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Cornwallis’s Surrender – Capitulation

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II.  Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

October 19.—Be it remembered, that on the seventeenth of October, 1781, Lieutenant-General Earl Cornwallis, with above five thousand British troops, surrendered prisoners of war to his Excellency General George Washington, commander-in-chief of the allied forces of France and America! Laus Deo!1

Yesterday commissioners were appointed to adjust the etiquette of the capitulation; the Viscount de Noailles, and Lieutenant-Colonel Laurens, aide-de-camp to the commander-in-chief, on the part of the allied army, and Colonel Dundas and Major Ross, aide-de-camp to Lord Cornwallis, on that of the enemy. To-day, about one o’clock, the articles of capitulation were signed and interchanged, and about two o’clock, P.M., the British garrison of York, led on by General O’Hara, (Lord Cornwallis being in-disposed were conducted by General Lincoln through the combined army, drawn up in two lines to a field, where, having grounded their arms, and stripped off their accoutrements, they were reconducted through the lines, and committed to the care of a guard. At the same time and in the same manner the garrison of Gloucester was surrendered to the command of the Duke de Lauzun. Previous to this, a detachment of French, and one of American troops, took possession of the British horn works, and planted on the epaulements the standards of the two nations. The brilliant appearance of the allied army, the joy which diffused itself from rank to rank, contrasted with the mortification, the despondence, and unsoldierly behavior of the British troops, formed one of the most pleasing prospects a patriot can behold, or even his fancy depict.2

In justice to the brave, the unfortunate garrison of Charleston, the terms imposed on them were made the basis of the present capitulation, and on the worthy General Lincoln was conferred the supreme delight of giving laws to those men, who had treated him with the insolence of conquerors. The garrisons are prisoners of war, to be disposed of in America at our option, to march out with cased colors, and to play no French or American tune. All plundered property to be restored to its owners; private baggage secured to the officers, and private property to the British merchants and traders, the continent having the right of pre-emption.

No returns have been handed in, but from the accounts of the British officers, there are between five and six thousand prisoners, including sick and wounded. Their military stores are trifling; their commissary stores do not exceed six hundred barrels of pork, and about one thousand barrels of bread and flour. Near one hundred vessels, with their sailors and marines, have fallen into the hands of the French fleet under the capitulation. The British loss during the siege, they allow to be very considerable; the loss of the allied army does not exceed three hundred killed and wounded, a small portion of whom are officers.

Never was a plan more wisely concerted, or more happily and vigorously executed, than the present. The wisdom, perseverance, and military talents of our illustrious commander, shone with superior lustre on this occasion, and if possible, must increase the love and veneration of his countrymen. – The well-concerted and animated support of the Count de Grasse, was essentially conducive to the completion of this glorious event, and deserves the warmest thanks of his own country, and the grateful plaudits of every American.

The exertions of the Count de Rochambeau, and all the officers and soldiers of the French army, can never be excelled, and only equalled by their American friends, who glowed with the laudable ambition of imitating the achievement of the finest body of men in the world. The only contention which subsisted during the siege between the troops of the two nations, was the glorious one of excelling each other in operations against the common enemy, and in doing justice to each others’ merits. An army, thus cemented by affection, created by a union of interests and the intercourse of good offices, and animated by an attachment to the rights of mankind, could not fail of triumphing over a body of troops, enlisted tinder the banners of despotism, and led on by the hopes of plunder; who, made insolent by partial victories, gave loose to the greatest licentiousness and brutality that ever disgraced a disciplined corps. The expiring groans of thousands, who in vain begged Cornwallis for protection, and whom he inhumanly starved, have ascended to the throne of Almighty justice, and must bring down vengeance on his guilty head. It is sincerely to be wished, for the sake of humanity, that his lordship had made a more obstinate defence, that the allied army, obliged to storm his works, might have offered up him and his troops as a sacrifice to the violated rights of humanity!3


1 New York Packet, November 1.
2 An officer of rank in the Jersey line, in a letter dated October 21, says:—

If I could communicate the pleasure felt on. seeing the poor proud British ground their arms, it would give you new and inexpressible sensations.

The allied army was drawn up in two straight lines, facing each other, leaving a space for the British column to pass. The commander-in-chief with his suite on the right of the American line; the Count de Rochambeau opposite, on the left of the French. Lord Cornwallis pleading indisposition, the British were led by General O’Hara, conducted by General Lincoln. Their colors cased, and they not allowed to beat a French or American march.

The British officers in general behaved like boys who had been whipped at school; some bit their lips, some pouted, others cried; their round, broad-brimmed hats were well adapted to the occasion, hiding those faces they were ashamed to show. The foreign regiments made a much more military appearance, and the conduct of their officers was far more becoming men of fortitude.—New Jersey Gazette, November 7.

3 New York Journal, November 12.