The Siege of Yorktown is recognized as the final major military action in the War for Independence. This three-week long battle (September 28-October 19, 1781) secured American independence after 6 years of active fighting. Some interesting aspects surrounding the siege of Yorktown makes this victory even more amazing.
For example, a black man, James Armistead, played a major role in securing the victory. A Virginia slave who wanted to help his country, four months before the battle, working with General Marquis de Lafayette, he successfully infiltrated the camp of British commander Lord Cornwallis, serving as a spy for the American forces. Armistead was able to collect intelligence on British movements and sent it back to George Washington. Lafayette later petitioned for Armistead’s freedom (in Virginia, it took an act of the legislature to free a slave for meritorious service), and after being freed, Armistead was granted a retirement pension for his military service.
Cornwallis was heavily outnumbered (there were some 17,600 American/French troops against his 8,300 British troops), so on October 16, he attempted a last-ditch attack. (In the WallBuilders’ Collection we have an unexploded mortar shell–pictured on the right.) Under the cover of darkness, the British attempted to flee but a storm arose, forcing them to remain.
Running short of supplies and with reinforcements not arriving, the British surrendered on October 19. George Bancroft, the “Father of American History,” recorded how the Continental Congress responded upon hearing the good news:
When the letters of Washington announcing the capitulation [surrender] reached Congress, that body, with the people streaming in their train [that is, following them], went in procession to the Dutch Lutheran church to return thanks to Almighty God.
And John Hancock issued a proclamation announcing the victory and calling for a time of thanksgiving and prayer to God Almighty. (We have an original of this proclamation in the WallBuilders Collection. A reproduction of this proclamation will soon be available for purchase. Watch the website!)
So it was in October, 237 years ago in 1781, that the battle of Yorktown was won, and Americans openly thanked God for His role in protecting America. Today is a good time for us likewise offer thanks for the blessings He has bestowed on our nation.
Presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes with an emphasis on our moral, religious and constitutional heritage.