• Yorktown Battlefield

    Yorktown Battlefield

    Part of Colonial National Historical Park Virginia

Major General William Phillips

Phillips, William. 1731-1781.

William Phillips decided on a military career early in life. He became a Cadet at Woolwich in 1746 and eventually joined the Royal Artillery. He had a distinguished career in the artillery. Quickly rose through the ranks, he became Quartermaster of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. Phillips later became well known throughout the British army for his exemplary service at the Battle of Minden.

By the time of the American Revolution, Phillips had risen to the rank Colonel in the British army, though within the Royal Artillery he was officially still a captain. Phillips was sent to Canada in 1776 where he was finally promoted to major in the Royal Artillery and then, within the next several months, he became a major general in the British army. He served with General Burgoyne during the Saratoga Campaign of 1777. Captured with the rest of Burgoyne's army, he was held prisoner until he was paroled to New York in 1779.

Phillips was officially exchanged in 1780 for American major general Benjamin Lincoln, who had been captured at Charleston. In 1781, he was sent with 2000 men to link up with Benedict Arnold and his forces in Virginia. Phillips then assumed overall command of the combined forces. He contracted typhoid fever and died in Petersburg on May 13, 1781, one week before Cornwallis and his army entered the town to begin the campaign that would end at Yorktown. He is buried in an unmarked grave near Blandford Church in Petersburg.

Did You Know?

18-pounder siege gun

Artillery played a decisive role in defeating the British at Yorktown. According to Brigadier General Henry Knox, the American artillery commander, the Americans and French fired 15,437 artillery rounds at the British during the eight day bombardment. This is an average of 1.2 shots a minute!