Early on the morning of Oct 16th, 1781, the 36 men of the 7th Royal Fusiliers slipped out of their trenches around Yorktown and silently made their way towards the Franco-American lines. Led by Lt. Col Abercrombie, the force of 350 Light Infantryman moved southeast from the British Hornwork to the unfinished enemy batteries opposite their position. Closing in with fixed bayonets the Fusiliers made short work of the French pickets and poured into the French entrenchments scattering the Soissonnais Regiment.
The Fusiliers bayoneted every Frenchmen they encountered and soon gained possession of the French battery; spiking four French siege guns in the process. Abercrombie next attacked the American battery to their left.
Suddenly, a British officer broke the silence and yelled, “What troops?” to the soldiers on the other side of the earthworks. “French!” came the reply. “Push on, boys, and skin the bastards!” came the command. The Fusiliers immediately stormed the American battery and put all they could come to grips with to the bayonet. The hand-to-hand fighting was merciless and the shock of the British attack quickly won the engagement. Abercrombie now occupied both forward batteries and spiked a further three guns.
Hearing the screams of the noise caused by the intense melee, the Viscount de Noailles, second in command of the Soissonnais Regiment, led the French reserve into the recently captured works. Shouting “Vive le Roi” the French charge drove Abercrombie’s force back. Without reinforcements, and with such a small force at his disposal, Abercrombie decided to withdraw his men to the British lines. He was hopeful that the damage his Light Infantry had done would delay the Franco-American siege long enough for a relief force to reach them.
Abercrombie lost seven men killed, and six taken as prisoners during his attack. Amongst them were two Fusiliers who were wounded by the French, and another two taken prisoner. The French suffered approximately 50 casualties, and the Americans six. Within hours though, the guns which had been spiked were firing into the British lines. Cornwallis would hold on for another three days, but running short of ammunition, food, and with no sight of relief he decided to capitulate.
On Oct 19th, 1781, Lord Cornwallis surrendered his force to the combined Franco-American army ending the three-week siege of Yorktown, and effectively ending major combat operations in the American War for Independence. The war would go on for another year and a half, but American independence was never again in doubt.