Yorktwon was a small town in the British colony of Virginia on the York River, not far away from the Atlantic Ocean. There, on October 19th 1781, the British General Cornwallis, cut off on land by the American and French troops and at sea by the French and Spanish ships, surrendered to the American commander, George Washington.
A tipping point for the War of Independence, history tells us that Washington led an imposing force of 17,000 troops which consisted of both French and continental troops against Cornwallis, who led a force of 9000 troops. In an earlier stroke of luck for the Patriots, the French fleet commanded by Francois, Count de Grasse, departed from St. Domingue (the then-French colony that is now Haiti) for the Chesapeake Bay, just as Cornwallis chose Yorktown, at the mouth of the Chesapeake, as his base.
It was then when Washington acted on pure genius – ordering Marquis de Lafayette and an American army of 5,000 troops to block Cornwallis’ escape from Yorktown by land while the French naval fleet blocked the British escape by sea, he let loose the Siege of Yorktown, where he managed to completely circle Yorktown and commanded bombardment day and night from September 28th.
Following three weeks of non-stop bombardment from cannons and artillery, Cornwallis surrendered to Washington in the field at Yorktown on October 17th, 1781, ending the War for Independence. Pleading illness, the British commander did not attend the formal surrender ceremony on October 19th and instead sent his second in command, General Charles O’Hara, along with Cornwallis’ sword to the American and French troops.
This also ended the fighting in the American colonies and peace negotiations began in 1782, the most important day of them being September 3, 1783. With The Treaty of Paris signed, it formally recognized the United States as a free and independent country.
The American victory in the War of Independence was remarkable not only because the British colonies, for the first time, cut themselves free from the government in London, but also because they formed themselves into a republic, the United States of America, with an elected President as head of state and elected assemblies. This was a revolutionary change for the world as much as for North America and Britain because the USA, then just a strip of land along the Atlantic coast, grew into a mighty nation and came to see itself as the champion of freedom and democracy.