The Patriot Resource - American Revolution

Battle of Yorktown
Battle of Yorktown

Cornwallis' Surrender: October 1781
On the morning of October 18, 1781, terms of surrender were negotiated with Lt. Colonel Thomas Dundas and Major Alexander Ross represented Lt. General Charles Cornwallis and Lt. Colonel John Laurens and Noailles represented the allies. On October 20, the surrender document was delivered to Cornwallis. He was to sign and return it by 11:00 A.M. and the garrison was to march out at 2:00 P.M. to surrender. Sometime before noon, the document returned with Cornwallis' signature as well as Captain Thomas Symonds, the highest ranking British naval officer present. Generals George Washington and Rochambeau as well as Admiral de Barras signed for the allies.

The terms of the surrender were honorable. The British were to march out with colors cased and drums playing a British or German march. The principal officers could return to Europe or go to a British-occupied American port city on parole. Officers were allowed to retain their side arms and all personnel kept their personal effects. Infantry at Gloucester could ground their arms there, while the cavalry including Lt. Colonels John Simcoe and Banastre Tarleton were to proceed to the surrender field outside Yorktown. All troops would be marched to camps in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

At 12:00 P.M., two detachments of 100 men each, one American and one French, occupied two British redoubts to the southeast of Yorktown, while the rest of the victorious army formed along both sides of the Hampton road where the British Army would march to the surrender field, which was located about a mile and a half south of Yorktown. At 2:00 P.M. the defeated British troops marched down the road, supposedly to the tune of "The World Turned Upside."

The formal surrender ceremony has become a legend unto itself. General Cornwallis was not present, but had remained at Yorktown claiming illness. He was represented by his second-in-command, Brig. General Charles O'Hara. He first attempted to surrender to French General Comte de Rochambeau, but Rochambeau refused and pointed him to General Washington. Washington's only reaction was to ask him to surrender to his own second-in-command, Maj. General Benjamin Lincoln. The British and German troops grounded their arms with some of the British soldiers obviously drunk. Washington did not witness the surrender proceedings, but remained at his post along the road a few hundred yards away.

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