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.
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.
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.
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.
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.