Despite its importance to American history, it is little known to most Americans. The reasons for this are varied, perhaps the biggest being that it was not a battle fought by Americans. It was fought between the French and British fleets with some support to the French by Spain. No known American was involved, but France’s involvement was on behalf of the Americans and without it, most historians agree, we would have lost the revolution to establish the United States. Likewise in the ensuing siege of Yorktown, the presence and participation of the French was a critical factor in the victory something for which not enough Americans have an appreciation. To learn more continue to read this page based on a Wikipedia article with an insert from a professor at the U.S. Navy Historical Center, there are excerpts from the writings of others, illustrated with graphics I found on the internet. There are articles from two scholarly blogs,, a first person account from one of Washington's soldiers, and finally, I have included a paper which tells us of the contributions by a French officer not named Lafayette, Rochambeau, DeGrasse or Barras who deserves to be remembered for the part he personally played in insuring an allied victory. I say allied victory, for his presence on the battlefield was courtesy of Spain to which his units were on loan. He petitioned the Spanish authorities to be released to aid the American Revolution at the critical juncture that became the Siege of Yorktown during a lull in his mission with Spain.

~ ~ ~

The Revolutionary War lasted a lot longer than most of us realize. Begun in 1775, the war didn't end for six long years, and wasn't fully resolved for another two. During this time, American forces had some notable victories, and also more than a few ignoble defeats at the hands of the British. Some of these battles have been inscribed on the nation's consciousness so deeply they are remembered in name (if not in complete detail) by its citizenry more than two centuries later. For instance, as schoolchildren we all learned the following names: Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, Saratoga, Fort Ticonderoga, Valley Forge, and Trenton (or "Washington crossing the Delaware"). This litany of sacred spots (which includes Valley Forge even though no battle was fought there, since we all know the name), began with "the shot heard 'round the world," and ended decisively with the surrender of the British General Cornwallis, at Yorktown, Virginia. Yorktown was the endpoint of the war, we all learned as children, and the surrender of the British forces to the ragtag Americans was the decisive victory which forced the British to negotiate an end to the entire conflict. But what we weren't taught is that this battle may not have been such a key one if it hadn't been for a naval battle which had happened over a month earlier. This battle -- called variously the "Battle of the Chesapeake," or the "Battle of the Virginia Capes" -- is one very few Americans have even heard of. This is probably due to the fact that no Americans took part in the battle -- or even witnessed it (except perhaps from afar) -- because it was a slugfest between the British and the French navies. But if the Battle of the Chesapeake hadn't happened, it is very likely General Washington wouldn't have won the Siege of Yorktown, and the American Revolution would have continued on for a lot longer than it did -- and may have been lost, in the end. Which is why it's a shame that almost nobody remembers such a turning point in our country's history.

History sees things as inevitable, but it's worth remembering that they didn't seem so at the time these events were happening. America wasn't exactly "winning the war" leading up to Yorktown. Here is how James Michener put it in his fictionalized historical novel Chesapeake (from which I'll be quoting throughout this article, for both Michener's admirable prose, and for the reason that this is where I learned about the Battle of the Chesapeake myself):

In that year [1781] the English army, consolidated at last under a succession of daring generals, began to chew the south apart. Victory upon victory crushed General Washington's lieutenants in Georgia and South Carolina, and it became clear that a few colonial farmers, no matter how brave, were no match for hundreds of well-trained English regulars supported by large guns.

And when General Cornwallis began ravaging Virginia, and Admiral Rodney assembled a fleet of battleships in the Caribbean, ready to invade the Chesapeake, it seemed obvious that the revolution was doomed. New York lay in English hands; Philadelphia was neutralized; Boston and Newport were powerless to send support, and no major port along the Atlantic was open to American vessels, even if any had succeeded in penetrating the blockade.

Men had begun to openly talk of defeat and started calculating among themselves what kind of terms they might be able to wheedle from the victorious English.

The mighty British navy, in other words, pretty much owned our Atlantic coastline through a successful blockade of all American shipping. It was at this crucial point that the French really entered the fray in a big way. General Lafayette and General Rochambeau lent significant military experience (and forces) to General Washington's land-war efforts, which began to turn the tide in Virginia. This resulted in besieging Yorktown, but that's getting ahead of the story. Because today we're more concerned with the aid the French navy lent to our revolutionary war effort.

To fully understand what happened, you have to remember that the biggest problem in waging war back then was communication. The French and British fleets, independent of each other (obviously), formed up their fleets in the Caribbean. They had absolutely no way of knowing what was happening in any other part of the world, aside from letters carried by other ships. Largely out of touch with both their home countries, and the front lines of the war, much depended on outwitting the other commanders, and strategically putting your forces where they'll do the most good. But again, up-to-the-minute information about any particular place was simply non-existent to a ship's captain, meaning they largely had to make educated (and, hopefully, lucky) guesses.

And the British guessed wrong. In the first place, the most brilliant of their admirals went back to Britain, and didn't even participate in the Battle of the Chesapeake. Admiral Rodney figured the French had sailed back to Europe, and went looking for them there (where he would also avoid the Atlantic hurricane season). He guessed wrong, and because he did, the British fleet was headed by much-less-experienced officers, who went on to make some key mistakes.

What remained of the British fleet first arrived at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, but they found no French ships awaiting them there. The Brits then figured that they had miscalculated where the French were planning their attack, and promptly sailed up to New York. Eventually, they figured out their error -- that the Chesapeake was indeed the intended target -- and they moved back down the coast.

By this time, the French, led by Admiral de Grasse, had arrived in the Chesapeake, and had anchored their ships on the Virginia side. Many officers and men disembarked, both to aid the American forces in northern Virginia in their efforts against Cornwallis, and for some shore leave to round up some provisions for the fleet. This was the situation the British fleet found the French fleet in, as the British arrived at the mouth of the bay. As Michener put it:

"And worst of all, [de Grasse's] position allowed him no room in which to maneuver. He was trapped, and when scouting boats rushed in with news that Admiral Rodney was bearing down with the entire Caribbean squadron, he realized his peril. If de Grasse had been a prudent man, he might have surrendered then and there, for the enemy had every advantage except one: the British ships were sleek-bottomed and free of worm; their crews were complete and battle-hardened; they had the advantage of the wind and ocean space in which to maneuver; they had guns of shattering power manned by the best seamen in the world. The only disadvantage the English suffered was that Admiral Rodney, a tested leader in battle, was not aboard the ships....

But de Grasse didn't even know this. What followed next was a monumental display of ineptitude by the British admiral, and a very brave gamble by the French. Instead of swooping in and destroying the French sitting at anchor, the British admiral dithered and essentially did nothing. This allowed de Grasse to leap into action -- which he did. With the heavily-reduced crews he had aboard, he cut anchor and fled the mouth of the Chesapeake for open ocean. Stunningly, this tactic worked. It should not have worked -- the French would have been torn apart if the British had acted faster. Instead, the French escaped and leveled the battlefield significantly.

But not completely, as the British belatedly leapt into action themselves, and performed a maneuver -- using sail-powered vessels and communication with flags, mind you -- which turned their entire fleet 180 degrees in the blink of an eye. This impressive feat of coordination left the British with the advantage of wind (off their larboard quarter), and tide, and position over the French fleet. But it did give the French one further advantage -- the British leading ships (the "van") had, due to the U-turn, now become the rear of the British battle line, essentially taking them out of the brunt of the main battle. The British ships in the rear -- where an admiral would normally put his least-capable ships -- had now become the van, and would lead the battle.

Six hours after the two fleets had spotted each other, the firing began. Dozens of ships on both sides let loose their broadsides. While today it's hard to comprehend, these ships individually carried 70, 80, even (in the case of one or two ships on both sides) 100 cannons. That's a lot of firepower, by any standard. And those numbers are per ship -- and each side had roughly two dozen ships. This was without a doubt the greatest naval battle America had ever seen. Except that, as I mentioned before, very few (if any) Americans actually saw it.

Once again, from Michener:

...[A] massive burst of flame exploded from the English ships, and cannonballs ricocheted with fearful effect across the French decks. The battle for the future of America had begun.

... Wooden cannonballs had been used in hopes they would throw jagged splinters through the bodies of French sailors, and that is what happened. Before the smoke had cleared, the decks of the French ships were red, and young sailors sped about with buckets of sand to help the gunners maintain their footing, but before the latter could prepare their guns, a second volley of wooden balls exploded, adding to the devastation.
. . .
... [F]or two agonizing hours under a dying summer sun the guns roared, and the implacable ships moved ever closer; even pistols reverberated. The lead ships of the English line created unimaginable devastation on the French decks, already undermanned, and for a while it seemed that the French must crumble. But toward dark the terrible efficiency of their gunfire began to take its toll. Down came the soaring English masts, down fluttered the gallant sails. One English ship after another began to limp, and then to falter, and finally to fall away.

It was a curious fact that in this culminating struggle of the revolution, this engagement foreseen by Washington as the one which would determine everything, not a single American participated. ...

When the day ended, neither fleet had won. No colors were struck. No ship was sunk. Of course, the English admirals decided to burn the Terrible, sorely damaged, but later this was held to be a craven act.

Neither side won. The battle would actually continue for days, drifting ever further away from the Chesapeake itself. But while neither side technically "won" the battle, the British most definitely "lost." Their naval blockade was effectively broken by the Battle of the Chesapeake. As a result, the French wound up in possession of the bay. And as a direct result, the American forces besieging Yorktown were helped out in two enormous ways. The French, as a result of their subsequent domination of the Chesapeake Bay, were able to supply the American land forces with heavy artillery -- without which the Yorktown siege would have been far more difficult. But the biggest reason that the victory at Yorktown most likely would never have happened without the French's (relative) success in the Battle of the Chesapeake is that it denied the British in Yorktown their resupply route, and -- most importantly of all -- any hope of an escape route. Because British ships couldn't come to their aid, the British had to abandon all hope of retreat, and instead were forced to surrender to General Washington and his colonial army. Cornwallis' surrender happened less than two months after the Battle of the Chesapeake.

And Yorktown was where we won the whole war. The British soldiers knew how monumental this victory was, too -- the mighty British Empire, on whom "the sun never sets," had just been defeated by a ragtag irregular army of farmers. The British military band, while the official surrender at Yorktown took place, showed they understood the enormity of what was happening -- by playing a song called "The World Turned Upside Down."

Michener sums up the importance of the naval battle, in our final excerpt from Chesapeake:

This engagement was one of the decisive battles of history, for when it was terminated, with the French line of battle still impregnable, the English had to withdraw, leaving the Chesapeake open to the French fleet. Rochambeau was now able to bring thousands of French soldiers south for the final thrust against Cornwallis; the iron blockade of the Atlantic ports was broken.

It became a battle without a name, a triumph without a celebration. It accomplished nothing but the freedom of America, the establishment of a new system of government against which all others would eventually compare themselves, and a revision of the theory of empire.

Which is why, this Independence Day, I will personally be lifting my glass in a toast to a French admiral, and the French sailors who served under him. Because without Admiral Compte de Grasse's efforts, we might not even have an Independence Day to be celebrating. The Battle of the Chesapeake deserves to be remembered. This military triumph deserves a bit of celebration. By all Americans. So, I hope you'll join me in honoring the good French admiral. Lift a glass and give grateful thanks to his bravery and his heroic efforts on behalf of our own revolution -- whose successful end he made possible:

"Vive l'Amiral Compte de Grasse! Vive la révolution!"

[Note: This is a statue of Admiral Compte de Grasse, located on the grounds of the Cape Henry Memorial in Virginia. This was the closest point of land in Virginia to where the Battle of the Chesapeake took place, at the southern end of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The Cape Henry Memorial is part of the National Park System.

Chris Weigant blogs at: <a href=""></a> This is both a reference to his blog and the article from which I drew his words.

From the blog of Joe Wheeler -

On July 4, 1776, American patriots signed the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. War was declared. For five long years, George Washington led his ragtag army in battle against the well-trained British forces. More often than not, Washington was defeated in these clashes, but each time managed to escape. It was a battle-weary people, with little in the way of good news to cheer them up, that faced the definite possibility—even probability—that they would lose to the world’s greatest superpower that September of 1781. But there was a wild card in the deck: France, Great Britain’s fiercest enemy. It was a global war the two nations fought, thus Britain was not at liberty to further weaken the global war by allocating more warships and troops to the American rebellion than it already had. France took advantage of this golden opportunity to embarrass its enemy by sending a fleet to the rescue of the American rebels.

The French Admiral Comte de Grasse proceeded with his entire fleet of 24 ships from the West Indies to the Chesapeake Bay. Meanwhile, sailing from New York, Admiral Thomas Graves with 19 British ships left New York. On September 5, at Virginia Capes, the two forces collided. Because of being becalmed (no wind to propel them), their fighting was indecisive. Then, reinforced by additional vessels and siege guns from Newport, R.I., the French sailed back into the Chesapeake to take final control of the Yorktown Harbor.

During late summer of 1781, the Marquis de Lafayette (serving under Washington) had so harassed Cornwallis’s troops that he’d been forced to retreat from Wilmington, N.C. to Richmond, VA, then Williamsburg, and finally, near the end of July, to Yorktown, which he proceeded to fortify. Lafayette’s forces, now totaling 8,000 troops blocked Cornwallis from escaping anywhere by land. Cornwallis’s army of 7,000 kept waiting in vain for the British reinforcements to arrive. Under the naval umbrella of the French fleet, Washington dramatically moved 7,000 additional Franco-American troops from New York to Virginia. But Cornwallis’s last hope, Thomas Graves, felt he had no alternative but to return to New York after the stand-off at Virginia Capes. As a result of this, after strategizing with British General Sir Henry Clinton, a British rescue fleet, two-thirds the size of the French, set sail from New York on October 17 with 7,000 British troops. But it was too late: Bombarded by the French fleet on one side and 16,000 allied troops on land, Cornwallis surrendered his entire army on October 19, thus assuring victory to the allied forces.

Joe Wheeler's Blog is entitled "Wednesdays With Dr. Joe" at

His comments above were taken from his remarks before the 29th Zane Grey's West Society Convention, on August 3, 2011, and later on his blog.

Continuing with the article from Wikipedia (edits, inserts and illustrations added)

With an insert regarding the Battle of the Capes from Professors Dennis Conrad and Michael Crawford of the U. S. Navy Historical Center

The Siege of Yorktown, Battle of Yorktown, or Surrender of Yorktown , the latter taking place on October 19, 1781, was a decisive victory by a combined assault of American forces led by General George Washington and French forces led by the Comte de Rochambeau over a British Army commanded Lieutenant General, Lord Cornwallis.

General George Washington

Comte de Rochambeau

Lieutenant General, Lord Cornwallis


In 1780, 5,500 French soldiers landed in Rhode Island to assist their American allies in operations against British-controlled New York City.


French Fleet at Newport 1781

George Washington reviewing the French fleet at Newport

by David Wagner

Following the arrival of dispatches from France that included the possibility of support from the French West Indies fleet of the Comte de Grasse, Washington and Rochambeau decided to ask de Grasse for assistance either in besieging New York, or in military operations against a British army operating in Virginia. On the advice of Rochambeau, de Grasse informed them of his intent to sail to the Chesapeake Bay, where Cornwallis had taken command of the army. Cornwallis, at first given confusing orders by his superior officer,Henry Clinton, was eventually ordered to make a defensible deep-water port, which he began to do at Yorktown, Virginia. Cornwallis's movements in Virginia were shadowed by a Continental Army force led by the Marquis De Lafayette.

Marquis de Lafayette

The French and American armies united north of New York City during the summer of 1781. When word of de Grasse's decision arrived, the combined armies began moving south toward Virginia, engaging in tactics of deception to lead the British to believe a siege of New York was planned. De Grasse sailed from the West Indies and arrived at the Chesapeake Bay at the end of August, bringing additional troops and providing a naval blockade of Yorktown.

Spanish - French Cooperation

He was also transporting 500,000 silver pesos collected from the citizens of Havana, Cuba, to fund supplies for the siege and payroll for the Continental Army. While in Santo Domingo, de Grasse met with Francisco Saavedra de Sangronis, an agent of Carlos III of Spain. De Grasse had planned to leave several of his warships in Santo Domingo. Saavedra promised the assistance of the Spanish navy to protect the French merchant fleet, enabling de Grasse to sail north with all of his warships and three regiments of troops that had been previously loaned to Spain.

Franco-American cooperation

Main articles: Franco-American alliance and Southern theater of the American Revolutionary War.

On December 20, 1780, Benedict Arnold sailed from New York with 1,500 troops to Portsmouth, Virginia. On his way, he raided Richmond, defeating the militia, from January 5–7 before falling back to Portsmouth. French Admiral Destouches, who arrived in Newport, Rhode Island in July 1780 with a fleet with 5,500 soldiers, was encouraged by Washington and French Lieutenant General Rochambeau to bring his fleet south, and launch a joint land-naval attack on Arnold's troops. The Marquis de Lafayette was sent south with 1,200 men to help with the assault. However, Destouches was reluctant to dispatch many ships, and only sent three in February. After they proved to be ineffective, he took a larger force of 11 ships in March 1781, and fought a tactically inconclusive battle with the British fleet of Marriott Arbuthnot at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Destouches withdrew due to the damage sustained to his fleet, leaving Arbuthnot and the British fleet in control of the bay's mouth.

On March 26, Arnold was joined by 2,300 troops under command of Major General William Phillips, who took command of the army. Phillips resumed raiding, defeating militia, and then burning warehouses of tobacco at Petersburg, Virginia on April 25. Richmond was about to suffer the same fate, but Lafayette arrived, and the British, not wanting to engage in a major battle, withdrew to Petersburg on May 10.

On May 20, Charles Cornwallis arrived at Petersburg with 1,500 men after suffering heavy casualties at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, joining the army of Phillips, who had recently died of a fever. Cornwallis had not received permission to abandon the Carolinas from his superior, Henry Clinton, but he believed that Virginia would be easier to conquer, feeling that it favored an invading army.

With the arrival of Cornwallis and more reinforcements from New York, the British Army numbered 7,200 men. Cornwallis wanted to push Lafayette, whose force now numbered 3,000 men with the arrival of militia. On May 24, he set out after Lafayette, but Lafayette withdrew from Richmond, and linked up with forces under the command of Baron von Steuben and Anthony Wayne. Cornwallis did not pursue Lafayette; instead, he sent raiders into central Virginia, attacking depots and wrecking supply convoys, before recalling them on June 20. Cornwallis headed for Williamsburg, while Lafayette's force of now 4,500 men followed. General Clinton, in a confusing series of orders, then ordered Cornwallis first to Portsmouth and then Yorktown, where he was instructed to build fortifications for a deep water port.

Colonial Port of Yorktown

Another view from National Park Service

On July 6, the French and American armies met at White Plains, north of New York City. Although Rochambeau had almost 40 years of warfare experience, he never challenged Washington's authority, telling Washington that he had come to serve, not to command.

Washington and Rochambeau discussed where they should launch a joint attack. Washington believed that an attack on New York was the best option, as the Americans and French outnumbered the British 3 to 1. Rochambeau disagreed, arguing that the fleet under Admiral de Grasse, which was headed to the West Indies, was going to head to the American coast afterwards where easier operations other than attacking New York could be done. In early July, Washington suggested that an attack be made at the northern part of Manhattan, but both his officers and Rochambeau disagreed. Washington continued to probe the New York area, until August 14, when he received a letter from de Grasse that he was headed to Virginia with 29 warships and 3,200 men, but would only remain there until October 14. De Grasse encouraged Washington to come south where they could launch a joint operation. Upon receiving this news, Washington abandoned his plan to take New York, and began to prepare his army for the march south to Virginia.

March to Virginia

The march to Yorktown led by Washington and Rochambeau began on August 19, and has become known as the "celebrated march", 4,000 French and 3,000 American soldiers began the march in Newport, Rhode, Island, while the rest remained behind to protect the Hudson Valley. Washington wanted to keep absolute secrecy as to where they were headed. Washington sent out fake dispatches that reached Clinton, and convinced him that the Franco-American army was going to launch an attack on New York, and that Cornwallis was not in any danger.

Map of the "Celebrated March"

The French and American armies paraded through Philadelphia from September 2 to 4, where the American soldiers proclaimed they would not leave Maryland until they received one month's pay. The Continental Congress complied, giving them the money. On September 5, Washington learned of the arrival of de Grasse's fleet off the Virginia Capes. De Grasse debarked his French troops to join Lafayette, and then sent his empty transports to pick up the American troops. Washington made a visit to his home, Mount Vernon, on his way to Yorktown.

In August, Admiral Sir Thomas Graves led a fleet from New York to attack de Grasse's fleet. Graves did not realize how large the French fleet was, and neither did Cornwallis. The British fleet was defeated by de Grasse's fleet in the Battle of the Capes or Battle of the Virginia Capes, also known as the Battle of the Chesapeake and as the Battle of Chesapeake Bay.

Inserted into the Wikipedia article on the Siege of Yorktown is more data on the Battle of the Capes –

The Battle of the Capes

An insert to the Wikipedia article from the U. S. Navy Historical Center follows

Siège de Yorktown by Auguste Couder, c.1836. Rochambeau and Washington giving their last orders before the battle. Rochambeau pointing and Washington on his left.

The French Fleet Blocked British Entry to Chesapeake Bay

Initial movements

On September 26, transports with artillery, siege tools, and some French infantry and shock troops from the Head of Elk, the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay arrived, giving Washington command of an army of 7,800 Frenchmen, 3,100 militia, and 8,000 Continentals. Early on September 28, Washington led the army out of Williamsburg to surround Yorktown. The French took the positions on the left while the Americans took the position of honor on the right. Cornwallis had a chain of seven redoubts and batteries linked by earthworks along with batteries that covered the narrows of the York River at Gloucester Point. That day, Washington reconnoitered the British defenses and decided that they could be bombarded into submission. The Americans and the French spent the night of the 28th sleeping out in the open, while work parties built bridges over the marsh. Some of the American soldiers hunted down wild hogs to eat.

On September 29, Washington moved the army closer to Yorktown and British gunners opened up on the infantry. Throughout the day several British cannon fired on the Americans but there were few casualties. Fire was also exchanged between American riflemen and Hessian Jagers.

British Artillery

Cornwallis pulled back from all of his outer defenses, except for the Fusilier's redoubt on the west side of the town and redoubts 9 and 10 in the east. Cornwallis had his forces occupy the earthworks immediately surrounding the town because he had received a letter from Clinton that promised relief force of 5,000 men within a week and he wished to tighten his lines. The Americans and the French occupied the abandoned defenses and began to establish their own batteries there. With the British outer defenses in their hands, allied engineers began to lay out positions for the artillery. The men improved their works and deepened their trenches. The British also worked on improving their defenses.

On September 30, the French attacked the British Fusiliers redoubt. The skirmish lasted two hours, in which the French were repulsed suffering several casualties. On October 1, the allies learned from British deserters that, to preserve their food, the British had slaughtered hundreds of horses and thrown them on the beach. In the American camp, thousands of trees were cut down to provide wood for earthworks. Preparations for the parallel (trench) also began.

As the allies began to put their artillery into place, the British kept up a steady fire to disrupt them. British fire increased on the 2nd and the allies suffered moderate casualties. General Washington continued to make visits to the front, despite concern shown by several of his officers over the increasing enemy fire. On the night of October 2, the British opened a storm of fire to cover up the movement of the British cavalry to Gloucester where they were to escort infantrymen on a foraging party. On the 3rd, the foraging party, led by Banastre Tarleton, went out but collided with Lauzun's Legion, and John Mercer's Virginia militia, led by the Marquis de Choisy. The British cavalry quickly retreated back behind their defensive lines, losing 50 men.

By October 5, Washington was almost ready to open the first parallel. That night the sappers and miners worked, putting strips of pine on the wet sand to mark the path of the trenches.


After nightfall on October 6, troops moved out in stormy weather to dig the first parallel: the heavily overcast sky negated the waning full moon and shielded the massive digging operation from the eyes of British sentries. Washington ceremoniously struck several blows with his pick axe to begin the trench. The trench was to be 2,000 yards (1,800 m) long, running from the head of Yorktown to the York River. Half of the trench was to be commanded by the French, the other half by the Americans. On the northernmost end of the French line, a support trench was dug so that they could bombard the British ships in the river. The French were ordered to distract the British with a false attack, but the British were told of the plan by a French deserter and the British artillery fire turned on the French from the Fusiliers redoubt.

On October 7, the British saw the new allied trench just out of musket-range. Over the next two days the allies completed the gun placements and dragged the artillery into line. The British fire began to weaken when they saw the large number of guns the allies had.

Storming of Redoubt #10 Led By Lt. Col Alexander Hamilton

painted by Eugene Lamy

By October 14, the trenches were within 150 yards (140 m) of redoubts #9 and #10. Washington ordered that all guns within range begin blasting the redoubts to weaken them for an assault that evening. Washington planned to use the cover of a moonless night to gain the element of surprise. To reinforce the darkness, he added silence, ordering that no soldier should load his musket until reaching the fortifications- the advance would be made with only "cold steel." Redoubt 10 was near the river and held only 70 men, while redoubt 9 was a quarter of a mile inland, and was held by 120 British and Germans. Both redoubts were heavily fortified with rows of abatis (a field fortification for an obstacle formed of the branches of trees laid in a row, with the sharpened tops directed outwards, towards the enemy) surrounding them, along with muddy ditches that surrounded the redoubts at about 25 yards (23 m). Washington devised a plan in which the French would launch a diversionary attack on the Fusiliers redoubt, and then a half an hour later, the French would assault redoubt 9 and the Americans redoubt 10. Redoubt 9 would be assaulted by 400 French regular soldiers under the command of the German Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm von Zweibrucken and redoubt 10 would be assaulted by 400 light infantry troops under the command of Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton. There was briefly a dispute as to who should lead the attack on redoubt #10. Lafayette named his aide, Jean-Joseph Sourbander de Gimat, who commanded a battalion of Continental light infantry. However, Hamilton protested, saying that he was the senior officer. Washington concurred with Hamilton and gave him command of the attack.

French Storming of Redoubt #9

At 6:30 pm, gunfire announced the diversionary attack on the Fusiliers redoubt. At other places in the line, movements were made as if preparing for an assault on Yorktown itself, which caused the British to panic. With bayonets fixed, the Americans marched towards redoubt #10. Hamilton sent Colonel John Laurens around to the rear of the redoubt to prevent the British from escaping. The Americans reached the redoubt and began chopping through the British wooden defenses with their axes. A British sentry called a challenge, and then fired at the Americans. The Americans responded by charging with their bayonets towards the redoubt. They hacked through the abatis, crossed a ditch and climbed the parapet into the redoubt. The Americans forced their way into the redoubt falling into giant shell holes from the bombardment of the redoubts. The British fire was heavy, but the Americans overwhelmed them. Someone in the front shouted, "Rush on boys! The fort's ours!" The British threw hand grenades at the Americans with little effect. Men in the trench stood on the shoulders of their comrades to climb into the redoubt. The bayonet fight cleared the British out of the redoubt and almost the entire garrison was captured, including the commander of the redoubt, Major Campbell. In the assault, the Americans lost 9 dead and 25 wounded.

The French assault began at the same time, but they were halted by the abatis, which was undamaged by the artillery fire. The French began to hack at the abatis and a Hessian sentry came out and asked who was there. When there was no response, the sentry opened fire as did other Hessians on the parapet. the French soldiers fired back, and then charged the redoubt. The Germans charged the Frenchmen climbing over the walls but the French fired a volley, driving them back. The Hessians then took a defensive position behind some barrels but threw down their arms and surrendered when the French prepared a bayonet charge.

With the capture of redoubts 9 and 10, Washington was able to have his artillery shell the town from three directions and the allies moved some of their artillery into the redoubts.

The fire on Yorktown from the allies was heavier than ever as new artillery pieces joined the line. Cornwallis talked with his officers that day and they agreed that their situation was hopeless.

On the morning of October 17, a drummer appeared followed by an officer waving a white handkerchief. The bombardment ceased, and the officer was blindfolded and led behind the Allied lines. Negotiations began on October 18 between two British officers, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Dundas and Major Alexander Ross, and Colonel John Laurens, who represented the Americans, and the Marquis de Noailles, who represented the French. To make sure that nothing fell apart between the allies at the last minute, Washington ordered that the French be given an equal share in every step of the surrender

The articles of capitulation were signed on October 19, 1781. Signatories included Washington, Rochambeau, the Comte de Barras (on behalf of the French Navy), Cornwallis, and Lieutenant Thomas Symonds (the senior Royal Navy officer present). Cornwallis' British men were declared prisoners of war, promised good treatment in American camps, and officers were permitted to return home after taking their parole. At 2:00 pm the allied army entered the British positions, with the French on the left and the Americans on the right. The British had asked for the traditional Honors of War (marching out with dignity, flags waving, muskets shouldered, and playing an enemy [American] tune as a tribute to the victors), but remembering that the British, on taking Charleston earlier in the war, had refused the Americans (under Benjamin Lincoln) the same privilege, Washington firmly denied their request. Consequently, the British and Hessian troops marched with flags furled, muskets reversed in shame, while according to unsubstantiated legend the British drummers and fifers played the tune "The World Turn'd Upside Down" - actually a popular British marching tune of the time, and in line with custom, but curiously appropriate under the circumstances. Yes, that is the tune you have been hearing. The British soldiers had been issued new uniforms hours before the surrender and until prevented by General O'Hara some threw down their muskets with the apparent intention of smashing them. Others wept or appeared to be drunk. 8,000 troops, 214 artillery pieces, thousands of muskets, 24 transport ships, wagons and horses were captured.

British General O'Hara surrendering his troops walking through the American and French lines


Cornwallis refused to meet formally with Washington, and also refused to come to the ceremony of surrender, claiming illness. Instead, Brigadier General Charles O'Hara presented the sword of surrender to Rochambeau. Rochambeau shook his head and pointed to Washington. O'Hara offered it to Washington, but he refused to accept it, and motioned to his second in command, Benjamin Lincoln, who had been humiliated by the British at Charleston, to accept it. The British soldiers marched out and laid down their arms in between the French and American armies, while many civilians watched. At this time, the troops on the other side of the river in Gloucester also surrendered.


The French casualties were 60 killed and 194 wounded and the American casualties were 28 killed and 107 wounded: a grand total of 88 killed and 301 wounded.

The British official casualty return for the siege listed 156 killed, 326 wounded and 70 missing. Cornwallis surrendered 7,087 officers and enlisted men in Yorktown when he capitulated and a further 840 sailors from the British fleet in the York River. Another 84 prisoners had been taken during the assault on the redoubts on October 16. Since only 70 men were reported as missing, this would suggest that 14 of the men officially marked down as ‘killed’ had in fact been captured. This gives a grand total of 142 killed, 326 wounded prisoners and 7, 685 other prisoners. Jerome A. Greene mentions a German account that gives much higher figures: 309 killed and 595 wounded.

Article 10 controversy

George Washington refused to accept the Tenth Article of the Articles of Capitulation, which granted immunity to American Loyalists and Cornwallis failed to make any effort to press the matter. "The outcry against the Tenth Article was vociferous and immediate, as Americans on both sides of the Atlantic proclaimed their sense of betrayal."

Effect of disease

Malaria was endemic in the marshlands of eastern Virginia during the time, and Cornwallis's army suffered greatly from the disease; he estimated during the surrender that half of his army was unable to fight as a result. The Continental Army enjoyed an advantage, in that most of their members had grown up with malaria, and hence had acquired resistance to the disease. As malaria has a month-long incubation period, most of the French soldiers had not begun to exhibit symptoms before the surrender.


Five days later, on October 24, the British fleet sent by Clinton to rescue the British army arrived. The fleet picked up several Loyalists who had escaped on October 18, and they informed Admiral Thomas Graves that they believed Cornwallis had surrendered. Graves picked up several more Loyalists along the coast, and they confirmed this fact. Graves sighted the French Fleet, but chose to leave because he was outnumbered by nine ships, and thus he sent the fleet back to New York.

After the British surrender, Washington sent Tench Tilghman to report the victory to Congress. After a difficult journey, he arrived in Philadelphia, which celebrated for several days. This was entirely justified since Yorktown marked the last major battle of the war in North America. The British Prime Minister, Lord North, is reported to have exclaimed "Oh God, it's all over" when told of the defeat. Washington moved his army to New Windswor, New York where they remained stationed until the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, formally ending the war.

The siege of Yorktown is also known in German historiography as "die Deutsche Schlacht" ("the German battle"), because Germans played significant roles in all three armies, accounting for roughly one third of all forces involved. According to one estimate more than 2,500 German soldiers served at Yorktown with each of the British and French armies, and more than 3,000 German-Americans were in Washington's army.



  • Alden, John (1969). A History of the American Revolution. New York: Da Capo Press. .
  • Anderson, Dale (2004). The Battle of Yorktown. Gareth Stevens Publishing.
  • Chávez, Thomas E. (2002). Spain and the Independence of the United States: An Intrinsic Gift. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  • Cronau, Rudolf (2010) (in German). Drei Jahrhunderte deutschen Lebens in Amerig.
  • Davis, Burke (2007). The Campaign that Won America. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Ferling, John E (2007). Almost a miracle: the American victory in the War of Independence. New York: Oxford University Press US.
  • Fleming, Thomas (1970). The Perils of Peace. New York: The Dial Press.
  • Grainger, John (2005). The Battle of Yorktown, 1781: a reassessment. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.
  • Greene, Jerome A. (2005). The Guns of Independence: The Siege of Yorktown, 1781. New York: Savas Beattie.
  • Hibbert, Christopher (2002). Redcoats and Rebels. W. W. Norton & Company Paperbacks.
  • Lengel, Edward (2005). General George Washington. New York: Random House Paperbacks.
  • Mitchell, Barbara (Spring 2007). "Bankrolling the Battle of Yorktown: Gold and Silver from Havana enabled Washington's troops to trap Lord Cornwallis". MHQ (Military History Quarterly): pp. 16–24.
  • Reeves, Thomas C (1975). Gentleman Boss. American Political Biography Press.
  • Morrissey, Brendan (1997). Yorktown 1781: the World Turned Upside Down. London: Osprey.
  • Sawicki, James A. (1981). Infantry Regiments of the US Army. Dumfries, VA: Wyvern Publications.
  • Wickwire, Franklin and Mary (1970). Cornwallis: The American Adventure. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

The British Surrender at Yorktown, Virginia,

by Joseph Plumb Martin.

Joseph Plumb martin was a sixteen year old Massachusetts native who began his service in the war for Independence from England (American Revolution) in a Connecticut militia regiment in 1776.His unit was soon made amember of the regular Connecticut regiment of the Continental army.In 1780 he was a Corporal and was transferred to one of the Sapper and Miner companies that made up the Corps of Engineers which was created by Congress in 1779.

Martin was promoted to Sergeant and was in the Continental Army until the conclusion of the war in 1783.He participated in many important actions including the battles of Long Island, White Plains, Germantown, Monmouth, the siege of fortMifflin, the winter at Valley Forge (1777-1778) and the end of the war battle at Yorktown.

At the age of 70, the venerated veteran then living in Maine published A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Danger and Suffering of a Revolutionary Soldier, Interspersed with Anecdotes of Incidents that Occurred Within His Own Observation. The book, which did not sell particularly well, fell into obscurity until rediscovered in the 1960s when it was republished with the title Private Yankee Doodle.

The narrative by Jospeh Plumb Martin begins -

Soon after landing we marched to Williamsburg, where we joined General Lafayette, and very soon after, our whole army arriving, we prepared to move down and pay our old acquaintance, the British, at Yorktown, a visit. I doubt not but their wish was not to have so many of us come at once as their accommodations were rather scanty. They thought, “The fewer the better cheer.” We thought, “The more the merrier.” We had come a long way to see them and were unwilling to be put off with excuses. We thought the present time quite as convenient, at least for us, as any future time could be, and we accordingly persisted, hoping that, as they pretended to be a very courtly people, they would have the politeness to come out and meet us, which would greatly shorten the time to be spent in the visit, and save themselves and us much labor and trouble, but they were too impolite at this time to do so.

We marched from Williamsburg the last of September. It was a warm day [the twenty-eighth]. When we had proceeded about halfway to Yorktown we halted and rested two or three hours. Being about to cook some victuals, I saw a fire which some of the Pennsylvania troops had kindled a short distance off. I went to get some fire while some of my messmates made other preparations, we having turned our rum and pepper cook adrift. I had taken off my coat and unbuttoned my waistcoat, it being (as I said before) very warm. My pocketbook, containing about five dollars in money and some other articles, in all about seven dollars, was in my waistcoat pocket. When I came among the strangers they appeared to be uncommonly complaisant, asking many questions, helping me to fire, and chatting very familiarly. I took my fire and returned, but it was not long before I perceived that those kindhearted helpers had helped themselves to my pocketbook and its whole contents. I felt mortally chagrined, but there was no plaster for my sore but patience, and my plaster of that, at this time, I am sure, was very small and very thinly spread, for it never covered the wound.

Here, or about this time, we had orders from the Commander in Chief that, in case the enemy should come out to meet us, we should exchange but one round with them and then decide the conflict with the bayonet, as they valued themselves at that instrument. The French forces could play their part at it, and the Americans were never backward at trying its virtue. The British, however, did not think fit at that time to give us an opportunity to soil our bayonets in their carcasses, but why they did not we could never conjecture; we as much expected it as we expected to find them there.

We went on and soon arrived and encamped in their neighborhood, without let or molestation. Our Miners lay about a mile and a half from their works, in open view of them. Here again we encountered our old associate, Hunger. Affairs, as they respected provisions, &c., were not yet regulated. No eatable stores had arrived, nor could we expect they should until we knew what reception the enemy would give us. We were, therefore, compelled to try our hands at foraging again. We, that is, our corps of Miners, were encamped near a large wood. There was a plenty of shoats all about this wood, fat and plump, weighing, generally, from fifty to a hundred pounds apiece. We soon found some of them and as no owner appeared to be at hand and the hogs not understanding our inquiries (if we made any) sufficiently to inform us to whom they belonged, we made free with some of them to satisfy the calls of nature till we could be better supplied, if better we could be. Our officers countenanced us and that was all the permission we wanted, and many of us did not want even that.

We now began to make preparations for laying close siege to the enemy. We had holed him and nothing remained but to dig him out. Accordingly, after taking every precaution to prevent his escape, [we] settled our guards, provided fascines and gabions, made platforms for the batteries, to be laid down when needed, brought on our battering pieces, ammunition, &c. o­n the fifth of October we began to put our plans into execution.

One-third part of all the troops were put in requisition to be employed in opening the trenches. A third part of our Sappers and Miners were ordered out this night to assist the engineers in laying out the works. It was a very dark and rainy night. However, we repaired to the place and began by following the engineers and laying laths of pine wood end-to-end upon the line marked out by the officers for the trenches. We had not proceeded far in the business before the engineers ordered us to desist and remain where we were and be sure not to straggle a foot from the spot while they were absent from us. In a few minutes after their departure, there came a man alone to us, having on a surtout, as we conjectured, it being exceeding dark, and inquired for the engineers. We now began to be a little jealous for our safety, being alone and without arms, and within forty rods of the British trenches. The stranger inquired what troops we were, talked familiarly with us a few minutes, when, being informed which way the officers had gone, he went off in the same direction, after strictly charging us, in case we should be taken prisoners, not to discover to the enemy what troops we were. We were obliged to him for his kind advice, but we considered ourselves as standing in no great need of it, for we knew as well as he did that Sappers and Miners were allowed no quarters, at least, are entitled to none, by the laws of warfare, and of course should take care, if taken, and the enemy did not find us out, not to betray our own secret.

In a short time the engineers returned and the afore-mentioned stranger with them. They discoursed together some time when, by the officers often calling him “Your Excellency,” we discovered that it was General Washington. Had we dared, we might have cautioned him for exposing himself too carelessly to danger at such a time, and doubtless he would have taken it in good part if we had. But nothing ill happened to either him or ourselves.

It coming on to rain hard, we were ordered back to our tents, and nothing more was done that night. The next night, which was the sixth of October, the same men were ordered to the lines that had been there the night before. We this night completed laying out the works. The troops of the line were there ready with entrenching tools and began to entrench, after General Washington had struck a few blows with a pickax, a mere ceremony, that it might be said “General Washington with his own hands first broke ground at the siege of Yorktown.” The ground was sandy and soft, and the men employed that night eat no “idle bread” (and I question if they eat any other), so that by daylight they had covered themselves from danger from the enemy’s shot, who, it appeared, never mistrusted that we were so near them the whole night, their attention being directed to another quarter. There was upon the right of their works a marsh. Our people had sent to the western side of this marsh a detachment to make a number of fires, by which, and our men often passing before the fires, the British were led to imagine that we were about some secret mischief there, and consequently directed their whole fire to that quarter, while we were entrenching literally under their noses.

As soon as it was day they perceived their mistake and began to fire where they ought to have done sooner. They brought out a fieldpiece or two without their trenches, and discharged several shots at the men who were at work erecting a bomb battery, but their shot had no effect and they soon gave it over. They had a large bulldog and every time they fired he would follow their shots across our trenches. Our officers wished to catch him and oblige him to carry a message from them into the town to his masters, but he looked too formidable for any of us to encounter.

I do not remember, exactly, the number of days we were employed before we got our batteries in readiness to open upon the enemy, but think it was not more than two or three. The French, who were upon our left, had completed their batteries a few hours before us, but were not allowed to discharge their pieces till the American batteries were ready. Our commanding battery was on the near bank of the [York] river and contained ten heavy guns; the next was a bomb battery of three large mortars; and so o­n through the whole line. The whole number, American and French, was ninety-two cannon, mortars and howitzers. Our flagstaff was in the ten-gun battery, upon the right of the whole. I was in the trenches the day that the batteries were to be opened. All were upon the tiptoe of expectation and impatience to see the signal given to open the whole line of batteries, which was to be the hoisting of the American flag in the ten-gun battery. About noon the much-wished-for signal went up. I confess I felt a secret pride swell my heart when I saw the “star-spangled banner” waving majestically in the very faces of our implacable adversaries. It appeared like an omen of success to our enterprise, and so it proved in reality. A simultaneous discharge of all the guns in the line followed, the French troops accompanying it with “Huzza for the Americans!” It was said that the first shell sent from our batteries entered an elegant house formerly owned or occupied by the Secretary of State under the British government, and burned directly over a table surrounded by a large party of British officers at dinner, killing and wounding a number of them. This was a warm day to the British.

The siege was carried on warmly for several days, when most of the guns in the enemy’s works were silenced. We now began our second parallel, about halfway between our works and theirs. There were two strong redoubts held by the British, on their left. It was necessary for us to possess those redoubts before we could complete our trenches. o­ne afternoon, I, with the rest of our corps that had been on duty in the trenches the night but o­ne before, were ordered to the lines. I mistrusted something extraordinary, serious or comical, was going forward, but what I could not easily conjecture.

We arrived at the trenches a little before sunset. I saw several officers fixing bayonets on long staves. I then concluded we were about to make a general assault upon the enemy’s works, but before dark I was informed of the whole plan, which was to storm the redoubts, the one by the Americans and the other by the French. The Sappers and Miners were furnished with axes and were to proceed in front and cut a passage for the troops through the abatis, which are composed of the tops of trees, the small branches cut off with a slanting stroke which renders them as sharp as spikes. These trees are then laid at a small distance from the trench or ditch, pointing outwards, and the butts fastened to the ground in such a manner that they cannot be removed by those on the outside of them. It is almost impossible to get through them. Through these we were to cut a passage before we or the other assailants could enter.

At dark the detachment was formed and advanced beyond the trenches and lay down on the ground to await the signal for advancing to the attack, which was to be three shells from a certain battery near where we were lying. All the batteries in our line were silent, and we lay anxiously waiting for the signal. The two brilliant planets, Jupiter and Venus, were in close contact in the western hemisphere, the same direction that the signal was to be made in. When I happened to cast my eyes to that quarter, which was often, and I caught a glance of them, I was ready to spring on my feet, thinking they were the signal for starting. Our watchword was “Rochambeau,” the commander of the French forces' name, a good watchword, for being pronounced Ro-sham-bow, it sounded, when pronounced quick, like rush-on-boys.

We had not lain here long before the expected signal was given, for us and the French, who were to storm the other redoubt, by the three shells with their fiery trains mounting the air in quick succession. The word up, up, was then reiterated through the detachment. We immediately moved silently on toward the redoubt we were to attack, with unloaded muskets. Just as we arrived at the abatis, the enemy discovered us and directly opened a sharp fire upon us. We were now at a place where many of our large shells had burst in the ground, making holes sufficient to bury an ox in. The men, having their eyes fixed upon what was transacting before them, were every now and then falling into these holes. I thought the British were killing us off at a great rate. At length, one of the holes happening to pick me up, I found out the mystery of the huge slaughter.

The American attack on Redoubt #10

As soon as the firing began, our people began to cry, “The fort’s our own!” and it was “Rush on boys.” The Sappers and Miners soon cleared a passage for the infantry, who entered it rapidly. Our Miners were ordered not to enter the fort, but there was no stopping them. “We will go,” said they. “Then go to the d ——— 1,” said the commanding officer of our corps, “if you will.” I could not pass at the entrance we had made, it was so crowded. I therefore forced a passage at a place where I saw our shot had cut away some of the abatis; several others entered at the same place. While passing, a man at my side received a ball in his head and fell under my feet, crying out bitterly. While crossing the trench, the enemy threw hand grenades (small shells) into it. They were so thick that I at first thought them cartridge papers on fire, but was soon undeceived by their cracking. As I mounted the breastwork, I met an old associate hitching himself down into the trench. I knew him by the light of the enemy’s musketry, it was so vivid. The fort was taken and all quiet in a very short time. Immediately after the firing ceased, I went out to see what had become of my wounded friend and the other that fell in the passage. They were both dead. In the heat of the action I saw a British soldier jump over the walls of the fort next the river and go down the bank, which was almost perpendicular and twenty or thirty feet high. When he came to the beach he made off for the town, and if he did not make good use of his legs I never saw a man that did.

All that were in the action of storming the redoubt were exempted from further duty that night. We laid down upon the ground and rested the remainder of the night as well as a constant discharge of grape and canister shot would permit us to do, while those who were o­n duty for the day completed the second parallel by including the captured redoubts within it. We returned to camp early in the morning, all safe and sound, except o­ne of our lieutenants, who had received a slight wound on the top of the shoulder by a musket shot. Seven or eight men belonging to the infantry were killed, and a number wounded....

We were on duty in the trenches twenty-four hours, and forty-eight hours in camp. The invalids did the camp duty, and we had nothing else to do but to attend morning and evening roll calls and recreate ourselves as we pleased the rest of the time, till we were called upon to take our turns o­n duty in the trenches again. The greatest inconvenience we felt was the want of good water, there being none near our camp but nasty frog ponds where all the horses in the neighborhood were watered, and we were forced to wade through the water in the skirts of the ponds, thick with mud and filth, to get at water in any wise fit for use, and that full of frogs. All the springs about the country, although they looked well, tasted like copperas water or like water that had been standing in iron or copper vessels....

In the morning, while the relieves were coming into the trenches, I was sitting on the side of the trench, when some of the New York troops coming in, one of the sergeants stepped up to the breastwork to look about him. The enemy threw a small shell which fell upon the outside of the works; the man turned his face to look at it. At that instant a shot from the enemy, which doubtless was aimed for him in particular as none others were in sight of them, passed just by his face without touching him at all. He fell dead into the trench. I put my hand o­n his forehead and found his skull was shattered all in pieces and the blood flowing from his nose and mouth, but not a particle of skin was broken. I never saw an instance like this among all the men I saw killed during the whole war.

After we had finished our second line of trenches there was but little firing on either side. After Lord Cornwallis had failed to get off, upon the seventeenth day of October (a rather unlucky day for the British) he requested a cessation of hostilities for, I think, twenty-four hours, when commissioners from both armies met at a house between the lines to agree upon articles of capitulation. We waited with anxiety the termination of the armistice and as the time drew nearer our anxiety increased. The time at length arrived — it passed, and all remained quiet. And now we concluded that we had obtained what we had taken so much pains for, for which we had encountered so many dangers, and had so anxiously wished. Before night we were informed that the British had surrendered and that the siege was ended.


The British Laying Down Their Arms

The next day we were ordered to put ourselves in as good order as our circumstances would admit, to see (what was the completion of our present wishes) the British army march out and stack their arms. The trenches, where they crossed the road leading to the town, were leveled and all things put in order for this grand exhibition. After breakfast, on the nineteenth, we were marched onto the ground and paraded on the right-hand side of the road, and the French forces on the left. We waited two or three hours before the British made their appearance. They were not always so dilatory, but they were compelled at last, by necessity, to appear, all armed, with bayonets fixed, drums beating, and faces lengthening. They were led by General [Charles] O’Hara, with the American General Lincoln on his right, the Americans and French beating a march as they passed out between them. It was a noble sight to us, and the more so, as it seemed to promise a speedy conclusion to the contest. The British did not make so good an appearance as the German forces, but there was certainly some allowance to be made in their favor. The English felt their honor wounded, the Germans did not greatly care whose hands they were in. The British paid the Americans, seemingly, but little attention as they passed them, but they eyed the French with considerable malice depicted in their countenances. They marched to the place appointed and stacked their arms; they then returned to the town in the same manner they had marched out, except being divested of their arms. After the prisoners were marched off into the country, our army separated, the French remaining where they then were and the Americans marching for the Hudson.

During the siege, we saw in the woods herds of Negroes which Lord Cornwallis (after he had inveigled them from their proprietors), in love and pity to them, had turned adrift, with no other recompense for their confidence in his humanity than the smallpox for their bounty and starvation and death for their wages. They might be seen scattered about in every direction, dead and dying, with pieces of ears of burnt Indian corn in the hands and mouths, even of those, that were dead. After the siege was ended, many of the owners of these deluded creatures came to our camp and engaged some of our men to take them up, generally offering a guinea a head for them. Some of our Sappers and Miners took up several of them that belonged to a Colonel Banister; when he applied for them they refused to deliver them to him unless he would promise not to punish them. He said he had no intention of punishing them, that he did not blame them at all, the blame lay on Lord Cornwallis. I saw several of those miserable wretches delivered to their master; they came before him under a very powerful fit of the ague. He told them that he gave them the free choice either to go with him or remain where they were, that he would not injure a hair of their heads if they returned with him to their duty. Had the poor souls received a reprieve at the gallows they could not have been more overjoyed than they appeared to be at what he promised them; their ague fit soon left them. I had a share in one of them by assisting in taking him up; the fortune I acquired was small, only one dollar. I received what was then called its equivalent in paper money, if money it might be called; it amounted to twelve hundred (nominal) dollars, all of which I afterwards paid for one single quart of rum. To such a miserable state had all paper stuff called money depreciated.

Our corps of Sappers and Miners were now put on board vessels to be transported up the bay. I was on board a small schooner; the captain of our company and twenty others of our men were in the same vessel. There was more than twenty tons of beef on board, salted in bulk in the hold. We were obliged to remain behind to deal out this beef in small quantities to the troops that remained here. I remained part of the time on board and part on shore for eighteen days after all the American troops were gone to the northward, and none remaining but the French. It now began to grow cold, and there were two or three cold rainstorms. We suffered exceedingly while we were compelled to stay on shore, having no tents nor any kind of fuel, the houses in the town being all occupied by the French troops.

Our captain at length became tired of this business and determined to go on after the other troops at all events. We accordingly left Yorktown and set our faces towards the Highlands of New York.

Joseph Plumb Martin, A narrative of some of the adventures, dangers and sufferings of a revolutionary soldier; interspersed with anecdotes of incidents that occurred within his own observation (Hallowell, ME.: Glazier, Masters & Co., 1830), 165–75.


Next is the paper by Dr. Harold Larrabee of Union College -

That which was shown here are the first eight pages of the twelve page article that appeared in the Journal of the Societe Des Americanistes

for the complete paper/article see:

Larrabee, Harold A. A neglected french collaborator in the victory of Yorktown, Claude-Anne marquis de Saint-Simon (1740-
1819). In: Journal de la Société des Américanistes. Tome 24 n°2, 1932. pp. 245-257.
doi : 10.3406/jsa.1932.1858

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