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By the surrender of the posts of Yorktown and Gloucester Point, the Americans gained possession of a large train of artillery, consisting of seventy-five brass, and sixty-nine iron cannon, howitzers and mortars, with a considerable quantity of arms, ammunition, military stores, and provisions. One frigate, two ships, of twenty guns each, a number of transports, and other vessels, and fifteen hundred and one seamen, surrendered to Count de Grasse, his most Christian majesty's admiral. The combined army at Yorktown may be estimated at sixteen thousand men; consisting of seven thousand French, five thousand five hundred continentals, and three thousand five hundred militia. Their loss during the siege amounted to about three hundred killed and wounded.
General Washington felt all the importance of the conquest which he had achieved. His troops had displayed indefatigable industry, joined with much bravery; and, in general orders of the 20th, he acknowledged their merits, thanking all the officers and men for their services. The engineers and artillery-men had particularly distinguished themselves, and were mentioned in terms of high commendation. The general offered his best acknowledgments to Count de Rochambeau and his officers and men; the important co-operation of Count de Grasse was also duly appreciated. The capture of Cornwallis and his army raised the shout of triumph and joy throughout America, particularly in Virginia it was like the exultation of a pastoral people over the death of a lion which had cruelly ravaged their flocks, and spread terror through their dwellings.
The attack on Cornwallis was conceived in the true spirit of military enterprise; but a concurrence of many favourable circumstances was necessary in order to its successful execution. It was a combined effort by sea and land, carried on by different leaders, and liable to the uncertainty of winds and waves. Superiority by sea was indispensably requisite; and the whole scheme was endangered by the appearance of Admiral Hood, at Chesapeake Bay. The arrival of De Barras, the return of De Grasse after his encounter with Admiral Hood, all combined against the British, who, after behaving like brave men, were compelled to surrender themselves prisoners of war.
Sir Henry Clinton was not ignorant of the perilous situation of Cornwallis, and was anxious to relieve him; but the fleet had sustained considerable damage in the battle with De Grasse, and some time was necessarily spent in repairing it. During that interval
four ships of the line arrived from Europe, and two from the West Indies. At length, the commander-in-chief embarked with seven thousand of his best troops, but was unable to sail from Sandy Hook till the 19th, the day on which Cornwallis surrendered. The fleet, consisting of twenty-five ships of the line, two vessels of fifty guns each, and eight frigates, arrived off the Chesapeake on the 24th, when the commander-in-chief had the mortification to be informed of the event of the 19th.
He remained on the coast, however, till the 29th, when every doubt being removed concerning the capitulation of Cornwallis, whose relief was the sole object of the expedition, he returned to New York.
While Sir Henry Clinton continued off the Chesapeake, the French fleet, consisting of thirty-six sail of the line, satisfied with the advantage already gained, lay at anchor in the bay without making any movement whatever. The grand error of the British, in the whole of this transaction, was the not sending a larger fleet from the West Indies than that which sailed under Admiral Hood.
Washington used all his influence to detain Count de Grasse some time longer on the coast, to assist in the reduction of Charleston; but the orders of his court, ulterior projects, and his engagements with the Spaniards, put it out of the power of the French admiral to continue so long in America as was required. He, however, remained some days in the bay, in order to cover the embarkation of the troops and of the ordnance to be conveyed by water to the head of the Elk. Some brigades proceeded by land to join their companions at that place. Some cavalry marched to join General Greene; but the French troops, under Count de Rochambeau, remained in Virginia, to be in readiness to march to the south or north, as the circumstances of the next campaign might require. On the 27th, the troops of St. Simon began to embark, in order to return to the West Indies; and early in November, Count de Grasse sailed for that quarter. Washington proceeded to Philadelphia, where he arrived on the 27th of November.
The capture of Cornwallis was the most decisive event of the The military operations in America were afterwards desultory and languid; few in number, and unimportant in their nature; injurious or fatal, indeed, to individuals, but of little public advantage or loss to either of the contending parties.
While Washington was marching against Cornwallis, the loyalists of North Carolina, under McNeill and McDougall, made themselves masters of Hillsborough, and took a number of prisoners.
McNeill and some of his followers were killed in an encounter with the Americans. McDougall was pursued, but effected his escape with a number of prisoners to Wilmington.
Late in October, Major Ross made an incursion into the country on the Mohawk at the head of five hundred men, regulars, rangers, and Indians. Colonel Willett, with about an equal force, found him at Johnstown. An engagement ensued, when part of the Americans fled without any apparent cause; but as the rest maintained their ground, the British retreated. Willett, with a select party, pursued them; and on the morning of the 30th, overtook their rear at a ford on Canada Creek. He immediately attacked them, killed a number, and put the rest to flight. Among the slain was Walter Butler, who perpetrated the massacre at Cherry Valley. He asked quarter, but was reminded of Cherry Valley and instantly despatched.
The convention of Saratoga was a severe blow to the British arms; but the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown was still more decisive. It produced a great change in America, and gave a new and more cheering aspect to the affairs of the Union. In the early part of the year, the cause of the States was in a drooping condition, and American freedom seemed verging to ruin. Congress was surrounded with embarrassments, and victory had fled from their standards. The success of Morgan at the Cowpens, and the exertions of Greene, dissipated the gloom in the south; but in the middle and northern provinces nothing had occurred to awaken hope and stimulate exertion. The capture, therefore, of Cornwallis and his army, which was achieved by a remarkable coincidence of good conduct and fortunate circumstances, altered the face of things. Congress, the state governments, and all classes of people, exulted with joy. A brighter sun shone on their heads, elevated their hopes, and invigorated their exertions. The clamours of the discontented were silenced, the hearts of the desponding re-animated, and the wavering confirmed in their attachment to the Union. A new impulse was given to the public mind; but, above all, the ray of peace, which seemed now to burst through the gloom of war, was grateful to their souls.
If the effects of the surrender at Yorktown were great in America, they were not less so in Europe. The government and people of Britain entertained the most sanguine hopes from the operations of the army in Virginia. The expense of the war was heavy, and every year increasing. The people murmured under the load; but were encouraged to bear with patience in the hope of being soon relieved, and ultimately reimbursed by the exclusive trade of the
subjugated provinces. Many flattered themselves that the campaign in Virginia would annihilate the power of Congress, and put an end to the contest.
In the midst of these fond anticipations, the news of the surrender at Yorktown arrived, and struck both the ministry and people with amazement and dismay. The blow was equally severe and unexpected. It laid their towering hopes in the dust, and filled them with painful apprehensions.
Parliament met on the 27th of November; and after a protracted struggle in the House of Commons, on the 27th of February, the opposition carried an address against the prolongation of the war in America. Previous to this, Mr. Henry Laurens, the American ambassador to Holland, who had been captured by the British and confined in the Tower of London, was released.
HE surrender of Cornwallis, although it was the event which ultimately decided the fate of the war, was not so considered at the time. Washington fully expected another campaign, and accordingly urged upon Congress the necessary preparations for rendering it an active and decisive one. The military establishment was, therefore, kept up; the states were called upon to complete their quotas of troops, money and supplies were voted, and Washington was directed to address circular letters to the governors of all the states, calling for money and troops, and reporting the actual condition of the army.
After the glorious victory at Yorktown, Lafayette, believing the favourable termination of the war to be certain, obtained permission from Congress to revisit France. He bore to his native country ample testimonials of his services from Congress, and a letter to 2 P 2