General George Washington moves his army south from New York to entrap the British at Yorktown Virginia By 1782 Washington's already substantial worries over the health, pay, and morale of his Continental Army were worsened by the success of Cornwallis' southern campaign. Cornwallis' tactical victory at Guilford Courthouse (March 15, 1781) left the Americans destitute of funds, soldiers, and morale. Additionally, former Major General Benedict Arnold, a newly crowned British Brigadier after the attempted surrender of his command at West Point, prepared for Cornwallis' arrival by destroying precious Continental supplies in Virginia. Washington could only watch and wait for an opportunity to attack New York, or wait for a British mistake.
The opportunity presented itself when Cornwallis entrenched his army at Yorktown and Gloucester Point on the peninsula of Virginia's York and James Rivers, with the expectation of reinforcement or evacuation. Washington abandoned his preference for action against New York City upon the advice of French Lieutenant General Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau, and proceeded south against Cornwallis. Washington and Rochambeau swiftly moved southwards while coordinating with elements of the Continental Army located in Virginia under the command of Major General Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, and the French Navy under Admiral Francois Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse. Lafayette fixed Cornwallis in place while de Grasse kept control of Chesapeake Bay, preventing British naval assistance through his victory at the Battle of the Capes (September 5, 1781). In the process, Washington's combined Franco-American army transported from Head of Elk to the lines outside Yorktown.
The resulting siege at Yorktown forced Cornwallis' surrender and compelled the start of serious negotiations that ended in recognition of American independence at the Peace of Paris. Washington's fame grew to international proportions having wrested such an improbable victory, interrupting his much desired Mount Vernon retirement with greater calls to public service.