Gratified with Clinton’s promise of assistance, and probably confident of his ability to hold his inner position until he could be relieved, Lord Cornwallis imprudently retired from the outer line of works which he had occupied.
Continuing Yorktown Surrenders,
with a selection from Battles of the United States by Sea and Land by Henry B. Dawson published in 1858. This selection is presented in 5.5 easy five minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Yorktown Surrenders.
Place: Yorktown, Virginia
The Admiral Count de Grasse, with a naval force of twenty-six sail of the line and some smaller vessels, had sailed from Santo Domingo on August 5th; on the 30th of the same month he entered the Chesapeake and anchored at Lynn Haven; on the following day he had blockaded the mouths of the James and York rivers, and prevented the retreat of the enemy by water; and, as has been before stated — notwithstanding the absence of about nineteen hundred of his men, besides three ships of the line and two fifties with their crews — had gone out and fought with Admiral Graves and nineteen sail of the line. General the Marquis Saint-Simon, at the head of thirty-three hundred French troops, had been landed from the fleet on September 2d; joined General Lafayette on the 3d; and on the 5th, with the latter officer and his command, had moved down to Williamsburg, fifteen miles from York, and cut off the retreat of the enemy by land. Admiral de Barras, with his squadron and ten transports, having on board the siege-artillery and a large body of French troops under M. de Choisy, sailed from Newport on August 25th, and entered Lynn Haven Bay in safety on September 10th, while Admiral de Grasse was absent in engagement with Admiral Graves.
As before mentioned, the different divisions of the allied forces rendezvoused at Williamsburg, in the vicinity of Yorktown, in the latter part of September. At the same time the enemy’s fleet, overawed by the superior force of the combined fleets under Admirals de Grasse and de Barras, had returned to New York, leaving General Cornwallis and his army to the fortunes of war; and enabling the naval force of the allies to cooperate with their military in all the operations of the siege. General Heath, with two New Hampshire, ten Massachusetts, and five Connecticut regiments, the corps of invalids, Sheldon’s Legion of Dragoons, the Third regiment of artillery, and “all such State troops and militia as were retained in service,” remained in the vicinity of New York to protect the passes in the Highlands, and to check any movement which Sir Henry Clinton might make for the relief of Lord Cornwallis.
At daybreak on September 28th the entire body of the army moved from Williamsburg, and occupied a position within two miles of the enemy’s line; the American troops occupied the right of the line; the French auxiliaries the left. York, the scene of operations referred to, is a small village, the seat of justice of York County, Virginia, and is situated on the southern bank of the York River, eleven miles from its mouth. On the opposite side of the river is Gloucester Point, on which the enemy had also taken a position; and the communication between the two posts was commanded by his land-batteries and by some vessels-of-war which lay at anchor under his guns.
On September 29th the besiegers were principally employed in reconnoitering the situation of the enemy and in arranging their plans of attack. The main body of the enemy was found entrenched in the open ground about Yorktown, with the intention of checking the progress of the allies, while an inner line of works, near the village, had been provided for his ultimate defense; Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe, with his legion, the Eightieth regiment of the line, and the Hereditary Prince’s regiment of Hessians, the whole under Lieutenant-Colonel Dundas, being in possession of Gloucester Point. The only movement was an extension of the right wing of the allied armies, and the consequent occupation of the ground east of the Beaver-dam Creek, by the American forces.
On the evening of that day Lord Cornwallis received dispatches from New York in which Sir Henry Clinton advised his lordship that “at a meeting of the general and flag officers, held this day (September 24, 1781) it is determined that above five thousand men, rank and file, shall be embarked on board the King’s ships, and the joint exertions of the navy and army made in a few days to relieve you, and afterward to operate with you. The fleet consists of twenty-three sail of the line, three of which are three-deckers. There is every reason to hope that we start from hence October 5th.” Gratified with this promise of assistance, and probably confident of his ability to hold his inner position until he could be relieved, Lord Cornwallis imprudently retired from the outer line of works which he had occupied, and on the same night (September 29th) occupied the town, leaving the outer lines to be occupied by the allies, without resistance, on the next day.
On September 30th the allies occupied the deserted positions, and were thereby “enabled to shut up the enemy in a much narrower circle, giving them the greatest advantages.” Before the allies moved to the positions which had been thus deserted, Colonel Alexander Scammell, the officer of the day, approached them for the purpose of reconnoitering, when he was attacked by a party of the enemy’s horse, which was ambushed in the neighborhood, and, after being mortally wounded, was taken prisoner. On the same day the transports, having on board the battering-train, came up to Trubell’s, seven miles from York, whence they were transported to the lines; and the lines were completely and effectively occupied. The French extended from the river above the town, to a morass in the centre, while the Americans continued the lines from the morass to the river, below the town, the whole forming a semicircle, with the river for a chord.
On the same day the Duc de Lauzun, with his legion of cavalry, and General Weedon, with a body of Virginian militia, the whole under Sieur de Choisy, invested Gloucester, in the course of which a party of the Queen’s Rangers, which had been sent out to observe the movements of the allies, was driven in with considerable loss.
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