THE SURRENDER OF CORNWALLIS'S ARMY AT YORKTOWN
On the 15th of October the allied troops engaged in strengthening the second parallel and the several battery positions. The Americans placed two howitzers in each of the captured redoubts and about 5 o'clock in the afternoon opened them upon the enemy. They began work, also, on a grand battery between the two redoubts, which was intended for seven 18-pounders, three 24-pounders, 4 howitzers, eight 10-inch and ten 5½-inch mortars. Part of this armament opened on the 16th, but the battery was never completed. On the left of the American sector a battery of four 18-pounders opened on the 17th. The French completed a redoubt on the left flank of the parallel, intended for a bomb battery of ten 13-inch mortars. Between this redoubt and the Hampton Road they completed a battery with six 18 and 24 pounders; another east of the road with the same armament; and a third battery with four 18-pounders on the extreme right flank of their sector.
Cornwallis knew that the British works could not stand many hours after the batteries on the second parallel opened, and he determined to make a sortie and gain possession of part of the parallel, from which position he might enfilade the French guns. The attempt was made with too small a force, however, to accomplish anything. Near daybreak on the morning of the 16th Colonel Abercrombie, with a party of about 350 men, attacked the American and French batteries where the two sectors of the second parallel joined. A detachment of the guards, with the
company of grenadiers from the Eightieth Regiment, all under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Lake, attacked one of the batteries; and a detachment of light infantry under the command of Major Armstrong attacked the other. The British succeeded in spiking the four French guns and two guns in the American battery, when a body of troops under the Viscount de Noailles, from De Chastellux's reserves, moved forward and recaptured the works. The sally was made by the British upon that part of the parallel guarded by Rochambeau's troops. The French had 1 officer and 12 men killed. The American loss was only one man, a sergeant of artillery.
There was now no place on that part of the British front which extended from the horn work to the extreme left of the position where a single gun could be shown. The supply of shells was nearly exhausted, and Cornwallis had to choose "between preparing to surrender next day, or endeavouring to get off with the greatest part of the troops." He determined to make the attempt to transfer the major portion of his army across the York River to the Gloucester side. This plan, though less practicable than when first proposed on the 10th of October, was the last recourse.
In the evening of the 16th Cornwallis sent Lord Chewton to Gloucester with instructions for Tarleton, who had crossed with the legion fourteen days before, to prepare for an attack upon De Choisy at daybreak. The first embarkation of troops, consisting of the light infantry, the greater part of the guards, and part of the Twenty-third Regiment, arrived on the Gloucester side before midnight.
At this critical moment, the weather from being moderate and calm, changed to a most violent storm of wind and rain, and drove all the boats, some of which had troops on board, down the river. It was soon evident that the intended passage was impracticable, and the absence of the boats rendered it equally impossible to bring back the troops that had passed.
Thus expired the last hope of the British Army. A rain squall was responsible for bringing about the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown.
On the night of the 16th-17th the allied artillery was moved from the first to the second parallel. In the morning all of the batteries opened with a devastating fire. The opinion of Cornwallis coincided with that of the engineer and principal officers of the Army, "that by the continuence of the same fire for a few hours longer," the British "would be in such a state as to render it desperate" to attempt to maintain the position. They could not fire a single gun; only one 8-inch and little more than a hundred coehorn shells remained; the troops were "exhausted by the fatigue of constant watching and unremitting duty." Under these circumstances Cornwallis—
thought it would have been wanton and inhuman to the last degree to sacrifice the lives of this small body of gallant soldiers, who had ever behaved with so much fidelity and courage, by exposing them to an assault, which from the numbers and precautions of the enemy could not fail to succeed.
About 10 o'clock on the morning of the 17th day of October, 1781, the British Army beat a parley. The letter from Lord Cornwallis to General Washington read:
I propose a cessation of hostilities for twenty four hours, and that two officers may be appointed by each side, to meet at Mr. Moore's house, to settle term for the surrender of the posts of York and Gloucester.
Washington's reply to the letter, granting a suspension of hostilities for two hours, was as follows:
I have had the honour of
receiving your Lordship's letter of this date.
An ardent desire to spare the further effusion of blood, will readily incline me to hasten to such terms, for the surrender of your posts and garrisons at York and Gloucester as are admissible.
I wish, previous to the meeting of Commissioners, that your Lordship's proposals, in writing, may be sent to the American lines; for which purpose, a suspension of hostilities, during two hours from the delivery of this letter, will be granted.
At 4.30 in the afternoon of the 17th of October Cornwallis sent a reply to Washington's letter, in which he gave an outline of the conditions under which he hoped an agreement could be reached. Some of his propositions were satisfactory, others were not, and
THE MOORE HOUSE
on the 18th Washington so wrote him. In this letter Washington said that—
the same honours will be granted to the surrendering army as were granted to the garrison of Charles-town.
The letter closed with the injunction:
Your Lordship will be pleased to signify your determination, either to accept or reject the proposals now offered, in the course of two hours from the delivery of this letter, that Commissioners may be appointed to digest the articles of capitulation, or a renewal of hostilities may take place.
The terms offered by Washington were accepted by Cornwallis that day. The British commander wrote that he would appoint two field officers of his army to meet two officers from the allied armies at any time and place that Washington might think proper, "to digest the articles of capitulation." The commissioners appointed were Lieutenant Colonel Dundas and Major Ross of the British Army, the Viscount de Noailles of the French Army, and Lieutenant Colonel Laurens of the American Army. They met at the Moore house, in rear of the first parallel, and prepared the terms of surrender.
The articles of capitulation were signed at 11 o'clock on the morning of the 19th of October. The introductory portion of the articles mentions the parties to the treaty in a most interesting way:
ARTICLES OF CAPITULATION,
Settled between his Excellency General Washington, Commander in Chief of the combined forces of America and France—his Excellency the Count de Rochambeau, Lieutenant General of the armies of the King of France, Great Cross of the royal and military order of St. Louis, commanding the auxiliary troops of his Most Christian Majesty in America; and his Excellency the Count de Grasse, Lieutenant-General of the naval armies of his Most Christian Majesty, Commander of the order of St. Louis, Commander in Chief of the naval army of France in the Chesapeak, on the one part; and the Right Honourable Earl Cornwallis, Lieutenant-general of his Britannic Majesty's forces, commanding the garrisons of York and Gloucester; and Thomas Symonds, Esq. commanding his Britannic Majesty's naval forces in York River, in Virginia, on the other part.
The articles provided that the troops, seamen, and marines were to surrender themselves prisoners of war, "the land troops to remain prisoners to the United States—the navy to the naval army of his Most Christian Majesty." Officers were to retain their side arms and private papers and property. The soldiers were to be kept in Virginia, Maryland, or Pennsylvania. General Cornwallis and certain other officers were to be permitted to go on parole to New York or to Europe. The sloop of war Bonetta was to be left at the disposal of the British commander to carry dispatches to Sir Henry Clinton, and on her return she was to be turned over to the Count de Grasse. At noon on the 19th two redoubts on the left flank of Yorktown were to be delivered, one to a detachment of American infantry, the other to a detachment of French grenadiers. The surrender of the army was provided for in the following terms:
The garrison of York will march out to a place to be appointed in front of the posts, at two o'clock precisely, with shouldered arms, colours cased, and drums beating a British or German march. They are then to ground their arms, and return to their encampments, where they will remain until they are dispatched to the places of their destination. Two works on the Gloucester side will be delivered at one o'clock to a detachment of French and American troops appointed to possess them. The garrison will march out at three o'clock in the afternoon; the cavalry with their swords drawn, trumpets sounding, and the infantry in the manner prescribed for the garrison of York. They are likewise to return to their encampments until they can be finally marched off.
In the afternoon of the 19th of October, 1781, the allied armies were formed in lines about a mile long on opposite sides of the road leading to Hampton. The Americans were on the right of the formation, facing west, with the right of their line resting on the second parallel. The French were on the left of the formation, facing east, their left resting on the second parallel. Washington and Rochambeau, with their staffs, were in front of the flanks of their respective lines, in the vicinity of this parallel. The British troops marched out through the horn work about 2 o'clock. Lord Cornwallis, being too much distressed mentally and physically to engage in the ceremony, sent his sword by General O'Hara, second
in command. When O'Hara reached the flank of the allied armies he asked the French aide who accompanied him where General Rochambeau was. The French commander being pointed out, O'Hara approached him and offered the sword. General Rochambeau informed the British general that the person to receive the surrender was General Washington. General O'Hara then approached General Washington and offered Lord Cornwallis's sword in surrender. Washington said that General Lincoln would receive the surrender. General O'Hara then handed the sword of Lord Cornwallis to General Lincoln. The British troops marched down the Hampton Road between the two lines of victors, and just before reaching the road to Warwick passed into a field bordered by the two roads and laid down their arms.
* * * * * * *
In writing to the President of Congress on the evening of the day of the surrender, the Commander in Chief of the allied armies said:
I should be wanting in the
feelings of gratitude, did I not mention on this occasion, with the warmest
sense of acknowledgment, the very cheerful and able assistance, which I
have received in the course of our operation from his Excellency the Count
de Rochambeau and all his officers in every rank in their respective capacities.
Nothing could equal the zeal of our allies, but the emulating spirit of
the American officers, whose ardor would not suffer their exertions to be
I wish it was in my power to express to Congress, how much I feel myself indebted to the Count de Grasse and the officers of the fleet under his command, for the distinguished aid and support which has been afforded by them, between whom and the army the most happy concurrence of sentiments and views has subsisted, and from whom every possible cooperation has been experienced, which the most harmonious intercourse could afford.
* * * * * * *
Washington's Orderly Book for the 20th of October contains the following After Orders:
The General congratulates the Army upon the glorious event of yesterday
The generous proofs which his most Christian Majesty has given of his attachment to the cause of America must force conviction on the minds of the most
LAFAYETTE MONUMENT IN WASHINGTON
deceived among the Enemy: relatively
to the decisive good consequences of the alliance and inspire every Citizen
of these States with Sentiments of the most unalterable Gratitude
His fleet the most numerous & powerful that ever appeared in these Seas commanded by an admiral whose fortunes and talents ensure great events.
An Army of the most admirable composition both in officers &P men are the pledges of his Friendship to the United States-and their cooperation has secured us the present signal success.
The General upon this occasion entreats his Excellency the Count de Rochambeau to accept his most grateful acknowledgments for his counsils and assigtance at all times—He presents his warmest thanks to the Generals Baron de Viomenil, Chevalier Chastellux, Marquis de St. Simond & Count Viominil & to Brigadier General de Choisy (who had a separate command) for the illustrious manner in which they have advanced the interest of the common cause
He requests the Count de Rochambeau will be pleased to communicate to the army under his immediate command the high Sense he entertains of the distinguished Merits of the Officers & Soldiers of every corps and that he will present in his name to the Regiments of Agenois and Deuxponts the two pieces of Brass ordnance captured by them; as a testimony of their Gallantry in storming the Enemy's Redoubt on the night of the 14th inst. When Officers & Men so universally vied with each other in the exercise of every Soldierly Virtue—
The General's thanks to each individual of Merit would comprehend the whole Army but he thinks himself bound however by Affection Duty & Gratitude to express his Obligations to Major Generals Lincoln, de la Fayette and Steuben for their dispositions in the Trenches.
To Genl. DuPortail & Colo. Carney for the Vigour & Knowledge which were conspicuous in their conduct of the attacks—and to Genl. Knox & Colo. D'Aberville for their great care attention & fatigue in bringing forward the artillery & stores & for their judicious & spirited management of them in the parrallels.
He requests the Gentlemen above mentioned to communicate his thanks to the Officers & Soldiers of their respective commands
Ingratitude which the General hopes never to be guilty of would be conspicuous in him was he to omit thanking in the warmest terms His Excelly. Governor Nelson for the aid he derived from him and from the Militia under his Command to whose Activity Emulation & Courage much applause is due, the Greatness of the Acquisition will be an ample Compensation for the Hardships & Hazards which they encountered with so much patriotism & firmness
In order to diffuse the general joy through every Breast the General orders that those men belonging to the Army who may now be in confinement shall be pardoned, released, & join their respective corps.
ROCHAMBEAU MONUMENT IN WASHINGTON
Divine service is to be
performed tomorrow in the several Brigades or Divisions
The Commander in Chief earnestly recommends that the Troops not on Duty should universally attend with that seriousness of deportment & gratitude of heart which the recognition of such reiterated and astonishing interposition of Providence demand of us.
* * * * * * *
On Wednesday, October 24,1781, Congress received the letter from General Washington written on the 19th of the month, in which he inclosed the correspondence between Earl Cornwallis and himself concerning the surrender of the garrisons of Yorktown and Gloucester and the articles of capitulation. These papers were referred to a committee of four "to report what in their opinion, will be the most proper mode of communicating the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled, to General Washington, Count de Rochambeau and Count de Grasse, for their effectual exertions in accomplishing this illustrious work."
The committee delivered its report to Congress on the 26th of October, 1781, and on the 29th of the month Congress took the following action:
Resolved, That the thanks
of the United States in Congress assembled, be presented to his excellency
General Washington, for the eminent services which he has rendered to the
United States, and particularly for the well concerted plan against the
British garrisons in York and Gloucester; for the vigor, attention and military
skill with which that plan was executed; and for the wisdom and prudence
manifested in the capitulation:
That the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled, be presented to his excellency the Count de Rochambeau, for the cordiality, zeal, judgment and fortitude, with which he seconded and advanced the progress of the allied army against the British garrison in York:
That the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled be presented to his excellency Count de Grasse, for his display of skill and bravery in attacking and defeating the British fleet off the Bay of Chesapeake, and for his zeal and alacrity in rendering, with the fleet under his command, the most effectual and distinguished aid and support to the operations of the allied army in Virginia:
That the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled, be presented to the commanding and other officers of the corps of artillery and engineers of the allied army, who sustained extraordinary fatigue and danger in their animated and gallant approaches to the lines of the enemy.
That General Washington be directed
to communicate to the other officers and the soldiers under his command,
the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled, for their conduct
and valor on this occasion:
Resolved, That the United States in Congress assembled, will cause to be erected at York, in Virginia, a marble column, adorned with emblems of the alliance between the United States and his Most Christian Majesty; and inscribed with a succinct narrative of the surrender of Earl Cornwallis to his excellency General Washington, Commander in Chief of the combined forces of America and France; to his excellency the Count de Rochambeau, commanding the auxiliary troops of his Most Christian Majesty in America, and his excellency the Count de Grasse, commanding in chief the naval army of France in the Chesapeake.
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