Today, the Sesquicentennial of American Independence Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the day in Yorktown when the British army surrendered 235 years ago.
From the United States Book; Or, Interesting Events in the History of the United States, …. Compiled from the Most Approved Authorities by John Warner Barber, published in 1834:
The 19th of October, 1781, was rendered memorable by the surrender of the British army, consisting of 7000 men, under Cornwallis, at Yorktown, Va.
This joyful event decided the revolutionary contest, and laid the foundation for a general peace.
About the last of August, Count de Grasse, with a French fleet, arrived in the Chesapeake, and blocked up the British troops who had fortified themselves at Yorktown.
Previous to this, the American and French troops, under Gen. Washington, had moved to the southward; and as soon as he heard of the arrival of a French fleet, made rapid marches to the head of Elk river, where embarking, the troops soon arrived at Yorktown.
On the 6th of October, the trenches were opened by the combined army, upon his lordship, at the distance of 600 yards.
On the 9th, the Americans completed their batteries in the afternoon, and began to play upon the camp of his lordship, with their twenty-fours, eighteens, and ten inch mortars, which continued through the night, without intermission.
The next morning the French opened a terrible fire from their batteries, without intermission, for about eight hours, and on the succeeding night a tremendous fire was kept up through the whole line, without intermission, through the night.
The horrors of this scene were greatly heightened by the conflagration of two British ships, which were set on fire by the shells, and consumed in the night, October 10th.
The next morning another guard ship of the enemy was consumed by the shells of the besiegers, and at the same time they opened their second parallel, at the distance of 200 yards from the enemy’s lines.
On the 14th Gen. Washington ordered two battalions to advance to the second parallel, and begin a large battery, upon the centre and in advance.
During this operation the enemy kept up an incessant fire, which proved very destructive, and continued through the night.
Gen. Washington detached the Marquis La Fayette at the head of the American light infantry, to storm a redoubt on the left of the British, and about 200 yards in advance of their lines; with full powers to revenge upon the enemy the cruelties practiced at New London, and put the captives to the sword.
The redoubt was carried at the point of the bayonet; but such was the humanity of these sons of liberty, that the captives were spared, and treated with kindness.
The fire of the allies, and the sickness that prevailed in the British camp, weakened his lordship, and prevented his making such sorties as he otherwise would have done; but the besieged, on the morning of the 16th, made a sortie, with a detachment of about 400 men, under the command of Lieut. Colonel Abercrombie; carried two batteries, which were nearly ready to open their fire, and spiked the cannon.
The French suffered severely in defending these batteries, but the British gained no considerable advantage.
On the same day, at four in the afternoon, the allies opened their batteries, covered with about 100 pieces of heavy cannon, and such was the destructive fire, that the British works were soon demolished, and silenced.
Alarmed for his safety, Lord Cornwallis now began to prepare to retire; his boats were collected, and a part of his army embarked across to Gloucester Point; but a violent storm arose suddenly, which defeated the plan, and his lordship was enabled, with the greatest difficulty, to recover his boats, and restore the division that had already been embarked.
His lordship now saw that all hopes of succor or escape had failed, and that the tremendous fire of the allies, with its overwhelming destruction, bore down, killed, and destroyed the British army, so as to compel him to request a parley on the 18th, for twenty-four hours, and that commissioners might be appointed to draw up the terms of capitulation, to which Gen. Washington assented, and commissioners were appointed accordingly.
On the 19th, the articles of capitulation were signed, and on the 20th, the whole army of Cornwallis marched out, prisoners of war.
The spectacle of the surrender was impressive and affecting.
The road through which the captive army marched, was lined with spectators.
On one side, Gen. Washington, with the American staff; took their station; on the opposite side, was the Count de Rochambeau with the French staff.
“The captive army approached, moving slowly in columns, with grace and precision. Universal silence was observed amidst the vast concourse, and the utmost decency prevailed; exhibiting in demeanor, an awful sense of the vicissitude of human life, mingled with commiseration for the unhappy.”
Lord Cornwallis, unable to endure the humiliation of marching at the head of his troops, appointed General O’Hara his representative, who delivered up the sword of Cornwallis to the American commander-in-chief.
The Sesquicentennial of American Independence Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s portrayal of the surrender, circa 1784.