Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Battle of Guilford Courthouse - Greensboro, North Carolina

Greene Monument at Guilford Courthouse
One of the most remarkable "victories in defeat" in American history took place at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781.
The battlefield is now preserved at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro, North Carolina. It is one of the few places that visitors can walk in the footsteps not only of American heroes such as Nathaniel Greene and "Light-Horse Harry" Lee (father of Robert E. Lee), but also of British officers including Cornwallis and Banastre Tarleton.

The was one of the largest of the American Revolution. Having successfully outrun Cornwallis in the famed "Race to the Dan" across North Carolina in February of 1781, Greene recrossed the Dan River after receiving heavy reinforcements of Virginia militia. The two armies eyed each other for three weeks, but then on May 15th the British learned that Greene had taken position and was inviting attack at a country crossroads called Guilford Courthouse.

Patriot Graves at Guilford Courthouse
As Cornwallis advanced on the American position, he found Greene's first line posted behind a rail fence that bordered open fields and was backed by heavy woods. Attempting to duplicate on a large scale Daniel Morgan's tactics that had secured a crushing victory over Tarleton at the Battle of Cowpens three months earlier, the American general had formed his men in three consecutive lines, each stronger than the one before it.

The heavy tree cover of the battlefield created major command and control issues for both generals as they tried to coordinate the movements of thousands of men. The result was a swirling, confusing battle that slowly turned against the Americans as the British troops forced their way up the battlefield in heavy fighting.

Site of Guilford Courthouse
Greene finally retreated from the field, but in good order and having so bloodied the British army that Cornwallis was unable to pursue. In doing so, the American commander achieved a major strategic victory while suffering a tactical defeat. In losing the battle, he proved to be such a formidable foe that Cornwallis was unable to destroy him. The British were left with no choice but to withdraw to the coast to refit and resupply. From there they turned north to Yorktown, Virginia, and surrender.

A major turning point of the American Revolution, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse - following as it did on the heels of the Patriot victories at Kings Mountain and Cowpens - allowed Greene to reconquer much of the South, while forcing Cornwallis into his final confrontation with George Washington.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/guilford.

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