On this day in 1781, General George Washington, commanding a force of 17,000 French and Continental troops, begins the siege known as the Battle of Yorktown against British General Lord Charles Cornwallis and a contingent of 9,000 British troops at Yorktown, Virginia, in the most important battle of the Revolutionary War.
Earlier, in a stroke of luck for the Patriots, the French fleet commanded by Francois, Count de Grasse, departed St. Domingue (the then-French colony that is now Haiti) for the Chesapeake Bay, just as Cornwallis chose Yorktown, at the mouth of the Chesapeake, as his base. Washington realized that it was time to act. He ordered Marquis de Lafayette and an American army of 5,000 troops to block Cornwallis’ escape from Yorktown by land while the French naval fleet blocked the British escape by sea. By September 28, Washington had completely encircled Cornwallis and Yorktown with the combined forces of Continental and French troops. After three weeks of non-stop bombardment, both day and night, from cannon and artillery, Cornwallis surrendered to Washington in the field at Yorktown on October 17, 1781, effectively ending the War for Independence. A decisive victory for America. This is the last major battle of the American Revolution. Cornwallis surrenders.