A Great Surrender

Michael Eng, Udayan Lal, Jesse Tan, Evan Wong

The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia, 19 October 1781

John Trumball,1820
United States Capitol Visitor Center

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Story Truth

By: Udi Lal

After years of bloodshed and lives lost, the valiant American Patriots launched an audacious attempt to overtake the fortified city of Yorktown, Virginia. With only a few thousand men, the Patriots were able to force a surrender from one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world. Financially strained, under-trained, and under-supplied, the American troops fought with vigor, passion, and determination to succeed in a war nobody expected them to win. With the French alliance, the Patriots were unstoppable. Now they stand tall, pride beckoning them to show the world the birth of a new nation, one that will embody the same passion and exceptionalism on which they were founded upon.

Happening Truth

By: Michael Eng

At the great victory at Yorktown on October 19, 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered 8,000 British soldiers, finally bringing the American Revolution to a close; however, victory did not come easily. Previously, Cornwallis had driven General George Washington’s forces out of New Jersey in 1776, and led the Redcoats to victory against General Horatio Gates at Camden South Carolina in 1780. After invading North Carolina in April of 1781, he finally settled in Yorktown and began fortifying the town.

With the help of the French, Washington was able to gather support to defeat Cornwallis in Yorktown. By land, Washington joined forces with the Count de Rochambeau, and together, they planned an attack. Washington instructed the Marquis de Lafayette to block Cornwallis' escape route should he try to flee. The French navy, under the command of the Count de Grasse, was able to effectively defeat the British fleet, preventing any reinforcements coming to the aid of the British General.

Due to the excellent strategy utilized by Washington and the French, Cornwallis was finally defeated with Yorktown encircled. In the first two weeks of October, American troops gradually overcame the fortified British positions. On October 19, 1781, General Cornwallis surrendered 7,087 officers and men, as wells as over 1,000 naval units. This is depicted in Trumbull's work, as Trumbull attempts to illustrate the glory from the victory.

Critique of the Painting

By: Jesse Tan

In The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia, the painter uses different elements of composition to affect the message that the painting conveys. The subject of the painting is the last major battle in the American Revolutionary War, and Trumbull creates a mood that is both dignified and imposing. By utilizing the element of line and depicting the soldiers standing in straight rows, the painting exudes a sense of formality. The muted colors of dark blue, black, and white also indicates an air of solemnity. The piece also has a strong sense of balance, as the scene depicted is nearly symmetrical with soldiers and flags on both sides. The emphasis of the painting seems to be on the American General Benjamin Lincoln, as he is strongly illuminated and brighter than the surrounding figures. The audience of the painting was most likely for the revolutionaries, as it depicts a triumphant scene that was crucial towards American independence in a glorified matter. Trumbull most likely painted this scene for the purpose of commemorating the major events of the Revolutionary War, as this painting was part of a series on the revolution. The purpose could also be to pay tribute to the leaders who helped bring about independence, as important figures such as George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Colonel Jonathan Trumbull.

Identity of the Author

By: Evan Wong

John Trumbull (1756-1843) was an American artist during the American Revolutionary war. He was born in Lebanon, Connecticut to Jonathan Trumbull and Faith Trumbull, both of whom were descendants of early Puritan settlers. At age fifteen, John attended school at Harvard college and graduated two years later. His father wanted him to pursue career in either ministry or law, but once at Harvard, he found his love for painting under his teacher, John Singleton Copley. After graduating he joined the American Revolutionary war in which he found his place by sketching plans of enemy works. While working under George Washington, John had received first hand of experience of the war effort at the Battle of Bunker Hill. In 1777, he resigned from the military and in 1780, traveled to London to pursue his artistic career, studying under Benjamin West. West encouraged him to paint small pictures of the wars of independence. However, later that year, the British arrested him based on the charges that he may have been an american spy. After the war was over, John was released, and he returned to America. Once American Independence was recognized, he returned to London to finish his studies with West, where he painted Battle of Bunker Hill and Death of General Montgomery at Quebec. The following years, he continued painting what now are classic art pieces for the American Revolution which include Surrender of General Burgoyne, Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, and Washington Resigning his Commision. In his later years, Trumbull was appointed president of the American Academy of Fine Arts. However, his depreciating artistic skills and inability to cope with changing artistic styles caused many of his students to withdraw from the academy. Trumbull eventually died at the age of 87 on November 10, 1843.

War Story

The battlefield had finally fallen silent; scores of bodies of dead men - both British, American, and French - littered the ground. The booming cannon-fire had ceased as well. During the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown, the air was stiff and ceremonious. Rows of silent French and American soldiers lined the small path where I,General Benjamin Lincoln, and the British General Charles O’Hara walked. The sky was dark and still filled with smoke, stinging my eyes and causing me to struggle with breathing. The flags of the Americans and Bourbons flapped wildly in the wind. My fellow soldiers stood proud, but with a heavy weight on their shoulders. Many were struggling to stand, with ragged wounds from bayonets. Years had led up to this moment, and thousands of us patriots had fallen in the fight to end the tyranny that plagued the New World. Now they stood, overwhelmed with pride and relief, but also with emotions of loss and heartbreak for the friends they had lost.The battles leading up to the final confrontation at Yorktown had been bloody and costly. My eyes were wet with tears of happiness and regret. It was a bittersweet moment. Independence had come, but at the price of many noble men, many with wives and young children.