The Siege Begins: October 1781
On October 6, 1781, the allied force commanded by General George Washington and Lt. General Comte de Rochambeau was ready to begin formal siege operations. While Comte de Saint-Simon's troops began efforts toward Fusilier's Redoubt on the north side of Yorktown in the evening, engineers staked out the main operations. After dark, work parties began building trenches and redoubts. While Saint-Simon was shelled during the evening, Cornwallis did not even know that the main siege operation had begun until after daylight on October 7th.
After the completions of the first parallel, the bombardment of Yorktown began on October 9, 1781 with Saint-Simon firing the first shots at 3:00 P.M. By October 10, forty-six guns were in place and inflicted so much damage that Lt. General Charles Cornwallis was only able to return about six round an hour. A flag of truce appeared at noon on the 10th. That evening three or four ships were destroyed by the allied fire. After dusk on October 11, digging was begun in preparation for an assault on British Redoubts Nos 9 and 10 on the southeast side of Yorktown, which was necessary to complete the second tighter parallel.
After concentrating artillery fire on those positions, General Washington was notified at about 2:00 P.M. on October 14, 1781, that an assault was now possible. Marquis de Lafayette was given responsibility for the capture of Redoubt No. 10 and he selected Jean-Joseph de Gimat to lead the assault, but Alexander Hamilton protested. Washington ruled in Hamilton's favor and Hamilton was to lead 400 men against Redoubt No. 10. Colonel William Deux-Ponts led the assault on Redoubt No. 9 with 400 French grenadiers and chasseurs.
Saint-Simon and General de Choisy began diversionary attacks on the Fuselier Redoubt and Gloucester. at 6:30 P.M. Hamilton and Deux-Ponts moved forward at 7:00 P.M. After taking heavy losses, Deux-Ponts secured Redoubt No. 9 as the British and Hessian defenders surrendered. Meanwhile, Hamilton had quickly overrun Redoubt No. 10 with few casualties. The allies immediately consolidated their positions in anticipation of a British counterattack. However, Cornwallis did not counterattack, but massed all his artillery against the newly captured position.
On October 16, 1781, at about 4:00 A.M. Lt. Colonel Robert Abercromby led 350 British troops on a sortie to spike allied guns now in position on the second parallel. Abercromby was able to spike four guns after pretending to be an American detachment. Moving to another position along the parallel, the British were this time driven back to their lines by a French covering party. However, they had managed to spike two more guns, but the allies were able to get all the spiked guns back into action within six hours.
On the evening of October 16, 1781, General Cornwallis attempted to ferry across the York River to see about fighting his way out by way of Gloucester, but a storm frustrated these efforts. On October 17, the allies brought more than 100 guns into action for their heaviest bombardment yet. Cornwallis could no longer hold for reinforcements from Lt. General Henry Clinton and around 10:00 A.M. on October 17, 1781, a parley was called for by the British. General Washington gave Cornwallis two hours to submit his proposals, which were received by 4:30 P.M. that afternoon.
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