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Battle of Guilford Courthouse


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The Battle of Guilford Court House was a battle fought on March 15, 1781 inside the present-day city of Greensboro, North Carolina, during the American Revolutionary War in which 1,900 British troops under General Charles Cornwallis fought an American force under Rhode Island native General Nathanael Greene numbering 4,400.

The battle

On the 15th of March the two armies met at Guilford Court House, North Carolina (near the present Greensboro, North Carolina), and a virtually drawn battle was fought. The British, by holding their ground with their accustomed tenacity when engaged with superior numbers, were tactically victors, but were further weakened by a loss of nearly 600 men. Greene, cautiously avoiding another Camden, retreated with his forces intact. With his small army, less than 2000 strong, Cornwallis declined to follow Greene into the back country, and retiring to Hillsborough, North Carolina, raised the royal standard, offered protection to the inhabitants, and for the moment appeared to be master of Georgia and the two Carolinas. In a few weeks, however, he abandoned the heart of the state and marched to the coast at Wilmington, North Carolina, to recruit and refit his command.

At Wilmington the British general faced a serious problem, the solution of which upon his own responsibility unexpectedly led to the close of the war within seven months. Instead of remaining in Carolina he determined to march into Virginia, justifying the move on the ground that until Virginia was reduced he could not firmly hold the more southern states he had just overrun. This decision was subsequently sharply criticized by Clinton as unmilitary, and as having been made contrary to his instructions. To Cornwallis he wrote in May: “Had you intimated the probability of your intention, I should certainly have endeavoured to stop you, as I did then as well as now consider such a move likely to be dangerous to our interests in the Southern Colonies.” The danger lay in the suddenly changed situation in that direction; as General Greene, instead of following Cornwallis to the coast, boldly pushed down towards Camden and Charleston, South Carolina, with a view to drawing his antagonist after him to the points where he was the year before, as well as to driving back Lord Rawdon, whom Cornwallis had left in that field. In his main object, the recovery of the southern states, Greene succeeded by the close of the year; but not without hard fighting and repeated reverses. “We fight, get beaten, and fight again,” were his words. On the April 25, 1781 he was surprised in his camp at Hobkirk’s Hill, near Camden, by Lord Rawdon and was defeated, both sides suffering about an equal loss.


Every year, on or about March 15, re-enactors in period costumes replay the battle on-site.

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