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Five Things You Didn’t Know About The Battle of Yorktown

The Battle of Yorktown ended the American Revolutionary War, but what have we forgotten about it?

JL Matthews
5 min readOct 19, 2021


On the morning of October 17th, 1781, a drummer boy, clad in red, mounted the parapet surrounding the British encampment at Yorktown. It’s unknown whether anyone heard his drum over the sound of booming cannons and exploding shells, but in either case, the bombardment which had begun three weeks before soon ended.

The formal surrender — two days later — brought to an end far more than just one (relatively) bloodless battle.

Upon hearing the news of Cornwallis’ surrender, Lord North, British Prime Minister, famously replied, “Oh, God! It’s all over!”

And indeed it was.

Yorktown proved to be the final battle of what we now call the American Revolutionary War or the War of Independence.

Two hundred forty years later, Yorktown is now a National Historic Park. The men who led and fought there — Washington, Layfayette, Hamilton — have long since passed from living men to myths.

So what have we learned — or forgotten — about this most decisive battle in American history? Here are a few lesser-known facts about Yorktown.

1) It Wasn’t George Washington’s Idea

Washington might be the father of America, but he wasn’t exactly the brains behind Yorktown. For years, Washington assumed New York City would be the scene of the decisive battle of the war. However, the French, led by the Comte de Rochambeau, weren’t so sure.

By 1781, the British were firmly in control of New York City and its harbor. They knew the terrain around the city, and — just as importantly — they were familiar with the city’s harbor and its shifting sandbars.

Rochambeau, along with French Admiral de Grasse, favored an attack on Cornwallis. In May, the French (somewhat behind Washington’s back) decided that de Grasse should sail to Virginia — not New York.

Washington only learned of de Grasse’s destination — Chesapeake Bay — on August 14th. However, to his credit, Washington didn’t let pride get in the way of…



JL Matthews

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