September 1781. The south had lost major strongholds in Savannah, Charleston and Camden. The battle was starting to turn in Georgia and South Carolina which forced the British north. The global superpower of Great Britain was involved in the American Revolution in full force as well as, First Anglo-Maratha War, Fourth Anglo-Dutch War, and the Second Anglo-Mysore War. The British Empire was fighting across the planet with the French, Dutch, and the Spanish. All this fighting is weakening the British Empire and its people.
It was four years since the Battle of Saratoga, the last victory for the Americans during the war. The Commanding General of the combined French and American forces was General George Washington, and the battles in the south had depleted moral, combined with the lack of money for pay, and loosing support, was causing whispers of mutiny in the ranks. With the defection of Arnold it caused an even bigger tear in the ranks. Washington needs a decisive victory to reinvigorate the American People’s freedom from British rule.
The battle at Yorktown or Siege of Yorktown as it were, is the battle that the American forces needed and would bring on the end of the war. This analysis will examine the battle to understand what led to the defeat of the British and German forces by looking at the key leaders, the battle, and lessons learned. These did not take place in a day, Yorktown took decisive decisions that lead to the battle. Both forces moved long distances to meet at Yorktown. The British came up from the south and the French and Americans from the North as well as the Caribbean.
Key Leaders Prior to the consolidation of forces in Yorktown area of Virginia, General George Washington as well as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry were located outside New York City. “We are at the end of our tether, and our deliverance must come” George Washington. The plan was to force Sir Henry Clinton the commander in Virginia, to leave the city. General Washington was convinced, much like the British, that taking and holding New York was the key to winning the war in the America.
General Washington was against General Cornwallis of the British Army on the other side. Lord Charles Cornwallis has been suffering minor defeats across the Carolinas due to Commander Nathaniel Greene. He decides to refit his 7. 200 men in Virginia along the York River. Yorktown seems to be an easily defendable position located on the high ground with a river to the north, deep ravines to the west, and swampland to the southeast near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. This location is also defended by Gloucester Point across the York River with a British garrison.
The Comte de Rochambeau, the leader of the French forces in the Americas, met with the commander of the 8,800 American forces Marquis de Lafayette in Connecticut. During this meeting, Rochambeau convinced Washington to abandon the well-defended city of New York and attack Yorktown in Virginia. General Washington is not known for his victories and knowing that Comte de Rochambeau was a more experienced leader took his advice. General Washington now is in need to move his forces from New York to Virginia. The army would have to move across the land without improved roads and Marquis de Lafayette would buy him the time.
To further complicate the situation, Sir Clinton would need to be convinced that General Washington planned to attack New York. This military plan worked and Washington convinced him with fake messages and military encampments, Sir Clinton would believe that New York City was the target, not his, Lord Cornwallis. This plan forced Sir Clinton to send conflicting orders to his subordinate in Yorktown. Naval Warfare General Washington unknowingly, at the time he made the decision to support Comte de Rochambeau’s advice, the French Navy was moving up to Virginia from the Caribbean.
Rochambeau had sent a message to Admiral Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse for the French fleet to set up a blockade in the Chesapeake to stop any reinforcements from New York City. When Sir Clinton became aware that the French Navy had blocked General Cornwallis in Yorktown, he pushed to send reinforcements British Admirals Graves and Hood set out from New York and on September 5 1781 the naval engagement, took place and the British forces had underestimated the French for the battle. The British commanded by Admiral Graves, came with 19 ships of reinforcements for Yorktown and met the French Fleet of 29 ships.
The French out gunned and defeated the British Fleet ending the engagement and caused them to return to New York City. The next planned naval assault was planned, however it was set for days after the surrender of Cornwallis. Even though this battle was French Naval Forces, this was crucial in the siege of Yorktown and set the stage for the battle to come. Axelrod, Alan. The american revolution, What Really Happened New York, Fall River Press, 2007 Mission General Washington needed a victory over the British forces to regain the push for independence.
To dig trenches to get within range to break the defenses of the positions. Enemy The defending forces were well dug in British and Hessian soldiers garrisoned between Yorktown and the surrounding areas. The Hessian soldiers were considered some of the best soldiers in the world. The fort had sharpened polls and artillery to keep the French and American troops at bay. Troops and support available The attacking forces of the American and French militaries surrounded the Britsh and put in place heavy siege guns. Washington had 18’000 soldiers prepared to do what was needed.
He also had the support of the French Navy just off shore. Terrain The city of Yorktown is located on the high ground with a river to the north, deep dropes to the west, and swampland to the southeast near the mouth of the Chesapeake. This is a strong physical position, as long as the Navy keep control of the York River. The city of Yorktown had defenses built up with cannon redoubts surrounding it and was well fortified. Time The attacking forces were under a time constraint. The French naval support was only staying in the area for a few weeks.
They were returning from missions in the Caribbean. The blockade that was set by this fleet would have be lifted if the siege was not completed within the time limits. Civil Considerations Civilians were not considered during the siege of Yorktown, the city was shelled heavily about 1700 rounds a day. The Battle The plan was digging two parallel trenches to close the distance for maximum use of the siege artillery that the French has brought to the battle. By digging the trench lines it would allow for cover for the friendly troops and the guns.
This first parallel to the Yorktown defenses marked by boards was dug while 2500 men watched and protected them from the enemy. This would be dug 1000 yards from the enemy location 10 foot wide and 4 feet deep. This earthwork will house 13 artillery batteries and four manned redoubts. Once in position, Washington is said to have fired the first shot. From this location, the combined forces will eliminate the defending forces redoubts. From 26 September to 19 October 1781, the French and American military lay siege on the Lord Cornwallis and his forces of British and Hessian troops.
The fight was not all artillery, it was also hand to hand combat. Alexander Hamilton leading some of the Colonial soldiers at night was also involved in the battle. The French and American forces slowly took each of the outlying British redoubts and closed the gap and the noose on Cornwallis. Sir Cornwallis seeing no options looking for terms of surrender. One day after the soft surrender, the formal surrender was signed and followed. The negotiations were rather one sided. The British requested an honorable surrender but General Washington gave them the same they gave his troops earlier that year at Charlestown.
Continentals that surrendered at Charlestown were there, as well Benjamin Lincoln, the commander in Charlestown. Lord Cornwallis did not surrender He claimed to be ill and sent his sword by His aid, Brigadier General Charles O’Hara, who attempted to surrender to Rochambeau which Rochambeau refused and then Washington refused the sword, it was finally surrendered to Benjamin Lincoln. Lessons Learned The Siege of Yorktown is considered the end of the American Revolution. This combined effort of the French and Continental forces humiliated the greatest superpower the world has ever seen.
This loss had strategic effects against the British resolve. The Prime Minister, Lord North was cited claiming that this was the end of the war in the Americas . There are many takeaways from this siege that echo across time. Each lesson can be applied to battles and conflicts that will happen in the future. These cover a wide array of tactics, military deception, joint land and sea operations with combined operations, and artillery support to the operation. Military deception was utilized effectively. Washington covered his movement by setting up a fake camp near the national headquarters.
He also let the enemy find signed correspondences. This combination was effective enough to fix the main forces in New York City. Land operations should take joint and combined operations into consideration for planning. Combining the sea and land operations together allowed the Franco-American forces to keep the defending forces from receiving reinforcements or supplies. This made the surrender of the city imminent. The overwhelming naval force that was underestimated by the British commander in the American colonies cut off the support of the defending forces in Yorktown.
The timing of the maritime forces was paramount to the success of the siege. It came before the reinforcements could arrive in Yorktown. They took the escape route from the land forces. Therefore forcing the British to surrender to any demands the siege force required of them. Use of artillery in support of the maneuver is crucial. By keeping the pressure on the defending forces, they were unable to muster a counter attack. It broke the morale of the defending forces. The use of artillery on the British forces allowed the Franco-American maneuver to close with the enemy and overpower them.
These lessons are all overshadowed by the successful employment of military deception. This often overlooked combat multiplier forced the enemy to give conflicting orders, created confusion, and ultimately lead to the overall success of the attacking force. Washington did this by building false camps, dropping incorrect orders, and using a French faint move at Yorktown during the redoubt attacks. De Grasse used deception by following smuggler routes from the Caribbean to the Chesapeake further complicating Clinton’s understanding of the operational environment.
Conclusion The Siege of Yorktown is the battle that the American forces need to end the American Revolution. This is the most pivotal battle that occurred during the American Revolution. This analysis looked at how the British forces were defeated, the leadership and composition of the combined and joint forces, the initial set up to the siege, the siege, as well as the aftermath. This analysis further revealed that understanding the Siege of Yorktown will help leaders in future by applying these lessons of this siege.