Hostilities were suspended for the Night

The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis
Oil painting by John Trumbull, 1820

On 17th October 1781, a decisive moment arrived in the American Revolutionary War: the Siege of Yorktown effectively came to an end. Situated in Virginia, Yorktown had been a critical stronghold for the British forces led by General Charles Cornwallis. The American and French armies, under George Washington and Comte de Rochambeau respectively, had laid siege, choking off British supplies and reinforcements—after a month of continuous bombardment Cornwallis was cornered. It was on the day of this diary entry, written by Washington, that Cornwallis reached out to discuss terms of surrender. The end of the Siege of Yorktown concluded major military operations in North America, devastating British morale and emboldening the American cause.

The Diary Entry
George Washington’s diary, 17 Oct 1781
Library of Congress

17th. The French opened another Battery of four 24s. & two 16s. and a Morter Battery of 10 Morters and two Hawitzers. The American grand Battery consisting of 12 twenty fours and Eighteen prs.—4 Morters and two Hawitzers.

About ten Oclock the Enemy beat a parley and Lord Cornwallis proposed a cessation of Hostilities for 24 hours, that Commissioners might meet at the house of a Mr. Moore (in the rear of our first parallel) to settle terms for the surrender of the Posts of York and Gloucester. To this he was answered, that a desire to spare the further effusion of Blood would readily incline me to treat of the surrender of the above Posts but previous to the meeting of Commissioners I wished to have his proposals in writing and for this purpose would grant a cessation of hostilities two hours—Within which time he sent out A letter with such proposals (tho’ some of them were inadmissable) as led me to believe that there would be no great difficulty in fixing the terms. Accordingly hostilities were suspended for the Night & I proposed my own terms to which if he agreed Commissioners were to meet to digest them into form.

Further Reading

Transcripts of Washington’s diaries can be found on the National Archives’ Founders Online website. But if you’re looking for the handwritten originals, they can be found in the George Washington Papers on the Library of Congress website.


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