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About this Book

The siege of Yorktown in the fall of 1781 was the single most decisive engagement of the American Revolution. The campaign has all the drama any historian or student could want: the war’s top generals and admirals pitted against one another, decisive naval engagements, cavalry fighting, siege warfare, nighttime bayonet attacks, and much more. Yet, until now, no modern scholarly treatment of the entire campaign has been produced.

By the summer of 1781, America had been at war with England for six years. Few guessed the colonists would have put up such a long and credible struggle. France had officially sided with the colonies as early as 1778, but it was the dispatch of 5,500 infantry under Comte de Rochambeau in the summer of 1780 that finally shifted the tide of war in North America.

When Rochambeau landed on American soil, the British were operating on two fronts: in the North around New York City under General Clinton (commander of British forces in North America); and in the South under General Lord Cornwallis in the Carolinas and Georgia. After narrowly defeating Nathanael Greene at Guilford Court House, Cornwallis marched his army north to Virginia, where he thought the war could be brought to a decisive close. He was right, though the end he envisioned was not to be.

George Washington believed Cornwallis's move was a strategic blunder, and he moved vigorously to exploit it. Feinting against Clinton and the British stronghold of New York, Washington marched his army quickly south where, with the assistance of Rochambeau's infantry and a key French naval victory at the Battle of the Capes in September, he trapped Cornwallis on the tip of a narrow Virginia peninsula at a place called Yorktown. And so it began.

Operating on the belief that Clinton was about to arrive with reinforcements, the normally aggressive Cornwallis confidently remained passive within Yorktown's inadequate defenses, even when offensive opportunities presented themselves. Washington, however, was determined that nothing short of outright surrender would suffice, and labored day and night to achieve that end. Mustering up all the hard lessons he had won through six long years of war, Washington skillfully constricted Cornwallis’s position by digging two powerful siege lines, erecting artillery redoubts, and launching well-timed attacks to capture key enemy positions. His nearly flawless campaign sealed Cornwallis’s doom. Trapped inside crumbling defenses while Clinton dallied in New York, Cornwallis and his British and German soldiers absorbed an artillery pounding no troops on earth could have sustained. His surrender on October 19, 1781, effectively ended the war in North America.

Until now, few serious studies have appeared on this important event in American history, and none in the 20th century.

Veteran writer and historian Jerome Greene began his research on The Guns of Independence three decades ago during the Bicentennial while conducting archaeological and archival research as a historian with the Historic Preservation Divison in Denver, Colorado. His assignment at that time was to research and write a study of the Allies at Yorktown. The result, The Allies at Yorktown, was an outstanding examination of the siege and the participants involved. It was privately printed and circulated in small numbers for the use of National Park Service employees.

The Guns of Independence: The Siege of Yorktown, 1781 is a thoroughly updated and revised edition of that rare earlier work. It offers a complete and balanced examination of the siege and the participants involved. Greene's study is based upon extensive archival research and firsthand archaeological investigation of the battlefield. Fresh and invigorating, this study will satisfy everyone interested in the Revolutionary war, artillery, siege tactics, and brilliant leadership.