Research Paper: Battle of Guilford Courthouse the American Revolution

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Battle of Guilford Courthouse

The American Revolution can be generally split into two parts: the war in the North which comprised the first three years, and the war in the South, which comprised the second half of the war. While the British forces in the South were successful at first, they were decisively defeated by Daniel Morgan at the Battle of the Cowpens on January 17, 1781. Wanting to regain the momentum, British commander General Cornwallis searched out and two months later engaged American General Nathanael Greene at Guilford Courthouse. In the battle that followed, the British successfully drove the Americans from the field and technically won the battle; but the Americans retreated in good order and remained a viable fighting force while the British lost close to a quarter of their men and were in desperate need of rest and re-supply. The battle was a British victory, but one that came with a huge price tag.

It was on March 15, 1781 that a British force of 1,900 soldiers under the command of Lt. General Lord Charles Cornwallis attacked an American army of 4,400 under the command of Major General Nathanael Greene. The Americans had been fighting for independence from the British since 1775, and while in the first few years of the conflict the major fighting took place in the North, in response to a stalemate that had settled over the conflict, the British chose to open a new front in the Southern colonies. To counter this new threat, the Americans sent an army under the command of General Horatio Gates who immediately sought out battle with the British at Camden South Carolina. Unfortunately for Gates, "the Continentals were slaughtered, suffering some 50% casualties in the forty-five minutes of fighting." (Babits 8) Gates was quickly replaced by General Nathanael Greene who at first withdrew from Cornwallis, avoiding a pitched battle, but after some time being chased by Cornwallis, Greene finally stood his ground at Guilford Courthouse and waited for Cornwallis to attack. Although he was outnumbered more than two to one, Cornwallis accepted Greene's challenge and attacked the Americans.

Nathanael Greene's force of 4,400 men consisted of both regular Continental Army troops along with non-regular militia units. The regular army units, detachments from Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia, were supplemented with "Light Horse" Harry Lee's cavalry, William Washington's Light Dragoons, two companies of artillery with four 6 pound cannon, as well as militia units from North Carolina and Virginia. On the British side were 1,900 British Army regulars including units such as the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Foot Guards, Frasier's Highlanders, Hessian Mercenaries, light infantry, Royal artillery, and British Dragoons led by the infamous Banastre Tarleton. ("The Battle of Guilford Courthouse 1781.") in fact, it was forces under the command of Tarleton who first engaged with "Light Horse" Harry Lee's cavalry near the New Garden Meeting House nearly 5 miles from Guilford Courthouse. With the appearance of British reinforcements, Lee was forced to withdraw back to Guilford Courthouse. ("The Patriot Resource")

The Americans were set up in three defensive lines several hundred yards apart so that they could not directly support each other. The first line consisted of the Virginia militia armed with muskets but with Riflemen and cavalry on both flanks. Two of the available 6 pound cannons were placed in the middle of the second line surrounded on both sides by the musket toting Virginia militia. This was followed by Greene's third line consisting of most of his regulars, armed with muskets, and the rest of his artillery. ("The Patriot Resource") the British, on… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Battle of Guilford Courthouse the American Revolution."  March 7, 2012.  Accessed August 23, 2019.