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Rapid-Fire History: Yorktown - The World Turned Upside Down


On October 19, 1781, British General Charles Lord Cornwallis surrendered 8,087 soldiers and seamen to a combined American and French army under General George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau at Yorktown, Virginia. With Americans on the right and the French on the left, defeated British and Hessian troops filed out of Yorktown at 2:00 P.M. and had to march between the two victorious lines, passing by every allied soldier until emerging into an open field, where they threw down their weapons. According to legend, British fifers and drummers played the song “The World Turned Upside Down.” Cornwallis claimed to be indisposed and did not appear, delegating his deputy, Brigadier General Charles O’Hara to represent him. O’Hara tried to surrender to the French, presenting Cornwallis’s sword to Rochambeau, but the Frenchman declined it and pointed to Washington. Bypassing Cornwallis’s attempt to compel him to accept surrender from a deputy, Washington directed O’Hara to General Benjamin Lincoln, a deputy received by a deputy. Although the American victory at Yorktown didn’t bring the war to an immediate conclusion, everyone who accepted reality knew that Yorktown meant American independence, which was finally achieved at the Peace of Paris in September 1783.


American Battlefield Trust: Battle of Yorktown.

George Washington's Mount Vernon: Yorktown Campaign.

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow.

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