Guilford Courthouse

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(1781)

Despite the fact the Battle of Guilford Court House is a tactile draw, it remains a victory for the Americans as the British have been worn down so much that they will make a fateful retreat to Yorktown, Virginia.

The tide of the war in the South has turned with Daniel Morgans' crushing defeat of Banaster Tarlton at the Battle of Cowpens. He reports back to Cornwallis who upon hearing the news is stunned. He does not hold Tarlton responsible, but blames it on the troops.

Cornwallis has been determined to crush General Nathaniel Greene and has pursued the General through the Carolina back country. Cornwallis has even made the unfortunate decision to modify his army as to make it more mobile and quicker. He has destroyed his baggage train, and forced his troops to scuttled their provisions. The British army is now forced to live off the land.

In the meantime Greene, full well knowing that Greene is on his trail, makes a race for the Dan River. Greene stops at Guilford Court House which will be the ground of the fateful battle.

On the 15th of March, Cornwallis sets his army in motion to cover the last 12 miles to Guilford Court House. He does not know the terrain, and has fewer than 1200 troops at his disposal. Cornwallis misguidedly believes that the best of the British army can overcome the odds which lay ahead.

General Greene chose for his stand against Cornwallis a nondescript stretch of low rolling hills, broken here and there by moderately steep ravines. A forest of tall hardwoods, much of it with thick undergrowth, covered most of the ground. The main Hillsborough-Salisbury road, then the most important in North Carolina, ran east-west through the woods. Greene arrayed his troops astride the road, facing west, to block the British, marching along it toward them. His army of over 4500 outnumbered the enemy better than two to one. Sounds of a severe skirmish four miles east, between Campbell's riflemen and the van of Cornwallis' army, had alerted Greene and given him time to form his troops. The Americans were ready.

In front, at the western skirt of the woods, behind rail fences and looking out over cleared fields, was a north- south line of over 1000 North Carolina militiamen. One brigade was north of the road under a General Eaton and General Butler's was south of it. Behind them in the woods, 300 yards east, were the Virginia militia, also around 1000 strong. Again the road was a dividing line. Robert Lawson's brigade on the north was drawn mainly from Virginia's southside counties: Pittsylvania, Prince Edward, Cumberland, Amelia, etc. Edward Stevens' was composed in considerable part of men from the western Virginia 'rifle counties': Rockbridge, Augusta, Rockingham, and perhaps others. Their officers and many in the ranks were experienced soldiers who had fought in earlier campaigns, mostly against Indians. This brigade would be fighting south of the road where the ground was a little rougher and the woods thicker. It was their kind of country. As added encouragement, General Stevens put a line of sentinels in their rear with orders to shoot anybody who tried to run away.

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