Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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nonade from all their works during (he
assaults upon the two redoubts. Wash
ington, with Generals Lincoln and Knox
and their suites, having dismounted, stood
watching the result. One of Washing

o o

ton s aids, observing that his position was
an exposed one, became solicitous for his
safety, and remarked: "Sir, you are too
much exposed here. Had you not better
step a little back?" "Colonel," replied
the chief, "if you are afraid, you have



liberty to step back." Soon afterward, a
musket-ball, after striking a cannon, rolled
at Washington s feet, when General Knox,
grasping his arm, ventured to remark, " My
dear general, we can t spare you yet."
" It is a spent ball no harm is done," was
the simple reply. When the last redoubt
was taken, Washington turned to Knox
and said, " The work is done, and well
done," and then called to his servant
" Billy, bring me my horse."*

" Washington, during the whole of the
siege," says Custis, "continued to expose
himself to every danger. It was in vain
his officers remonstrated. It was in vain
that Colonel Cobb, his aid-de-camp, en
treated him to come down from a parapet,
whence he was reconnoitring the enemy s
works, the shot and shells flying thickly
around, and an officer of the New-England
line killed within a very few yards. Du
ring one of his visits to the main battery,
a soldier of Colonel Lamb s artillery had
his leg shattered by the explosion of a
shell. As they were bearing him to the
rear, he recognised the chief, and cried
out, God bless your excellency ! save me
if you can, for I have been a good soldier,
and served under you during the whole
war. Sensibly affected by the brave fel
low s appeal, the general immediately or
dered him to the particular care of his
own surgeon; Doctor Craik. It was too
late; death terminated his sufferings after
an amputation was performed."

The captured redoubts being now in
cluded in the second parallel, which was
almost completed, and the heaviest of the
guns from the French ships mounted up-

* Lossin" -

Oct. 15.

on the batteries, together with the artil
lery that had been taken, the besiegers
were enabled to act with tremendous ef
fect upon the town. The situation of
Earl Cornwallis was becoming desperate.
His works were crumbling to pieces, and
nearly all the guns on his left were dis
mounted or silenced. It was now
ten days since the time appoint
ed by Sir Henry Clinton for the sailing
of the fleet and troops from New York to
his lordship s relief; and yet there was
not a sign of their approach, or a single
word received to account for the torturing
delay. Cornwallis, however, still strug
gled against fate. To retard the progress
of the second parallel, now nearly com
pleted, and to gain still a little time, his
lordship ordered a sortie of three hundred
and fifty men, composed of guards and
light-infantry, under Lieutenant-Colonel
Abercrombie, against two of the French
batteries, almost finished.

The assault began a little before day
break. Abercrombie divided his
force into two detachments, send
ing the guards against one battery and
the light-infantry against the other. Botb
attacks were made with a gallant dash :
the French w r ere driven out, with the loss
of a hundred killed and wounded, and all
their guns spiked.

A support, however, soon came up from
the trenches, and drove the British out
of the batteries again. The cannon had
been so hurriedly spiked, that the spikes
were readily withdrawn ; and before the
ensuing night the batteries were finished,
and now opened with great effect upon
the town.

Oct. 16.



Oct. 16,

On this day, Lord Cornwallis
began to despair of being longer
able to hold his position. His crumbling
works could hardly show a mounted gun ;
he was almost reduced to his last shell ;
and his troops were so worn by their in
cessant watching, exposure, and severe
labor, that the hospitals were filled with
the sick and wounded. Hopeless now of
receiving aid from Sir Henry Clinton in
time to save himself, his lordship was re
duced to the alternative of surrendering
or attempting an escape. The latter was
a bold and hazardous expedient, but the
earl bravely chose it.

Looking across York river, and to the


wide-spreading country beyond, his lord
ship hoped to save at least a portion of
his troops by a daring and rapid move
ment. He would secretly cross the river
in the night, before break of day attack
General de Choise (who had completely
invested Gloucester), cut to pieces or sur
prise his force, seize the French cavalry-
horses and those he could find on his
route, mount his infantry, make with all
speed for the fords of the Rappahannock,
Potomac, and other great rivers, and force
his way through Maryland, Pennsylvania,
and New Jersey, thus effecting a junction
with the British commander-in-chief at
New York. The artillery, military stores,
baggage, and the sick and wounded, would
have to be left behind ; but his lordship
had determined even upon this sacrifice,
in order to save himself the mortification
of a surrender.

Accordingly, at a late hour on
the same night, the light-infan
try, the greater part of the guards, and

Oct. 16.

Oct, 17,

a portion of the twenty-third regiment,
were embarked in boats, and landed on
Gloucester Point. So secretly was this
effected, that the besiegers on neither side
of the river were conscious of the move
ment. The rest of the army was ready
to follow, when a violent storm of wind
and rain arose, which prevented the boats
from returning, and ruined the whole pro
ject. Cornwallis now abandoned all hopes
of escape, and recalled the troops from the
other side. The day, however, was con-
siderabty advanced before they were able
to return, when they were seen by the
besiegers, and exposed to their fire.

The allies, in the meantime, had kept
up their destructive cannonade. At day
break, several new batteries in
the second parallel were opened,
by which a more terrible tempest of shell
and round-shot was poured upon York-
town than had yet been sent. It was on
this occasion that Governor Nelson, who
commanded the first battery, made a, most
noble and touching display of patriotism.
The incident is best related in the words
of Lafayette, himself a prominent actor
in the scene, who thus narrated it to Cus-
tis, on his last visit to Mount Vernon, in

" I had just finished a battery," said the
nation s guest, "mounted with heavy pie
ces ; but, before I opened on the town, I
requested the attendance of the governor
of Virginia, not only as a compliment due
to the chief magistrate of the state in
which I was serving, but from his accu
rate knowledge of the localities of a place
in which he had spent the greater part of
his life. To what particular spot would




your excellency direct that we should
point the cannon ? I asked. There/
promptly replied the noble-minded, patri
otic Nelson, to that house. It is mine,
and is, now that the secretary s is nearly
knocked to pieces, the best one in the
town ; and there you will be almost cer
tain to find Lord Cornwallis and the Brit
ish headquarters. Fire upon it, my dear
marquis, and never spare a particle of my
property so long as it affords a comfort
or a shelter to the enemies of my coun
try. The governor then rode away, leav
ing us all charmed with an instance of de
votional patriotism that would have shed
a lustre upon the purest ages of Grecian
or Roman virtue."*

" The first headquarters of Earl Corn
wallis," adds Custis, " were in the house
of Mr. Secretary Nelson, a relative of the
governor, and a gentleman attached to
the royal cause. It was a very large and
splendid brick mansion, and, towering
above the ramparts, afforded a fine mark
for the American artillery, that soon rid
dled it, having learned from a deserter
that it contained the British headquar
ters. His lordship remained in the house
until his steward was killed by a cannon-

* " When I visited Yorktown a few years ago," says Los-
sin^, " Governor Nelson s house was yet standing, and was
occupied by his grandson. It was a large, two-storied brick
building, fronting the main street of the town, a short dis
tance from the river bank. It bore many scars of the can
nonade and bombardment alluded to; and in the yard, in
front, lay an unexploded bombshell, cast there at the time
of the siege. A few feet from the door was a fine laurel-iree,
from whose boughs a handsome civic wreath was made, on
the occasion of Lafayette s visit there, in 1824. The wreath
was placed upon the brow of the nation s guest, when he in
stantly removed it and laid it upon that of Colonel Nicholas
Fish, of the Revolution, who accompanied him, remarking
that no one was better entitled to wear the mark of honor
than he."

ball while carrying a tureen of soup to
his master s table.

" The British general then removed his
headquarters to the house of Governor
Nelson, and finally to npartments exca
vated in the bank on the southern ex
tremity of the town, where two rooms
were wainscotted with boards, and lined
with baize, for his accommodation." The
cave, whose entrance was concealed by
an old house, was probably made for the
hiding of valuables. " It was in that cav
ernous abode that the earl received his
last letter from Sir Henry Clinton. It was
brought by the Honorable Colonel Coch-
ran, who, landing from an English cutter
on Cape Charles, procured an open boat,
and threading his way, under cover of a
fog, through the French fleet, arrived safe
ly, and delivered his despatches. They
contained orders for the earl to hold out
to the last extremity, assuring him that
a force of seven thousand men would be
immediately embarked for his relief.

" While taking wine with his lordship
after dinner, the gallant colonel proposed
that he should go up to the ramparts and
take a look at the Yankees, and upon his
return give Washington s health in a bum
per. He was dissuaded from so rash a
proceeding by every one at the table, the
whole of the works being at that time in
so ruinous a state, that shelter could be
had nowhere. The colonel, however, per
sisted; and, gayly observing that he would
leave his glass as his representative till his
return, which would be quickly, away he
went. Poor fellow ! lie did return, and that
quickly, but he was borne in the arms ot
his soldiers,not to his glass, but his grave."


Oct. 17.

Under the terrible and inces

sant cannonade of the besiegers,
with which the earth trembled for a great
distance around, the British works were
so knocked to pieces, that hardly a gun
could be fired from them. York town had
now become so evidently untenable, that
Lord Cornwallis felt that it would be mad
ness to await an assault. After consult
ing his engineers and officers, he accord
ingly beat a parley about noon, and pro
posed a cessation of hostilities for twenty-
four hours, and the appointment of com
missioners on either side, to settle the
terms of a surrender. His lordship s ob
ject was to gain time, as he was in hourly
expectation of the arrival of a naval force
from New York.

Washington, in reply, objected to the
long delay ; for he, too, had information
of the expected arrival of succor for Corn
wallis, and he was fearful his prey might
escape. He therefore expressed the de
sire that the earl, previous to the meeting
of the commissioners, would state in wri
ting his proposals, for which purpose a sus
pension of hostilities for two hours would
be granted. His lordship complied with
the request, and sent back his written prop
ositions. These, however, not being con
sidered admissible, Washington rejoined
with a statement of his own terms, which
were agreed to by the earl, and made the
basis upon which the capitulation was
finally adjusted.

Colonel John Laurens and Viscount de
Noailles (the latter Lafayette s brother-
in-law) were appointed the two commis
sioners in behalf of General Washington,
and Colonel Ross and Lieutenant-Colonel

Oct. 18,

Dundas on the part of Lord Cornwallis
The commissioners met in the morning
and discussed the terms of the
surrender, on which they could
not fully agree, and the entire day was
spent in conferences and negotiations.

Washington would not allow any fur
ther delay, and early the next morning
he sent a fair transcript of rough articles
to Cornwallis, with a letter, in which he
informed his lordship that he should ex
pect them to be signed by eleven o clock
that clay, and that the troops of the gar
rison would march out to surrender by
two o clock in the afternoon. To this the
earl was obliged to submit. The articles
were signed by the respective parties
(at the house of Mr. Moore, in the neigh
borhood), and, at the hour appointed, the
garrisons at York town and Glou
cester, the shipping in the har
bor, and all the ordnance, ammunition, and
stores, belonging to the British at York-
town, were surrendered to the land and
naval forces of France and the United
States, after a siege of thirteen days.

The following is an abstract of the ar
ticles of capitulation : I. The garrisons at
York and Gloucester to surrender them
selves prisoners-of-war; the land-troops to
remain prisoners to the United States
the naval forces to the naval army of the
French king. II. The artillery, munitions,
stores, etc., to be delivered to proper offi
cers appointed to receive them. III. The
two redoubts captured on the 16th to be
surrendered, one to the Americans, the
other to the French troops. The garrison
at York to march out at two o clock, with
shouldered arms, colors cased, and drums




beating ; there to lay down their arms,
and return to their encampment. The
works on the Gloucester side to be deliv
ered to the Americans and French ; the
garrison to lay down their arms at three
o clock. IV. The officers to retain their
side-arms, papers, and private property.
Also, the property of loyalists found in
the garrison to be retained. V. The sol
diers to be kept in Virginia, Maryland,
and Pennsylvania, and to be subsisted by
the Americans. British, Anspach, and Hes
sian officers, allowed to be quartered near
them, and supply them with clothing and
necessities. VI. The officers allowed to
go on parole to Europe, or to any part of
the American confederacy ; proper ves
sels to be granted by Count de Grasse to
convey them, under flags of truce, to New
York, within ten days, if they choose ;
passports to be granted to those who go
by land. VII. Officers allowed to keep
soldiers as servants ; and servants, not
soldiers, not to be considered prisoners.
VIII. The Bonetta to be under the entire
control of Cornwallis, to go to New York
with despatches, and then to be delivered
to Count de Grasse. IX. Traders not con
sidered close prisoners-of-w r ar, but on pa
role, and allowed three months to dispose
of their property, or remove it. X. Loy
alists not to be punished on account of
having joined the British army. (Con
sidering this matter to be of a civil char
acter, Washington would not assent to the
article.) XI. Proper hospitals to be fur
nished for the sick and wounded, they to
be attended by the British surgeons. XII.
Wagons to be furnished, if possible, for
carrying the baggage of officers attending

the soldiers, and of the hospital-surgeons
when travelling on account of the sick.

XIII. The shipping and boats in the two
harbors, with all their appendages, arms,
and stores, to be delivered up unimpaired
after the private property was unloaded.

XIV. No article of the capitulation to be
infringed on pretext of reprisal ; and a
fair interpretation to be given, according
to the common meaning and acceptation
of words.

These articles were signed, on the part
of the British, by Lord Cornwallis, and by
Thomas Symonds, the naval commander
in York river ; on the part of the allied
armies, by Washington, Rochambeau, De
Barras, and De Grasse.

The ceremony of the surrender present
ed a scene of imposing interest. News
of the defeat and expected capitulation
of the British earl had spread throughout
the adjoining country, and the inhabit
ants by thousands flocked to the allied
camp. Doctor Thacher, who was an eye
witness, estimated that the spectators on
the occasion w 7 ere in number equal to the
military who were to capitulate.

General Lincoln was appointed by the
commander-in-chief to conduct the sur
render, which was upon the same terms
as those prescribed to that officer the pre
vious year at the capitulation of Charles
ton. Lincoln doubtless felt a natural sat
isfaction in being thus made the instru
ment in this "humiliation of those who
had made him pass under the } r oke."

At about twelve o clock, the
combined army was drawn up in
two lines, extending more than a mile in
length. The Americans were posted on

Oct. 19.




the right side of the road leading from
York town to Hampton, and the French
on the left. At the head of the former,
Washington, mounted on his noble steed,
took his station, attended by his aids-de
camp.* At the head of the latter was
the count de Kochambeau, on a splendid
bay horse, accompanied by his suite. The
French troops, in complete uniform, pre
sented a martial appearance. The Ameri
cans, too, though not all in uniform, and
many of them shabbily clothed, exhibited
a soldierlike bearing. The immense crowd
of spectators looked on in silence, but with
a manifest expression of joy on their faces.
It is also related that when the British
soldiers were about to march out and lay
down their arms, Washington said to his
troops, " My boys, let there be no insults
over a conquered foe ! When they lay
down their arms, don t huzza: posterity
tvill huzza for you /"

At two o clock, the captive army came
out of the intrenchments, and began to
advance between the lines of the allies.
Every eye gazed eagerly upon that pro
cession, to catch a sight of the renowned
and long-dreaded Cormvallis, the terror
of the South, in this the hour of his ad
versity ; but all were destined to disap-

" On the day of the surrender, the commander-in-rhief
rode his favorite and splendid charger, named Nelson, a light
sorrel, sixteen hands high, with white face and legs, and re
markable as being the first nicked horse seen in America.
This famous charger died at Mount Vernon many years af
ter the Revolution, at a very advanced age. After the chief
had ceased to mount him, he was never ridden, but grazed
in a paddock in summer; and was well cared for in winter;
and as often as the retired farmer of Mount Vernon would
be making a tour of his grounds, he would halt at the pud-
dock, when the old war-horse would run, neighing, to the
fence, proud to be caressed by the great muster s hands."
CUSTIS S Recollections of Washington.

pointment. His lordship, who so often
had boldly confronted the Americans in
battle, lacked the courage to meet them
on this day of their triumph. Despond
ing and humiliated, the earl, affecting in
disposition, appointed General ILira to
deliver up his sword to Washington, and
to conduct the vanquished army to the
place of surrender. O Hara, handsomely
mounted, walked his horse at the head of
the column of conquered troops, as they
moved slowly along with shouldered arms,
colors cased, and drums beating a British
march. On observing Washington, how
ever, he immediately rode up to where
the chief was standing, in order to pre
sent the sword of his superior, and, taking
off his hat, apologized for the absence of
Lord Cormvallis. Washington courteous
ly referred him for directions to General
Lincoln, who took the sword from O Hara,
and then politely handed it back, to be
returned to the earl. The British troops
w r ere now conducted by Lincoln into a
spacious field which had been selected for
them to ground their arms.

As they advanced, "it was remarked
that the British soldiers looked only tow
ard the French army on the left, whose
appearance was assuredly more brilliant
than that of the Americans, though the
latter were respectable in both their cloth
ing and appointments ; while their admi
rable discipline, and the hardy and vet
eran appearance of both officers and men,
showed they were no carpet-knights, but
soldiers who had seen service, and were
inured to war.

" Lafayette, at the head of his division,
observing that the captives confined their



admiration exclusively to the French ar
my, neglecting his darling light-infantry,
the very apple of his eye and pride of his
heart, determined to bring eyes to the
right. He ordered his nmsic to strike np
Yankee Doodle. Then/ said the good gen
eral, l they did look at us, my dear sir, but
were not very well pleased. "*

The royal army was in bright array.
Every soldier wore a new uniform, for
Cornwallis had opened his stores and sup
plied each man with a new suit just be
fore the capitulation. " But in their line
of march," says Thacher, " we remarked a
disorderly and an unsoldierlike conduct;
their step was irregular, and their ranks
frequently broken. But it was in the
field, when they came to the last act of
the drama,, that the spirit and pride of
the British soldier was put to the severest
test ; here their mortification could not be
concealed. Some of the platoon-officers
appeared to be exceedingly chagrined
when giving the word Ground arms! and
I am a witness that they performed this
duty in a very unofficerlike manner; and
that many of the soldiers manifested a
sullen temper, throwing their arms on the
pile with violence, as if determined to ren
der them useless. This irregularity, how
ever, was checked by the authority of
General Lincoln."

" When ordered to ground arms," says
Custis, "the Hessian was content. He
was tired of the war ; his pipe and his pa
tience pretty well exhausted, he longed
to bid adieu to toilsome marches, battles,
and the heat of the climate that consumed
him. Not so the British soldier: many

* Custis s Recollections of Washington.

threw their arms to the ground in sullen
despair. One fine veteran fellow displayed
a soldierly feeling that excited the admi
ration of all around. He hugged his mus
ket to his bosom, gazed tenderly on it,
pressed it to his lips, then threw it from
him, and marched away dissolved in tears."

One of the most painful events to the
captives w r as the surrender of the twen
ty-eight regimental flags. For this pur
pose, twenty-eight British captains, each
bearing a flag in a case, were drawn up
in line. Opposite to them, at a distance
of six paces, twenty-eight American ser
geants were placed to receive the colors,
and an ensign was appointed by Colonel
Hamilton, the officer of the day, to con
duct the ceremony. When the ensign
gave an order for the captains to advance
two paces, and the American sergeants to
advance two paces, the former hesitated,
saying that they were unwilling to sur
render their flags to non-commissioned
officers. Hamilton, sitting upon his horse
at a distance, observed this hesitation ; he
rode up, and, when informed of the diffi
culty, ordered the ensign to receive all
the colors, and hand them over to the ser

This ceremony being concluded, and
the arms and accoutrements laid down,
the ca.ptive troops were conducted back
to their lines, under a sufficient guard.
The number of men thus surrendered as
prisoners amounted to seven thousand
and seventy-three, of whom five thousand
nine hundred and fifty were rank and file.
These, added to two thousand sailors, fif
teen hundred tories, and eighteen hun
dred negroes, made the total British loss



nearly twelve thousand. Their loss du
ring the siege in killed, wounded, and mis
sing, was five hund red and fi fty two. The
allied force consisted of about seven thou
sand regular American troops, more than
five thousand French, and four thousand
militia, forming a total of sixteen thou
sand. The loss of the allies in the siege
was only about three hundred. The ar
tillery, and military stores and provision
surrendered by the British, were of very
considerable amount. There were sev
enty-five brass and one hundred and sixty
iron cannon ; seven thousand seven hun
dred and ninety-four muskets ; twenty-

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 119 of 126)