By the summer of 1781, the British were confident of winning the American War of Independence. George Washington’s rebel army was in a state of mutiny, and it was only thanks to his French allies, that he had been able to keep hostilities going. Now the French were saying they would be pulling out at the end of the year.
The British had two armies, one in the north and one in the south. The southern force under Lord Cornwallis had been given the job of fortifying a base for the Royal Navy at Yorktown in Virginia.
By accident or design, the rebels had led the British commander-in-chief, Sir Henry Clinton, to believe that they were going to attack the northern army in New York. Instead, on September 28, they moved 16,000 men to Virginia, trapping Cornwallis at Yorktown.
For three weeks, the British commander held out, but by then with sickness reducing his effective strength to just over 3,000, and enemy artillery flattening his defences, Cornwallis surrendered, and four months later the House of Commons voted to abandon the war.