Battle of Yorktown: A Victory that Made 13 Colonies the USA

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This painting depicts the forces of British Major General Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis (1738–1805) (who was not himself present at the surrender), surrendering to French and American forces after the Siege of Yorktown (September 28 – October 19, 1781) during the American Revolutionary War. The central figures depicted are Generals Charles O'Hara and Benjamin Lincoln. The United States government commissioned Trumbull to paint patriotic paintings, including this piece, for them in 1817, paying for the piece in 1820.

In 1781, English General Cornwallis led his army to Virginia, and fought and lost to the Continental Army in the final battle of the American Revolution.

In the Spring of 1781, the decisive battle of the American Revolution was fought in Yorktown, Virginia. Today, the historic little town along the York River maintains its identity through retaining many of the colonial dwellings which stood there during the siege of 1781.

From British Yorktown to United States of America

By the mid 17th century, Yorktown had become a major tobacco port shortly after this cash crop became the colony’s most profitable export to England. At that time, Yorktown’s banks were a spread of lush brick houses belonging to shippers who sent the colony’s exports to traders in England and Scotland.

The working relationship between the colonists and the British ended when the Patriots clamored for independence from their Mother Country. By 1776, the colonies were fully engaged in war with England, aided by the French. Yorktown was able to remain away from the combat of the conflict, until their peace ended abruptly in 1781, when Cornwallis led 8,300 to the village in the hopes of being met by British supply ships.

The Defeat of the British

The ships were supposed to be sent from New York by General Sir Henry Clinton, but Clinton was slow to respond, and the reinforcements were not in Yorktown as Cornwallis expected. Meanwhile, Colonial General George Washington and French General Rochambeau decided that a combined land and naval battle in Virginia was possible. The French fleet was sailing north to the Chesapeake Bay as Washington moved the bulk of the French and Continental army from New York to Yorktown.

By the 5th of September, the French fleets intercepted the British fleets outside the Virginia Capes, therefore forcing them to cease their advance. Washington and Rochambeau arrived in Yorktown later in the month and attacked. After several weeks of fighting, Cornwallis surrendered, and the fighting of the American Revolution was over.

A Visit to Yorktown

Visitors today can visit this historic place, and see the exact battlefield where the colonists’ fate was decided. As one strolls through the historic town, you come face to face with an authentic fife and drum performance. Visitors can tour the home of the commander of the Virginia militia, which still bears the wounds of cannonball fires of 1781.

It’s been said by Go Williamsburg, that a visit to Yorktown is a must-see for “anyone who wishes to fully understand the story of our nation’s birth.” From the scenic River Walk to the battlefield where the British surrendered, a visit to Yorktown is a MUST for any history buff wishing to indulge in a little living history.