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This Day in History - 9.28.2011

America's Final Fight for Freedom: The Battle of Yorktown Begins

By Gerald Ung

The long and grueling war for American Independence came to a dramatic ending when the British surrendered to Washington in October, 1781; the battle leading to the end of the war began on this day in history, September 28.

British General Lord Charles Cornwallis hoped to occupy Yorktown, Virginia; unbeknownst to the British, General George Washington planned to encircle the British Army by land, while Francois Count de Grasse sailed north from St. Domingo, thus lending French naval support from the Chesapeake Bay. Communication was a central part of the war, for Cornwallis had been assured by his superior, Henry Clinton, that 5,000 British soldiers were on their way to Yorktown to assist him. But Cornwallis waited for reinforcements that never came.

On the American side, much of the heavy fighting that led to the victory was handled by black soldiers, both free men and freed slaves, who fought under the belief that an American victory would lead to the end of slavery. These hopes would be delayed another 84 years, until the 13th Amendment (passed in 1865) abolished slavery.

The peace ceremony marking the end of the war was scheduled for October 19, 1781, but in another show of British arrogance, Cornwallis refused to meet any of the enemy Generals.  Still, as British soldiers marched from the battle field, they laid down their guns between the lines of American and French troops, thus signifying the end of the War for American Independence.