The surrender ended the Siege of Yorktown, a military action in which allied American and French forces under the command of Generals George Washington and Compte de Rochambeau pinned the British against the banks of the York River and then used artillery to shell them into submission.
What followed was one of those legendary American marches that we've seen turn the tide in wars. When an entire division, or even an entire army just gets up and relocates over an "impossible" distance in an "impossible" amount of time - the "we have to do this right now" American feat of military mobility. Washington's army marched from New York to Virginia in time to trap the British.
While the French fleet arrived just in time and clobbered the British naval force sent to rescue the Redcoats, Cornwallis went from facing off against the 24-year-old Lafayette to being outnumbered 2-to-1 and trying to also outwit Washington, Rochambeau, Henry Knox, and Baron von Steuben. And let's be honest, he wasn't trapped on a peninsula awaiting evacuation because he was handling Lafayette.
The second trench's completion was dependent on the capture of two British redoubts - earthen mini-forts protected by armed Redcoats and abatis. The French took Redoubt 9 and the Americans captured Redoubt 10. The taking of Redoubt 10 is another legendary American military feat. It guaranteed the completion of the second parallel and effectively sealed Cornwallis' fate. (As well as provided one of the few positives you'll ever hear me utter about Alexander Hamilton.)
Washington signed the ceasefire document at Redoubt 10 and the two sides sent representatives to discuss surrender. Capitulation was finalized on the 19th.
Yorktown is a great place for anyone who loves history, the Revolution, or American exceptionalism. The Allied side of the battlefield is covered with memorials and interpretation of the American, French, and even Prussian elements of the Independence efforts. There's a French cemetery that holds the remains of about 50 men who gave their lives for the cause of American Independence at Yorktown, roughly half of the Allied deaths from the battle.
The action at Yorktown would lead to the Treaty of Paris and the British recognition of the Independence of the United States in 1783. The ending of that siege, 235 years ago today, remains one of the more important moments in the history of this nation. Take a moment to reflect on it. Allow this moment of greatness to shine in a dark moment of our history. May our tenacity, our determination, and even our arrogance, light our way to better days.