1806 The Siege of Yorktown

On October 17, 1781, four years to the day when British General John Burgoyne surrendered his army to American forces at Saratoga, New York, Lord Charles Cornwallis requested terms of surrender from General George Washington. Two days later, the British marched between lines of French and American soldiers to the tune of “The World Turn’d Upside Down.” Upon hearing the news, British Prime Minister Lord North, “reeled, threw out his arms, exclaiming wildly, as he paced up and down…‘Oh, God! It’s all over!’”

In 1783, the Treaty of Paris brought the American War of Independence to an end and victory for the Americans and their French allies. The victory at Yorktown marked the end of the British campaign in the South to divide the American colonies and encourage loyalists to flock to the King’s banner. Instead of meeting a population willing to assist the British, they found a land deeply divided.

Guerrilla warfare raged since the war’s beginning between Patriots and Loyalists as each side sought to settle old scores. Cornwallis made frustrating marches through the Carolinas and into Virginia as he sought to destroy the American army under General Nathanael Greene. Despite several victories, the Americans escaped to fight another day, while the British lost more and more men. When efforts to crush the Americans failed and Greene was soon reinforced by the Marquis de Lafayette, Cornwallis turned to the coast, hoping to link up with the navy and return to New York. Instead, Cornwallis soon found himself surrounded in the small coastal town of Yorktown.

This episode was written by Michael Gabbe-Gross

Michael received his Masters Degree in History from the California State University, Sacramento. His thesis project analyzed the Phoenix Program, a CIA counterinsurgency operation during the Vietnam War.

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