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7 Fascinating Facts About the Battle of Yorktown

On this day in 1781, General Cornwallis and the soldiers under his command at Yorktown, Virginia laid down their swords effectively ending the American Revolution. While we celebrate the 4th of July as the birthday of our country, today is a date that bears equal importance. Here are 10 facts you probably didn’t know about the battle and the aftermath:

  1. Lord Cornwallis didn’t attend the surrender ceremony. He feigned a cold and sulked in his quarters. He sent Brigadier General Charles O’Hara to conduct the surrender on his behalf.
  2. General Washington was furious at the insult. When General O’Hara attempted to hand him Cornwallis’ sword, Washington instead instructed Benjamin Lincoln to accept it on his behalf.
  3. The British Army has lost their fighting ability. They were suffering from a malaria outbreak that seriously hampered their ability to fight. For most of the battle, less than 1/2 of the British soldiers were healthy enough to effectively man their positions.


    The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumbull; The original hangs in the US Capitol Rotunda.

  4. Yorktown was an American, British,…and German battle. In a prelude of the next 200 years, alliances, allegiances, and differences between the three countries began to take shape. Nearly 1/3 of Cornwallis’ army was comprised of Hessian soldiers; for Washington’s part, 1/6 of the soldiers under his command were German Americans.
  5. It wasn’t a fair fight. The Continental Army outnumbered the British by more than 2:1 at Yorktown. Low on supplies and ammunition the British had little chance of winning the battle even before it began. Their hopes were pinned on the arrival of General Clinton by sea…but the French Navy had a little something to say about that.
  6. Casualties were very light…on both sides. French casualties were 60 killed, and 194 wounded. American casualties were 28 killed, and 107 wounded. As for the British, they suffered 156 killed, 326 wounded, and 70 missing.
  7. The surrender cost the British Prime Minister his job. Facing great pressure for the defeat and the loss of the colonies, British PM Lord Frederick North was forced to resign his office.


Want to keep history alive? Attend a reenactment so that you can see, smell, and hear what it took to earn our freedom as a nation.

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