What happened here:
Place name: Yorktown Battlefield
Location: Yorktown, Virginia
Event in Hamilton’s life: Alexander Hamilton was in charge of a battalion of light infantry during the Siege of Yorktown, which lasted from September 28 - October 19, 1781. The most important maneuver during the siege was the joint French and Americans attack on the critical British defenses at Redoubts No. 9 and 10. Hamilton was the officer in charge of attacking Redoubt No. 10, which he and his men successfully took over on the night of October 14th. American and French control of these strategic redoubts led to the surrender of the British army under General Cornwallis just five days later. Yorktown ended up being the last major battle of the Revolutionary War, as the American and French victory prompted peace talks which would culminate in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. Alexander Hamilton was widely recognized as a hero for his key role in the Yorktown victory.
Get the Details:
In preparation for a surprise southern offensive against the British, George Washington placed Alexander Hamilton in charge of a battalion of light infantry in July of 1781. After several weeks of intense effort to equip and prepare his troops, Hamilton and his battalion left the American army camp at Dobbs Ferry in New York on August 19th and began to march south, arriving in Williamsburg, Virginia a month later for final battle preparations.
On September 28th, the combined American and French armies marched out of Williamsburg to begin their concerted attack against British troops stationed under General Cornwallis in Yorktown. Alexander Hamilton and his battalion were among the troops that moved out that day, immediately engaging in warfare the following day. After taking over the British outer defensive works, they spent about a week preparing for the siege and extending the trenches.¹ Though the Americans and French were able to set up their artillery, the guns were not in range of the main British defenses. In order to get within proper firing range, the allied troops would have to take over two British outer defensive works, called Redoubts No. 9 and 10. A joint offensive attack was planned on the redoubts on the night of October 14th.
Alexander Hamilton was placed in charge of the American attack on Redoubt No. 10. The troops attacked with unloaded guns (in order to not set off a shot accidently and ruin the surprise attack) and had only the bayonets fixed on their guns as weapons as they rushed up and over earthworks protected by a fence of wooden spikes called palisades. They overtook the entire redoubt in less than 10 minutes with very few casualties. The marquis de Lafayette, in a letter to George Washington two days after the attack, wrote that Alexander Hamilton "whose well known talents and gallantry, were on this occasion most conspicuous and serviceable."²
The siege of Yorktown had depended on overtaking these two redoubts. Now that the Americans and French were in possession of them, their artillery was in perfect position to fire on the main British forces in Yorktown. On October 12th, just two days before he stormed Redoubt No. 10, Hamilton had written to his wife predicting that in "five days more the enemy must capitulate."³ Sure enough, on October 17th, the British raised the white flag of truce. The terms for surrender were negotiated and two days later, the British signed the Articles of Capitulation surrendering eight thousand British and Hessian troops. As a result of this decisive American victory, peace talks were finally initiated with Great Britain that would lead to official American independence two years later.
¹ Newton, Michael E. Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years, pages 471-486.
² Marquis de Lafayette to George Washington, October 16, 1781
³ Alexander Hamilton to Elizabeth Hamilton, October 12, 1781
Links to related websites:
- National Park Service - Yorktown
- History of the Seige - NPS
- Battle of Yorktown - British Battles
- Yorktown - Liberty! from PBS
- Yorktown - Mount Vernon
How to visit:
There are several different locations that you can visit during your trip to Yorktown: the historic town itself, with several buildings dating from the 18th century that are open to visitation; the actual location of the battlefield, which is overseen by the National Park Service; and a living history museum that recreates the camp before Yorktown.
Colonial National Historical Park - Yorktown Battlefield
The Yorktown Battlefield is part of the Colonial National Historical Park (which also includes Jamestown, the Colonial Parkway, Green Spring, and Cape Henry) and is maintained by the National Park Service. The park includes the original battlefield site (encompassing what is left of Redoubt No 10 and a plaque honoring Alexander Hamilton there), a musuem, and historic buildings in Yorktown.
Visiting information: Plan your visit
American Revolution Museum at Yorktown Victory Center
The Yorktown Victory Center is run by Virginia's Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and features a living history museum of a reconstructed Continental Army camp and 18th century farm. In late 2016, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will open on the site and encompass the history of the entire Revolutionary War.
Visiting information: Plan your visit
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