Archive for July 4th, 2013

The Surrender at Yorktown

I used to live just outside Yorktown, Virginia. For two years I grew up in and around the battlefields, back when it was possible to climb all around and over them. In fact, I used to launch model rockets just outside the field where the British surrendered to the Colonial forces. I flew kites on the biggest battlefield of the fight. So I learned a lot of the history around the end of the Revolutionary War. So I’d like to share my favorite bit of trivia, perfect for winning a bar bet.

Question: Who did the British surrender to at Yorktown?

Answer: Lincoln.

Here’s the story. General Cornwallis lost that last, decisive battle at Yorktown that would lead to the British surrender. But he wasn’t there for the surrender itself, The disgrace of losing to the Colonials and French weighed on him, so he feigned illness, sending his second in command, General Charles O’Hara, to conduct the surrender. The British troops marched into the field of surrender to a song called The World Turned Upside-Down (also called Until the King Enjoys His Own Again), leaving their muskets and swords in a pile, except for the official sword of surrender.

The victorious Colonial forces stood alongside their French allies, with General Washington and General Rochambeau standing side-by-side. The General O’Hara offered the sword of surrender to the victorious forces. However, he offered the sword not to Washington but to Rochambeau. Rochambeau deferred, stating that the victory belonged to the Colonial forces, not to the French.

O’Hara then offered the sword to Washington. He, too, deferred, stating that if Cornwallis was to send his second-in-command to surrender, then he should surrender to his own second-in-command. So Washington directed O’Hara to Colonial General Benjamin Lincoln, who accepted the sword.

And that’s how the British surrendered to Lincoln at Yorktown.

Happy Independence Day.


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