Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia



Why was the Battle of Yorktown a turning point in the Revolutionary War?

Lesson Images

Storming A Redoubt

Lami, Eugene-Louis. Storming of a British Redoubt by American Troops at Yorktown, oil on canvas, 1840. Library of Virginia Fine Arts Collection: acquired 1878. (High Res)

Lafayette bust

Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834), Marble Bust by Jean-Antoine Houdon, 1786. State Artwork Collection, Library of Virginia. (High Res)

George Washington, marble statue.

George Washington (1732–1799), Marble Statue by Jean-Antoine Houdon, 1785–1792. State Artwork Collection, Library of Virginia. (High Res)

Standards Of Learning

USI.6, VS.5

Historical Information:

The final major military engagement of the Revolutionary War took place at Yorktown, Virginia, in the autumn of 1781, where the British Army and its commanding general, Charles Cornwallis, second earl Cornwallis, made its headquarters. A French fleet under the command of Admiral FranÇois-Joseph-Paul de Grasse, comte de Grasse drove a British fleet away from the Capes of Virginia, making it impossible for Cornwallis to receive supplies and reinforcements. American general George Washington marched his army from New York to Virginia, where, with a large French and American army under Comte de Rochambeau, Washington laid siege to the British at Yorktown. They joined the Marquis de Lafayette who, in command of an American army, had been fighting the British in Virginia for six months.

The siege began on October 6, 1781, as the Americans and French formed a semicircle outside of the town and began an artillery bombardment. A successful storming of two British redoubts, or small temporary defensive enclosures, convinced Cornwallis that his position was untenable, and he surrendered his army to the combined American and French forces on October 19. He refused, however, to surrender in person and delegated the humiliating duty to his second in command. Washington consequently directed his second in command to receive the surrender.

The Battle of Yorktown was the last significant military engagement of the American Revolution. Patriots and Loyalists later skirmished in several states, and American settlers and pro-British Indians clashed on the frontier. The French and Spanish navies engaged in battle with the British in the West Indies, but peace was being negotiated. The Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, and ended the war between the United States and Great Britain.

Lesson Activities

These three activities, created for the image sets you can download below, can be used either as an introduction to the Battle of Yorktown or as an analysis activity after learning about the people and events there.

• 1. Break your class out into groups of three students each. Give each group an individual set of sources. Give them one minute to sort though the images and decide what they represent. Then have them exchange with a group that had a different set and do the same thing. Switch one more time so every group has seen each set. Then discuss as a class what the sets represent and how they are related.

• 2. Break your class out into groups of three students each. Give each group a full set of sources. Give them two minutes to sort the sets and put the images into three groups. Have them write down an explanation of why they sorted the groups the way they did. Then have them shuffle the cards and re-sort them into different groups. Again have them explain the organization on paper. Have your students shuffle and re-sort one more time, again writing down their decision.

♦ Now have each group decide which organization out of the three they think was the best. Lead a class discussion allowing the groups to explain what they did and their reasoning.

• 3. Break your class into 4 groups at four stations. Give each group one full set of shuffled sources (includes three original groupings: Yorktown, George Washington, and Marquis de Lafayette images).

♦ Give each group two minutes to sort the cards into three sets of images. Allow them to come up with the way they'll be sorted, but remind them to have a reason for the groupings. [Common organizations include battle/military scenes, people, George Washington, portraits, color images, black and white images, maps, etc.]

♦ After the two minutes, have each group move together to the next station, leaving their images behind. Once they get to the next station, don't let them reorganize the images! Instruct them to look at the way the other group organized the images and see they can figure out what their organizations represent. Why did the other group choose to organize the images the way they did?

♦ Give them about two minutes to discuss; then ask for a group to explain their findings.

♦ Check with the group who did the sort and see if the explanations agree.

♦ Allow each group to both guess about the other group's organization as well to explain the sets they organized.

Lesson Handouts

Image Sets PDF Handout (2 MB)

Yorktown Activity Guide PDF Handout (52 KB) Word Document Handout (99 KB)

Timeline of Events at Yorktown PDF Handout (66 KB) Word Document Handout (163 KB)

Related Links

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