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An unexpected and glorious victory page 3

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Date published: 5/24/2003

By Gwen Woolf


The only possible escape route was by land, but even if he was successful, Cornwallis would have to sacrifice ships and equipment. He developed a risky plan to slip 3,000 men into the York River on the high tide on Oct. 5, but the implementation was not ready and the maneuver had to be postponed.

Having been assured by Clinton that help was on the way, Cornwallis gave up valuable ground to the allies when they established their position on Sept. 29.

Now the siege began, with George Weedon and his 1,500 Virginia militia assigned to Gloucester Neck.

Cornwallis established 700 men on Gloucester Point to keep access to forage. Weedon's militiamen were no match for the British, but the French commander sent 1,400 men to hold the point. Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton counterattacked with 230 men, but this time, the Virginia militia held.

The French were shelling both from their entrenchments and from their ships. The Americans moved their artillery into position and began shelling on Oct. 9. There was mayhem and carnage in the town of York.

On Oct. 11, Washington dug a second line of trenches without opposition. With the successful capture of the British Redoubts (fortifications) 9 and 10, the allied supremacy was insurmountable.

On Oct. 16, after a futile sortie by the British against a section of the American line, Cornwallis began a ferrying operation to Gloucester using the 16 boats at his command--it would require three trips for each boat. But a squall interrupted the operation and reduced his supply of boats. He retrieved his men from the Gloucester side to avoid leaving them vulnerable to Washington.

On the morning of Oct. 17, the British offered a flag of truce. The British fleet, with its promised reinforcements, had only set sail from New York that day.

At 2 o'clock in the afternoon of Oct. 19, the surrender took place, with 3,273 men marching out of Yorktown down a road lined with American and French soldiers to lay down their arms, then marching back into the town. "The sight was too pleasing to an American to admit of description," wrote St. George Tucker.

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