While reading background on the siege and victory at Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781, I came across the following passage written by historian Jerome Greene.
“The officer was then quickly escorted to Washington’s headquarters in a nearby house, where he delivered Cornwallis’s message: “I propose a Cessation of Hostilities for 24 hours, & that two Officers may be appointed by each side, to meet at Mr. Moore’s house to settle terms for the Surrender of the Posts of York & Gloucester.” One can only imagine the emotions coursing through Washington’s body as he read these words.”
That last line is what really struck me.
Every image we have of George Washington depicts a stoic expression staring back out of us. Historians have a few instances from a long life of the Washington behind the marble, behind the self-imposed restraint, that he crafted for posterity.
However, he was human, he did have a fiery temper and he was a passionate person. One of the reasons he strove so hard to mask those emotions, to keep them in check, to keep perspective, and to persevere.
Those competing inclinations would have been bubbling at the surface on October 17, 1781, when that written communication was handed to him outside Yorktown, Virginia. What that moment must have been like, for Washington, for the French and American forces, and for all those fighting in favor of American independence.
Jerome Greene wondered about it. I am curious about it. Are you?