Saturday, October 19, 2013

GW | Oct. 19–Cornwallis Surrenders at Yorktown

Admiral de Grasse defeats the British
Navy in early September. General 
Washington opts to march 400 miles
to defeat Lord Cornwallis.
Today is the anniversary of the surrender that ended the American Revolutionary War. Since this year it is also the weekend after the (we hope not temporary) end of the Tea Party shutdown of the U.S. government, maybe a comparison of the two capitulations is in order.

The shutdown has not been as hard as it was on George Washington and his troops, whose clothing was tattered and food and other supplies were depleted. But the shutdown has affected more people. Washington learned that the British army under Lord Cornwallis were building a naval base on the Yorktown Peninsula in Virginia. He decided impulsively to march his army from NY to Virginia to try to trap the Brits. He feinted toward NY to tie down the Brits there, then undertook the bold–and very risky–400-mile march to Washington.

The mid-October siege of Yorktown 
lasts just a few days.
The equivalent for President Obama was taking the step of announcing he would not (unlike President Clinton vis-a-vis Speaker Gingrich in 1995-96) negotiate with the Tea Party, given their doomsday tactics. What negotiation occurred took place among women Senators of both parties.

Both of the two risky gambles paid off. Even though Lord Cornwallis had advance word of Washington's march, he stayed put because he assumed he had time to wait to be evacuated by the British navy. He seems not to have known that British navy had been dispersed by a French fleet from the south under Admiral de Grasse and would not be coming to anyone's rescue while the French were in the York River.

So Washington, and an allied French army under General Rochambeau (a debt to the French that we would should remember when France-bashers get going), surrounded Yorktown and bombarded the city with siege cannons brought by the French.
Washington accepts surrender of Brits.

After several days of this with no naval relief, Cornwallis sent word he would surrender. Washington told the British to march out and give up their arms, and the surrender began at 2 am today in 1781, five years after the Declaration of Independence. Cornwallis sent his sword to General Rochambeau, signalling that the British had been defeated by the French, not the Americans.

But for whatever reason, England didn't have the money or stomach for another army, and they appealed to the United States for peace. The Treaty of Paris was signed two years later, and the Revolutionary War was won.