ships were captured. It was the last major land battle of the Revolutionary War.
Fought between Great Britain and her Thirteen American Colonies from 1775 to 1883, the Revolutionary War led to a Declaration of Independence and the formation of the United States of America in 1776. The Thirteen Colonies won their independence, at the cost of an estimated 158,000 British, American, French, German, Spanish, and American Indian lives. It was a dynamic and surprisingly international conflict.
Today, Yorktown National Battlefield is part of Colonial National Historical Park, which is operated by the National Park Service. It was established in 1930 and opened as a national historical park in 1936. It features a driving tour where you can see Revolutionary War trenches and redoubts and many examples of 18th century artillery. You can also visit the field where Cornwallis’ troops formally surrendered.
Nearby, you can visit the Yorktown Monument to the Alliance and Victory, which was designed by architects R.M. Hunt and Henry Van Brunt and sculpted by J.Q.A. Ward in 1881, and completed in 1884. Lightning damaged the statue of liberty atop the column and Oskar J.W. Hansen sculpted a replacement in 1957.
Yorktown Battlefield in Colonial National Historical Park, at 1000 Colonial Pkwy in Yorktown, Virginia, is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm, closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission is $10 for adults, and children ages 15 and younger are free. Ample parking is available for both the visitor’s center and Victory Monument.