The Battle of Yorktown
The Revolutionary War had raged for six years when in the summer of 1781 the second French fleet arrived. Washington had sent General Lafayette to confront Cornwallis near the Chesapeake Bay. There, the British were awaiting supplies from New York. But upon hearing of the French fleet, Washington changed plans, leaving New York himself and heading south.
Washington coordinated the land and sea operation that brought the final climax of the war. It was as if the commander had been waiting for this very moment to unleash his most brilliant military strategies and fighting energy.
First, the French fleet blockaded Yorktown early that September, followed by a combined Franco-American army that Washington commanded. It took up siege positions on land and by early October had trapped the British against the York River. In a gross misjudgment, Cornwallis had his back to the sea. Daily he endured gunfire and continual pounding from the cannons until he was forced to ask the Americans for terms of surrender on October 17, 1781. Two days later the once mighty (and haughty) British army paraded its units between the victorious French and American soldiers, laying down their arms, while a British band played the popular tune “The World Turned Upside Down.”
Unable to concede the war, Cornwallis sent a representative, General O'Hara, to surrender his sword. General O'Hara approached a French commander, who indicated that the sword should go to General Washington. However, Washington felt that an officer of equal rank should receive it. Thus, his second in command, Major General Benjamin Lincoln, received the British sword in surrender.
Back in England, King George III was prepared to fight on, but the British Parliament put an end to that notion. It had taken more than six years of war, and skirmishes before that, to drive its greatest overseas possession toward independence. In February 1782, Lord North's ministry in Britain fell. Parliament would no longer support a war in America.