Early on the morning of October 17, 1781, Lieutenant General Charles, Lord Cornwallis, found himself hunkered down in a cave near the southern shoreline of the York River. Above him was the disintegrating hamlet of Yorktown, Virginia, now being systematically bombarded into rubble by American and French cannon fire. Cornwallis understood that imminent surrender was the certain fate of his entrapped military force, an army that consisted of about 8,000 British, Hessian, and loyalist soldiers, in addition to wives and even children. An attempted breakout had failed just hours before. A sudden storm disrupted an effort to move his army northward across the York River to Gloucester Point—and possible escape. Now with the ground continually shaking all around him, Cornwallis prepared to order a white flag hoisted above his battered entrenchments.
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