« AnteriorContinuar »
show a single gun, and their shells were nearly exhausted. In this extremity, , Cornwallis formed the desperate resolution of crossing the river during the night, with his effective force, and attempting to escape to the northward. His plan was, to leave behind his sick, baggage, and all incumbrances; to attack De Choisé, who commanded on the Gloucester side, with his whole force; to mount his own infantry, partly with the hostile cavalry, which he had no doubt of seizing, and partly with such horses as he might find by the way; to hasten toward the fords of the great rivers in the upper country, and then, turning northward, to pass through Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the Jerseys, and join the army at New York. The plan was hazardous, and presented little prospect of success; but in the forlorn circumstances of the garrison, anything that offered a glimpse of hope was reckoned preferable to the humiliation of an immediate surrender.
In prosecution of this perilous enterprise, the light infantry, most of the guards, and a part of the 23d regiment, embarked in boats, passed the river, and landed at Gloucester point before midnight. A storm then arose, which rendered the return of the boats and the transportation of the rest of the troops equally impracticable. In that divided state of the British forces, the morning of the 17th of October dawned, when the batteries of the combined armies opened on the garrison at Yorktown. As the attempt to escape was entirely defeated by the storm, the troops that had been carried to Gloucester point were brought back in the course of the forenoon, without much loss, though the passage was exposed to the artillery of the besiegers. The British works were in ruins; the garrison was weakened by disease and death, and exhausted by incessant fatigue. Every ray of hope was extinguished. It would have been madness any longer to attempt to defend the post, and to expose the brave garrison to the danger of an assault, which would soon have been made on the place.
At ten in the forenoon of the 17th, Cornwallis sent out a flag of truce, with a letter to General Washington, proposing a cessation of hostilities for twenty-four hours, in order to give time to adjust terms for the surrender of the forts at Yorktown and Gloucester point. To this letter the American general immediately returned an answer, expressing his ardent desire to spare the further effusion of blood, and his readiness to listen to such terms as were admissible ; but that he could not consent to lose time in fruitless negotiations, and desired that, previous to the meeting of commissioners, his lordship's proposals should be transmitted in writing, for which purpose a suspension of hostilities for two hours should be granted. The terms offered by Cornwallis, although not all deemed admissible, were such as induced the opinion that no great difficulty would occur in adjusting the conditions of capitulation; and the suspension of hostilities was continued through the night. Meanwhile, in order to avoid the delay of useless discussion, General Washington drew up and transmitted to Cornwallis such articles as he was willing to grant, informing his lordship that, if he approved of them, commissioners might be immediately appointed to reduce them to form. Accordingly, Viscount Noailles and Lieutenant-Colonel Laurens, whose father was then a prisoner in the tower of London, on the 18th met Colonel Dundas and Major Ross of the British army at Moore's house, in the rear of the first parallel. They prepared a rough draught, but were unable definitely to arrange the terms of capitulation. The draught was to be submitted to Cornwallis : but General Washington, resolved to admit of no delay, directed the articles to be transcribed; and, on the morning of the 19th, sent them to his lordship, with a letter expressing his expectation that they would be signed by eleven, and that the garrison would march out at two in the afternoon. Finding that no better terms could be obtained, Cornwallis, on the 19th of October, surrendered the posts of Yorktown and Gloucester point to the combined armies of America and France, on condition that his troops should receive the same honors o war
which had been granted to the garrison of Charleston, when it currendered to Sir Henry Clinton. The army, artillery, arms, accoutrements, military chest, and public stores of every description, were surrendered to General Washington ; the ships in the harbor, and the seamen, to Count de Grasse.
Cornwallis wished to obtain permission for his European troops to return home, on condition of not serving against America, France, or their allies, during the war, but this was refused; and it was agreed that they should remain prisoners of war in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, accompanied by a due proportion of officers for their protection and government. The British general was also desirous of securing from punishment such Americans as had joined the royal standard, but this was refused, on the plea that it was a point which belonged to the civil authority, and on which the military power was not competent to decide. But the end was gained in an indirect way; for Cornwallis was permitted to send the Bonetta sloop-of-war unsearched to New York, with despatches to the commander-in-chief, and to put on board as many soldiers as he thought proper, to be accounted for in any subsequent exchange.
The officers and soldiers were allowed to retain their private property. Such officers as were not required to remain with the troops were permitted to return to Europe, or to reside in any part of America not in possession of the British troops. "The garrison marched out of the town with colors cased, and with the drums beating a British or German march. General Lincoln was appointed to receive the surrender in precisely the same way in which his own had been received at Charleston. Exclusive of seamen, nearly 7,000 persons surrendered, about 4,000 of whom were fit for duty. During the siege, the garrison lost, in killed, wounded, and prisoners, 552 men.
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 about 1,500 seamen, surrendered to Count de Grasse, his most Christian majesty's admiral. The combined army at Yorktown may be estimated at 16,000 men; consisting of 7,000 French, 5,500 continentals, and 3,500 militia. Their loss during the siege amounted to about 300 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 artillerymen 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 the lion which had cruelly ravaged their flocks, and spread terror through their dwellings.
The unfortunate are commonly blamed, and their want of success imputed to misconduct. From such censure Cornwallis has not escaped, although it is difficult to perceive any distinct ground for blaming his military career. It is easy to find fault on the retrospect of a sories of events after they are past, when .he whole can be contemplated in all their bearings and relations; but it is not so easy to discern the wisest course while the events are in progress and the issue uncertain. Concerning the movement of Cornwallis from Ramsay's mills to Cross creek and Wilmington, different opinions may be entertained ; but his lordship was strongly drawn toward Virginia by the force acting there under Generals Arnold and Philips; and, after he entered the province, he did all that activity could perform to attain his end. If he had been to leave Virginia at all, and proceed to the southward, the time for beginning that movement was when he found it expedient to retire from the vicinity of Albemarle courthouse ; but then such a step would, in all probability, have been generally condemned, and would certainly have been disagreeable to the commander-in-chief, who purposed to carry on vigorous operations in that quarter.
After Cornwallis took possession of Yorktown, in obedience, as he thought, to his orders, retreat became nearly impracticable ; for the Marquis de la Fayette took post on James river, and was prepared to dispute his passage southward; and, although he had escaped that nobleman, yet he would have been pursued and also obliged to encounter General Greene at the passage of the great rivers which lay between him and Charleston. Besides, he was encouraged to remain in Virginia by the promise of assistance, which Sir Henry Clinton was unable to afford in time to save him.
The attack on Cornwallis was conceived in the true spirit of military enterprise ; but a concurrence of many favorable 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 7,000 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 shipsof-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.
General 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 embarcation 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 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