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The storming of redoubt #10 at Yorktown

The Siege of Yorktown was the culminating act of the Yorktown campaign, a series of military operations occupying much of 1781 during the American Revolutionary War. The siege was a decisive Franco-American victory: after the surrender of British Lt. Gen. Charles, Earl Cornwallis on October 17, the government of Lord North fell, and its replacement entered into peace negotiations that resulted in British recognition of American independence with the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

The siege involved land forces from the United States, including the Continental Army and state militias, as well as land forces under French and British command. The British forces included a large number of troops from various German principalities of the Holy Roman Empire that were collectively known as Hessians. Since Yorktown, Virginia was specifically selected by Cornwallis for its properties as a deep-water port, both sides had naval support as well: the British forces included some Royal Navy vessels, and the Franco-American allies were supported by a large French fleet, some of whose marines were landed to assist in siege operations. German historians have noted that approximately one third of all the land forces involved were either hired or recruited from German states, or were German immigrants to America; this has led the siege to be known in German historiography as "die Deutsche Schlacht" ("the German battle").

The following units and commanders of the British, American, and French forces fought in the Siege of Yorktown, or provided significant local support.

British Army

The British Army forces present at Yorktown arrived in Virginia in four separate detachments. The first was sent from New York City in December 1780 under the command of the turncoat Brigadier General Benedict Arnold. The second was sent from New York in March 1781 under the command of Brigadier General William Phillips to reinforce Arnold after a Franco-American threat. The third detachment to arrive was that of General Cornwallis, who had been active in the Carolinas, and decided, against standing orders, to join with the forces of Arnold and Phillips after the April Battle of Guilford Court House. He arrived at Petersburg, Virginia in late May to take command of the army; Phillips had died of a fever just a week before, and Arnold returned to New York not long after Cornwallis arrived. While at Petersburg, Cornwallis was joined by a fourth detachment from New York that was under the command of the Hessian Colonel August von Voigt.

With this force, numbering about 7,200, Cornwallis first chased after the army of the Marquis de Lafayette, a much smaller force of Continental Army and local militiamen that had provided some resistance to the movements of Phillips and Arnold. Cornwallis was eventually ordered by the British Commander-in-Chief of North America, Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton, to establish a fortified deep-water port at either Yorktown or Portsmouth. Cornwallis chose Yorktown, and began constructing fortifications there and Gloucester Point, just across the York River from Yorktown, in August 1781.

Commander Lt. Gen. Charles, Earl Cornwallis, commanding


17th Light Dragoons


Royal Regiment of Artillery
(plus detachments of sailors manning guns from scuttled ships

British Infantry

Brigade of Foot Guards
Brig. Gen. Charles O'Hara

Two battalions

Light Infantry Brigade
Lt. Col. Robert Abercromby, 38th Foot

1st Battalion
(Light companies from the 4th, 7th, 15th, 17th, 23rd, 27th, 33rd, and 38th Foot)
2nd Battalion
(Light companies from the 37th, 40th, 43rd, 45th, 49th, 55th, 63rd, and 71st Foot)
82nd Foot

1st Brigade
Lt. Col. John Yorke, 22nd Foot

17th Foot
23rd Foot
33rd Foot
71st Foot, 2nd Battalion

2nd Brigade
Lt. Col. Thomas Dundas, 80th Foot

43rd Foot
76th Foot
80th Foot

German Infantry

Ansbach-Bayreuth Contingent
Col. August von Voigt

1st Regiment
2nd Regiment
Artillery company

Hesse-Kassel Contingent
Lt. Col. Matthew von Fuchs

Erb Prinz (Prince Hereditaire) Regiment
von Bose Regiment
Jaeger Company
Artillery Company


Queen's Rangers
British Legion
North Carolina Volunteers

American army

The American forces that opposed Cornwallis at Yorktown also arrived in Virginia at different times, since most of the detachments were made in reaction to the British movements. After Arnold was sent to Virginia, Major General George Washington, the American commander-in-chief, in January 1781 sent the Marquis de Lafayette to Virginia with 900 men. He was to be followed promptly by troops from the Pennsylvania Line under the command of Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, but Wayne did not arrive in Virginia until June. Lafayette's force included a substantial number of Virginia militia, and he shadowed Cornwallis during the movements that ended at Yorktown, with a skirmish at Spencer's Ordinary and a larger battle at Green Spring being their only significant encounters.

The main Continental Army of General Washington was at first stationed outside New York City, which Washington hoped to besiege with the assistance of the French army. However, word from Admiral Paul de Grasse of the French West Indies fleet would sail north to assist in operations on the Chesapeake Bay convinced Washington that action was best taken against Cornwallis's army in Virginia. Accordingly, the American and French armies set out in mid-August for Virginia. Some troops went overland the entire way; others were transported on the Chesapeake by ships of the French Navy. Washington arrived in Lafayette's camp before Yorktown on September 17.

Commander General George Washington, commanding


4th Continental Light Dragoons
Armand's Legion, Colonel Charles Armand Tuffin, marquis de la Rouerie

Brigadier General Henry Knox

1st Continental Artillery Regiment (1 company), Lieutenant Colonel Edward Carrington, Captain Whitehead Coleman
2nd Continental Artillery Regiment (9 companies), Colonel John Lamb
4th Continental Artillery Regiment (3 companies), Captains Patrick Duffy, William Ferguson, and James Smith
Sappers and miners (4 companies)


Light Division
Major General Marquis de Lafayette

1st Brigade
Brigadier General Peter Muhlenberg
Colonel Joseph Vose’s Battalion
(8 Massachusetts light infantry companies)
Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Joseph Sourbader de Gimat’s Battalion
(5 Connecticut, 2 Massachusetts, and 1 Rhode Island light infantry companies)
Lieutenant Colonel Francis Barber’s Battalion
(2 New Hampshire, 2 New Jersey, and Canadian Regiment light infantry companies and 3 New Jersey line companies)
2nd Brigade
Brigadier General Moses Hazen
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Scammell's battalion[1]
(2 New Hampshire, 3 Massachusetts, and 3 Connecticut light infantry companies)
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton's Battalion[1]
(2 New York light infantry companies; 2 New York and 2 Connecticut provisional light infantry companies)
Hazen’s Canadian Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Antill

2nd Division
Major General Benjamin Lincoln

1st Brigade
Brigadier General James Clinton
1st New York Regiment, Colonel Goose Van Schaick
2nd New York Regiment, Colonel Philip Van Courtlandt
2nd Brigade
Colonel Elias Dayton
1st New Jersey Regiment and 2nd New Jersey Regiment, Colonel Matthias Ogden
Rhode Island Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Jeremiah Olney

3rd Division
Major General Baron von Steuben

1st Brigade
Brigadier General Anthony Wayne
1st Pennsylvania Battalion, Colonel Walter Stewart
2nd Pennsylvania Battalion, Colonel Richard Butler
2nd Brigade
Brigadier General Mordecai Gist
3rd Maryland Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Adams
4th Maryland Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Roxburg
Virginia Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gaskins

Virginia Militia
General Thomas Nelson

1st Brigade
Brigadier General George Weedon
2nd Brigade
Brigadier General Robert Lawson
3rd Brigade
Brigadier General Edward Stevens
Dabney’s State Legion, Charles Dabney

French Army

The French forces at Yorktown came from two separate sources. The larger force, under the command of Lieutenant General the Comte de Rochambeau, landed at Newport, Rhode Island in 1780, and marched overland to join Washington's army outside New York in the summer of 1781. These troops marched with Washington's army from New York to Yorktown. More of the French troops were transported by boat on the Chesapeake than Americans, due to the French fleet commanders' preferences for transporting their own. The second source for French troops was the Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue, where Admiral de Grasse picked up more than 3,000 troops under the command of Major General the Marquis de St. Simon before departing for North America. The land forces were also supplemented by a number of marines provided by de Grasse in support of the siege.

Commander Lt. Gen. Comte de Rochambeau, commanding

Lt. Col. Comte d'Aboville

Auxonne Regiment
Metz Regiment

Maj. Gen. Baron de Viomenil's Division

Brigade Bourbonnois
Col. Marquis de Laval
Bourbonnois Regiment
Royal Deux-Ponts Regiment

Maj. Gen. Vicomte de Viomenil's Division

Brigade Soissonois
Col. Marquis de St. Maime
Soissonois Regiment (2 battalions)
Saintonge Regiment (2 battalions)

Maj. Gen. Marquis de St. Simon's Division

Brigade Agenois
Col. Marquis d'Audechamp
Agenois Regiment (2 battalions)
Gatinois Regiment
Brigade Touraine
Col. Vicomte de Pondeux
Touraine Regiment (2 battalions)

Detachment at Gloucester
Brig. Gen. Marquis de Choisy

Lauzun's Legion
(2 squadrons of Hussars from the Compagnie Générale and 2ième Légion, 4 companies of infantry and detachment of gunners, 2ième Légion)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Reorganized on October 1 after Scammell was mortally wounded. All the Connecticut companies were grouped under Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens in Scammell's Battalion. All of the Massachusetts companies were sent to Hamilton.


Morrissey, Brendan (1999), Yorktown 1781: The World Turned Upside Down, Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey Military. ISBN 1-85532-688-4

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