Did opposing generals in a war really dine together at nite?

I saw a show that said during the American Revolutionary War all battle ceased from sundown to sunup because there were no lites, electricity, etc…this was like an unofficial ceasefire every nite…and that it wasn’t uncommon for opposing generals to have dinner together at one or the other’s place and discuss the day’s events of the war, like at night Gen. Washington and Gen. Cornwallis broke bread, shared win and traded stories? is this accurate? and are there any other wars in history where this happened? i find it hard to beleive gen. grant and gen. lee had a beer and cigars together after hours

What show?

I was taught in Junior High School history class that they did indeed conduct wars, in those days, during daylight hours, from some more-or-less agreed-upon time each morning until tea-time, whereafter they all repaired to their camps for the evening repast and the night’s repose. How businesslike and gentlemanly of them in those days.

I never heard of opposing warriors taking tea together. You must be thinking of lawyers.

some show on a history cable channel

In the AMC Revolutionary War series Turn there was one scene where the revolutionaries had captured an enemy officer (not a general) and treated him like a common prisoner. When their commanding officer found out about this he ordered the officer freed from where he was being held and had a leisurely dinner with him. The commander threatened to have the soldier responsible disciplined.

Of course, the prisoner was not free to go and had to hang around the officer’s quarters until the next morning to be transported wherever.

Do you know about the Christmas truce in World War I?:


In an old article by Daniel Boorstin I read years ago, he mentions that in the 16th-17th centuries it was very common for officers to entertain each other between battles. Why? Part of it was the differences between enlisted and officers. Enlisted soldiers were a mix of mercenaries and criminals whose choices were fighting or prison. They rarely were told by their officers why they were fighting, and it was common for only the highest government circles to know anyway. Wars were less conflicts between countries, but more sporting contest between political elites that formed the officer class. They weren’t fights to the death for national existence between nations the way the Civil War or the World Wars were.
Plus the weapons of that age were far more vulnerable to weather conditions than modern weapons. Flintlocks were difficult at best to operate in rainy or even damp weather, so it was common to wait out rainy stretches. So if you’re sitting around for days knowing your opponent can’t attack, and the war is more adventure than anything else, why not whittle away time with parties?

Lee and Grant fought in the US civil war.

I have never heard of this. Last I checked, Cornwallis and Washington never met during the war. They might have known each other before the war. Even when Cornwallis had the opportunity to meet Washington face-to-face when the British surrendered at Yorktown, he specifically declined to do so.

Grant and Lee certainly knew each other, but IIRC they hadn’t seen each other for years. Certainly they didn’t meet during the war, and I can’t think of a circumstance where they would even have the opportunity. (Unless they got really, really bored at Vicksburg.) What DID happen was Grant and Lee met at Appomattox and spent a great deal of time hanging out together and bullshitting… But Grant had come to accept Lee’s surrender so you can’t really say they met during hostilities.

Keep in mind, however, that in the AWI and ACW conflicts many Generals knew each other. In many cases they had attended academies or participated in campaigns together, before their differences drove them apart. It is entirely plausible that they would have been cordial before or after the war, and certainly plausible that they might have dined with an opposing commander who had surrendered or been captured.

I don’t think they had ever met. Washington never traveled to Europe and from what I can find Cornwallis had never been to America before 1776.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, captured officers would be shown every courtesy and dinner was quite likely if there was no actual battle going on. It was partly good manners, and partly self interest; because the tables may well be turned and both sides wanted to be treated well after capture.

It was also normal to exchange captured officers after a battle.

The closest to the OP’s description I heard of was that General Howe’s dog was somehow scooped up by the American forces and when General Washington heard about it, had the pup escorted under flag of truce to the British lines. I don’t think Washington took the dog in person or anything, though.

If I’m to believe OBrien and Forester, officers would also be released if they’d simply promise to stay out of the war, on their honor as gentlemen. There’s a term for it but I can’t remember it.


They gave their parole.

i dont think hitler and fdr would have gotten along

Well, then George Washington cheated at the battle of Trenton by getting a nighttime start on the march and river crossing.

I think he lied about the cherry tree too.

Even D Day was timed for after dawn. Stumbling around in the dark is no way to fight a battle.

General Charles Lee was an ex British officer. His loyalties to the revolution were somewhat questionable. Books and documentaries claim he told his Brit captures Washington’s tactics and plans. Even the circumstances of his capture and later release has been questioned. There were reports of his dining with the Brit officers while in custody.

Washington had to personally take charge of the Battle of Monmouth. Exposing our most important leader to direct enemy fire. Lee’s incompetence could have cost us our first president.

I should clarify…
General Charles Lee was suspected of gossiping with his British friends at those dinners. Perhaps unintentionally revealing information about Washington’s plans.

I’ve never seen any history books allege anything more than that.

He was a thorn in Washington’s backside. :wink: