Following the Battle of Cowpens, Cornwallis was determined to destroy Greene's army. However, the loss of his light infantry at Cowpens led him to burn his supplies so that his army would be nimble enough for pursuit. He chased Greene in the Race to the Dan, but Greene escaped across the flooded Dan River to safety in Virginia. Cornwallis established camp at Hillsborough and attempted to forage supplies and recruit North Carolina's Tories. However, the bedraggled state of his army and Pyle's massacre deterred Loyalists.
On March 14, 1781, while encamped in the forks of the Deep River, Cornwallis was informed that General Richard Butler was marching to attack his army. With Butler was a body of North Carolina militia, plus reinforcements from Virginia, consisting of 3,000 Virginia militia, a Virginia State regiment, a Corps of Virginian eighteen-month men and recruits for the Maryland Line. They had joined the command of Greene, creating a force of some nine to ten thousand men in total. During the night of the March 15, further reports confirmed the American force was at Guilford Court House, some 12 miles (20 km) away. Cornwallis decided to give battle, though he had only 1,900 men at his disposal. He detached his baggage train, 100 infantry and 20 Cavalry under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton to Bell's Mills further down the Deep River, then set off with his main force, before breakfast was able to be eaten, arriving at Guilford at midday. Meanwhile, Greene, having received the reinforcements, decided to recross the Dan and challenge Cornwallis. On March 15, the two armies met at Guilford Court House, North Carolina (within the present Greensboro, North Carolina).
On February 8, Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan and Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene's forces met at Guilford Courthouse. Greene met with his officers and asked what their next move should be. They all decided to continue the northward retreat. That retreat was known as the "Race for the Dan." The Dan River was swollen and only safe to cross at upstream fords, along the border of North Carolina and Virginia.
Greene continued to stay ahead of Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis. Cornwallis knew that his large wagon trains were slowing him down. He decided to burn all items that were not necessary for battle and left stragglers behind so that the army could move faster. Greene had detached a decoy force, commanded by Otho Williams, to lure Cornwallis in the opposite direction of the main retreating army. The decoying force succeeded in getting the British to chase them instead of Greene.
Cornwallis moved his army between the Americans and the upstream fords. Greene had collected enough boats to carry his army across the river at a point downstream from the British position. Greene knew that the British would be worn out from fast marching over 200 miles. Cornwallis arrived just in time to see the last boatload of Americans make it across the river. Since he did not have any boats, he turned his army around in disgust and headed to Hillsboro.
In early March, Greene rested and reorganize his army. He was waiting for promised reinforcements from Virginia to arrive before moving back into North Carolina to attack the British. After learning that Cornwallis was retiring south, Greene sent a detachment across the river to shadow the British and harass them, which they did for a couple of weeks. A few days later, 600 Virginia militiamen arrived. With his reinforcements, which brought his total to 2,100 men, Greene now had twice as many troops as the British. He led his army back across the Dan River and headed to Guilford Courthouse. Once back in North Carolina, Greene's force quickly increased in size. About 400 Virginia Continentals arrived with Col. Richard Campbell, about 1,000 North Carolina militiamen, and 1,700 Virginia militiamen.
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By March 10, Greene's force had grown to 4,400 troops.
On March 12, Greene moved his army 20 miles to Guilford Courthouse, where he carefully chose his ground for a fight with the British.
On March 14, Cornwallis learned that evening that Greene was camped just 12 miles away at Guilford Courthouse.
On March 15, Greene had divided his force into 3 seperate lines of infantry supported by cavalry and artillery. Each line of battle was perpendicular to the New Garden Road, which ran through Greene's lines west to east before intersecting with the road from Reedy Fork behind the Americans. Guilford Courthouse sat within a T-intersection formed by the junction of these roads.
The first line, behind a rail fence with the woods to their back, was made up of about 1,000 North Carolina militia, commanded by Brig. Gen. John Butler and Col. Thomas Eaton. In the center of the line was 2 small artillery pieces on the road. They could fire on the British while they crossed the open fields. The first line's left flank was supported by Lee's Legion and Campbell's Continentals. The right flank was supported by Lt. Col. William Washington's calvary and Col. Charles Lynch's Riflemen.
The second line, about 350 yards behind and further east in the heavy woods, was made up of 1,200 Virginia militia with a mixture of previously discharged Continental veterans. Here, they would provide cover for the first line. The third line, another 500 yards further to the rear on a slight rise near the courthouse, was the main line of battle consisting of 1,400 Continentals from Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland on the west side of the road.
Cornwallis approached the American positions from the west along New Garden Road about midday. In his ranks were slightly less than 2,000 men. About 4 miles west of Guilford Courthouse, some of Greene's advance guard of cavalry, commanded by Lt. Col. Henry Lee, and dismounted infantry skirmished by using some harassing fire against the approaching British. A running battle eastward broke out.
At 1:00 P.M., the British crossed Little Horsepen Creek (1/2 mile beyond the creek was the American positions) and deployed for their attack. Cornwallis brought his artillery to the front to counter the American artillery fire. He then divided his army into 2 wings on either side of New Garden Road. The left wing was commanded by Col. James Webster and the right wing was commanded by Maj. Gen. Alexander Leslie. Tarleton's Legion was held in the rear as a reserve force.
The British advanced and when they approached within killing range, the Americans fired on them. The British continued their advanced, fired a volley, and then made a bayonet charge. The Americans leveled their muskets on the fence and fired a second volley. This volley was noted as one of the most effective single volley of the war. The British troops were surprised that the militia did not run away from the bayonet charge. This is what the American militia usually did before. The British steadied their line and continued their advance. The first line of militia melted away, along with the cavalry and infantry on the flanks. This was able to siphon the British strength from the main battle.
The British moved toward the American second line. With the Americans deployed on wooded and hilly terrain, groups of them were able to surprise parts of the British line. Fighting an uphill battle confused the British, which began to lose their cohesion. The fight at the second line was a much harder and deadlier than the first line. The British were able to overlap the American right, bend it back, and soon made it collapse.
Without much time to reorganize, Cornwallis ordered his troops forward where they soon ran into the last American line, which was its strongest. Webster launched a quick uphill attack on the American left. It was quickly repulsed and Webster was mortally wounded. On the British right wing, a bayonet charge was ordered to attack the American left. The British temporarily overran part of the American line and captured two artillery pieces. Greene saw this and ordered Washington's cavalry and infantry to seal the breach in the line. They engaged in a hand-to-hand fight with the British, recaptured the artillery, and sealed the breach.
Cornwallis made a controversial call, deciding to bring up his artillery and fire over his own troops into the American line. This desperate move killed as many British troops as it did Americans, but it did halt the American counterattack. Tarleton was ordered to take his cavalry and engage the Americans.
Thinking that his men were about to be driven from the field and accomplishing all that was possible, Greene decided to withdraw his force from the battlefield in an orderly retreat northwest on the Reedy Road. This allowed Cornwallis to claim a victory. Greene's decision to retreat proved to be a cautious but wise decision. Tarleton's cavalry, along with several Hessian units, swept what was left of the Amnerican force from the field. Cornwallis claimed a victory, but his forces suffered great losses. In London, when the battle reports came in, Charles J. Fox, a member of Parliament, remarked that "Another such victory would ruin the British army."
The battle had lasted only ninety minutes, and although the British technically defeated the American force, they lost over a quarter of their own men. The British casualties consisted of 5 officers and 88 other ranks killed and 24 officers and 389 other ranks wounded, with a further 26 men missing in action. Webster was wounded during the battle, and he died a fortnight later.
The British, by taking ground with their accustomed tenacity when engaged with superior numbers, were tactically victors. Seeing this as a classic Pyrrhic victory, British Whig Party leader and war critic Charles James Fox echoed Plutarch's famous words by saying, "Another such victory would ruin the British Army!".
In a letter to Lord George Germain, delivered by his aide-de-camp, Captain Broderick, Cornwallis commented:"From our observation, and the best accounts we could procure, we did not doubt but the strength of the enemy exceeded 7,000 men [Greene's accounts put this closer to 4,400].... I cannot ascertain the loss of the enemy, but it must have been considerable; between 200 and 300 dead were left on the field of battle.... many of their wounded escaped.... Our forage parties have reported to me that houses in a circle six to eight miles around us are full of others.... We took few prisoners".
He further went on to comment on the British force:"The conduct and actions of the officers and soldiers that composed this little army will do more justice to their merit than I can by words. Their persevering intrepidity in action, their invincible patience in the hardships and fatigues of a march of above 600 miles, in which they have forded several large rivers and numberless creeks, many of which would be reckoned large rivers in any other country in the world, without tents or covering against the climate, and often without provisions, will sufficiently manifest their ardent zeal for the honour and interests of their Sovereign and their country."
After the battle, the British were spread across a large expanse of woodland without food and shelter, and during the night torrential rains started. 50 of the wounded died before sunrise. Had the British followed the retreating Americans they may have come across their baggage and supply wagons, which had been camped up to the west of the Salisbury road in some old fields prior to the battle.
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, he 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 General 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." For three months he raided every farm or plantation he came across, from whom he took hundreds of horses for his Dragoons. He also converted another 700 infantry to mounted duties. During these raids he freed thousands of slaves, of which 12,000 joined his own force.
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.
BRITISH FORCES AT GUILFORD COURT HOUSE
Lieut. Gen. Charles Lord Cornwallis; Maj. Gen. Alexander Leslie, second in command
Brig. Gen. Howard, serving as a volunteer
Leslie Division (right wing)
1st Bttn., Guards, Lieut. Col. Chapel Norton
Thomas Baker gives the 1st Bttn., Guards rank and file strength as 200, Lumpkin as 241.
2nd Bttn., 71st Regt., probably Maj. Simon Fraser
Regiment von Bose, Lieut. Col. Johann Christian de Puis
Baker gives the combined rank and file strength of the 2/71st Regt. and von Bose as 565 officers and men, Lumpkin gives the 2/71st strength as 530, and von Bose’s as 313.
Webster’s Division (left wing)
23rd Regt., Lieut. Col. James Webster
33rd Regt. “ “ “ “ (Baker gives combined total for 23rd and 33rd as 472 rank and file. Lumpkin gives the 23rd as 258 and the 33rd as 322.)
Light Infantry Company (Guards): 50, Capt. Maynard
Hesse Cassel Jager company, Capt. Ryder (Baker: 84 rank and file, Lumpkin: 97 rank and file
Reserve, O’Hara; Brig. Gen. Charles O'Hara
2nd Battalion, Guards: Lieut. Col. James Stuart. (Baker: 240 rank and file, Lumpkin: 250 rank and file)
Grenadier Company (Guards): 50, probably Capt. Maitland or else Capt. Christie
British Legion Cavalry: 154-156 rank and file, Lieut. Col. Banastre Tarleton
Royal artillery: 40-50, Lt. John McLeod (Lumpkin)
1 (or 2) six-pounders
According to the “Leslie” Orderly Book, Cornwallis had 4 six-pounders and 2 three-pounders while in North Carolina. Whether he had all of these at Guilford is not clear. Lumpkin gives his artillery at Guilford as 3 three-pounders. What would seem likely is that he had with him at the battle 2 three-pounders and 1 (possibly 2) six-pounders), while the remaining six-pounders were kept with the baggage due to lack of men to man them.
TOTAL STRENGTH OF CORNWALLIS’ ARMY
In a return made on the morning of 15 March gave his rank and file strength as 1,638, and his total effectives strength as 1,924.
His rank and file losses since 1 February were listed as 11 killed, 86 wounded and 97 missing, or 194 total. His losses for officers were 1 killed, 2 wounded, 3 missing. The combined total losses for both rank and file, and officers then was 200.
On the other hand in the return for 1 February, Cornwallis gave his rank and file strength as 2,440, though this of course includes Hamilton and the 20 dragoons assigned to the baggage. Bryan’s N.C. Volunteers were not included in Cornwallis’ official returns. If we subtract the losses since 1 February given in this morning of 15 March return, he would have had 2,246. If we allow Hamilton a strength of 200, this would then have made Cornwallis’s Guilford army 2,220 rank and file.
Lee: 2,400, both officers and rank and file. "Lord Cornwallis' army engaged is put down at one thousand four hundred and forty-nine infantry; the cavalry has generally been estimated at three hundred. Allowing the artillery to make two hundred, it will bring the British force nearly to two thousand, probably the real number at Guilford Court-House. Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton, with his own regiment, one hundred infantry of the line, and twenty dragoons, was left with the baggage sent off on the evening of the 14th to Bell's mill. The British force in toto may be put down as two thousand four hundred: one hundred less than it was when Cornwallis destroyed his baggage at Ramsour's mill, notwithstanding the companies of infantry raised while he lay at Hillsborough, and other small accessions.”
Johnson: 2,000 rank and file. Cornwallis initially claimed 1,360 rank and file as his strength at Guilford. . However, as Johnson points out, he admits a loss of 500 killed and wounded at that battle, yet in his return of 1 April gives a total of 1723. "Deduct from this number, Hamilton's loyal regiment, which does not appear to have been in the action, and there will remain more than 2000, exclusive of the artillery. It is also observable, that Colonel Tarleton admits his cavalry to have amounted to 200, and yet the whole legionary corps is set down, in Cornwallis' account, at 174. By the returns of the 1st of March, it appears that his total was 2213, which will leave 2000 after deducting Hamilton's regiment."
Lumpkin: The British force is not known with certainty, but estimated between 1,981 and 2,253, both officers and rank and file.
Hugh Rankin: 2,192 rank and file. Cornwallis claimed his strength at time of battle was 1,360, but his return of April 1, 1781 gives 1,723 rank and file fit for duty, while his casualties at Guilford were listed as 469 killed and wounded. Rankin estimates his force at "around" 2,192 exclusive of officers and non-commissioned officers.
Thomas Baker: 1,924 troops (rank and file.)
AMERICAN FORCES AT GUILFORD COURT HOUSE
Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene; Brig. Gen. Isaac Huger, second in command
Maryland Brigade, Col. Otho Williams
1st Maryland Regt., Col. John Gunby, Lieut. Col. John Eager Howard
2nd Maryland Regt., Lieut. Col. Benjamin Ford
Johnson gives as total effectives for the 1st and 2nd Maryland regiments together as 630. Lumpkin 632.
Virginia Brigade, Huger
Green’s Virginia Regiment, Lieut. Col. John Green
Hawes Virginia Regiment, Lieut. Col. Samuel Hawes
Johnson and Lumpkin give the total effectives for both Virginia regiments together as 778.
1st and 3rd Continental Light Dragoons: 90, Lieut. Col. William Washington (Johnson says not more than 90, Rankin 86.)
Partizan Corps, (Lee’s Legion, cavalry and infantry), Lieut. Col. Henry Lee (Johnson: the strength of Lees Legion cavalry was not more than 75, and the infantry 82. Lumpkin lists the cavalry as 62 and the infantry at 82. Possibly Lumpkin’s lower number for the cavalry is calculating in losses suffered in the early morning skirmish. Baker echoes Johnson with 75 and 80 Respectively.)
1st Continental Artillery, Capt. Anthony Singleton, Capt. Ebenezer Finley (2 batteries of 2 six-pounders)
Johnson: “60 matrosses of Virginia and Maryland.” Lumpkin gives a figure of 100.
Although not mentioned in reports, Col. Charles Harrison was evidently with the army at this time, and so would have been in overall command of the artillery. He’s mentioned by Greene as having arrived at camp on March 4th, though does not come up again in Greene’s extent correspondence till March 30th. Even so, Harrison was probably not present with either of the batteries themselves., unless briefly.
NORTH CAROLINA MILITIA
Butler’s Brigade, Brig. Gen. John Butler
Eaton’s Brigade, Brig. Gen. Thomas Eaton (Johnson states that both Eaton’s and Butler’s brigades had about 500 men. Work remains to be done as to men from what counties made up Butler’s and Eaton’s brigades, Nonetheless, going through some pension statements, I have been able to confirm that Butler’s contained men from Granville, Orange, and Guilford counties, while Eaton’s had some from Bute, Halifax, Granville, and Warren. Yet although there seems a certain demarcation here, one should not assume that Butler did not have men from say Halifax and Warren, or that Eaton did not have men from Orange or Guilford. Men from Mecklenburg, Caswell, Rowan, Surry, Martin, Edgecomb, and Stokes counties have also been identified as present, but I was not able to determine which brigade they belonged to)
North Carolina Rifle corps, Maj. Joseph Winston (Johnson gives the strength of the North Carolina riflemen who served with Lynch’s Virginians as 60, Odell McQuire speaks of their number as 150.)
North Carolina cavalry: 40, Capt. Marquis de Bretigney (Most of these were actually mounted infantry.)
Johnson gives the total for the North Carolina militia as 1,060.
First Virginia brigade, Brig. Gen. Edward Stevens
Second Virginia brigade, Brig. Gen. Robert Lawson (Johnson: Both brigades had about 600, for a combined 1,200.)
McQuire:“Robert Lawson's brigade on the north was drawn mainly from Virginia's southside counties: Pittsylvania, Prince Edward, Cumberland, Amelia, etc. Edward Stevens' was composed in considerable part of men from the western Virginia 'rifle counties': Rockbridge, Augusta, Rockingham, and perhaps others. Their officers and many in the ranks were experienced soldiers who had fought in earlier campaigns, mostly against Indians.”
Virginia Rifle Corps
Campbell’s Virginia Rifle Corps, Col. William Campbell
(Baker gives 250 for Campell.)
McQuire: “The rifle component was commanded by Colonel William Campbell, victor of King's Mountain. It included the sixty frontiersmen he had brought with him from the ridges and hollows of southwest Virginia…A few of Major Rowland's Botetourts remained. Of the riflemen from Augusta County, Virginia, who had recently come to the army, the companies of Thomas Smith, James Tate, and David Gwin to a total of about 130 men, all under Colonel George Moffett, were assigned to Campbell's command.” McQuire also mentions that Col. Samuel McDowell’s 150 militia from Rockbridge County should be included in the 340-350 total of Virginia Rifle Corps, see 9 March. It is not clear if these were with Campbell or Lynch.
Lynch’s Virginia Rifle Corps, Col. Charles Lynch
(Johnson gives 340 rank and file for the Virginia Rifle Corps, and 60 rank and file for the North Carolinians, or 200 under Campbell and 200 under Lynch. McQuire states that the Virginia Rifle Troops numbered 340-350 for Campbell and 360 for Lynch, with possibly 150 for the North Carolinians attached to Lynch.)
McQuire:“Colonel Charles Lynch had brought 360 men down from the mountain fastness of Bedford County, Virginia, all but 60 armed with rifles.” See also (above) North Carolina Rifle corps listed with the North Carolina militia.
TOTAL for all the Virginia militia combined, says Johnson, was 1,693.
TOTAL STRENGTH OF GREENE’S ARMY
Greene: In a return of 13 March, two days before the battle, Greene listed his army's strength as 4,943. However, some number of these, probably militia, would have been detached to guard the baggage.
Tarleton states Green’s army numbered 7,000.
Lee, adding up the numbers he gives, says Greene’s army amounted to 4,320. He states there were 1,670 Continentals, and, of these, 1,490 rank and file, plus (approximately) 2,830 militia. "Our field return, a few days before the action, rates Greene's army at four thousand five hundred, horse, foot and artillery, of which One thousand six hundred and seventy were Continental; the residue militia. The enemy rate us at upward of five thousand. He is mistaken: we did not reach that number, though some call us seven thousand…." Elsewhere he writes: "General Greene's veteran infantry being only the first regiment of Maryland, the company of Delaware, under Kirkwood (to whom none could be superior), and the Legion infantry; altogether making on that day not more than five hundred rank and file. The second regiment of Maryland and the two regiments of Virginia were composed of raw troops; but their officers were veteran, and the soldier is soon made fit for battle by experienced commanders. Uniting these corps to those recited, and the total (as per official return) amounted to one thousand four hundred and ninety..." If we allow the numbers based on Greene’s return, Johnson and Lumpkin, Lee is still technically correct that the army did not number 5,000, though it obviously wasn’t that far distant either.
Johnson, combining his totals of both effectives and rank and file present puts Greene’s army at 4,468 total effectives and 4,090 rank and file. He says there were 1490 Continentals (rank and file) and 2753 militia (total effectives). Consecutively adding up the specific unit strengths he lists (see above) the total strength of the Continentals would be 1,715 (taking the 60 artillerymen mentioned as total effectives.) This was why I have interpreted his particular unit strengths as total effectives rather than rank and file. But given the round numbers he uses for some of the units listed, this 1,715 figure is to be taken as an approximate total. Similarly, but reversed, the total rank and file for the consecutively summed militia would be 2,600.
CASUALTIES AND CAPTURES
Cornwallis' return of losses suffered, contained in his dispatch to Lord German, of March 17, 1781, gives the total British casualties, both officers and rank and file as 93 killed (75 rank and file), 413 wounded (369 rank and file), 26 missing (25 rank and file.)
Tarleton:“On the part of the British, the honourable Lieutenant-colonel Stewart [James Stuart], of the guards, two lieutenants, two ensigns, thirteen serjeants, and seventy-five rank and file, were killed: Brigadier-generals O'Hara and Howard, Lieutenant-colonels Webster and Tarleton, nine captains, four lieutenants, five ensigns, two staff officers, fifteen serjeants, five drummers, and three hundred and sixty-nine rank and file, were wounded; and twenty-five rank and file were missing.” Webster died from his wounds not many days later, as did Captains Maynard, Goodricke (or Goodricks, who was injured in the early morning skirmish), and Captain Lord Dunglass, all of the Guards. Lieut. O’Hara, of the Royal artillery and nephew to the General was among those killed.
Brig. Gen. Charles O'Hara, shortly after the battle, in a letter to a friend wrote:"nearly one Half of our best soldiers and Officers and Soldiers, were either killed or wounded, and what remains are so completely worn out."
Greene wrote to Samuel Huntington, President of Congress, on March 30, 1781:"I have it from good authority that the Enemy suffered in the Battle of Guilford 633 exclusive of Officers, and most of their principal officers were killed or wounded...Since we have recrossed the Dan River we have taken at different times upwards of a hundred and twenty prisoners and several Officers."
Taken from Otho Williams' return:
Continentals (Key: rank and file/total effectives)
Brig. Gen Huger wounded slightly in the hand
Brigade of Virginia regulars: 23/29 killed, 35/39 wounded, 39/39 missing
Brigade of Maryland regulars: 11/15 killed, 36/42 wounded, 88/97 missing.
First brigade, Virginia militia (Stevens): 9/11 killed, 30/35 wounded, 133/141 missing.
Second brigade Virginia militia (Lawson): 1/1 killed, 13/16 wounded, 83/87 missing.
Rifle regiments, commanded by Colonels Campbell and Lynch': 1/3 killed, 13/16 wounded, 78/94 missing.
Total casualties for the Virginia militia: 361/415.
North Carolina Militia:
Two brigades commanded by Brigadier-generals Butler and Eaton: 6 killed (all rank and file), 5 (3) wounded, missing: 552/563.
Total casualties for North Carolina militia: 561/574.
North Carolina cavalry [militia] lost 1 man killed and 1 wounded.
Johnson: “The American killed and wounded could never be ascertained with any degree of precision. The returns of the day could furnish no correct ideas on the subject; for one half of the North Carolina militia, and a large number of the Virginians, never halted after separating from their officers, but pushed on to their own homes. Neither do those returns exhibit a correct view of the loss sustained by the regular troops, for they are dated on the 17th; and in a number of those who are marked missing, afterward rejoined their corps. This inference is drawn from a return now before us, made two days after, in which the Virginia brigade is set down at 752, and the Maryland brigade at 660. Admitting that those two corps went into battle with 1490 men, this will reduce their loss to 188, instead of 261, as represented in the returns of the 17th. This error was to be expected from the confusion in which the 2d Maryland regiment abandoned the field. Reducing the whole loss in the same proportion, it will barely exceed 200…The loss of the militia brigades and rifle corps, were surprisingly small, not exceeding in the whole eighty men, killed and wounded…But, these corps were reduced by desertion to one half the numbers they reckoned before the battle. The Virginians now amounted to only 1021, including Lynch’s riflemen – and the North Carolinians to 556. The whole army, including men of all arms, amounted on the 19th to 3115.”
On 19 March, Maj. Charles Magill reported to Gov. Jefferson that Cornwallis had taken custody of 75 wounded Americans.
“Return of ordnance, ammunition, and arms, taken at the battle of Guildford, March 15, 1781.
Brass Ordnance: Mounted on travelling carriages, with limbers and boxes complete, 4 six-pounders. Shot, round, fixed with powder, 160 six-pounders. Case, fixed with ditto, 50 six-pounders; 2 ammunition waggons, 1300 stands of arms distributed among the militia, and destroyed in the field.”
Cornwallis to Lord Germain, dated from Guilford, March 17, 1781:“The neighborhood of the Fords of the Dan in their rear, and the extreme difficulty of subsisting my troops in that exhausted country putting it out of my power to force them, my resolution was to give our friends time to join us, by covering their country; ...at the same time I was determined to fight the rebel army. With these views, I moved to the Quaker Meetting (house), in the forks of Deep River, on the 13th; and on the 14th I received the information which occasioned the movement which brought about the action at Guildford..."
Kirkwood: "15th. This day commenced the Action at Guilford Court House between Genls. Green and Cornwallis, in which many were Killed and wounded on both sides, Genl. Green Drew off his Army, with the loss of his artillery. Marched this day ......16" [miles].
Pension statement of James Roper, of Caswell County, N.C.“In his 3rd campaign he served under Capt. Edward Dickerson and marched from the Court House to meet the brigade of Gen. Butler and marched to Ravin Town to Gen. Green's army across the Haw River along with Gen. Eaton's brigade marched to Guilford Courthouse to engage the British Army under Lord Cornwallis. The first line up to battle consisted of the North Carolina Militia under Gen. Butler & Eaton. About the time Gen. Green had his army arrayed for battle Cornwallis came up with his troops, and a desparate battle ensued. This affiant states as well as he can now recollect that it was about one or two oclock of the day P.M. when the battle began between Gen. Green & Cornwallis. The battle lasted for some time with various success on both sides and at last Gen. Green had to retreat & leave the battle ground.”
Davie (who was present at the battle): "[Gordon] speaks true to be sure of the No Carolian militia as they deserved, but it is justice to observe they were never so wretchedly officered as they were that day – but he attributes the glory acquired by Stevens brigade to the whole Virginia Militia, when the truth is Lawson's brigade fought as illy as the No Carolinians The only difference was they did not run entirely home...the fact is the whole battle was fought by Stevens brigade and the first Maryland regiment.:." Referring, in a different writing, to the clash between the Guards and the 1st Maryland Regt., Davie says: “[Capt. John] Smith and his men were in a throng, killing the Guards and Grenadiers like so many Furies. Colonel Stewart [James Stuart], seeing the mischief Smith was doing, made a lunge at him with his small sword…It would have run through his body but for the haste of the Colonel, and happening to set his foot on the arm of the man Smith had just cut down, his unsteady step, his violent lunge, and missing his aim brought him down to one knee on the dead man. The Guards came rushing up very strong. Smith had no alternative but to wheel around and give Stewart a back-handed blow over or across the head, on which he fell.”
Seymour:"Colonel Washington, with his cavalry, in this action deserved the highest praise, who meeting with the Third Regiment of Foot Guards, and charged them so furiously that they either killed or wounded almost every man in the regiment, charging through them and breaking their ranks three or four times. This action began about nine o' clock in the morning and continued about the space of an hour and a half, in which the enemy lost in killed and wounded fifteen hundred men, our loss not exceeding one hundred and fifty in killed and wounded, of which twenty-seven belonged to Col. Washington's Light Infantry, of which Captain Kirkwood had the command."
Tarleton:“The thickness of the woods where these conflicts happened prevented the cavalry making a charge upon the Americans on their retreat to the continentals, and impeded the British infantry moving forwards in a well-connected line. Some corps meeting with less opposition and embarrassment than others, arrived sooner in presence of the continentals, who received them with resolution and firmness.At this period the event of the action was doubtful, and victory alternately presided over each army. On the left of the British Colonel Webster carried on the yagers, the light company of the guards, and the 33d regiment, after two severe struggles, to the right of the continentals, whose superiority of numbers and weight of fire obliged him to recross a ravine, and take ground upon the opposite bank. This manoeuvre was planned with great judgement, and, being executed with coolness and precision, gave Webster an excellent position till he could hear of the progress of the King's troops upon his right. In the center the 2d battalion of the guards, commanded by Lieutenant-colonel Stewart, supported by the grenadiers, made a spirited and successful attack on the enemy's six pounders, which they took from the Delaware regiment; but the Maryland brigade, followed by Washington's cavalry, moving upon them before they could receive assistance, retook the cannon, and repulsed the guards with great slaughter. The ground being open, Colonel Washington's dragoons killed Colonel Stewart and several of his men, and pursued the remainder into the wood. General O'Hara, though wounded, rallied the remainder of the 2d battalion of the guards to the 23d and 71st regiments, who had inclined from the divisions on the right and left, and were now approaching the open ground. The grenadiers, after all their officers were wounded, attached themselves to the artillery and the cavalry, who were advancing upon the main road. At this crisis, the judicious use of the three pounders, the firm countenance of the British infantry, and the appearance of the cavalry, obliged the enemy to retreat, leaving their cannon and ammunition waggons behind them. Colonel Webster soon after connected his corps with the main body, and the action on the left and in the center was finished.Earl Cornwallis did not think it advisable for the British cavalry to charge the enemy, who were retreating in good order, but directed Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to proceed with a squadron of dragoons to the assistance of Major-general Leslie on the right, where, by the constant fire which was yet maintained, the affair seemed not to be determined. The right wing, from the thickness of the woods and a jealousy for its flank, had imperceptibly inclined to the right, by which movement it had a kind of separate action after the front line of the Americans gave way, and was now engaged with several bodies of militia and riflemen above a mile distant from the center of the British army. The 1st battalion of the guards, commanded by Lieutenant-colonel Norton, and the regiment of Bose, under Major De Buy [de Puis], had their share of the difficulties of the day, and, owing to the nature of the light troops opposed to them, could never make any decisive impression: As they advanced, the Americans gave ground in front, and inclined to their flanks: This sort of conflict had continued some time, when the British cavalry, on their way to join them, found officers and men of both corps wounded, and in possession of the enemy: The prisoners were quickly rescued from the hands of their captors, and the dragoons reached General Leslie without delay. As soon as the cavalry arrived, the guards and the Hessians were directed to fire a volley upon the largest party of the militia, and, under the cover of the smoke, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton doubled round the right flank of the guards, and charged the Americans with considerable effect. The enemy gave way on all sides, and were routed with confusion and loss. Thus ended a general, and, in the main, a well-contested action, which had lasted upwards of two hours. General Leslie soon afterwards joined Earl Cornwallis, who had advanced a short distance on the Reedy-fork road, with the 23d and 71st regiments, to support the other squadron of the British legion, who followed the rear of the continentals.”
Sgt. Roger Lamb of the 23rd Regt.:“[After the battle] Every assistance was furnished to them [the wounded of both sides], that in the then circumstances of the army could be afforded; but, unfortunately the army was destitute of tents, nor was there a sufficient number of houses near the field of battle to receive the wounded. The British army had marched several miles on the morning of the day on which they came to action. They had no provisions of any kind whatever on that day, nor until between three and four in the afternoon of the succeeding day, and then but a scanty allowance, not exceeding one quarter of a pond of flower, and the same quantity of very lean beef. The night of the day on which the action happened was remarkable for its darkness, accompanied by rain which fell in torrents. Near fifty of the wounded, it is said, sinking under their aggravated miseries, expired before morning. The cries of the wounded, and dying who remained on the field of action during the night, exceeded all description. Such a complicated scene of horror and distress, it is hoped, for the sake of humanity, rarely occurs, even in a military life.”