THE BRITISH INNER LINE AS BUILT AND USED
The British defenses about Yorktown were designed by Lt. Alexander Sutherland and approved by Cornwallis. These plans called for redoubts and batteries connected by trenches and parapets in a line encircling the town. They also called for sufficient water batteries on the heights overlooking the waterfront to cover the anchorage where the British shipping was moored. In advance of this main line, which was buttressed by the Fusilier's Redoubt across Yorktown Creek and Redoubts Nos. 9 and 10 in the plain on the southeast side of Yorktown, there was an outer line designed to delay the allied advance.
In describing the outer line about Yorktown, Banastre Tarleton wrote: 
Tarleton also deals with the British principal line about the town and offers some significant details:
It was the inner line that directly involved the immediate town. It is rather carefully detailed on the various siege plans and particularly on two British plans, that by Lieutenant John Hills of the 23rd Regiment, an assistant engineer,  and that by Captain Fage of the Royal Artillery.  These, it should be mentioned, like most plans detailing the works were done to actually cover the situation that existed at the end of the siege and included any changes made in the fortifications as the fighting progressed in the three weeks operation. There had been much activity to strengthen and improve the works as well as to repair them as the siege unfolded.
In the line immediately about Yorktown the British had eight redoubts plus the "Horn Work."
Between Redoubts Nos. 4 and 5 the main line bent inward toward the river following the topography and crossing present Smith and Bacon streets. In this area, in addition to Gwyn Read lots, the line likely crossed Nos. 66-67. Also, as it curved back away from the river to become involved in the complex constructed around the British headquarters, it surely seems to have had effect on Lots 70-71 and 74-75.
Behind the main line from a point about midway between the Hornwork and No. 8, and curving behind No. 7 almost to No. 8, was a supplementary entrenchment to give additional cover to supporting troops.
In the circle between Redoubts No. 1 and No. 8 the British established some nine batteries. Four other batteries covered the waterside from the vantage point of the Yorktown cliffs, and there were a number of redan positions placed as outposts along the ravines.
The Hills delineation, as did some others, gave some data on fire power by recording lines of fire. There is also data on the number of artillery pieces in the plan drawn by John Hayman.  All figures found do not agree on the number and location of these pieces of military equipment, but this need not be disturbing since the number fluctuated as the siege progressed.
Thor Borresen, in discussing the siege works and artillery when he was studying them a quarter century ago, had a cogent comment on the ever-changing aspect of the siege:
Along the bluff within the encircling main line the British erected four batteries to protect the waterside. Evidently much of the naval ordnance brought ashore from the ships in the harbor went into these positions which were manned by "seamen" from these same vessels. 
Evidence would seem to show that no water batteries occupied the prominent bluffs between Read Street and the Great Valley and between the Great Valley and the ravine (valley) down which Comte de Grasse now runs. Nor does it seem that the French, when they shortened the British line and strengthened the inner works as they went into winter quarters, placed any works here.  However, in the Civil War both spaces became water battery sites.
As for other artillery, none was shown by Hills in the redan  in front of Redoubt No. 3, nor did Hayman show any in the four such little works which he delineated between British Redoubt No. 3 and Main Street at the Yorktown Creek end of little fingers of raised land. Hayman did show two cannon on the beach just behind the stockade here on the downriver end of the waterfront. Altogether Hills would seem to show 75, or less, gun positions in Yorktown whereas the Hayman total would show deployment of almost 100 pieces including the 10 at Gloucester and the "several pieces to use as occasion required." Both of these totals fall way short of the British cannon surrendered, which according to Tarleton numbered "seventy-five pieces of brass ordnance, sixty-nine iron ditto." 
Though the major military action in 1781 came on the southeast side of Yorktown where physical damages to the town were heavy, the British made significant changes all around the town, actually reducing its size as they built their inner line of trenches, batteries, and redoubts. A part of this required the destruction (elimination) of obstructions in front of their line, whether the obstructions were houses, trees, or other objects with vertical dimension.  This was necessary to give the infantry, and more particularly the artillery men, an open clear field of fire.
Conrad Doehla, one of the German mercenaries in the British force, noted in his journal under the date September 19 that "many houses were torn down in the little city of Yorktown because they were a hindrance outside of our lines." He had noted earlier, on the 14th, that "All the trees in front of our line have been cut down; and all the roads guarded and fortified with a strong abattis."  Another German, Stephan Popp, wrote in a similar vein: "Many houses torn down to strengthen our lines. Palisades and deep trenches put in front." 
This physical loss and damage on the periphery of Yorktown proved to be highly significant. There is no better example of this than in the clearing of developments on Lots 1-6 on the northwest side of the port town, since they were just beyond the British line, which in this quarter followed along the route of Buckner Street. The parcel here (three acres in contiguous lots plus at least a part of the beach area between the lots and the river) came to be one of the more highly developed and earliest establishments under single ownership in Yorktown and was held together through most of the 18th century though there were transfers in ownership.
In 1781 this property was owned by Capt. Thomas Lilly, a sea captain of local note. He lost through demolition here a new dwelling, a kitchen, a stable for six horses with a "Chair House," as well as another dwelling with a shed. There was also damage to his lots and all of "the enclosure" (fences) were "destroy'd and the well fill'd up." These items represented £635 of the total account (£725) for "damages done by the British to Captain Lilly." 
There were substantial losses to Lawrence Smith who had holdings in the town and to the southeast of it.  His structural losses included: (1) a "9 panel door taken from a Dwelling House with locks & hinges"; (2) "5 windows with 18 lights 8 pr shuters"; (3) "the Wether Bords & Gable ends of Dweling House 44 by 20 feete"; (4) "the casing of all the Windows"; (5) "greatest part of the plastering Brokedown"; (6) "6 planks of the Floor taken up"; (7) "Ten Steps of the Stairs & Stair Case"; (8) "2 Porches 8 feet by 6"; (9) "one Clabord House with 3 Roomes 24 x 16"; (10) one barn 24 by 20 and "6000 Fence Rales"; (11) "1/3 of a Griss Mill (stone's saved)"; (12) "Framing for a Dwellg House (ready fram'd) 32 by 18 and a 9 foot Shed" (this also involved "Featherage Plank," "Flooring Plank" and "2500 Bricks," and "Damage done the [other] Houses").  There was, too, this notation, "Damages done the Land near the Town in Making Intrenchmts."
William Stevenson was another case in point.  He lost a large dwelling with "4 Rooms below 2 upstairs & 4 brick chimneys" as well as "a Kitchen with two fireplaces" and a dairy 10 feet square, a "Smoak House" which was "doubled studded," a 20 by 16 foot stable, a "Large Hen House 10 feet square," and "2 Lotts render'd allmost useless by the works & 100 panls pales." Included also in the losses, Abraham Archer's "Lot of Ground on the Hill  about 1/3 of it very much Cut there being a Battery erected on it." 
William Cary was another heavy loser in the physical development area.  His losses included (1) a 32 by 16 foot stable "double sheded," 10 feet each, which served as stable, "Chair House" and "Grainery" with "a Room for Harness Saddles & Bridles, & a Loft for Hay"; (2) A "Kitchen 24 by 20 with Brick Chemney & Oven, the flor laid with Brick & Tile Sash windows, lathed & plaistered, Drepers & lodging rooms upstairs"; (3) "A Stone House 24 by 16 Poplar frame"; (4) a smokehouse and a dairy; (5) "A Larder 8 feet Square brick floor all new"; (6) "Damage done the Dwelling House by Shot Shells & Breaking all the Glass in the Windows"; (7) "Damage done the Lott by throwing up intrenchments & Breast Works"; and also (8) the disruption of his "Garden" including some "70. Panels, Posts, Pales, & Rails."
Thomas Gibbs's losses included six smaller buildings as well as "21 pannels new paleings."  David Jameson had substantial losses in the town and just outside. His heaviest loss was "a dwelling House 5 rooms & a passage below stairs & 3 rooms and a passage above, with a brick Cellar halfway the length of the house."  Also destroyed was "a Stable 24 by 16 with a ten feet shed on each side, fitted with 7 stalls, Racks &c a Corn room, Carriage House, and Cow Shelter." There was also the "Smoak House 10 feet, double shedded & underpin'd 4 feet deep with Brick" and some 155 panels of sturdy fencing.
There were public building damages and losses of some note in addition to the heavy private losses. The courthouse and the church in town suffered extensive damage and "The Hospital, a Kitchen, dairy, & other necessary Houses, a garden well paled in, and a large Stable all pulled down & destroyed by Ld Cornwallis . . . valued at . . . £500."  These latter developments seemingly were outside of the British main line and between it and Yorktown Creek. They had to be destroyed in order to clear the line of fire.
William Reynolds, writing to James Eyma from Williamsburg on October 27, 1781, tells in a thumbnail sketch of some of the trials and tribulations as well as personal losses of the private citizen in this war time.  In this case the problems concerned him and his family, residents of Yorktown:
None of the British plans of the investment of Yorktown give cross sections of the works or details of the construction. Of some help are two plans done by French cartographers which show profiles of the English parapets and redoubts, but not of the batteries.  As Thor Borresen earlier concluded:
There were two types of parapets constructed in the English line surrounding Yorktown, according to these French maps. One line of parapets commenced at the river, on the right, facing York Creek, and went to Smith Street. This parapet was made by placing logs vertically in the ground close together. The writer says vertically, but they really had a slight slant toward the earth part of the parapet, similar to the slope of an ordinary parapet, which is usually about 3 feet horizontal to 6 feet 3 inches in height of palisade. The earth behind the palisades was 4 feet 4 inches high, with a width across the top of about 9 or 10 feet. As a rule, with this type of work, there was no front ditch; the earth for the parapet was taken from a ditch excavated to the rear of the firing step. Ordinarily this type of construction was used only where the soil was sandy and where the line of defense was protected against a heavy assault by the enemy as a result of deep ravines or any natural obstructions which would prevent an enemy from forming in a solid formation before an attack. The width of 9 or 10 feet across the top of the parapet was to prevent the enemy, if they should reach the line of defense, from having one man engage the defender with bayonets while another climbed over the palisade.
The line of parapets erected from Smith Street to York River, on the left, was of cavalier construction; it had a ditch in front and one to the rear. This was done in order to gain height; and this type was usually constructed where mass assaults could be made. This section of parapet was also protected by fraises placed on the berm, facing outward to an angle of 45 degrees.
Besides this main line of defense, the British had an inner line of defense to protect their encampment area. This line was made of trenches, parapets and palisades, with logs placed vertically probably six to eight inches apart and was manned by reserves.
Last Updated: 22-Jan-2010