Battle of Guilford Courthouse
Staged in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse was fought between the British and the Americans. Under the command of Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis, 1,900 men of the British faced 4,400 men of the American army (commanded by Major General Nathanael Greene). In the end, the British claimed victory, however at a cost of the majority of their army.
The British Army Composition:
· 1 troop of the 17th Light Dragoons (incorporated in Tarleton’s Legion)
· 2 composite battalions of Foot Guards (comprising men from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Foot Guards)
· 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers
· 33rd Foot (now the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment)
· 71st Fraser’s Highlanders (disbanded at the end of the war)
· Bose’s Hessian Regiment
· Light Infantry
· Royal Artillery
· Tarleton’s Light Dragoons
The American Army Composition:
· 1st and 5th Maryland Regiments
· Delaware Infantry
· 4th and 5th Virginia Regiments
· Lee’s Legion
· Light Infantry
· North Carolina Militia
· Virginia Militia
· William Washington’s Light Dragoons
· 2 companies of artillery with four 6 pounder guns
Before the Battle
It’s important to know that before the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, the British were involved in a battle referred to as the Battle of Cowpens. In this battle, British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton led a fight against the American army. He was commanded in January 1781 to attack an American command led by Brigadier General Daniel Morgan. Tarleton found Morgan at an area in western South Carolina known as the Cowpens. In the battle that followed on January 17, Morgan destroyed Tarleton's command and routed him from the field. Fleeing back to Cornwallis (General Lord of Britain). Colonel Tarleton later fought in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.
The Battle of Cowpens reduced the British initiative in the South, and allowed for America to regain some momentum for the Patriot cause. Morgan’s success in this battle accordingly removed a small British army from the field and relieved pressure of Greene’s command. Though the Battle was, at the time seemingly insignificant, it played a key role in the American Revolution conflict, and the later Battle of Guilford Courthouse, since it deprived the British of about 300-400 troops and altered Cornwallis’ future plans.
Following the American victory at the Battle of Cowpens, both General Daniel Morgan and General Nathanael Greene of the American army retreated to Virginia. During this retreat, British General Cornwallis made an attempt to capture the Americans, but failed. Both American Generals (whom previously fought individually) had joined together and travelled diagonally across North Carolina to evade Cornwallis. Once the American army reached the Dan River, they crossed (in boats) and set up their defenses near Guilford Courthouse. On March 15th, 1781, Cornwallis attacked the American troops.
The American’s first line of defense was the North Carolina militia, Washington’s Legion, Lee’s Legion, and Campbell’s riflemen. Approximately 350 yards behind this first line was America’s second line, containing the Virginia Militia. Finally, the third line contained Greene’s Continental Infantry. The British first line was composed of Bose’s Regiment, 71st Fraser’s Highlanders (commanded by Major General Leslie), and the 23rd and 33rd regiments (commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Webster). Their second line contained two battalions of Foot Guards, Light Infantry, and the Grenadiers. Their last line contained the Light Dragoons.
The battle only lasted for a short 90 minutes before Nathanael Greene ordered the American troops to retreat. Cornwallis accepted their retreat and did not pursue, mainly due to their losses: he had suffered many casualties and lost almost all supplies. Although the technical victory went to the British, the overall casualty count would say that the Americans won. About 550 men were dead or wounded as opposed to the American count of 250.
For the British, this battle was essentially part of their effort to take the Carolinas under British rule. Although they “won” this battle, Cornwallis ceased his attempts at taking the Carolinas, and instead moved on to purse overtaking Virginia. After this encounter at Guilford Courthouse, Cornwallis found himself fighting yet another battle: the Battle of Yorktown.
On October 19th, 1781 in Yorktown, Cornwallis was forced to surrender to General Washington and Lieutenant General de Rochambeau (French). In this battle, 6,000 British troops were put up against 8,800 American and 7,800 French troops. After realizing they were completely outnumbered, British General Cornwallis surrendered, and thereby bringing about the 1783 Treaty of Paris, in which Great Britain formally recognized the independence of the United States. The Battle of Yorktown was the last major battle of the American Revolutionary War.
The Battleground Today
In 1912, a local resident (David Schenck) proposed that the land where this battle was fought should be preserved and made into a national park. The land would commemorate the American soldiers who had died. It also serves as a reminder to the country of the struggles America had to face in order to branch off from British control. The National Park Service, a US federal agency that manages all national parks, operates it.
In 1913, Schenck created a charter for the non-profit Guilford Battle Ground Company, whom would push to make the memorial exist. Donations from the Federal Government established that the site (a total of 125 acres) become a national park in 1917.
Throughout the park, monuments are strategically placed so that they characterize the events of the war back in 1781. In the picture (at the top of the page), Major General Nathanael Greene is represented. This statue has been placed at the highest elevation point of the site.
Fun Fact: Following the Battle of Yorktown, Charles Cornwallis, the British commander, refused to attend the official surrender ceremony, claiming to be sick. In his place, he sent Brigadier General Charles O’Hara.
Rickard, J. (8 October 2003). Battle of Guilford Courthouse, 15 March 1781. Retrieved October 8, 2013 from <http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_guilford.html>
Kieron, Francis. (N.d.). The Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Retrieved October 8, 2013 from <http://www.newrivernotes.com/topical_books_1781_northcarolina_battleofguilfordcourthouse.htm>
Kirkpatrick, J. (3 October 2013). Personal Interview.
Mackenzie, John. (2002). Battle of Guilford Courthouse 1781. Retrieved October 7, 2013 from <http://www.britishbattles.com/battle-guilford.htm>
The History Channel website. (2013). Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Retrieved October 8, 2013 from <http://www.history.com/topics/battle-of-guilford-courthouse>