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Started by Newsletter, August 30, 2023, 12:01:53 PM

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"Yorktown" by: AH1Tom

In the fall of 1781, the British occupy Yorktown, where Cornwallis intends to refit and resupply his 9,000-man army. While he awaits supplies and much-needed reinforcements from the Royal Navy, the Continental Army seizes an opportunity. On receiving word that the French fleet will be available for a siege south of New Jersey, Washington and Rochambeau move their force of almost 8,000 men south to Virginia, planning to join and lead about 12,000 other militia, French troops, and Continental troops in a siege of Yorktown.

On September 5, while the Allied army is still on route, the French fleet guards the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. The Royal Navy, attempting to sail up the Bay to Cornwallis, is met by French warships at the mouth of the Chesapeake. In this encounter, called the Battle of the Capes, the British fleet is soundly defeated and forced to abandon Cornwallis's army at Yorktown.

On September 28, after a grueling march, the American and French forces arrive near Yorktown and immediately begin the hard work of laying siege to Cornwallis and his men. Cornwallis has thrown up a series of redoubts on the outskirts of Yorktown while the majority of his men hunker down in the town.

With the help of French engineers, American and French troops begin to dig a series of parallel trenches, which bring troops and artillery close enough to inflict damage on the British. Feverishly working night and day, soldiers of the combined forces employ spades and axes to create a perimeter line of trenches that will trap the British. As the work on the parallels continues, the British attempt to disrupt Allied operations by using what little artillery they have left. Their attempts prove futile.

By October 9, the Allied lines are now within musket range of the British, and American and French artillery are in place. In the afternoon, the Allied barrage begins, with the French opening the salvo. On the American side, George Washington touches off the first cannon to commence their assault. His artillery consists of three 24-pounders, three 18-pounders, two 8-inch (203 mm) howitzers, and 6 mortars, totaling 14 guns.  For nearly a week the artillery barrage is ceaseless, shattering whatever nerve the British have remaining and punching holes in British defenses.

On October 11, Washington orders troops to dig a second parallel 400 yards closer to the British lines. British redoubts #9 and #10 prevent the second parallel from extending to the river and the British are still able to reinforce the garrisons inside the redoubts. They have to be taken by force. The new line is in place by the morning of October 12.

October 14th is a moonless night, after firing incessant artillery to weaken British defenses, American and French forces prepare a surprise assault on redoubts #9 and #10. To maintain stealth, soldiers do not load or prime their weapons. The password for the operation is "Rochambeau," which the Americans translate as "Rush on boys!" The assault commences with a diversionary attack on a redoubt further to the north of Yorktown at 6:30 p.m., giving the appearance that the town itself was to be stormed. Then, Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton's force, consisting of a detachment of 400 of his light infantry, assaults redoubt #10 with bayonets fixed and muskets unloaded. To prevent the British defenders from escaping the coming onslaught, Lt. Col. John Laurens's troops cover the rear of the redoubt.

As American troops hack at the abatis with axes, the British are alerted. A British sentry fires at the Americans and the Americans proceed to assault the fortification, climbing over the parapet and descending into the redoubt. Serious fighting ensues in close quarters, but the British are overwhelmed. It is a stunning victory with the Americans sustaining only 34 casualties.

The French simultaneously assault redoubt #9 and, after an equally fierce firefight, wrest control from the British. Cornwallis's position is untenable as the Franco-American alliance has artillery on three of his sides, with additional new pieces positioned in redoubts #9 and #10 after their fall. In a last-ditch effort, Cornwallis orders a futile counterattack on October 15, which fails miserably.

On the morning of October 17th, a lone British drummer boy, beating "parley" and British officer waving a white handkerchief tied to the end of a sword are seen on a parapet at the forward position of the British lines. Blindfolded and brought inside American lines, the British officer secures terms of surrender for the British Army.

On October 19, in a field outside of Yorktown, the capitulation takes place as British troops and their Hessian allies, with flags furled and cased, march sullenly between contingents of American and French forces. The British seek honorable terms of surrender, but Washington refuses as American forces were denied that honor in Charleston, South Carolina, earlier in the war.