Yorktown Battlefield | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Yorktown Battlefield

Marlbank, Virginia, United States

Peta Stamper

12 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Yorktown Battlefield

Yorktown Battlefield in Virginia, United States, is the location of the final battle of the American Revolution. It was at Yorktown that on 19 October 1781, the British surrendered to the combined forces of the French and American armies under the command of General Washington. This dramatic action marked the end of the war and was the point at which the Americans attained independence.

Today, Yorktown battlefield forms part of Colonial National Park which encompasses Historic Jamestown, Colonial Parkway and the Cape Henry Memorial.

Yorktown Battlefield history

The siege of Yorktown was the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War. The French and American armies, united at New York City, marched south towards Virginia, deceiving the British into thinking they planned a siege of New York.

Comte de Grasse led the French West Indies fleet to Chesapeake Bay, creating a naval blockage of Yorktown. In September, he defeated a British fleet led by Sir Thomas Graves headed to support Cornwallis at Chesapeake, and prevented reinforcements to Cornwallis via sea. Soon after, Washington and Rochambeau arrived to surround Cornwallis completely.

With the British weakened by bombardment, on 14 October 1781, Washington attacked the British outer defences while a French column and Americans under Alexander Hamilton could move closer and the British deteriorated quickly. On 17 October, Cornwallis surrendered and more than 7,000 British soldiers were captured.

During the American Civil War, Yorktown was again a site of siege during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Confederate leaders reinforced revolutionary fortifications with earthworks and troops, but eventually abandoned Yorktown in the face of superior numbers and firepower.

This tactical retreat allowed the Confederates time to delay the Unionists at Williamsburg (at massive human cost) while retreating to Richmond, ultimately defeating the Peninsula Campaign.

Yorktown Battlefield today

Today, visitors to Yorktown Battlefield can learn about the history of the site and the end of the American Revolution with tours and exhibitions including visiting Moore House, where the terms of surrender were agreed. Start at the visitor centre, from which you can get a brochure and maps to guide yourself around the park on a driving tour.

Aspects of the site also relate to the American Civil War; the well-preserved Union and Confederate fortifications as well as a National Cemetery established in 1866, remind visitors of the area’s long history.

Getting to Yorktown Battlefield

Colonial National Historical Park is best reached by car (especially if you hope to do the battlefield driving tour) and is located a short distance from I-64. Exit at 242B for Yorktown onto the Colonial Parkway and follow the parkway to its end.

Coming west bound on I-64 from the Virginia Beach/Norfolk/Hampton area, you should take Route 105 East, exiting at 250B to Route 17 (George Washington Memorial Highway). Turn left onto Route 17 and follow the signs to the Yorktown Battlefield where there is parking.

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