Location: Greensboro, North Carolina
Webpage: National Park
General Description: Following the British defeat at Cowpens, South Carolina in January, 1781, Lieutenant General Cornwallis was needing a decisive victory over the Continental Army, especially with public sentiment in England was growing tired of the Revolutionary War. But with the loss of his light infantry, he needed to burn his wagons in order to make his troops nimble enough to give chase to Major General Greene through North Carolina. Known as “the race to the Dan” he chased Greene north through North Carolina to the flooded Dan river into Virginia taking all the boats with them. Not wanting to chase Greene into Virginia where Loyalist support was sparse and needing to resupply, Cornwallis established camp at Hillsborough. Meantime, General Greene was able to resupply and was reinforced with 4000-5000 additional militia from North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. Now that they outnumbered the 1900 British, Germans, and American loyalists commanded by Cornwallis, Greene recrossed the Dan River and camped at Guilford Courthouse, the county seat at the time. Cornwallis marched to confront the Patriots at Guilford Courthouse. Greene chose the battlefield well using the woods and hills of the Piedmont region of North Carolina. He established three defensive line across the Great Salisbury Wagon Road (now New Garden Road). The first line was the local North Carolina militia supported on each end by backwoods riflemen. These were green militia seeing their first combat, so there job was to fire their muskets three times and fall back to the second line of defense. The British troops open fired with cannons at 1:30 pm on March 15, 1781. After a short barrage they began their advance in ranks towards the American line in the woods. At 150 yards, the Americans shot a volley opening large holes in the British lines. The British regroup and continued to advance, firing their first volley at 50 yards. Some of the Americans got off a second volley, but they broke and scattered, many dropping their muskets and fleeing. However, they achieved their primary objective, since now the British lines were disorganized as they advanced into the heavy woods. Greene’s second line of defense were the Virginia militia. Fighting savagely in small units the British continued to advance to the third line of defense where Greene had his seasoned Continental Army. The action swayed back and forth until Greene’s cavalry came slashing into the fight on Cornwallis’ left flank and he was now in danger of being defeated. Two British 6-pound cannons had just arrived and Cornwallis made a snap decision and ordered them to fire into the thick of battle hitting both friend and foe. This broke the back of the American counterattack and they began their retreat to the north. Although the British technically won the battle, it was at great cost. The battle lasted only 90 minutes, but the British lost a quarter of their troops while the Patriots lost only about five percent, although there were over 1000 missing having fled the battlefield. General Cornwallis could not pursue the Americans and withdrew to Wilmington with hopes of resupply. Greene did not pursue the British, opting instead to move his troops to Camden to begin the process of driving the British from the Carolinas.
1) Be ready for an urban park as the National Battlefield is completely surrounded by the urban sprawl of Greensboro. When we arrived around 10 in the morning, there were a lot of visitors and only a few places to park at the Visitor Center. It turned out they were all there to walk or jog the many trails in the park and the parking lot was nearly empty when we left an hour later to tour the battlefield.
2) The short movie and museum provided a lot of useful information about the battle, as well as, events leading up to and after the battle. Spending the time to get it all straight before visiting the battlefield itself is essential to make sense of this large area. The driving tour does a good job taking you through the actions of the day of March, 1781 as the Visitor Center is located just south of the first line of defense. It then takes you to stops for the second and third line of defense and back to the Visitor Center. You can also choose to walk the battlefield which provides access to some of the monuments that are not readily accessible from the road.
3) It was interesting to find out that when David Schenck purchased the land with the idea to create a park to commemorate the battlefield in 1912 and the states began to construct monuments, their understanding of the battlefield was flawed. Archeological evidence and historians now agree the actual battlefield was much larger than originally planned. Therefore over half of the battlefield is outside the park boundaries and been lost to development and placement of many of the monuments, especially those for the third line of defense, are misplaced.
4) The park is beautifully maintained with numerous walking paths and made for a very pleasant day. We ate lunch at the location of the Guilford Courthouse, which no exists. I am surprised there has not been any archeological work to try and locate the actual buildings.