The Battle of Guilford Courthouse
Written by Peter Fitzgerald
American Wars - War of independence
There have been many well known and lesser known battles that made a huge impact on the American Revolutionary War but the Battle of Guilford Courthouse is more. The Battle of Guildford Courthouse was a small battle that ended up shaping the outcome of the history of America.
The Battle of Guilford Courthouse happened in Greensboro, North Carolina and gets its name from the fact that Greensboro is the county seat of Guilford County. The battle occurred on March 15th 1781.
The two Generals that faced one another in this battle were the British General Lord Cornwallis and the Rhode Island native General Nathanael Greene.
What Led to the Battle of Guilford Courthouse?
The British and the Americans had been fighting over the American colonies for quite a while and the Generals Lord Cornwallis and Nathanael Greene had been battling one another too. At the Battle of Cowpens in January 1781 both Generals faced one another, although neither had command of the overall battle. The British lost this battle and Lord Cornwallis saw many of his light infantry killed.
After the battle concluded General Lord Cornwallis chose to chase General Nathanael Greene in what is known today as the "Race to the Dan". Unfortunately for Cornwallis, Greene was able to evade the British forces, this was until on March 14th 1781 when message came that Greene and his troops were camped at the Guilford Court House not far from Cornwallis and his men.
The following day the British marched on to the Guildford Court House to commence battle.
The Battle of Guilford Courthouse
On route to the court house the British Dragoons from Banastre Tarleton's British Legion were engaged by Dragoons of the American army. This was a brief affair as the British sent a Regiment of Foot in support which caused the Americans to withdraw.
As the British carried on moving forward the enormity of the task ahead became apparent as Greene had his men on higher ground some one mile away from the court house ready to do battle. It was also clear the Americans were greater in number as they had a force of 4,400 men against the British numbers of 1,900.
The American formation was made up of three lines of defence, the first being made up of crack shot riflemen to act as snipers to take out advancing British soldiers. After this Virginia Militia made the second line and the main army at the rear line.
In front of the first line was a plantation and large field with some woodland in between. Lord Cornwallis started his attack at 1:30pm in the afternoon in typical British style of using a barrage of cannon prior to moving men forward.
As the British soldiers advanced the Americans started firing first, the British continued to move forward through the hail of bullets until the Americans were in range of their muskets and started to fire back.
After this the British continued to move forward with the American first line firing continuously and causing many casualties. As the British moved close to the first line the American front line turned and fled back to the second line.
The British continued their advance and took the second line fairly easily but again saw more casualties. The British continued to keep pace as they now moved on to the third line of defence; throughout this the British right flank was being attacked by the Legion of Light Horse Harry Lee's Dragoons.
While all the confusion was occurring the British 2nd Guards found themselves facing a contingent of the American Continental Infantry whom they overcame with ease taking two large guns in the process.
The Continental Infantry dispersed into the woods and the British followed but were pushed back by waiting American forces, this caused the two large guns just taken to be lost again.
At this point in the battle two three pounder British guns came and directed their fire on the Americans, but evidence suggests that more British were hit by the friendly fire than the American force.
The outcome of the battle was interesting as it was effectively a British victory but the British lost a quarter of their men through injured or being killed in action.
After Battle Actions
While the battle was won by the British, it was this battle that help the Americans win the war overall. The British thought the victory was pivotal and would ensure they reclaimed both Georgia and South Carolina but this proved not to be the case as Greene moved back into South Carolina. While this was going on the British moved forward to Virginia losing the ground they had gained and giving control of the south back to the Americans.