Defeat of British at Yorktown

In 1781, the British General Cornwallis was experiencing great military success in the southern colonies. His decisive victory at the Guilford Courthouse did much to stifle the colonial war effort. General George Washington knew at this point that if the colonies had any hope of winning the Revolutionary War that they would have to enact a large victory over the British, and soon. He was convinced that such a victory would come from the recapture of New York City. It is very possible that this stance came as a result of his humiliating defeat in New York City at the beginning of the war. Perhaps Washington assumed that retaking New York would not only boost his popularity with the army, Congress, and the commoners in the colonies, but also soothe his conscience or help to repair his bruised ego. Nonetheless, New York did not become the final battlefield for the American War for Independence.

General Cornwallis had positioned his army at Gloucester Point, Virginia, between the James and York Rivers. Cornwallis was most likely anticipating to either leave the colonies with his army at this point or to be reinforced. The colonial French army, under the command of comte de Rochambeau, advised Washington to forget his plans to recapture New York and instead attack General Cornwallis in his army's momentary vulnerability. The leader of the French navy, Admiral Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse, took Rochambeau's advice and sailed his fleet down to the Virginia coast.

After some convincing, General Washington also agreed to join in the attack on General Cornwallis in Virginia. Faking an aggressive move towards New York, Washington pulled back and marched his army south. As the French navy softened the British defenses and prevented assistance of Cornwallis by the British navy at the Battle of Capes, Generals Washington and Rochambeau joined armies in their march towards Cornwallis's position.

On October 9, 1781, the colonial and French canonry began to bombard Cornwallis's troops. This constant barrage led to a monumental British surrender soon afterwards, on October 19. The surrender at Yorktown included over seven thousand British ground troops and seamen, as well as cannons and ships. Although the war was not officially over until the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783, the defeat of Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown essentially ended all ground fighting in the American colonies. Personally, for George Washington, this victory did much to increase his credibility. The bad memories of General Washington's early losses in the war and his tragic winter at Valley Forge were replaced with iconic images of the Commander in Chief playing a role in defeating a major world power and granting the American colonies independence. Potential mutiny in the colonial army was laid to rest, and the Continental Congress's view of General Washington became more optimistic, positively impacting Washington's future as a politician (both as a member of the Constitutional Convention and later as the first President of the United States of America).