Battle of Yorktown

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The Battle of Yorktown

In Brief:

After French forces combined with the Continental army in 1778 to assist them in their War of Independence, the colonists started to get the upper hand on the British. During 1781, 7,000 British troops led by General Cornwallis found themselves surrounded at Yorktown by 9000 American troops and 5000 Frenchmen. Meanwhile the French Navy at Chesapeake Bay stopped them from escaping by sea. The British struggled against the onslaught and by October a section of the Continental Army led by Marquis Lafayette broke through the British lines leaving Cornwallis with no option but to surrender. This marked the beginning of the end of The American War of Independence.

Battle: YORKTOWN

War: American Revolutionary War (also known as American War of Independence.)

Date: 28th September to 19th October 1781

Place: Virginia, United States of America

Combatants: Americans and French against the British

Generals: General Washington commanded the Americans, Lieutenant General de Rochambeau commanded the French and Major General Lord Cornwallis commanded the British.

Size of the armies: 8,800 Americans, 7,800 French and 6,000 British

Uniforms, arms and equipment: The British wore red coats and headgear of bearskin caps, leather caps or tricorne hats depending on whether the troops were grenadiers, light infantry or battalion company men. The German infantry wore blue coats and retained the Prussian style grenadier mitre with brass front plate.

The Americans dressed as best they could. Increasingly as the war progressed regular infantry regiments of the Continental Army wore blue uniform coats but the militia continued in rough clothing.

The French royal regiments of foot wore white coats.

Both sides were armed with muskets and guns. The back country riflemen carried long, small calibre rifles, weapons of considerably greater accuracy than the ordinary musket and which their owners used with proficiency.

British Regiments:

1 troop of 17th Light Dragoons (in Tarleton’s Legion)

Royal Artillery

A composite brigade of Foot Guards (comprising 1st, 2nd and 3rd Foot Guards)

17th Foot later the Royal Leicestershire Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment

23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers

33rd Foot now the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment

43rd later the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and now the Royal Green Jackets

71st Fraser’s Highlanders (disbanded at the end of the war)

76th Foot (disbanded at the end of the war)

80th Foot (disbanded at the end of the war)

Regiment of de Voit (Anspach)

Regiment of de Seybothen (Anspach)

Regiment of Prince Hereditary (Hesse)

Regiment of von Bose (Hesse)

Tarleton’s Legion

Simcoe’s Legion

North Carolina Loyalists

French Regiments:

Artillery

Lauzun’s Legion

Bourbonnois Regiment of Foot

Royal Deux-Ponts Regiment of Foot

Soissonois Regiment of Foot

Agenois Regiment of Foot

Americans Regiments:

4th Dragoons (Moylan)

Armand’s Horse

Lafayette’s Light Infantry

Muhlenburg’s Brigade

Hazen’s Canadian Regiment

1st New York Regiment

2nd New York Regiment

1st New Jersey Regiment

2nd New Jersey Regiment

Rhode Island Regiment

1st Pennsylvania Regiment

2nd Pennsylvania Regiment

Virginia Regiment

3rd Maryland Regiment

4th Maryland Regiment

3 brigades of Virginia Militia

Sappers and Miners

Account:

Losing his grip on the Carolinas, Cornwallis marched his army into Virginia and seized Yorktown and Gloucester, towns on each side of the York River.

With the arrival of the French fleet of Admiral De Grasse, General Washington was able to march south from New York with the joint American and French army to attack Cornwallis.

The Americans and French marched out of Williamsburg and arrived before Yorktown on 28th September 1781, forming a semi-circle around the entrenchments and putting the British under siege. Cornwallis expecting Major General Clinton to sail from New York with a relieving force had decided to remain in Yorktown rather than march south to the Carolinas or attempt to reach New York. His first move was the inexplicable one of abandoning a line of four redoubts that dominated the British positions. The Americans immediately occupied the empty redoubts.

The Americans began formal siege operations on the eastern side of Yorktown on 30th September and on 9th October were sufficiently close to began an artillery bombardment.

On 14th October the Americans and French stormed two redoubts in front of their trenches and the position of the British in Yorktown became untenable.

The British carried out a sortie on the 16th in which several guns in the two redoubts were spiked. On the same day Cornwallis attempted to pass the Guards, the 23rd and the Light Infantry across the York River to Gloucester but was thwarted by a storm.

With no sign of Clinton’s relief and with inadequate supplies of artillery ammunition and food, on 19th October 1781 Cornwallis’ army marched out of Yorktown and surrendered.

Casualties:

6,000 British surrendered to the Americans and French with 10 stands of German and British colours,

240 pieces of artillery, small arms, ammunition and equipment.

The casualties during the siege had been 500 British, 80 Americans and 200 French.

Follow-up:

The capitulation of the British to the Americans and French ended the fighting in the war and led to the Peace Treaty that acknowledged the independence of the American states. Clinton’s relieving force arrived in the Chesapeake on 24th October.

Anecdotes and traditions:

• The British bands are reputed to have played “The world turned upside down” as the troops marched out to surrender.

• After the surrender the American and French officers entertained the British officers to dinner, other than Tarleton with whom the Americans refused to eat, due to the atrocities committed by his troops in North and South Carolina.

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Yorktown period of the American War of Independence

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dfGmvokW3Y&feature=related[/youtube]

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History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Published in: on May 3, 2010 at 1:17 pm Comments (2)
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