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Yorktown order of battle

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The storming of redoubt #10 at Yorktown
The storming of redoubt #10 at Yorktown

The Siege of Yorktown was the culminating act of the Yorktown campaign, a series of military operations occupying much of 1781 during the American Revolutionary War. The siege was a decisive Franco-American victory: after the surrender of British Lt. Gen. Charles, Earl Cornwallis on October 17, the government of Lord North fell, and its replacement entered into peace negotiations that resulted in British recognition of American independence with the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

The siege involved land forces from the United States, including the Continental Army and state militias, as well as land forces under French and British command. The British forces included a large number of troops from various German principalities of the Holy Roman Empire that were collectively known as Hessians. Since Yorktown, Virginia was specifically selected by Cornwallis for its properties as a deep-water port, both sides had naval support as well: the British forces included some Royal Navy vessels, and the Franco-American allies were supported by a large French fleet, some of whose marines were landed to assist in siege operations. German historians have noted that approximately one third of all the land forces involved were either hired or recruited from German states, or were German immigrants to America; this has led the siege to be known in German historiography as "die Deutsche Schlacht" ("the German battle").

The following units and commanders of the British, American, and French forces fought in the Siege of Yorktown, or provided significant local support.

British Army

The British Army forces present at Yorktown arrived in Virginia in four separate detachments. The first was sent from New York City in December 1780 under the command of the turncoat Brigadier General Benedict Arnold. The second was sent from New York in March 1781 under the command of Major General William Phillips to reinforce Arnold after a Franco-American threat. The third detachment to arrive was that of General Cornwallis, who had been active in the Carolinas and, following the Battle of Guilford Court House on March 15, decided to join forces with Arnold and Phillips. This was contrary to instructions from his superior, Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton, British Commander-in-Chief in North America. He arrived at Petersburg, Virginia in late May to take command of the troops there; Phillips had died of a fever just a week before, and Arnold returned to New York not long after Cornwallis arrived. While at Petersburg, Cornwallis was joined by a fourth detachment from New York that was under the command of the Hessian Colonel August von Voigt.

With this force, numbering about 7,200, Cornwallis first chased after the army of the Marquis de Lafayette, a much smaller force of Continental Army and local militiamen that had provided some resistance to the movements of Phillips and Arnold. Cornwallis was eventually ordered by General Clinton to establish a fortified deep-water port at either Yorktown or Portsmouth. Cornwallis chose Yorktown, and began constructing fortifications there and Gloucester Point, just across the York River from Yorktown, in August 1781.

British Forces

Commander, Lt. Gen. Charles, Earl Cornwallis, commanding

German Contingents

  • Ansbach-Bayreuth Contingent under Col. August von Voigt
    • 1st Ansbach-Bayreuth Regiment
    • 2nd Ansbach-Bayreuth Regiment
    • Ansbach-Bayreuth Artillery Company
  • Hesse-Kassel Contingent under Lt. Col. Matthew von Fuchs
    • Erbprinz Musketeer Regiment
    • von Bose Regiment
    • Jaeger Korps (company)
    • Unknown Artillery Company


American army

The American forces that opposed Cornwallis at Yorktown also arrived in Virginia at different times, since most of the detachments were made in reaction to the British movements. After Arnold was sent to Virginia, Major General George Washington, the American commander-in-chief, in January 1781 sent the Marquis de Lafayette to Virginia with 900 men. He was to be followed promptly by troops from the Pennsylvania Line under the command of Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, but Wayne did not arrive in Virginia until June. Lafayette's force included a substantial number of Virginia militia, and he shadowed Cornwallis during the movements that ended at Yorktown, with a skirmish at Spencer's Ordinary and a larger battle at Green Spring being their only significant encounters.

The main Continental Army of General Washington was at first stationed outside New York City, which Washington hoped to besiege with the assistance of the French army. However, word from Admiral Paul de Grasse of the French West Indies fleet would sail north to assist in operations on the Chesapeake Bay convinced Washington that action was best taken against Cornwallis's army in Virginia. Accordingly, the American and French armies set out in mid-August for Virginia. Some troops went overland the entire way; others were transported on the Chesapeake by ships of the French Navy. Washington arrived in Lafayette's camp before Yorktown on September 17.

French Army

The French forces at Yorktown came from two separate sources. The larger force, the Expédition Particulière, under the command of Lieutenant General the Comte de Rochambeau, landed at Newport, Rhode Island in 1780, and marched overland to join Washington's army outside New York in the summer of 1781. These troops marched with Washington's army from New York to Yorktown. More of the French troops were transported by boat on the Chesapeake than Americans, due to the French fleet commanders' preferences for transporting their own. The second source for French troops was the Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue (Haiti), where Admiral de Grasse picked up more than 3,000 troops under the command of Major General Claude-Anne de Rouvroy de Saint Simon before departing for North America. The land forces were also supplemented by a number of marines provided by de Grasse in support of the siege.

The French order of battle is listed below.[4]

  • Commander Lt. Gen. Comte de Rochambeau, commanding
  • Commander of Artillery Commandament d'Artillerie commanded by Lt. Col. Comte d'Aboville
    • 2éme Bataillon du Régiment d'Auxonne (Artillery)[5]
    • 4 Companies from 1ére Bataillon du Régiment de Metz (Artillery)
      • Company from the Régiment de Grenoble (Artillery)[5]


  1. ^ History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery (II Volumes), London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1879.
  2. ^ North, pp. 132-3.
  3. ^ a b Reorganized on October 1 after Scammell was mortally wounded. All the Connecticut companies were grouped under Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens in Scammell's Battalion. All of the Massachusetts companies were sent to Hamilton.
  4. ^ Greene 2005, pp. 83–86.
  5. ^ a b Combatants of France


  • Greene, Jerome A. (2005). The Guns of Independence: The Siege of Yorktown, 1781. New York, N.Y.: Savas Beatie. ISBN 1-932714-05-7.
  • Morrissey, Brendan (1999), Yorktown 1781: The World Turned Upside Down, Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey Military. ISBN 1-85532-688-4
  • Theodore P. Savas & J. David Dameron, The New American Revolution Handbook, New York and California: Savas Beatie, 2010/2011. ISBN 978-1-932714-93-7.
  • Digby Smith & Kevin F. Kiley, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Uniforms of the American War of Independence 1775-1783, Lorenz Books. ISBN 978-0-7548-1761-1.
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Les Combattants Français de la Guerre Américaine 1778–1783, 1903 Paris, France.
This page was last edited on 18 February 2021, at 18:08
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