||YORKTOWN, VIRGINIA October 19, 1781 - In a stunning reversal of fortune that may signal the end of fighting in the
American colonies, Charles Lord Cornwallis today signed orders surrendering his
British Army to a combined French and American force outside the Virginia
tobacco port of Yorktown. Cornwallis' second-in-command, Charles O'Hara,
attempted to deliver Cornwallis's sword to French general, Comte de Rochambeau.
But Rochambeau directed O'Hara to American General George Washington, who
coolly steered the British officer to Washington's own second in command, Major
General Benjamin Lincoln.
Thus ended a three-week old siege which had begun with the miraculous convergence of French and American forces on the Chesapeake Bay.
With just a brief window of opportunity to pin Cornwallis in Virginia,
Washington and Rochambeau raced southward from New York to link up with the
French fleet under Admiral Comte de Grasse in Chesapeake Bay. They arrived
just in time to corner the British, who were anticipating relief that never
came from either General Henry Clinton or the British fleet.
Off shore, the French fleet effectively blocked aid from Cornwallis. On shore,
the incessant shelling of the French and American guns made life miserable for
the British troops.
When a British officer finally appeared with a white flag on the parapet
surrounding Yorktown, the French and American guns fell quiet. The Continental
forces let go a momentous cheer until Washington ordered it silenced. "Let
history huzzah for you," he was heard to shout.
Cornwallis' surrender ended a disastrous southern campaign for the British
army. Britain's strategy—an attempt to incorporate
loyalist support with British efforts—had begun with high hopes
and a victory in Charleston, South Carolina just a year and a half before. But
the plan backfired as loyalist and Patriot forces in the south fought a series
of savage fights that left both sides bloodied, but only the Patriots
Cornwallis limped into Virginia in late summer trailed by a force led by the
The Marquis de Lafayette, long a supporter of American efforts both
as a soldier in this country, and as an advocate for the cause in France.
As Cornwallis' 8,000 man force became prisoners-of-war, the British band played
the The World Turned Upside Down, a tune that underscored the
strange turn of events which had brought defeat at the hands of the provincial
forces of America, to the most powerful country in Europe.
As the "world war" engendered by the American Revolution continues to
plague British foreign policy, it looks more and more likely that King George
and Parliament will cut its losses in the colonies and begin a withdrawal of
After six and half years of fighting, the war may be finally over.