October 17, 1781 – American Revolutionary War: British General Lord Charles Cornwallis surrenders at the Siege of Yorktown.
The allied forces on their arrival from Williamsburg immediately commenced the investiture both of Yorktown and of Gloucester Point; and on the 10th of October they opened their batteries with such effect, that their shells, flying over the town, reached the shipping in the harbor, and set fire to the Charon frigate, and to a transport. On this inauspicious day, too, Lord Cornwallis received a communication from Sir Henry Clinton, conveying to him the unwelcome intelligence that he doubted whether it would be in his power to send him the aid which he had promised.
On the following morning the enemy commenced their second parallel, and finding themselves, in this advanced position, severely annoyed by the bastion and redoubt which have been mentioned above, they resolved to storm them. The reduction of the former of these works was committed to the French, whilst the attack of the latter was intrusted to the Americans.* Both parties rushing to the assault with the spirit of emulation which this arrangement was calculated to inspire, the works in question were speedily carried at the point of the bayonet.
It must be mentioned to the honor of the American soldiers, that though in revenge for a massacre recently committed at New London, in Connecticut, by a body of troops under the command of the renegade Arnold,* they had been ordered to take no prisoners, they forebore to comply with this requisition, and when they had penetrated into the redoubt, spared every man who ceased to resist. On the 16th of October, a sally was made from the garrison, but with indifferent success; and Lord Cornwallis was now convinced that he could avoid a surrender, only by effecting his escape by Gloucester Point.
Seeing himself therefore reduced to the necessity of trying this desperate expedient, he prepared as many boats as he could procure, and on the night of the 16th of October attempted to convey his army over York river to the opposite promontory. But the elements were adverse to his operations. The first division of his troops was disembarked in safety; but when the second was on its passage, a storm of wind and rain arose, and drove it down the river.
Though this second embarkation worked its way back to Yorktown on the morning of the 17th, Lord Cornwallis was convinced, however unwillingly, that protracted resistance was vain. No aid appeared from New York—his works were ruined—the fire from the enemy's batteries swept the town; and sickness had diminished the effective force of the garrison. In these painful circumstances, nothing remained for him but to negotiate terms of capitulation. He accordingly sent a flag of truce, and having agreed to give up his troops as prisoners of war to Congress, and the naval force to France, he, on the 19th of October, marched out of his lines with folded colors; and proceeding to a field at a short distance from the town, he surrendered to General Lincoln, with the same formalities which had been prescribed to that officer at Charleston, eighteen months before.
This painting depicts the forces of British Major General Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis (1738-1805) (who was not himself present at the surrender), surrendering to French and American forces after the Siege of Yorktown (September 28 – October 19, 1781) during the American Revolutionary War. The United States government commissioned Trumbull to paint patriotic paintings, including this piece, for them in 1817, paying for the piece in 1820.
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John Trumbull [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
TEXT CREDIT: A history of the American Revolution Volume 2576 of Harvard social studies textbooks preservation microfilm project. Author: William Shepherd. Publisher: Isaac N. Whiting, 1834. Original from: the University of Michigan. Digitized: Nov 20, 2006. Length: 278 pages. Subjects History › United States › Revolutionary Period (1775-1800) History / General History / United States / Revolutionary Period (1775-1800)