After 5 years of war with Great Britain, American Patriot forces were finally beginning to score victories while suffering some devastating defeats.
On May 12, 1780, the Continental Army suffered a major defeat when they were forced to surrender in Charleston, South Carolina to the British.
On July 12, 1780, Patriot forces won a decisive victory over British Loyalists in South Carolina, indicating that although the British had taken Charleston, they had not won control over the entire state.
On August 13, 1781, the Revolutionary War was still raging in South Carolina when legendary Patriot guerilla leader General Francis Marion (Swamp Fox) lured 450 British soldiers into an ambush and soundly defeated them. The ambush took place only 30 miles north of Charleston.
On August 21, 1781, Patriot General George Washington and French General Jean-Baptiste Ponton de Rochambeau began marching their combined army south from New York with the intentions of surrounding and defeating British forces at Yorktown, Virginia.
On September 5, 1781, French Admiral Comte de Grasse and his French fleet defeated a British fleet in the Battle of the Chesapeake. The French victory proved vital in Washington’s soon to be victory at Yorktown.
On September 6, 1781, Patriots were also making headway further north in Connecticut. In an attempt to cut off a major supply line for the Patriots, traitor Benedict Arnold, now a British General, ordered his British troops to completely burn down the city of New London, Connecticut.
On September 8, 1781, was the last major battle of the Revolutionary War to take place in South Carolina, when the Swamp Fox scored another victory over the British at the Battle of Eutaw Springs. Having pretty much lost hope of slicing the colonies in half through South Carolina, the main British force now concentrated their efforts in Virginia.
On September 28, 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis and over 8,000 British troops were located at Yorktown, Virginia. Yorktown is located just up the York River before it flows into the Chesapeake Bay. It’s located only 10 miles northwest of Newport News.
Continental Army General and Commander-in-Chief George Washington commanded a force of nearly 20,000 troops, of which at least 7,800 were French. Washington laid siege to Cornwallis’s position at Yorktown. Cornwallis had built a series of battlements surrounding his position. Washington began digging a series of trenches that grew closer and closer to Yorktown. As an inspiration to his men, Washington was in the trenches digging and sweating along with everyone else. Nothing was beneath the humblest leader America ever had.
As the American trenches were dug closer to the Yorktown battlements, Washington would move his cannons ever closer and began five days of shelling the British battlements and position. British General Cornwallis realized that it would be impossible to defend his position forever, he sent out a signal to Washington that he was willing to surrender. At the same time, French Admiral Comte de Grasse and his fleet were stationed just off shore in the mouth of the York River, blocking any avenue of escape the British may have had.
Washington’s Patriot forces positioned themselves to the right and French forces took position on the left. At the same time, French forces led by Comte de Choissey crossed the York River and took position on Gloucester Point, opposite from Yorktown. Cornwallis and the British were now completely surrounded.
On this day, October 19, 1781, Washington’s American and French forces stormed the British location through the breaches made by the repeated cannon bombardment. The sudden attack was launched while it was still dark.
Cornwallis ended up surrendering his sword and over 8,000 British troops to George Washington. The surrender of Cornwallis proved to be the official end to the Revolutionary War, although some battles continued to take place for several months until word reached them that America had defeated the mighty British and won their independence. Six years of war was over and the United States of America was officially on the world map.
Sources for the above includes: Timeline of the Revolutionary War; Today, May 12, 1780: Continental Army Suffered Greatest Defeat; Today, July 12, 1780: Patriots Defeat British Loyalists at Battle of Huck’s Defeat; Today, August 13, 1781: Patriot Legend Swamp Fox Lures British into Ambush; Today, September 6, 1781: Benedict Arnold Orders New London, CT Burned to Ground; Today, September 8, 1781: Last Major Revolutionary War Battle in South Carolina; Today, September 28, 1781: Battle of Yorktown Starts; American Revolution: Battle of Yorktown; Victory at Yorktown; Battle of Yorktown; Yorktown is Won!; Yorktown Battlefield: History of the Siege; Yorktown Campaign