At 5 P.M. of the 9th the American battery on the right of the line opened its fire — General Washington in person firing the first gun — and six eighteen and twenty-four pounders, two mortars, and two howitzers were steadily engaged during the entire night.
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
On the following day (October 1st) eight hundred marines were landed from the fleet to strengthen the party which was investing Gloucester; and from that time until the 6th both the allies and the enemy vigorously prosecuted their several works of attack or defense, or otherwise prepared for the great struggle which was then inevitable.
On the night of October 6th, under the command of General Lincoln, the besiegers opened their trenches within six hundred yards of the enemy’s lines, yet with so much silence was it conducted that it appears to have been undiscovered until daylight on the 7th, when the works were so far completed that they afforded ample shelter for the men, and but one officer and sixteen privates were injured. In this attack the enemy appears to have bent his energies chiefly against the French, on the left of the trenches; and the regiments of Bourbonnois, Soissonnois, and Touraine, commanded by the Baron de Viomenil, were most conspicuous in the defense of the lines.
The 7th, 8th, and 9th of October were employed in strengthening the first parallel, and in constructing batteries somewhat in advance of it, for the purpose of raking the enemy’s works and of battering his shipping. Communications were also made in the rear of the left of the line, in order to secure the greater number of openings. On the night of the 10th the trenches on the left were occupied by the regiments of Agenois and Saintonge, under the Marquis de Chastellux; on that of the 8th by the regiments of Gatinois and Royal-Deux-Ponts, under the Marquis de Saint-Simon.
At 5 P.M. of the 9th the American battery on the right of the line opened its fire — General Washington in person firing the first gun — and six eighteen and twenty-four pounders, two mortars, and two howitzers were steadily engaged during the entire night. At an early hour on the morning of the 10th the French battery on the left, with four twelve-pounders and six mortars and howitzers, also opened fire; and on the same day this fire was increased by the fire from two other French and two American batteries — the former mounting ten eighteen and twenty-four pounders, and six mortars and howitzers, and four eighteen-pounders respectively; the latter mounting four eighteen-pounders and two mortars. “The fire now became so excessively heavy that the enemy withdrew their cannon from their embrasures, placed them behind the merlins, and scarcely fired a shot during the whole day.” In the evening of the 10th the Charon, a frigate of forty-four guns, and three transports were set on fire by the shells of hot shot and entirely consumed; and the enemy’s shipping was warped over the river, as far as possible, to protect it from similar disaster.
On the night of the 11th the second parallel was opened within three hundred yards of the enemy’s lines; and, as in the former instance, it was so far advanced before morning that the men employed in them were in a great measure protected from injury when the enemy opened fire. The three following days were spent in completing this parallel and the redoubts and batteries belonging to it, during which time the enemy’s fire was well sustained and more than usually destructive. Two advanced batteries, three hundred yards in front of the enemy’s left, were particularly annoying, inasmuch as they flanked the second parallel of the besiegers; and as the engineers reported that they had been severely injured by the fire of the allies it was resolved to attempt to carry them by assault.
Accordingly, in the evening of the 14th, these redoubts were assaulted — that on the extreme right by a detachment embracing the light infantry of the American army, under General Lafayette; the latter by a detachment of grenadiers and chasseurs from the French army, commanded by Baron Viomenil. The attacks were made at 8 P.M., and in that of the Americans the advance was led by Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Hamilton, with his own battalion and that of Colonel Gimat, the latter in the van; while Lieutenant-Colonel John Laurens, at the head of eighty men, took the garrison in reverse and cut off its retreat. Not a single musket was loaded; and the troops rushed forward with the greatest impetuosity — passing over the abatis and palisades — and carrying the work with the bayonet, with the loss of nine killed, and six officers and twenty-six rank and file wounded. The French performed their part of the duty with equal gallantry, although from the greater strength of their opponents it was not done so quickly as that of the Americans. The German grenadier regiment of Deux-Ponts, led by Count William Forback de Deux-Ponts, led the column; and Captain Henry de Kalb, of that regiment, was the first officer who entered the work. The chasseur regiment of Gatinois supported the attack; and, in like manner with that on the right, the redoubt was carried at the point of the bayonet.
During the night these redoubts were connected with the second parallel; and during the next day (October 15th) several howitzers were placed on them and a fire opened on the town. These works, important as they had been to the enemy, were no less so to the allies, from the fact that, with them, the entire line of the enemy’s works could be enfiladed, and the line of communication between York and Gloucester commanded.
The situation of Lord Cornwallis had now become desperate. He “dared not show a gun to the old batteries” of the allies, and their new ones, then about to open fire, threatened to render his position untenable in a few hours. “Experience has shown,” he then wrote, “that our fresh earthen works do not resist their powerful artillery, so that we shall soon be exposed to an assault in ruined works, in a bad position, and with weakened numbers.” To retard as much as possible what now appeared to be inevitable, at an early hour next morning (October 16th) the garrison made a sortie; when three hundred fifty men, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Abercrombie, attacked two batteries within the second parallel, carried them with inconsiderable loss, and spiked the guns; but the guards and pickets speedily assembled, and drove the assailants back into the town before any other damage was done.
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