George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 19 October 1781]

19th. In the Morning early I had them copied and sent word to Lord Cornwallis that I expected to have them signed at 11 Oclock and that the Garrison would March out at two O’clock—both of which were accordingly done.1 Two redoubts on the Enemys left being possessed (the one by a detachment of French Grenadiers, & the other by American Infantry) with orders to prevent all intercourse between the army & Country and the Town—while Officers in the several departments were employed in taking acct. of the public Stores &ca.

1The final articles of capitulation, signed 19 Oct. by GW, Rochambeau, and Barras (signing for himself and de Grasse) for the allies and Cornwallis and Thomas Symonds for the British, contained customary conditions of honorable surrender. In addition, British officers were permitted to return to Europe or to any British-held American port on parole. Land troops were to be considered prisoners of the United States; naval prisoners would be in the custody of the French. British soldiers were “to be kept in Virginia, Maryland or Pennsylvania, and as much by Regiments as possible, and supplied with the same Rations of provisions as are allowed to Soldiers in the service of America.” The sloop of war Bonetta was to be left at the disposal of Cornwallis to carry dispatches to Clinton “and such Soldiers as he may think proper to send to New York to be permitted to sail without examination” (P.R.O. 30/11/74, ff. 128–33). As GW probably surmised, the soldiers sent to New York aboard the Bonetta were principally deserters from the American army who had joined the British (see mackenzie, 2:685). The text of the capitulation is conveniently printed in WASHINGTON AND DE GRASSE description begins Institut Français de Washington. Correspondence of General Washington and Comte de Grasse, 1781, August 17–November 4. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends , 104–11.

On this day GW wrote to Congress announcing the British surrender and enclosing his correspondence with Cornwallis and commissioned his aide Lt. Col. Tench Tilghman to carry the victory dispatch to Congress (DNA:PCC, Item 152).

At 2:00 P.M. French and American troops began to move into British positions at the east end of the town. With American troops lined up on the right and French on the left, the British began their march through the lines, “their Drums in Front beating a slow March. Their Colours furl’d and Cased . . . General Lincoln with his Aids conducted them—Having passed thro’ our whole Army they grounded their Arms & march’d back again thro’ the Army a second Time into the Town—The sight was too pleasing to an American to admit of Description” (TUCKER description begins Edward M. Riley. “St. George Tucker Journal of the Siege of Yorktown, 1781.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 5 (1948): 375–95. description ends , 392–93). French army officer baron von Closen noted that in passing through the lines the British showed “the greatest scorn for the Americans, who, to tell the truth, were eclipsed by our army in splendor of appearance and dress, for most of these unfortunate persons were clad in small jackets of white cloth, dirty and ragged, and a number of them were almost barefoot” (CLOSEN description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, ed. The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958. description ends , 153). Cornwallis, claiming illness, did not accompany his troops, and the surrender was carried out by Brig. Gen. Charles O’Hara, who had accompanied Cornwallis through the Carolina campaign. The British officer’s sword was accepted by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln.

Descriptions of the Yorktown surrender ceremonies are legion. For details, see Clermont-Crèvecoeur in RICE description begins Howard C. Rice, Jr., and Anne S. K. Brown, eds. The American Campaigns of Rochambeau’s Army, 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783. 2 vols. Princeton, N.J., 1972. description ends , 1:61; DUMAS description begins Mathieu Dumas. Memoirs of His Own Time; including the Revolution, the Empire, and the Restoration. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1839. description ends , 1:52–53; BUTLER description begins “General Richard Butler’s Journal of the Siege of Yorktown.” Historical Magazine, and Notes and Queries concerning the Antiquities, History, and Biography of America 8 (1864): 102–12. description ends , 111; THACHER description begins James Thacher. Military Journal of the American Revolution, From the commencement to the disbanding of the American Army; Comprising a detailed account of the principal events and Battles of the Revolution, with their exact dates, And a Biographical Sketch of the most Prominent Generals. Hartford, 1862. description ends , 288–90; LEE [4] description begins Henry Lee. Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States. New ed. New York, 1869. description ends , 512–13. See also FREEMAN description begins Douglas Southall Freeman. George Washington: A Biography. 7 vols. New York, 1948–57. description ends , 5:378–93; JOHNSTON [3] description begins Henry P. Johnston. The Yorktown Campaign and the Surrender of Cornwallis, 1781. 1881. Reprint. New York, 1971. description ends , 151–61. For O’Hara’s attempt, probably unintentional, to present his sword to Rochambeau instead of GW, see DUMAS description begins Mathieu Dumas. Memoirs of His Own Time; including the Revolution, the Empire, and the Restoration. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1839. description ends , 52–53; ROCHAMBEAU description begins Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau. Mémoires, Militaires, Historiques, et Politiques. 2 vols. Paris, 1809. description ends , 1:295. The tradition that the British band played “The World Turned Upside Down” is discussed in FREEMAN description begins Douglas Southall Freeman. George Washington: A Biography. 7 vols. New York, 1948–57. description ends , 5:388 n.47.

On the evening of the 19th Cornwallis was invited to dine at Headquarters “but excuses himself on account of health. Keeps his Quarters.” O’Hara came in his place “very social and easy” (TRUMBULL [1] description begins “Minutes of Occurrences respecting the Siege and Capture of York in Virginia, extracted from the Journal of Colonel Jonathan Trumbull, Secretary to the General, 1781.” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 14 (1875-76): 331–38. description ends , 337).

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