Friday, October 19, 2007

October 19, 1781

Washington Prevails at Yorktown

It turns out that the story of playing "The World Turned Upside Down" at Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown in October 1781 may not be true, strictly speaking, but it sure is a good story -- or at least a good detail to an already remarkable story.

The history page of the York County, Va., web site describes the surrender: "Realizing the situation was hopeless, Cornwallis sent forth a British drummer on October 17, followed by a British officer with a white flag and note indicating a request for a cease fire. A number of notes passed between Cornwallis and Washington that day as they set the framework for the surrender. The next day, October 18, four officers--one American, one French and two British--met at the Moore House, one mile outside Yorktown, to settle surrender terms.

"On October 19, in a spectacle incredible to all who witnessed it, most of Cornwallis' army marched out of Yorktown between two lines of allied soldiers-- Americans on one side and French on the other--that stretched for more than one mile. The British marched to a field where they laid down their arms, and returned to Yorktown. They did not know that on that very day, [Sir Henry] Clinton sailed for Yorktown from New York with 5,000 of troops.

"News of the British defeat at Yorktown spread quickly. Celebrations took place throughout the United States. London was shocked. The British prisoners were marched to prison camps in Winchester, Virginia and Frederick, Maryland. The American army returned to the Hudson River, while the French army remained in Yorktown and Williamsburg for the winter. Clinton and Cornwallis eventually returned to England where they engaged in a long and bitter public controversy over who was to blame for the British defeat at Yorktown.

"Though the British still had 26,000 troops in North America after Yorktown, their resolve to win the war was nothing like it had been before. The war had been lengthy and costly. Replacing Cornwallis' captured army was a questionable proposition, particularly because the British also were engaged in military struggles in India, Gibraltar, the West Indies and Ireland. Thus, the British Parliament in March 1782 passes a resolution saying the British should not continue the war against the United States. Later that year, commissioners of the United States and Great Britain signed provisional articles of peace. In September 1783, the final treaty was signed which ended the war and acknowledged American independence."

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