The Patriot Resource - American Revolution

Battle of Yorktown
Battle of Yorktown

Yorktown Campaign: May-July 1781
Soon after his arrival in Virginia, Lt. General Charles Cornwallis received reinforcements from Lt. General Henry Clinton. Even though, he was appalled to find that Cornwallis had ignored his orders, he sent enough reinforcements to bolster Cornwallis' force from 1,500 to 7,200. Cornwallis almost immediately began maneuvering against the Marquis de Lafayette. On June 3, 1781, he sent Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton to Charlottesville, Virginia after learning that Governor Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia legislature had been meeting there. However, Tarleton's party was spotted and word arrived at Charlottesville only minutes before his arrival on June 4th. Jefferson and all but a very few of the legislature escaped capture and reconvened in Staunton on June 7th.

On June 5, 1781, Lt. Colonel John Simcoe, commander of the Queen's Rangers, was able to bluff Maj. General Baron von Steuben into abandoning supplies at Point of Fork, Virginia by exaggerating his troop strength. Then on June 10, Brig. General Anthony Wayne arrived in Lafayette's camp with 1,000 reinforcements. It was not enough to face down General Cornwallis, but the additional troops did allow him to prevent further unoppsed raiding. Lafayette now began cautiously shadowing Cornwallis' movements.

On June 15, 1781, General Cornwallis left Elk Hill, Virginia and moved back toward Richmond, which he reached on June 16th. On June 20th he set out for Williamsburg on the peninsula with Lafayette roughly twenty miles to the north on a parallel march and picking up militia and building strength along the way. On June 26, Lt. Colonel Simcoe was on his way to raid Chickahominy, but was surprised at Spencer's Tavern by a Continental detachment under Colonel Richard Butler. Though Simcoe held the advantage, he broke off for fear that Lafayette's main force might be nearby.

Meanwhile, General Clinton had learned of Admiral de Grasse and the French fleet and had requested that General Cornwallis send 3,000 men back to New York for its defense in letters dated in mid-June. Cornwallis now even requested that he be allowed to return to Charleston, South Carolina. Having failed to destroy Lafayette's force and with Clinton calling for men, Cornwallis gave up on holding Williamsburg and began to prepare for crossing the James River.

Marquis de Lafayette now hoped to capitalize on the situation and moved to attack while General Cornwallis was along the river on July 6, 1781 at Green Spring, Virginia. Cornwallis had anticipated this and attempted to convince Lafayette that only his rear guard and baggage had not crossed. Brig. General Wayne led a 500-man advance guard to keep contact. Lafayette received conflicted reports on the situation and was rightfully cautious, while Wayne closed in on the main army unknowingly. Reinforcements arrived and Wayne now had 900 men. About the same time, Lafayette finally discovered the truth, but was unable to prevent Wayne from engaging the enemy. Wayne and Lafayette managed a well-organized retreat and escaped what could have been a crushing defeat.

On July 7,1781, General Cornwallis finished crossing the James River and on the 8th received orders from General Clinton to now send the 3,000 men to Philadelphia. On July 9, he detached Lt. Colonel Tarleton to destroy supplies and stores. On July 12, another letter told him to again send the troops to New York. Finally on July 20, Cornwallis received orders to keep the men and establish a fort at Old Point Comfort, Virginia on the James River Peninsula.

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