Skip to main content
The Sky HISTORY brand logo

Battle of Yorktown

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

Thomas Jefferson

Despite occupation, devastation, and inflation running at 800%, one in five New Yorkers are still loyal to the British. Robert Townsend writes for the pro-British press and appears to be one of these loyalists. But Washington operates a spy network in the controlled city so secret that even he doesn't realise Townsend is one of his. To Washington, Townsend is known only as 'Culper Jr'. A British general will later claim that Washington didn't outfight his enemies, but out-spy them.

In July, a French fleet is sighted off Rhode Island. The British intend to launch a surprise attack on them. Townsend uses a combination of Gallic acid and iron sulphate to write this information in invisible ink. The message is passed through a series of contacts and buried at a secret drop.

A lady, Anna Smith Strong, then uses her laundry on her clothesline as a secret code. The message is sent to Washington. He marches on New York, forcing the British to abandon their French surprise attack and deal with Washington's approach.

It's October. The British are six years into a war that they thought would last six months. In the trenches around Yorktown, Virginia, sits Joseph Plum Martin. He survived defeat in 1776, the winter of 1777, and retraining in 1778. The fact that he's only a 100 yards from his British target owes much to Von Steuben and his training. The mines and tunnels that have placed them within striking range are drawn straight from the Old World manuals. He will be one of the first over the top in what could be his final battle. The Americans and French now dominate much of the land and sea and what remains of the British army remains in the city, waiting for reinforcements. The British public believes the war too costly. Washington hopes to break their remaining spirit here. Only two canon-forts, or redoubts, remain. If Washington's 9,000 men can capture and turn the canons on Yorktown, the British will surrender. Martin races the 100 yards under a hail of fire and hand grenades. Close-combat fighting with bayonets secures the position. Two days later, the British surrender. Martin survives. And in his retirement, writes of his experiences in '...sufferings of a Revolutionary soldier...'

In April 1789, Washington is inaugurated as the first president of US under a new constitution.

The battles for independence has cost 25,000 American their lives.

Did you know?

The United States is the only country to win independence from the British in war., Washington started his career with the British Army's campaigns against the French and their Indian allies. The French, of course, became his allies, and as Simon Schama says, 'Washington's strategic brilliance and the French alliance...ultimately counted for more than raw patriotic ardour., In the militarily occupied and economically depressed New York City of 1781, one young woman in five is a prostitute., The American Revolution, usually remembered as a great war of liberation, actually cost the Native Americans about a third of their land.