Monday, October 19, 2009

Game Over: General Cornwallis surrenders to General Washington

On October 19, 1781, British General Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington at Yorktown, Va., bringing an end to the last major battle of the American Revolution. The American and French forces led by Washington and General Rochambeau respectively were able to wear the British down after days of artillery fire and full on attacks. Washington and Rochambeau ordered their men to dig trenches each night that were increasingly close to the British fortifications. The British were unaware of the new positions until artillery had been moved to the trenches and artillery fire started again. French vessels also helped eliminate British ships which could have been used by Cornwallis and his men to escape. The Articles of Capitulation were signed on October 19, 1781. The 8,000 troops taken prisoner were promised good treatment in American camps, while the officers were allowed to go home after taking their parole. Cornwallis refused to attend the surrender ceremony in which he would have to hand his sword over to Washington or Rochambeau claiming illness. Instead, Brigadier General Charles O’Hara did the honors. Interestingly, O’Hara offered his sword first to Rochambeau who refused it and motioned to Washington. O’Hara offered it to Washington who refused it and motioned to his second in command, Benjamin Lincoln who finally accepted the sword. Benjamin Lincoln had been humiliated by the British in Charleston, so maybe Washington thought this was a just end. Either way, it spelled the end of any major fighting and the British moved to work out a peace with the Americans soon after.

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