George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 16 October 1781]

16th. About four O’clock this Morning the enemy made a Sortee upon our Second parallel and spiked four French pieces of Artillery & two of ours—but the guards of the Trenches advancing quickly upon them they retreated precipitately. The Sally being made upon that part of the parallel which was guarded by the French Troops they lost an officer & 12 Men killed and 1 Officer taken prisoner. The American loss was one Sergeant of Artillery (in the American battery) Wounded. The Enemy, it is said, left 10 dead and lost 3 Prisoners.1

About 4 Oclock this afternoon the French opened two Batteries of 2. 24s. & four 16s. each. 3 pieces from the American grand battery were also opened—the others not being ready.

1The British sortie, about 4:00 A.M., against the second parallel was led by Lt. Col. Robert Abercromby with 350 men of the light infantry and Guards (see 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 , 390; WICKWIRE description begins Franklin and Mary Wickwire. Cornwallis: The American Adventure. Boston, 1970. description ends , 382–83). Although the British attackers succeeded in spiking the guns in two allied batteries, the spikes were quickly removed by the defenders (Cornwallis to Clinton, 20 Oct. 1781, CLINTON description begins William B. Willcox, ed. The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents. New Haven, 1954. description ends , 583–87). On the 16th, after the failure of Abercromby’s sortie had become apparent, Cornwallis made a last desperate attempt to escape the siege. He planned an attack on Choisy on Gloucester, hoping to break through his lines and march his troops north. Tarleton, already entrenched on Gloucester, sent 16 large boats across the river to ferry the British forces to Gloucester, since Cornwallis “hoped to pass the infantry during the night, abandoning our baggage and leaving a detachment to capitulate for the townspeople and for the sick and wounded, on which subject a letter was ready to be delivered to General Washington.” At this point a violent storm broke, driving the boats down the river. When the American batteries opened fire at daybreak, a substantial portion of Cornwallis’s troops were marooned at Gloucester; he was not able to get them back across the river until just before noon (Cornwallis to Clinton, 20 Oct. 1781, CLINTON description begins William B. Willcox, ed. The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents. New Haven, 1954. description ends , 583–87).

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