Celebrating 17 years

A Map of the Plan of the Investment and Attack of York in Virginia

This original map, from Marshall's Life of Washington, shows the British outposts and Allied positions deployed in the attack on Yorktown in October, 1781.

Abstract

This historic map shows the positions of the American and French battlements in their siege of the British forces at Yorktown. The successful outcome of the Yorktown campaign, led by Gen. Washington and French Gen. Rochambeau, marked the end of the Revolutionary War, thus winning independence for the 13 colonies. It also established Yorktown's place in history as the site of Gen. Cornwallis' surrender of his troops to the Allied forces.

Map showing British outposts and Allied positions deployed in the attack on Yorktown in October, 1781 Click map for larger view

This map paints an extensive picture of the attack on Yorktown. It shows the field where the British laid down their arms. To the north on the York River you see the town of York and the British fortifications. Across the Bay lies Gloucester, also occupied by the British.

Notice the Allied forces deployed in a semi-circle about 6 miles long. Notice also the encampments of Gen. Washington, Gen. Knox, Baron Stuben (Steuben), Count Rochambeau and Gen. LaFayette.

The map also shows various forces from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. Also indicated are French and American artillery positions. (Curator's Note: Military terminology defines the word 'investment', used here in the title of the map, thusly: "To enclose or hem in with a hostile force, so as to cut off approach or escape.")

In August of 1781 Cornwallis occupied York and Gloucester, on the opposite shore (shown on the map), with 7500 troops and several hundred Loyalists. Not until the first week of September was it clear to the British Commander that Washington and Rochambeau were marching toward York to attack his position. The Allied forces numbered 5700 Continentals, 3100 militia and 7000 French troops. It is clear that without the support of the French land and sea forces the victory at Yorktown would not have been possible.

Unbeknownst to the British commander, French Admiral Count de Grasse was sailing in force from Haiti with a powerful fleet of 28 heavy warships. When de Grasse arrived he imposed a blockade on Chesapeake Bay and the mouths of the James and York Rivers. The action prevented the British land forces from escaping.

On their arrival later in September the American and French forces took up siege positions before Yorktown. On October 9 a large artillery barrage led the attack, with Washington himself touching off the Americans' first cannon shot. The Allied bombardment continued without letup, battering the British positions with devastating results.

On October 18, the British ammunition exhausted, the figure of a red-coated drummer boy appeared on a British fieldwork on Hampton Road. The Allied guns went silent, as a British officer emerged holding up a white handkerchief. Cornwallis' army surrendered as Prisoners of War, with only the senior officers accepted on parole and returned to England.

At 2 p.m. on October 19 the British ranks marched down the Hampton Road lined on both sides with French and American soldiers. Cornwallis did not surrender in person but, instead, had his second in command Gen. Charles O'Hara lead the column of British soldiers. Washington greeted O'Hara and referred him to Gen. Lincoln, his second in command, to receive O'Hara's sword.

The British surrender at Yorktown was the end of any further major actions by either side. Minor skirmishes continued sporadically until 1783 when the Treaty of Paris officially recognized American Independence.