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Yorktown campaign

Yorktown campaign, 1781, the closing military operations of the American Revolution. After his unsuccessful Carolina campaign General Cornwallis moved into Virginia to join British forces there. His lieutenant, Banastre Tarleton, engaged American forces under the marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, and Gen. Anthony Wayne in several minor actions as the British retreated down the York peninsula. Cornwallis fortified Yorktown and waited for reinforcements to come from Sir Henry Clinton in New York. While he was there, late in August, a French fleet under Admiral de Grasse arrived from the West Indies, blockaded Chesapeake Bay, and defeated (September) the British naval forces under Admiral Graves. Leaving a force to harry Clinton in New York, Gen. George Washington and General Rochambeau rushed south, with many French troops. Cornwallis, unaware of Washington's advance, remained more or less idle, and malaria became an increasing problem among his forces. Lafayette and Steuben distinguished themselves as commanders of the holding troops and did so even more after the reinforcements arrived. By mid-September an overwhelming Franco-American force had gathered. Cornwallis tried to escape, but his attempts failed. On Oct. 17, 1781, he asked for surrender terms, which he accepted Oct. 19, 1781.

See H. P. Johnston, The Yorktown Campaign (1881, repr. 1971); T. J. Fleming, Beat the Last Drum (1963); B. Davis, The Campaign That Won America (1970).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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