“Lord Cornwallis”


"In the year of '81, In Yorktown we capitulated ... We fought them four to one as long as we could stand." The captives are confined "like thieves in a dungeon" and hope for the war to end "to see ourselves at liberty"


Moylan: "This song deals with the aftermath of the battle of Yorktown on the 18th of October 1781, when the American rebel army of George Washington defeated the British under General Cornwallis, putting an end to the American War of Independence." - BS

This song, typically, is wrong on several counts: The British at Yorktown were outnumbered by only about two to one, and a large fraction of their enemies were raw troops. The British could certainly have held on -- had they had supplies. But de Grasse's naval victory (which was not very decisive, but it did drive off the English) sealed off the British army, which eventually had to give in.

Contrary to a lot of sources, this did not automatically mean an end to the war; Cornwallis's army represented only about a third of the British troops in North America, and Britain could have sent more. The next spring, indeed, Admiral Rodney took care of de Grasse, giving the British control of the seas again. But Parliament had had enough of paying for a war that seemed to promise nothing good, so they swallowed their pride and granted colonial independence. - RBW

Historical references

  • Mar 15, 1781 - Cornwallis wins a pyrrhic victory at Guilford Courthouse (North Carolina) and decides to continue the campaign in Virginia rather than the Carolinas. He will command roughly 7500 men in Virginia
  • Aug 1, 1781- Cornwallis establishes his base at Yorktown, Virginia
  • Sep 5-13 - Naval battle of the Virginia Capes (also called the Naval Battle of Yorktown); the French fleet of de Grasse defeats and drives away the British fleet of Thomas Graves
  • Sep 28 - George Washington and Rochambeau begin the siege of Yorktown with about 15,00 men
  • Oct 19 - Cornwallis's surrender
  • Feb 27, 1783 - The British parliament authorizes peace negotiations
  • Feb 4, 1783 - Britain officially declares an end to hostilities with the colonies
  • Apr 15 - The Congress of the American Confederation ratifies the peace treaty with Britain
  • Sep 3 - The Treaty of Paris officially ends the Revolutionary War


  1. Moylan 7, "Lord Cornwallis" (1 text)
  2. BI, Moyl007


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1845 (Shield's _Songs and Ballads in use in the Province of Ulster...1845_, according to Moylan)