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Battle of YorktownApril - October, 1781
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Important People

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George Washington:George Washington was the commander and chief of the continental army. He later on became the first president of the United Sates. He successfully led the attack on Yorktown in 1781. This battle would turn out to be his greatest victory. George Washington needed to use every skill he had in order to win this battle. He deceived the British, surrounded them, and struck the Finishing blow on the 7 year long American Revolution. George Washington is one of the most important figures in American History.


Charles Cornwallis:Charles Cornwallis was in charge of the British naval port in Yorktown. He had found a defendable, deep water port that would allow the British to easily ship supplies into the region. He spent weeks building defenses and preparing the area in case the Americans would attack the Chesapeake. He looked at the Continental army as unworthy of any respect, so maybe he didn't prepare as much as he should have. Having been very successful in his previous campaigns, he thought that this would be no different. But, he would wind up losing the most important battle of his military career.


Jean Baptiste Ponton de Rouchambeau:Rochambeau, in charge of the French army in Rhode Island, marched down to Yorktown with Washington. On the long march down, he discussed with Washington about plans and tactics. Rochambeau would take position on the left side of Yorktown during the assault. He supported the American assault with over 8,800 ground forces Even though Washington gets most of the credit for the victory, it would have been much harder if not impossible without Rochambeau.


Comte de Grasse:Comte de Grasse was in charge of perhaps the most important part of the Yorkton campaign. He was in charge of the French naval fleet that was to set up a blockade on the British. If he was not able to keep the British navy out of Chesapeake bay, the British forces at Yorktown would be able to easily get naval support, as well as evacuate if needed. It's safe to say that if De Grasse was unable to gain control of the bay, there may have been a different ending to the war.

Events leading to the Battle


In April, 1781, 5,500 French troops under the command of General Jean-Baptiste Ponton de Rochambeau, deployed in Rhode Island to assist the Continental Army. General Washington and his army were sitting right outside New York, which the British still had control of at the time. Washington really wanted to hit the British at New York, but he needed support from his French ally Comte de Grasse, the French naval commander.

Meanwhile, the British General Charles Cornwallis was having little success in his campaign to take control of North Carolina. Even though his orders were to stay in North and South Carolina, Cornwallis moved his army up into Virginia to join up with the other British Armies that were stationed there.

Upon Arriving at Williamsburg, Virginia, Cornwallis received several letters from the British high command. They were not happy with him for moving into Virginia, but since he was there, they wanted Cornwallis to set up a good, deep-water port that would be easy to defend. After crossing the James River, he moved east to the town of Yorktown. This point would be the perfect port that he was looking for.

As General Cornwallis fortified his position at Yorktown, George Washington learned that Cornwallis' army was positioned there. Comte de Grasse wanted to attack this British force in the Chesapeake Bay, so Washington decided to move his army away from New York City to attack Cornwallis. To keep the British from knowing his plan, he left some of his men at New York, and he sent out fake messengers that were intercepted by the British. These fake messages said that he was planning an attack on New York, while he was really moving his army hundreds of miles south towards Yorktown. The British were sure General Washington was going to attack New York, so they moved as many troops as possible into the New York area.

Washington and Rochambeau began marching their armies down the eastern coast, while Admiral Comte de Grasse was down at Cape Francais, and began sailing towards the Chesapeake. In order to avoid the British fleet that was looking for him, he didn't go straight to the bay. Instead, he sailed east out to sea, and wrapped back around in order to avoid the shipping lanes. The British naval commander, Samuel Hood, lost track of e Grasse, but assumed that he was either heading towards the Chesapeake or New York. Hood sailed in a straight line towards the Chesapeake, arriving on August 25th. When he didn't find De Grasse in the bay, he realized that he must have went to New York. So Hood and his fleet sailed all the way up to New York after him. Meanwhile, because of his long route, De Grasse didn't arrive in the Chesapeake until august 30th, 5 days after Hood. He was able to set up a blockade and unload troops and supplies without any resistance.

When Hood got to New York, De Grasse was nowhere to be found. Hood realized that the French fleet went to the Chesapeake after all. He joined forces with another British naval commander, Thomas Graves, sailed all the way back down to the Chesapeake. Hood and Graves got back to the Chesapeake on Sept. 5. When they arrived, they were met by a huge French fleet waiting in the bay. They opened fire, beginning the Battle of the Chesapeake. Fighting side by side, the 2 fleets began drifting eastward out to sea. The 2 fleets had drifted so far out to see, that the French fleet turned around and went back toward the Chesapeake, leaving the British out at sea. During that same time, another French fleet led by De Barras, another French naval commander, had arrived from Newport Rhode Island and was waiting for De Grasse in the bay. Now the French had 2 fleets blockading the bay. Hood, whose fleet had suffered severe damage and losses, had no chance fighting off 2 French naval forces with half of his ships gone. He then sailed back up to New York for repairs. The French now have total control of the bay, and the first phase of the plan was complete.
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The Battle of Yorktown

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SummaryWashington attacked Yorktown with 9,500 American, and 8,800 French troops. The British General Cornwallis only had about 8,000 troops. The estimated casualties are 125 Americans, 253 French, and 552 British troops. All the rest of the British forces had to be shipped back to England. The British had no money left to fight the war, and they nowwere fighting the French and Spain in other parts of the world. Washington brought his forces back up to New York, where they would remain until the Treaty of Paris was signed.




Washington and Rochambeau arrived in Yorktown on Sept. 18th, 1781. The two armies set up siege positions, with the French on the left, and the Americans on the right. On Oct 6th, the allied forces began digging the first parallel, or a trench about 600 yards from Yorktown. Due to an intense storm that blocked out all light from the moon and all of the sound from the digging, the allied forces were able to completely finish the trenches without being detected by British sentries. The next morning, the British woke up to a pleasant surprise of 18,000 men surrounding them. On the morning of Oct. 9th, the French and Americans opened fire on the British. Many British were stationed in the houses of the town, so they, along with the British lines, were the main targets. Both sides launched cannon ball after cannon ball into the masses of troops. Just 3 days later, the allied forces began digging the second parallel, this one only 300 yards from Yorktown.

After 2 more days of intense fighting, the allied forces were ready to move closer to Yorktown. But the British still had 2 forts blocking their advance, called redoubts. Redoubts 9 and 10 were positioned on the right side of Yorktown, right in front of the Americans. These small forts needed to be taken out in order to push onward towards Yorktown. On Oct 14th, during the cover of night, 2 small forces, 1 French and 1 American, planned to head out on a surprise attack on the redoubts. 400 French troops headed out to redoubt 9, while 400 Americans moved to redoubt 10. The French went in with loaded muskets, but General Washington knew that this would be a problem because of visibility. So Washington sent his troops in with only bayonets. The Americans were able to clear the fort in less than 25 minutes, while the French took over an hour and suffered many casualties, including many from friendly fire. Either way, the two redoubts were cleared, and now nothing stood in the way of the allied forces.

As a last ditch effort, General Cornwallis tried to evacuate his forces across the York River and onto Gloucester Point. But another huge storm came along and made it impossible for the British to escape. On the morning of Oct 19th, the British surrender. Cornwallis was so upset by this defeat, that he sent his second in command to meet General Washington for the surrender. But Washington saw this, and sent his second in command as well. 5 days later, the British fleet sent by Clinton arrived at Yorktown only to find that Cornwallis had surrendured. The fleet turned around and sailed back up to New York. The last major battle of the war had been won by the Americans.

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