The Battle of Yorktown proved to be the decisive engagement of the American Revolution. The British surrender forecast the end of British rule in the colonies and the birth of a new nation—the United States of America.
After six years of war, both the British and Continental armies were exhausted. The British, in hostile territory, held only a few coastal areas in America. On the other side of the Atlantic, Britain was also waging a global war with France and Spain. The American conflict was unpopular and divisive, and there was no end in sight. For the colonies, the long struggle for independence was leading to enormous debt, food shortages, and a lack of morale among the soldiers. Both sides were desperately seeking a definitive victory.
General George Washington and his Continental Army had a decision to make in the spring of 1781. They could strike a decisive blow to the British in New York City or aim for the south, in Yorktown, Virginia, where Gen. Charles Lord Cornwallis’s troops were garrisoned. Washington and his French ally, Lt. Gen. Comte de Rochambeau, bet on the south, where they were assured critical naval support from a French fleet commanded by Adm. Comte de Grasse. The Allied armies marched hundreds of miles from their headquarters north of New York City to Yorktown, making theirs the largest troop movement of the American Revolution. They surprised the British in a siege that turned the tide toward an American victory in the War for Independence.