THE ROAD TO YORKTOWN
The last major land battle took place on the Virginia coast
The Strategy Cornwallis. man in was charge Despite General of far the Charles fewer Southern Loyalists flocking to the British cause than hoped, he led around 10,000 men, most behind the barricades of Savannah and Charleston, and demolished a force nearly double the size of his own at the Battle of Camden on 16 August 1780.
Washington needed a commander in the south to match Cornwallis, and he found one in Nathanael Greene. While the British strove for one decisive victory, he understood how the war could be won: “We fight, we get beat, rise and fight again. We never have to win a battle to win the war. The side that ultimately gets support of the people will prevail.”
Under Greene’s auspices, the militia inflicted a crushing defeat on 1,000 Loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain on 7 October, and the Patriots followed it in early 1781 when a splinter force led by Daniel Morgan swept aside the notorious British Legion and its commander, Banastre ‘Bloody Ban’ Tarleton, at Cowpens. Through attrition, Greene wore down Cornwallis’s men and reclaimed much of the Carolinas. Cornwallis believed the best way to defeat him was to cut his supply lines and ended up in Yorktown, on the Virginia coast.
A French fleet sailed from the West Indies to Chesapeake Bay, where they held off a British attack and secured the seas around Yorktown. Cornwallis was cut off. Washington, who had been contemplating an attack on New York, hastily marched south with French commanderin-chief Rochambeau, whilst the Marquis de Lafayette kept the British pinned down.
By the end of September 1781, the combined force had laid siege to Yorktown. Following weeks of bombardment by French siege guns, paltry supplies and a failed evacuation attempt, Cornwallis was forced to surrender on 19 October, with nearly 8,000 men taken prisoner.
At the official ceremony, the British fifes played the tune The World Turned Upside Down and as Cornwallis claimed to be ill, the task fell on his second in command to offer his sword, which he did to Rochambeau before being pointed in the direction of Washington. The peace treaty would not be signed until 3 September 1783, but the war was all but over. A nation had been born in revolution and civil war, and won – a nation that went from 56 men in Philadelphia to the global superpower of today, 250 years later.
ABOVE: The Continentals broke the siege of Yorktown by storming two redoubts defending the town BELOW: Patriot commander Nathanael Greene ( right) and British General Charles Cornwallis ( left) played a cat-and-mouse game across the Carolinas
The 1783 Treaty of Paris recognised the 13 colonies as free and sovereign states independent of Britain