The British Army Commander Who Surrendered in 1781 to End the American Revolutionary War

Cornwallis led several early victories against the American colonists.
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The Revolutionary War saw the British fighting against the American colonists and their allies for six long years. On October 19, 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis formally surrendered to American and French forces at Yorktown. Although the Colonies wouldn't get their independence for two more years, Yorktown was a decisive victory for the rebels and the last major battle of the revolution.

1 Waving a White Flag

In August 1781 Cornwallis and his troops, tired from chasing colonial troops, settled to rest in Yorktown, Virginia, on the Chesapeake Bay where they were surrounded by French and American forces. On October 19, 1781, after a three-month siege, Cornwallis claimed illness and instead sent his second-in-command, General Charles O'Hara, to deliver his sword to the American and French commanders. The reputation of General Sir Henry Clinton, the commander in chief of the British troops in North America, suffered greatly following the defeat at Yorktown and the British Empire's loss of the Colonies. Cornwallis remained in favor, however, and continued his career as a commander and administrator in other parts of the empire.

2 The Life of the General

Cornwallis was born in London in 1738 into a titled family, attended Eton College and there suffered an eye injury that gave him his heavy-lidded look. He began his military career with the Seven Years' War in 1757. During the Revolutionary War, Cornwallis' wife fell ill and he left the Colonies for part of 1778 and 1779 to be with her. She died in February 1779, leaving him devastated. Following the Revolutionary War, Cornwallis served in India and Ireland, working until his death in Ghazipur, India in 1805.

Angela Ryczkowski is a professional writer who has served as a greenhouse manager and certified wildland firefighter. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in urban and regional studies.