Yorktown, a post village, port of entry, and the capital of York co., Virginia, on the right bank of the York river, 10 m. from its mouth and 60 m. E. S. E. of Richmond; pop. about 1,000. It has a white and a colored school, an Episcopal church, and two Baptist churches (colored). It is chiefly noted for its two memorable sieges, in 1781 and 1862. On Aug. 1, 1781, Lord Cornwallis, in obedience to orders from Sir Henry Clinton to occupy a strong defensible position in Virginia, established himself at Yorktown with his whole army of about 8,000 men, supported by several frigates and smaller vessels which were anchored in York river. He fortified the place by redoubts and batteries on the land side, connected by a line of intrenchments extending completely around the village, and by a line of batteries along the river. The place was further defended by a series of outworks, with redoubts strengthened by abatis, and field works mounted with cannon. Gloucester point, on the other side of the river, was also strongly fortified.
In the latter part of September the combined American and French forces effected a junction with Lafayette at Williamsburg, whence, under the command of "Washington, they marched on the 28th to the investment of Yorktown. The whole besieging force amounted to about 16,000 men, of whom 7,000 were French and the remainder continentals and militia. The British abandoned their outworks at the approach of the allies, and on the 30th the investment of the town was completed. On Oct. 9 the first parallel was established, and several heavy batteries opened with great effect upon the enemy, dismounting a number of their guns, and destroying on the night of the 10th a frigate and three large transports. On the 11th the second parallel was opened; but as the working parties were greatly annoyed by an enfilading fire from two redoubts, a bold and successful attack was made upon them on the night of the 14th by two detachments, one American and one French, and the captured works were included in the parallel. The French loss in killed and wounded was nearly 100; that of the Americans was much less.
The position of Cornwallis now became exceedingly critical, cut off from receiving reinforcements, or from escaping by sea, by the presence of the French fleet of 37 ships under De Grasse in Chesapeake bay. He made a sortie on the 16th, which proved a complete failure. On the 17th he proposed to capitulate, and the terms having been arranged, he surrendered on the 19th his whole force, consisting of 7,247 regular troops, 840 sailors, and 106 guns. The total British loss during the siege amounted to more than 350. This virtually decided the struggle for independence in favor of the Americans. - The second siege of Yorktown was begun by the United States troops under Gen. McClellan on April 5, 1862, and continued till May 4. (See Chickahominy, vol. iv., p. 410).