This coming October 19th marks the 240th anniversary of the victory at Yorktown, Virginia, October 19, 1781. This victory by American and French allies over the British army and navy effectively ended the American Revolutionary War. General George Washington wrote “Articles of Capitulation” in which he set out terms for the British surrender by Lord Charles Cornwallis.
Article III states the procedure of how the British were to be disarmed:
Article III. At twelve o’clock this day the two redoubts on the left flank of York to be delivered, the one to a detachment of American infantry, the other to a detachment of French grenadiers.
The garrison of York will march out to a place to be appointed in front of the posts, at two o’clock precisely, with shouldered arms, colors cased, and drums beating a British or German march. They are then to ground their arms, and return to their encampments, where they will remain until they are despatched to the places of their destination. Two works on the Gloucester side will be delivered at one o’clock to a detachment of French and American troops appointed to possess them. The garrison will march out at three o’clock in the afternoon; the cavalry with their swords drawn, trumpets sounding, and the infantry in the manner prescribed for the garrison of York. They are likewise to return to their encampments until they can be finally marched off.
The Americans and their French ally formed two lines facing each other. Then 7,000 British and German soldiers marched between the two lines and surrendered their weapons, “grounding” them in a heap. At the conclusion of the ceremony, General Washington wrote to the Continental Congress at Philadelphia: “I have the honor to inform Congress that the reduction of the British army under the command of Lord Cornwallis is most happily effected.”
The signatures of the several commanders “granted” the acceptance of each Article of Capitulation.
Done at Yorktown, in Virginia, October 19th, 1781.
Done in the Trenches before Yorktown, in Virginia, October 19th, 1781.
Le Comte (“Count”) de Rochambeau,
Le Comte de Barras,
En mon nom & celui du (“under my name and that of”)
Comte de Grasse.
The original handwritten pages of the Articles of Capitulation are in the Library of Congress and can be viewed on its website. A typewritten edition is available on the website of mountvernon.org.
In his inauguration address in January 1961, President John F. Kennedy affirmed: “We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution.”
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