Surrender at Yorktown

Late in the afternoon of the 19th of October, 1781, the surrender of Cornwallis and his army took place. The allied troops were drawn up in two columns. Washington on his white charger was at the head of the Americans; and Rochambeau on a powerful bay horse at the head of the French columns. A vast concourse of people from the surrounding country were spectators of the impressive scene. Cornwallis, feigning sickness, sent General O'Hara with his sword, as his representative. That officer led the vanquished troops out of their intrenchments with their colors cased, and marched them between the victorious columns. When he arrived at their head he approached Washington to hand him the earl's sword, when the commander-in-chief directed him to General Lincoln as his representative. It was a proud moment for Lincoln. Only the year before he had been compelled to make a humiliating surrender to royal troops at Charleston. He led the subdued army to the field where they were to lay down their arms, and then received from O'Hara the sword of Cornwallis, which he politely returned to be given back to the earl. The standards, twenty-eight in number, were then given up, and the royal army laid down their arms.

The whole number of troops surrendered was about seven thousand. To these must be added two thousand sailors, eighteen hundred negroes, and fifteen hundred Tories, making the total number of prisoners over twelve thousand. Besides these, the British lost in killed, wounded and missing during the siege, about five hundred and fifty men; the loss of the Americans was about three hundred. The spoils of victory were nearly eight thousand muskets; seventy-five brass and one hundred and sixty iron cannon, and a large quantity of munitions of war and stores. To accomplish this great victory, the French had provided thirty-seven ships-of-the-line and seven thousand men; and the Americans furnished nine thousand troops, of which number five thousand five hundred were regulars.

ON the day after the surrender of Cornwallis, Washington, in general orders, expressed his great approbation of both armies. That all his soldiers might participate in the general joy and thanksgiving, he ordered every one under arrest or in confinement to be set at liberty; and as the following day would be the Sabbath, he closed his orders by directing divine service to be performed in the several brigades on the morrow.

The surrender of so large a portion of the British army in America secured the independence of the United States. The blow of final disseverance had fallen; war would no longer serve a useful purpose; humanity and sound policy counselled peace. The king and his ministers were astounded when the news of the surrender reached them. Lord North received the intelligence, said Germain, "as he would have taken a cannon-ball in his breast, for he opened his arms, exclaiming wildly, as he paced up and down the apartment a few minutes, `O God, it is all over!' words which he repeated many times under emotions of the deepest consternation and distress." The stubborn king was amazed and greatly disturbed, but he soon recovered his calmness and wrote in view of propositions in the Parliament to give up the contest: "No difficulties can get me to consent to the getting of peace at the expense of a separation from America."

Great was the exultation and joy of the Americans as the news of the surrender went from lip to lip throughout the Union. Lieutenant-Colonel Tighlman, one of Washington's aids, rode express to Philadelphia to carry the despatches of his chief announcing the joyful tidings to the Congress, It was midnight (October 23) when he entered the city. Thomas McKean, then President of the Congress, resided on High Street near Second Street. Tighlman knocked so violently at his door that a watchman was disposed to arrest him as a disturber of the peace. McKean arose, received the messenger with joy, and soon the glad tidings spread over the city. The watchmen proclaiming the hour, and the usual cry "All's well!" added "and Cornwallis is taken!" That announcement, going out upon the frosty night air, called thousands from their beds. The old State-House bell that sounded so clearly when independence was declared more than five years before, now rang out tones of gladness. Lights were seem moving in almost every house; and very soon the streets were thronged with men and women, all eager to know the details. It was a night of great joy in Philadelphia, for the people had anxiously waited for news from Yorktown. The first flush of morning was greeted with the booming of cannon; and at an early hour the Congress assembled and heard Charles Thompson read the despatch from Washington. That grave Senate could hardly repress huzzas while the Secretary read; and at its conclusion it was resolved to go in a body, at two o'clock in the afternoon, to the Dutch Lutheran Church, and "return thanks to Almighty God for crowning the allied armies of the United States and France with success." Six days afterward that body voted thanks and appropriate honors to Washington, Rochambeau, and De Grasse and their officers, and resolved that a marble column should be erected at Yorktown with emblems of the alliance in commemoration of the event. The Congress also appointed a day for a grand thanksgiving and prayer throughout the Union, on account of the signal mark of Divine power. Legislative bodies, executive councils, city corporations, and many private societies presented congratulatory addresses to the commanding generals and their officers; and from almost every pulpit in the land arose the voice of thanksgiving and praise accompanied by the alleluiahs of thousands of worshipers before the altars of the Lord of Hosts.

The Duke de Lauzun bore the glad tidings to France, where he found the king and court rejoicing because of the birth of a dauphin, or heir to the French throne. The news reached England by way of France on the 25th of November, and produced the effect already noticed. The city of London petitioned the king to "put an end to the unnatural and unfortunate war;" and in Parliament, a great and rapid change of opinion on the subject was visible. Late in February General Conway, in the House of Commons, moved to address the king in favor of peace, when warm debates arose, Lord North defending the royal policy with vigor on the ground of its justice and its maintenance of British rights. "Good God! are we yet to be told of the rights for which we went to war?" exclaimed Burke. "O, excellent rights! O, valuable rights! Valuable you should be, for we have paid dear at parting with you. O, valuable rights! that have cost Britain thirteen provinces, four islands, one hundred thousand men, and more than seventy millions [$350,000,000] of money." Conway's proposition was carried at the beginning of March.

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