Yorktown, Virginia (1781 AD)
The Siege of Yorktown in the Autumn of 1781 was the last stand of the main British army in the colonies during the American Revolutionary War. The American and French army at the battle was the largest assembled during the war, and the joint land and naval force effort was one of the greatest of the Colonial era. It was also one of the greatest strategic blunders of the otherwise very capable British general, Cornwalis. The surrender of the British army effectively ended the war, and forced the British monarchy to recognize the independence of their American colonies a few years later. Yorktown is one of the most visited Revolutionary War battle field in the United States.
In 1781, the British war effort in the southern states had largely been stopped thanks to several major American victories and a brutal guerilla war that prevented the British from consolidating or even holding their gains. After years of brutal fighting, the decimated and demoralized British army retreated across the Carolinas and Virginia, all the way to the relative safety of the coast and the supposedly easily defendable area around Williamsburg.
The British made camp at Yorktown to await supplies and reinforcements. However, instead of safety, they found themselves trapped by a combined American-French army. From both north and south, British reinforcements arrived; however, behind them in every direction came assorted American and French forces. The largest army, under the command of George Washington, marched from New England, arriving in the Yorktown area in September.
The British, who had been expecting these troops to be used in an attack on New York City, were suddenly cut off and outnumbered. Worse, in one of the biggest and most important defeats for the British navy in history, French warships managed to blockade the peninsula and prevent the British from resupplying or evacuating the armies. A siege ensued. The British attempted several breakouts, unsuccessfully, as the Americans and French captured their positions one by one.
After a siege that lasted nearly a month, the British surrendered on October 19. Over eight thousand British soldiers were taken prisoner. Although the British still had large armies on colonial soil, notably in New York City, the Battle of Yorktown effectively ended the war, and American independence was formally recognized two years later under the Treaty of Paris.
The Yorktown Battlefield is part of the Colonial National Historic Park, a series of prominent colonial-era sites which includes Historic Jamestown and parts of Colonial Williamsburg. Because of its proximity to these other popular destinations, Yorktown is the most visited Revolutionary War battlefield in America. It is also one of the best preserved, with much of the British earthworks restored in recent decades. On the site is the Nelson House, where Cornwallis had his final headquarters.
The Yorktown Battlefield is located just outside of the town of Yorktown, Virginia, approximately eight miles east of Williamsburg and 35 miles east of Richmond. It is part of the Colonial National Historical Park, which is run by the National Park Service. It is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm (closed major holidays). Cost of admission is $10.00. Web: www.nps.gov/york (official website).