In 1778 - the second year of the American Revolution - British forces under the command of Gen. Henry Clinton shifted their focus away from the Northern arena and commenced an invasion of the Southern states. The British anticipated easy victory in the Carolinas and Virginia as they falsely assumed that most Southerners were Loyalists, unlike the Yankee insurrectionists of the North.

In May of 1781 British Gen. Cornwallis marched his troops to Yorktown believing that if he could beat the Virginians he could win the war in the colonies. Battles raged all around the Tidewater of Virginia as Cornwallis and his army occupied Yorktown. In support of the American rebels, the French sent a fleet of ships to blockade Yorktown and cut off Cornwallis from supplies, as well as an escape route. At the same time the Continental Army, under command of George Washington, marched to Yorktown along with French Gen. Rochambeau and his army. The allied American and French forces of 17,000 men laid siege to Cornwallis' stronghold at Yorktown.

The Americans and French bombarded Yorktown for nine days until October 17, 1781, when Cornwallis proposed a ceasefire. The following day the surrender was negotiated and the 'Articles of Capitulation' outlining the surrender terms were signed at the Moore House. On October 19, 1781, the British army marched solemnly to Surrender Field and laid down their arms. Here, the American Revolution ended and American independence began.

yorktown grace monument

The ca. 1725 Moore House was the site of British Gen. Cornwallis' surrender to George Washington and the Continental Army.

Your best bet to tour Yorktown is to begin at the Yorktown Battlefield headquarters and visitor center. Here there is an orientation film, special tours and programs conducted by park rangers, a museum, and a gift shop. The National Park Service publishes a Yorktown Battlefield Driving Tour that is well marked with road signs pointing the way to each stop on the tour. The tour passes by British defenses, the Grand French Battery, the Allied Siege Line, Surrender Field and the Moore House. At each stop there is a hiking trail with interpretive signs, and many of the stops feature impressive, well-preserved original and recreated field fortifications and artillery displays.

In addition, a self-guided walking tour of the historic village of Yorktown is available at the National Park office. The tour begins on a path outside the visitor center and leads to the Yorktown Victory Monument as well as many restored and recreated colonial buildings and a scenic river walk where there are shops, restaurants, boat tours and a sandy beach for picnicking and sunbathing. Yorktown Battlefield lies along the scenic 23-mile Colonial Parkway that connects the Historic Triangle of Yorktown, Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg.

Visit National Park Service for battle details and information about the preservation of this battlefield.

Pictured at the top: The Yorktown Monument was dedicated in 1881 to 'one Country, one Constitution, one Destiny.' The monument was struck by lightning and replaced in 1956. The granite monument is nearly 100 feet tall.

yorktown nelson house

The ca. 1730 Thomas Nelson House in Yorktown was built by a founding father whose family originally immigrated from Cumberland, England. Nelson served in the Virginia House of Burgesses and as Governor of Virginia. In 1776 he signed the Declaration of Independence. During the Siege of Yorktown, when his home was occupied by Cornwallis, he urged Washington and Lafayette to fire on the house to rout out the enemy. A cannonball remains lodged in the home to this day.

yorktown customs house

Yorktown was a busy, prosperous tobacco port, and the ca. 1721 Customs House collected duties on imported items and was used as a barracks for the Virginia militia in 1776. Tobacco Road, a scenic trail in the park today, was once the road where 'hogsheads' filled with tobacco were rolled down to the waterfront to be loaded onto merchant ships bound for England.

yorktown grace episcopal church

The ca. 1697 Grace Episcopal Church has served Yorktown for more than 300 years, surviving fire, age, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War.

yorktown river walk el galleon

A walking tour of Historic Yorktown, including a scenic River Walk, is available at the National Park Service office. Shopping and dining is also located along the waterfront.

yorktown grand french battery

George Washington and French Gen. Rochambeau marched to Yorktown to join forces with the French fleet that lay siege to the British at Yorktown. The Grand French Battery is a stop on the National Park Service driving tour and features earthworks and an artillery display.

yorktown second allied siege line hikers

The Yorktown Battlefield Driving Tour features many impressive, well-preserved original and recreated fortifications such as the Second Allied Siege Line shown here. Each stop on the tour features a hiking trail and interpretive signs.

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