Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
"Another such victory would ruin the British Army!"
These famous words, uttered by Charles James Fox to the British Parliament after the battle, summed up the results of a battle which was, in the long run, much more damaging to the victors than the vanquished. The battle itself took place on March 5, 1781 between British forces under General Charles Cornwallis and American forces under Nathaniel Greene. On paper, every advantage went to the Americans. Fighting on home ground of their choosing and outnumbering the British 2 to 1 victory for the Americans should have been a foregone fact. The one advantage the British had was experience. As with many other battles of the Revolution, much of the American forces were comprised of untested and (usually) unreliable milita units.
After a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Cowpens two months prior, the British Army was eager to exact revenge on the troublesome rebels. Chasing Greene into North Carolina, Cornwallis was determined to seek out and destroy what he still believed to be an inferior force. Expecting reinforcements from the loyalist population of North Carolina, Cornwallis was sorely disappointed by the lack of support which he received upon entering the Old North State. General Greene, however, found himself in the unusual position of being in command of an Army that, for once, outnumbered his British counterpart. Wishing to join in battle while he still had these men Greene decided to meet the British at the small crossroads town of Guilford Court House.
Realizing his potential weakness was in the militia, Greene interspersed the militia units with those of the regular army and set up three lines of increasing strength, one behind the other at a distance of a couple hundred yards, to meet the oncoming British. With his well-known contempt for the American militia, Cornwallis did not hesitate to join battle with Greene despite his lack of numbers. The Americans fought quite well, considering. Although there were instances of cowardice amongst the militia, the Americans exacting an excruciating toll on the British as they drove their way through the 1st and then 2nd lines of the colonials. The 3rd line was the strongest of Greene's lines and by all accounts should have easily held back the British charge. However, the militia units proved to be a weak link and, after a prolonged and bloody exchange, they fell back in retreat causing the whole American line to collapse. The battle was lost for the Americans.
Despite his victory, General Cornwallis had reason for grave concern. Of his 1,900 troops who entered the battle fully 600 of his men now lay dead or wounded on the field of battle...over a quarter of his force! While Greene had also suffered heavy losses it did not constitute as large a percentage of his force and he had the luxury of rebuilding through volunteers. General Cornwallis had no such luxury. Deciding his army could not survive another such conflict, Cornwallis decided to head for the coast for rest and resupply. Eventually this plan would lead him to Yorktown, Virginia and inevitable defeat. Thus, despite defeat, the Americans had set in motion a series of events that would lead to their ultimate victory.
The following is a quick overview of the battlefield as it remains today. From its beginnings as a tourist trap of cluttered monuments, the park has evolved into a more accurate replica of the landscape as it was two hundred years ago. As with my other battlefield albums I have attempted to arrange the pictures chronologically rather than how they are ordered on the park service brochure. Enjoy!
Commanding Officer: Major General Nathanael Greene
Casualties: 264 or 5.9% (25 killed, 124 wounded)
Commanding Officer: Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis
Casualties: 532 or 25.3% (93 killed, 413 wounded, 26 missing/captured)