Victory at Yorktown!

On October 19, 1781, British General Charles, Lord Conwallis surrendered his army of more than 8,000 men to George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia. Cornwallis’s action brought an end to a siege which had lasted nearly two weeks.  It was also the end of major combat in the American Revolution.

Although soldiers from Maryland fought at nearly all major battles of the war, often playing pivotal roles in combat, none took part in the Battle of Yorktown. The Third and Fourth Maryland Regiments were in the Yorktown area, but apparently took no part in the fighting.  The greatest contribution to the victory at Yorktown that the Marylanders made was in keeping a contingent of British reinforcements bottled up in South Carolina, unable to reach Cornwallis. It was probably just as well, since the Maryland Line had been reduced to a small fragment of its original strength. [1]

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Charles Willson Peale, Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown, 1784. Maryland State Archives

The siege at Yorktown had begun on October 6, and was carried out by a combined force of American and French troops.  A week later, on October 14, they launched a major assault on the British. Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and political leader of Revolutionary Maryland, noted on October 15 that “The cannonading at York[town] can be heared distinctly in Charles County.” The British sought to escape by water on October 16, but weather prevented them, and they surrendered the next day.  Maryland native Tench Tlighman, Washington’s Aide-de-Camp, was dispatched to Congress with the news of Cornwallis’s surrender. [2]

The war was not yet over, and Maryland’s soldiers continued to serve, countering the British threat in South Carolina. Most soldiers were not discharged until the summer of 1783. That winter, George Washington resigned his commission as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in the Maryland State House. In 1784, Charles Willson Peale installed his famous portrait of Washington, Tilghman, and the Marquis de Lafayette, a French general, in the State House. The portrait shows the three men at Yorktown, and remains on display at the State House in Annapolis.

–Owen

Notes:

1. John Dwight Kilbourne, A Short History of the Maryland Line in the Continental Army (Baltimore: The Society of the Cincinnati of Maryland, 1992), 56-57; See also Yorktown Battlefield, History of the Siege of Yorktown and Unit and Casualty Lists, National Park Service.

2. Charles Carroll of Carrollton to Charles Carroll of Annapolis, 15 October 1781, in Ronald Hoffman, et al., eds., Dear Papa, Dear Charley, vol. III (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 1481.

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4 Responses to Victory at Yorktown!

  1. Mary Margaret Revell Goodwin, County Historian, Queen Anne's County says:

    Owen, my understanding is that from the Eastern Shore we supplied the French ships with cattle while docked at Annapolis prior to going to Yorktown. And of course we supplied the flour for the bread for our Americans at Yorktown, as well as the hogs.

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  2. Sue Vanzant says:

    According to Revolutionary War Pension Applications Capt. Henry Gaither, one of the Maryland 400, went to Maryland after the Battle of 96 to assist Brig. Gen. Mordecai Gist with recruiting. The Maryland regiments were decimated from their continued fighting, capture and illness. Pension statements of Thomas Elliott, Thomas Davis and Jesse Power, or Powers, state they enlisted under Capt. Gaither in Annapolis and were attached to Gaither’s company in the new Maryland 4th Regiment. Robert Halkerstone was already a Sargent in the army and he was attached to Capt. Gaither’s company in the 4th Regiment. Thomas Davis’ statement notes that they marched through Georgetown, Fredericksburg and Williamsburg then to the Seige of Yorktown and were present at the surrender of Lord Cornwallis. Elliot and Davis say they marched south and were present at the Siege of Yorktown at Cornwallis’ surrender. Can we assume they met up with the rest of the Marylanders in Yorktown that came up from the southern campaign?

    Source: “Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters”, Transcribed by Will Graves

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    • Hi Sue,

      Thanks for the (as always) very knowledgeable question. If Gaither was with the 4th Maryland Regiment at the time, then he and his men were heading to Yorktown to join with the rest of the regiment (unless they were traveling with the rest of the regiment already?). The American army was in a state of constant movement during the war–lots of little groups of men always coming and going.

      Owen

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