20 July 2008

Another Such Victory

Ok, following the American victories at King's Mountain and Cowpens, British General Cornwallis, determined to stop the trend, quickly pursued Nathanael Greene's army through North Carolina an attempt to crush it. Greene, however, managed to keep his army just one step ahead, often crossing rivers just as the British reached the shore. When his army finally crossed the Dan river into Virginia, Cornwallis decided he had seen enough and returned to his post at Hillsborough. Around March 10, 1781, the reinforcements Greene had been waiting on finally arrived, around 2,000 militia from Virginia and North Carolina. These brought his army to 4,400, as opposed to the British 2,200. Greene now saw his time to face the enemy. When he reached Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina on March 14, he set up a defense based on Daniel Morgan's successful defense at Cowpens. His first line was made up of the untested North Carolina Militia, instructed, as the militia at Cowpens, to fire two volleys, then retreat to safety. The second defensive line consisted of veteran Virginia Militia, with similar instructions. The final defense was a line of Continental Soldiers from Delaware and Maryland, centered around two six-pounder canon. In addition, two six-pounder canon were in the center of the first line, and the flanks were held by cavalry under William Washington on the right, and "Light Horse Harry" Lee on the left. These units were to fall back as the first and second lines retreated, finally making their stand with the third line. With a proven defensive method and twice as many men, an American victory seemed assured.
The action began early in the morning on March 15. Greene had posted cavalry under Lee a few miles west of the courthouse on the New Garden Road. Upon hearing word of British movement, Lee led his cavalry west until an advance unit told him they had engaged British cavalry led by the feared Banastre Tarleton near the New Garden Meeting House. The opposing forces met, and the opening battle jockeyed back and forth until British infantry units arrived, prompting Lee to retreat to the American lines. Around noon, the British approached Little Horsepen Creek, about 800 yards from the first American line. At this point, the Americans opened up with their two canon, to which the British responded with their own six canon. Cornwallis, meanwhile, deployed his army the woods and ravines for cover as best as possible.
This drum above, and the artifacts below, were all used at the battle.

The British had to cross about 400 yards uphill in the open to reach the American first line. This area, seen here today, is now reforested. As they approached, the militia took carefull aim and let loose a volley, dropping as many as half the soldiers in some of the British regiments. At about 50 yards, the British stopped, fired a volley at the militia, then charged with bayonets. Faced with the wall of sharp steel, most of the militia broke and fled.
Monument to Captain Arthur Forbis of the Guilford County Militia, an elder in a local church, whose congregation also made up his militia regiment. He was reportedly asked, when the British were about 200 yards from the line of militia, if he could take down a conspicous officer leading the advancing enemy. He responded that he could, and when they closed to 50 yards, he fired and the officer fell. When the British charged the militia, Forbis' men were among the few who stayed and fought before retreating, during which Forbis was wounded. He died a few days later under the care of a local doctor.
As the militia fell back, a group of cavalry and infantry under Light Horse Harry Lee withdrew from the American left to a hilltop about one mile to the southeast. Pursued by the First Battalion Guards and the Hessian Regiment Von Bose, this group becam entangled in a separate battle that lasted longer than the main battle. Among this group was the "Surry County Boys" militia under Joseph Winston, whose memorial is above.
By the time all was said and done, the last shots of the battle were fired in this isolated conflict, away from the rest of the army. This was somewhere in the area pictured above, today outside the National Military Park, in the neighboring Greensboro County Park.
Following the war, Winston was part of the NC convention that ratified the Constitution and served three terms in the US House of Representatives. Another member of Winston's regiment was Jesse Franklin, one of the last to retreat from the battle. Following the war he served one term in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate, as well as Governor of North Carolina. Both men were interred here in 1906.
After smashing the first line of militia, the British found themselves in a dense wood, seen above, where the second line of militia stood. This forest broke up the British ranks and created a series of fragmented attacks instead of a unified one. Rather than run, as the first line of militia had, the Virginia militia made the british pay dearly for their advance. The militia used the trees and hills to their advantage, and before long, witnesses said, the ground was covered with dead and wounded.
On the left of the second line, was a regiment of Virginia militia under Edward Stevens. This regiment had participated at the humiliating defeat at Camden, and Stevens, determined not to let it happen again. To this end, he placed sharpshooters several yards behind his main line with orders to shoot anyone who tried to retreat. The regiment redeemed itself perfectly, fighting the British desparately until Stevens fell, wounded by a musket ball. Stevens survived the wound and joined his regiment at the siege of Yorktown, then serving eight years in the Virginia Legislature after the war.
On an unrelated note, I found this patch of interesting moss or lichen plants. I have no idea what they really are, but maybe someone out there can tell me.
In the 1880's, the Guilford Battle Ground Company believed the American third line was positioned here at the edge of this field. More recent evidence has shown that this field was much larger and the third line was actually farther east (to the right.) However this was not realized until the row of monuments were placed here on the "fake" third line.
When the British troops broke out of the woods they faced a large open field sloping up to the American third line. The troops of the left flank broke through first and their commander, General Webster, rallied them towards the American line without waiting for the rest of the British to catch up. As they approached, the Americans fired a volley at close range, both from the front and the flank, as the 1st Maryland regiment, currently unopposed, swept into the British from the side. The British, realizing their mistake, fell back to the shelter of the trees. Now the British right finally emerged from the trees and approached the American line, facing the 2nd Maryland regiment. Unlike their brethren, however, they fired one weak volley and fell back. (Monument above to American third line.)

Seeing the British break through the line, the 1st Maryland came about and opposed the British onslaught to their left. Seeing this action, Col William Washington led his cavalry into the fray, attacking the British on their right flank and rear. Among the cavalry was Peter Francisco, a six and a half foot tall 260 pound Virginia giant, who took down eleven British before being wounded himself. Together, the Marylanders and cavalry pushed the British back into the field, where Washington saw an officer riding forward. Taking it to be Cornwallis himself, he quickly rode to the attack, until Cornwallis retreated to the British lines. Cornwallis, having seen that his army's right side was about to be destroyed, ordered his artillery chief to fire grapeshot into the fray. This action, (which inspired a scene in the movie The Patriot) killed men of both sides, but drove back the American onslaught. Now, all the British troops had finally made it to the field, including the left flank which had fallen back, and the Americans realized the time had come to withdrawl. The seemingly perfect American defense had collapsed, and Cornwallis finally had his victory, at a very high price. The monument above is to the American cavalry, in particular Washington, Francisco, and a foreign officer, the Marquis of Britigny.

The only monument to a British officer in the park, this is for Col James Stuart. In the height of the battle on the third line, Captain John Smith of the 1st maryland was taking down many of the British until Stuart came at him with his sword. However, he stepped on a man that Smith had just killed, and went down on the ground. Smith, seeing this gave Stuart a fatal blow. Stuart;s orderly then attacked Smith, but was also struck down, but Smith was soon shot in the head by a british musket.
A remaining portion of the New Garden Road, that the British followed up to and through the battle.
At the actual site of the third line, the American canon await the approach of the British foe.

While the courthouse no longer exists, this is where it would have been, where the Americans anchored their third line.

Looking up the hill toward the American third line. This is what the British faced, except it was a field without trees up to the top of the hill, where the Americans were.
Monument to the 1st and 2nd Maryland regiments
Monument to the Delaware regiments. This also is the gravesite of three Delaware soldiers whose remains were found in 1888. Kirkwood's Delaware regiment was one of the most famous of the war, having fought in every major battle in the northern theatre after 1776. They were then transferred south and virtually destroyed at Camden. At Guilford, they were tasked with aiding in holding the American right on the first line. They performed this admirably, before falling back to hold the second line, then the third line. After much research, the soldiers buried here were found to be Privates Cornelius Hagney, John Toland, and William Drew.

Monument to Dr. David Caldwell, a local resident who was a preacher, self taught doctor, and patriot. Following the battle he was on the field caring for wounded of both sides. After the war he served in the North Carolina convention that refused to ratify the US Constitution without the Bill of Rights.

Monument to Nathanael Greene, who strangely enough never won a tactical victory in the south, but ultimately won the war by wearing down the British army. Following the British victory at Guilford Courthouse, Charles James Fox, part of Parliament's anti-war minority, told Parliament that "another such victory would ruin the British army."

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