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American Victory at Yorktown


On October 19, 1781, the prospect of achieving an American victory in the Revolutionary War was closer than ever before. With the assistance of French land and naval forces, General George Washington’s Continental Army had surrounded the British Southern Army, led by General Charles, Earl of Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. Without any chance of escape, Cornwallis formally surrendered his 8,000 British soldiers and seamen. The surrender at Yorktown initiated serious negotiations between the warring parties that ended in recognition of American independence at the Peace of Paris in 1783.

French General Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau, American General George Washington, and many others at the Siege of Yorktown. (Photo:

Cornwallis was one of the most effective commanders that the British had during the Revolutionary War. Back in 1776, he drove Washington’s forces out of New Jersey. Five years later, that very same American general had cornered Cornwallis at Yorktown. At the time of capitulation on October 19, 1781, General Cornwallis surrendered 7,087 officers and men, 900 seamen, 144 cannons, 15 galleys, a frigate, and 30 transport ships. Claiming illness, he did not participate in the surrender ceremony. This task was delegated to his second-in-command, General Charles O’Hara, who carried Cornwallis’ sword to the American and French commanders.

The surrender at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. (Photo:

When the British and Hessian troops marched out to surrender, the British bands played the song “The World Turned Upside Down.” For those among the British ranks, this unthinkable outcome at Yorktown must have indeed felt as if the world had undergone a seismic shift. History was changed forever.


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