Battle of Yorktown

Battle of Yorktown: "Surrender of Lord Cornwallis," by John Trumbull

“Surrender of Lord Cornwallis,” by John Trumbull

The Battle of Yorktown (September 28 – October 19, 1781; also called the Siege of Yorktown) was the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War. After almost 2 weeks of being under siege, the British troops at Yorktown, Virginia, surrendered to combined American and French forces, signaling the beginning of the end of the war.

Background

A few weeks prior, a French victory against the British fleet off the Virginia Capes left the 7,000 troops in Yorktown under British General Cornwallis effectively without naval support. This enabled the American and French troops to begin their siege at Yorktown without any serious opposition or threat of British escape by sea.

Siege

The 8,900 Americans (under General George Washington) and 7,800 French (under the Comte de Rochambeau) arrived outside Yorktown on September 28. After digging a siege trench, the combined armies began their bombardment on October 9 and kept up a near constant barrage of fire from artillery and siege guns.

On October 14, French and American troops stormed the last two British-held redoubts. Once those were captured, the combined troops completed a second, closer trench. In response, the British made a sortie before sunrise on the 16th to spike their enemies’ guns, but the guns were quickly repaired and soon began firing again.

British Response

General Cornwallis, for his part, had been holding out hope that promised reinforcements would arrive. But when it became clear that his troops couldn’t hold out that long, he attempted to send them across the river to try to break out on the other side. However, after the first group got across, a squall prevented further crossings.

Surrender

Realizing his position was hopeless without reinforcements, Cornwallis capitulated on October 17. On the 18th, the two sides negotiated the terms of the surrender, which formally occurred on the 19th.

Learn more about the Battle of Yorktown through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.


Articles and Clippings about the Battle of Yorktown

Lord Cornwallis sends word to England that he has taken possession of YorktownLord Cornwallis sends word to England that he has taken possession of Yorktown Sat, Sep 29, 1781 – 4 · The Newcastle Weekly Courant (Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, England) · Newspapers.comAmerican troops are American troops are "expected to break ground on the 1st of October before Yorktown" Thu, Nov 15, 1781 – 3 · The Derby Mercury (Derby, Derbyshire, England) · Newspapers.comExcerpt from an American account of the beginning of the Siege of YorktownExcerpt from an American account of the beginning of the Siege of Yorktown Thu, Oct 18, 1781 – Page 1 · The Maryland Gazette (Annapolis, Maryland) · Newspapers.comBritish newspaper account of the Battle of YorktownBritish newspaper account of the Battle of Yorktown Thu, Nov 22, 1781 – 2 · The Derby Mercury (Derby, Derbyshire, England) · Newspapers.com(Part 1) Letters to and from George Washington during the Battle of Yorktown(Part 1) Letters to and from George Washington during the Battle of Yorktown Wed, Oct 31, 1781 – Page 1 · The Freeman's Journal or The North-American Intelligencer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com(Part 2) Letters to and from George Washington during the Battle of Yorktown(Part 2) Letters to and from George Washington during the Battle of Yorktown Wed, Oct 31, 1781 – Page 2 · The Freeman's Journal or The North-American Intelligencer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comLetters between Washington and Cornwallis and the text of the Articles of CapitulationLetters between Washington and Cornwallis and the text of the Articles of Capitulation Wed, Oct 31, 1781 – Page 4 · The Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comDescription of celebrations in Pennsylvania after American victory at YorktownDescription of celebrations in Pennsylvania after American victory at Yorktown Wed, Oct 31, 1781 – Page 3 · The Freeman's Journal or The North-American Intelligencer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comExcerpt from a report of prisoners, artillery, arms, etc, captured from British after YorktownExcerpt from a report of prisoners, artillery, arms, etc, captured from British after Yorktown Wed, Nov 7, 1781 – Page 2 · The Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comBritish newspaper attributes British loss at Yorktown to British newspaper attributes British loss at Yorktown to "the want of confidence in General Arnold" Thu, Nov 29, 1781 – 2 · The Derby Mercury (Derby, Derbyshire, England) · Newspapers.comPennsylvania representatives thank George Washington for victory at Yorktown; Washington respondsPennsylvania representatives thank George Washington for victory at Yorktown; Washington responds Sat, Dec 1, 1781 – Page 3 · The Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comCongress thanks George Washington for the victory in the siege of YorktownCongress thanks George Washington for the victory in the siege of Yorktown Sat, Dec 1, 1781 – Page 3 · The Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comCongress resolves to present commemorative objects to military leaders after the Yorktown victoryCongress resolves to present commemorative objects to military leaders after the Yorktown victory Sat, Dec 1, 1781 – Page 3 · The Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com"An Englishman" writes in the newspaper about his "observations on the capitulation at York-Town" Thu, Dec 13, 1781 – 2 · The Bath Chronicle (Bath, Avon, England) · Newspapers.comA list of the British officers killed and wounded at the siege of YorktownA list of the British officers killed and wounded at the siege of Yorktown Thu, Dec 20, 1781 – 3 · The Bath Chronicle (Bath, Avon, England) · Newspapers.comCornwallis explains that the expectation of reinforcements led to his actions at YorktownCornwallis explains that the expectation of reinforcements led to his actions at Yorktown Thu, Dec 20, 1781 – 3 · The Bath Chronicle (Bath, Avon, England) · Newspapers.comBritish loss at Yorktown causes British loss at Yorktown causes "a large number" of Loyalists to flee to England Thu, Jan 17, 1782 – 3 · The Bath Chronicle (Bath, Avon, England) · Newspapers.comLetter from Philadelphia discusses French treatment of inhabitants of Yorktown after the battleLetter from Philadelphia discusses French treatment of inhabitants of Yorktown after the battle Sat, Mar 16, 1782 – 3 · The Newcastle Weekly Courant (Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, England) · Newspapers.com
"Battle of Yorktown," Newspapers.com Topics (https://www.newspapers.com/topics/american-revolution/battle-of-yorktown/ : accessed June 18, 2019)