The Battle of Yorktown 1781
Washington's resounding defeat of Lord Cornwallis's British
causing the British to surrender and effectively ending the
American Revolutionary War.
War: American Revolutionary War
Date: 28th September to 19th October 1781
Place: Virginia, United States of America
Combatants: Americans and French against the British
American troops storming the redoubt
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
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.
French troops advancing to attack the British lines during the
Battle of Yorktown.
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
Map of the Battle of Yorktown by John Fawkes
British Infantry Officer
Winner: The Americans and French
1 troop of 17th Light Dragoons (in Tarleton’s Legion)
A composite brigade of Foot Guards (comprising 1st, 2nd and 3rd Foot
17th Foot later the Royal Leicestershire Regiment and now the Royal
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)
North Carolina Loyalists
The British 23rd Regiment of Foot, the Royal Welch Fusiliers
(from Tim Reese’s CD Rom of 116 illustrations of British and
American Regiments from the Revolutionary War.
Bourbonnois Regiment of Foot
Royal Deux-Ponts Regiment of Foot
Soissonois Regiment of Foot
Agenois Regiment of Foot
4th Dragoons (Moylan)
Lafayette’s Light Infantry
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
3rd Maryland Regiment
4th Maryland Regiment
3 brigades of Virginia Militia
Sappers and Miners
The Americans storming the redoubts on 14th October 1781 during
the Battle of Yorktown
Losing his grip on the Carolinas, Cornwallis marched his army into
Virginia and seized Yorktown and Gloucester, towns on each side of the
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 British Army marching out to surrender at the end of the
Battle of Yorktown
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.
View of Yorktown from the York River before it was destroyed
during the Battle of Yorktown
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
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.
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
General George Washington reviews the captured British army at
the Battle of Yorktown.
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.
Cornwallis's British army surrenders to General Washington at
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.
- History of the British Army by Sir John Fortescue
- The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward