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SENTRY JOURNAL » American Revolution, Uncategorized » The World Turned Upside Down: Cornwallis Surrenders at Yorktown

The World Turned Upside Down: Cornwallis Surrenders at Yorktown

On this day 230 years ago General Lord Cornwallis commander of the British forces at Yorktown surrendered to the combined French and American forces who surrounded his 8,000 man army.  This event marked the beginning of the end of British occupation of the colonies and led to the eventual signing of the Pairs Peace Treaty in 1783 two years later.  Even though there were minor skirmishes between British and American forces from October of 1781 to September of 1783, Yorktown was the last major engagement of the Revolutionary War for American Forces.  Below is an account of the events that took place on October 19, 1781.

After a five-day bombardment, the combined American and French forces attacked and overwhelmed Cornwallis’s fortified position on the night of October 14. The British commander was left with no choice but to surrender, which he did on October 19. News of the surrender reached England on November 25 sending shock waves through the British government. Although King George III wanted to continue the battle, the surrender forced Prime Minister Lord North to resign in March 1782.

The Americans, though not all in uniform, nor their dress so neat, yet exhibited an erect, soldierly air, and every countenance beamed with satisfaction and joy. The concourse of spectators from the country was prodigious, in point of numbers was probably equal to the military, but universal silence and order prevailed.

It was about two o’clock when the captive army advanced through the line formed for their reception. Every eye was prepared to gaze on Lord Cornwallis, the object of peculiar interest and solicitude; but he disappointed our anxious expectations; pretending indisposition, he made General O’Hara his substitute as the leader of his army. This officer was followed by the conquered troops in a slow and solemn step, with shouldered arms, colors cased and drums beating a British march. Having arrived at the head of the line, General O’Hara, elegantly mounted, advanced to his excellency the commander-in-chief, taking off his hat, and apologized for the non-appearance of Earl Cornwallis. With his usual dignity and politeness, his excellency pointed to Major-General Lincoln for directions, by whom the British army was conducted into a spacious field, where it was intended they should ground their arms.

The royal troops, while marching through the line formed by the allied army, exhibited a decent and neat appearance, as respects arms and clothing, for their commander opened his store and directed every soldier to be furnished with a new suit complete, prior to the capitulation. But in their line of march we remarked a disorderly and unsoldierly conduct, their step was irregular, and their ranks frequently broken.

But it was in the field, when they came to the last act of the drama, that the spirit and pride of the British soldier was put to the severest test: here their mortification could not be concealed. Some of the platoon officers appeared to be exceedingly chagrined when giving the word “ground arms,” and I am a witness that they performed this duty in a very unofficer-like manner; and that many of the soldiers manifested a sullen temper, throwing their arms on the pile with violence, as if determined to render them useless. This irregularity, however, was checked by the authority of General Lincoln. After having grounded their arms and divested themselves of their accoutrements, the captive troops were conducted back to Yorktown and guarded by our troops till they could be removed to the place of their destination.”

H/T Eyewitness to History

Take a few minutes to watch the below clip about the surrender.

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There were numerous accounts that during surrender ceremony the British band played the song “The World Turned Upside Down.”  The world had indeed been turned upside down.  An untrained army of merchants and farmers defeated the greatest military force on the face of the planet.  A nation was born and a “new” way of thinking about the role of government and liberty was embraced.  We can never forget our history and why we fought so hard for freedom and liberty and why we should be selfish with both.

Liberty Forever, freedom for all.

 

 

 

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