Surrender at Yorktown
Episode #6 of the course “Battles of All Time”
Date: September 28 – October 19, 1781
In a newly-formed America on October 19, 1781, the British surrendered at Yorktown in a retreat that somewhat mirrors the Muslim retreat at Tours.
America declared its independence from Britain in 1776, but it took another five years to actually become free. The Surrender at Yorktown marked the official date of American freedom because the British finally stopped fighting. General Cornwallis gathered 8,000 British troops in Yorktown, Virginia. The troops had taken complete control of the town and had raided a number of nearby settlements.
With help from the French General Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau, George Washington led troops to ultimately defeat the British. The British troops in Yorktown were expecting help from more troops from New York who were going to join the battle by boat. However, the French navy blocked the incoming British ships from entering the York River or the Chesapeake Bay, which kept them away from Yorktown.
By this time, the Americans and the French assembled 17,000 soldiers to remove the British from Yorktown. They surrounded the town and prevented anyone from leaving and any supplies from entering. The British eventually ran out of ammunition and could not continue to fight, prompting them to sign a formal agreement of surrender on October 19. According to one historical account of the battle, when the British troops left Yorktown, they played a song called “The World Turned Upside Down.”
Fighting continued in other places like on the high seas, but this battle virtually ended the fighting in the American colonies. Peace negotiations began in 1782, and finally the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 8, 1783, which formally recognized the United States as a free and independent nation after eight long years of war.
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