In 1931, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Siege of Yorktown, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp of the heroic leaders of the battle—Rochambeau, Washington, and de Grasse.
On October 19, 1781, in Yorktown, Virginia, General Charles Cornwallis woke up with a headache.
As the commander of the British Army at Yorktown during what we call the American Revolutionary War, General Cornwallis had watched as a French naval force under Compte de Grasse cut off supply and transport lines, immobilized the British naval forces with incessant shelling, and pinned the British armies to the Virginia coast. He had spent the past three weeks desperately fighting a siege from the combined American and French armies of General Washington and Comte de Rochambeau, who had completely encircled Yorktown, cutting off every means of escape. Using small boats to evacuate his forces failed when a coastal squall came up suddenly, turning both the ground and his prospects to mud.
He was frustrated. His armies had lost heart. He knew that promised reinforcements would arrive too late to save his army. When he no longer saw any point in continuing the conflict, he dispatched an officer under a white flag to ask for a ceasefire and the inevitable.
On October 19, Cornwallis surrendered. Claiming to be ill, he didn't attend the surrender ceremony; he sent his second-in-command to carry his sword to the American and French commanders, effectively ending the Revolutionary War.
Washington was determined to win. The French were just as determined to make sure the British lost. Cornwallis ran out of reasons to fight and lost the will to continue. And Britain lost the colonies.
George Washington was fighting for his own freedom and the freedom of his family. He was fighting for his own farm. He was fighting for his future. His commitment was personal. He wasn't fighting because it was his job; he was fighting for his life. And that commitment helped deliver to us our country.
Today is not a holiday on the calendar, but it was a turning point for our nation and the world. On this day, just a few miles from where we go to work each day, George Washington pressed the battle on behalf of his country. He had reasons to fight and to win. Cornwallis ran out of reasons to fight, and on behalf of his country he withdrew.
What's our motivation? What gets us up in the morning? What battles are we committed to winning? Why do they matter?
Those are the questions that the heroes of Yorktown ask of us today, and every day.