US Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Handbook 30, 1961
19th-century illustration of Colonel Francis Marion, "The Swamp Fox", riding through South Carolina.
Overview of Guilford Courthouse
The British won a hollow victory at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March
15, 1781. They left the field so weak that they were unable to vigorously
continue their subsequent campaign in the Southern Colonies.
The Battle of Guilford Courthouse, fought March 15, 1781, marked the
beginning of the end of the Revolutionary struggle. It was a British victory,
but a victory which left the enemy so weak that it caused them to lose the
campaign in the Southern Colonies - a victory that started the armies of
Cornwallis on the road to Yorktown and surrender.
Inscribed on the Nathanael Greene monument in the park is this statement
on the significance of the battle by C. Alphonso Smith:
In the maneuvering that preceded it, in the strategy that compelled it, in the
heroism that signalized it, and in the results that flowed from it, the Battle
of Guilford Court House is second to no battle fought on American soil. Over
the brave men who fell here their comrades marched to ultimate victory at
Yorktown, and the cause of constitutional self-government to assured triumph
at Philadelphia. To officer and private, to Continental soldier and volunteer
militiaman, honor and award are alike due. They need neither defense nor
eulogy but only just recognition. . .
The Southern Campaign
The campaign climaxed by the Battle of Guilford Courthouse began more
than 2 years earlier. In 1778, with the war approaching a stalemate in the
North, the British authorities adopted a new plan to transfer operations to
the South, an area relatively untouched by the war up to that time. They
planned to overrun the Southern Colonies successively from Georgia northward
in the belief that little more than a parade of British might would be
necessary to restore those Colonies to normal relations with the Crown.
Sweep Through Georgia
Accordingly, an expeditionary force sent to Georgia under Sir Archibald
Campbell captured Savannah during the last week of 1778. With the assistance
of Gen. Augustine Prevost, who had marched northward from Florida with 2,000
men, Campbell completed the conquest of Georgia during the first half of 1779.
In April, Prevost entered South Carolina and devastated it; but, failing to
take Charleston, the key city of the region, he was compelled to return to
Georgia. In September, the Americans, aided by a French fleet, attempted to
retake Savannah, but they were repulsed with severe losses.
Siege of Charleston
In December Sir Henry Clinton, commander in chief of British forces in
America, sailed south from New York with 8,000 men. He landed at Tybee Island
at the mouth of the Savannah River. After obtaining reinforcements from
Prevost, he proceeded against Charleston. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, the American
commander, should have abandoned Charleston, but instead he collected all the
troops he could and shut himself up in the city, where he surrendered on May
12, 1180, after a brief siege.
Having obtained his objective, Clinton returned to New York, leaving the
Earl of Cornwallis in command, with the task of consolidating the gains in the
South and continuing the conquest. Cornwallis established a series of
military posts throughout South Carolina, but he was constantly annoyed and
harassed by guerrilla raids led by such famed partisan leaders as Francis
Marion, Thomas Sumter, Andrew Pickens, and Otis Williams. Charleston remained
the British base of operations and supply depot, while activity in the
interior centered at Camden.
Battle of Camden
In June, Gen. Horatio Gates was appointed commander of patriot troops in
the South. He determined to liberate the South, beginning with a move in
force against the British stronghold at Camden. This was, strategically and
tactically, a sound conception, but in its execution Gates failed completely.
His defeat at Camden on August 16, 1780, was one of the most disastrous
battles in which an American army has ever been engaged. This defeat
terminated all organized opposition to British control in South Carolina and
cleared the way for further advances. In September, Cornwallis moved his main
army from Camden to Charlotte. Simultaneously, a flank column, under Maj.
Patrick Ferguson, was marching from Fort Ninety-Six through the Piedmont,
carrying the war into the upcountry. This column was expected to join
Cornwallis at Charlotte.
[See Southern Map: American and British troop movements in the Southern
campaign to the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.]
[See Southern Table: Southern Campaign to the Battle of Guilford Court House]
Battle of Kings Mountain
Ferguson's advance aroused the back-country mountaineers, hitherto not
particularly concerned with the war. Separated by time and distance from the
more thickly populated coastal plains, these settlers had their own problems
and their own troubles - notably the Indians. Ferguson's appearance in their
own region was, however of vital concern to them. They forthwith assembled in
small bodies, each under its own leader, for the purpose of repelling the
invasion. Eventually, about 2,000 of them gathered from the frontiers of the
four southernmost States and at once set out in pursuit of the invader who had
learned of the gathering and had turned toward Charlotte. Ferguson took
position on Kings Mountain to await reinforcements and there was discovered
and immediately attacked by about 1,000 backwoodsmen on October 7.
The position Ferguson chose for his stand was almost ideally suited to
the type of fighting at which his adversaries were most adept. As a result,
at the end of approximately an hour Ferguson was dead, about 400 of his men
were slain, and more than 700 captured. On learning the news of this
disaster, Cornwallis fell back from Charlotte to Winnsborough to await
Greene Appointed Southern Commander
A few days after Cornwallis withdrew from North Carolina, the Continental
Congress made an important move affecting the war in the South. The fiasco at
Camden had caused that body to lose faith in Gates, and Gen. George Washington
was requested to nominate a successor. Nathanael Greene was Washington's
choice, and Congress accordingly appointed him commander of the Southern
Greene reached Charlotte early in December. There he found the remnant
of Gates' force which had been joined by some additional militia. The men
were low in morale and poorly equipped. Obviously, the Americans were in no
condition to encounter the main British force. Therefore Greene decided to
wage guerrilla-type warfare against Cornwallis' exposed western outposts.
Dividing his army, Greene sent Gen. Daniel Morgan with about half of the men
to the southwest toward Fort Ninety-Six. Meanwhile Greene conducted the
remainder to a position on the Peedee River near the present site of Cheraw,
S.C. This move was undoubtedly dangerous and violated the basic rule of
strategy which forbids the division of a force in the face of a superior
enemy; but it forced Cornwallis to act, for the Americans were distributed in
a way that endangered his entire forward line. That line ran from Georgetown
through Camden, Winnsborough, and Fort Ninety-Six to Augusta.
Battle of Cowpens
The British commander's answer to this threat was to divide his own army.
He sent Col. Banastre Tarleton with a strong column to operate against Morgan,
while he intended to move into position to intercept the Americans whom he
expected Tarleton to drive northward. Unfortunately for Cornwallis' plan,
Morgan roundly defeated Tarleton in a battle at Cowpens, and then escaped
because Cornwallis had delayed about 48 hours in moving the main British force
northward. The Battle of Cowpens took place in mid-January 1781, and in it
the British suffered a reverse almost as serious as that of Kings Mountain 3
Race for the River Crossings
Morgan began a rapid retreat northward and eastward immediately after
Cowpens, with Cornwallis in close pursuit. The two armies were then about 25
miles apart. Twenty-three days later, after the Americans had marched about
125 miles airline distance, they had gained 3 miles. When he began to
retreat, Morgan sent news of his victory and of his future plans to Greene.
Thereupon, Greene set his force in motion northward under Gen. Isaac Huger,
while he, himself with a small escort, joined Morgan near Beatty's Ford on the
Catawba River near the present site of Moorseville, N.C. The Yadkin River was
crossed a few miles from Salisbury at the Trading Ford, where an overnight
rise of 2 feet in the stream prevented the passage of the pursuing British.
From that point the Americans continued to Guilford Courthouse, where they
were joined by the other half of the army from Cheraw, and whence the retreat
was continued toward Virginia.
Cornwallis, unable to use the Trading Ford because of the high water,
ascended the Yadkin River to the Shallow Ford, several miles west of the
Moravian settlement at Salem.
By this time Greene's plans were fairly evident. He wished to avoid
battle, to draw the British as far as possible from their base, and to be able
to retire into Virginia if the necessity should arise. To prevent Greene from
escaping and in the hope of forcing an engagement, Cornwallis continued the
pursuit which developed into a race for the river fords.
The Dan River was deep and could be forded only on its upper reaches;
therefore the Englishman interposed his army between Greene and these fords in
the expectation that he might compel the Americans to fight. Greene, however,
had prepared for just such a contingency and at his direction boats had been
built and collected on the south bank of the Dan. In them the Americans
safely crossed the river. Cornwallis gave up the chase and marched back to
Hillsborough, where he raised the Royal Standard and issued a proclamation
calling upon all loyal subjects to rally to his assistance. The results,
however, were so disappointing that within a few days his army was again on
the march, partly from the necessity of securing food.
Meanwhile, Greene collected reinforcements and rested his army in
Virginia. His main object had been to draw Cornwallis away from his base,
and, fearing now that he might return to it, Greene recrossed the Dan about
March 1. For about 2 weeks he kept on the move, playing for time and
position, and avoiding decisive action until he could be joined by the last of
the summoned militia reinforcements. These reinforcements arrived in camp on
March 13 and 14, and the whole American force immediately marched to Guilford
Courthouse where battle stations were taken. Cornwallis was informed of this
on the 14th, and early on the next morning he marched from his camp on Deep
River to the engagement he had so long sought.
[See Tarleton Map: This plan of battle, engraved for Henry Lee's Memoirs of
the War, is a copy of the so-called Tarleton Map, which was published in
London in 1787. It is not wholly accurate, and the north point should be
rotated 50 degrees to the left for proper orientation.]
The Battle of Guilford Courthouse Begins
Lt. Col. Henry Lee opened the battle with an advance guard action against
the British near the Quaker settlement of New Garden, 3 miles west of the
American position. This skirmish resulted in no advantage to either side.
The Americans retired, and the British continued to advance along the New
Garden Road toward the courthouse.
Greene's troops were drawn up in three lines, approximately 400 yards
apart, facing west. The first two lines extended north and south across the
New Garden road; the third line was entirely north of the road, following the
crest of a low hill. Heavily wooded terrain limited the effectiveness of
cavalry. The woods likewise reduced the effectiveness of artillery since the
field of fire, particularly for the attacking force, was poor. Approximately
one-half mile in front of the position was a small stream from which the
ground rose steadily, though rather gradually, to the crest of a hill where
the first line was drawn up. Three cultivated fields, one to the north and
two to the south of the road, provided an excellent field of fire for parts of
that line, and the rail fences enclosing the cultivated land afforded the
troops some protection. The second line was entirely in the woods, and the
third was near the eastern edge of a good-sized clearing.
Both flanks of the first two lines and the right flank of the third were
unprotected. But the heavy woods dictated a direct frontal attack by the
British; therefore these exposed flanks were not a disadvantage for the
Americans. The left flank of the third line rested on the New Garden Road and
was protected by artillery during the later stages of the battle.
The First Line consisted of two brigades of North Carolina Militia,
almost all of whom were wholly untrained and entirely without battle
experience. On the left flank were stationed Lt. Col. Henry Lee's Legion and
Col. William Campbell's Riflemen. The former were regulars and the latter
were frontiersmen from the Virginia and North Carolina mountains who had had
appreciable campaign experience, including participation in the Battle of
Kings Mountain. The right flank detachment was composed of Lt. Col. William
Washington's regular cavalry, the remnant of the Delaware regiment of
Continentals, and Col. Charles Lynch's Riflemen, comparable in experience and
capacity to Campbell's. In the center on the road, a section of artillery,
two 6-pound guns, commanded the stream-crossing below.
The Second Line was made up entirely of Virginia Militia, the majority of
whom were as untrained and inexperienced as were the North Carolinians in the
front line. The Virginia officers, however, were largely men who had served
in the Continental Army, and a number of them had had some battle experience.
Also in the ranks of the Virginians were a few men who had had previous
military service. Thus the second line was somewhat stronger than the first
by virtue of this leaven of experience. Finally, Brig. Gen. Edward Stevens,
in command of one brigade, placed sentinels a few yards in the rear of his
line to insure against any break by his men.
The Third Line was composed of Greene's two small brigades of Continental
troops. Of the four regiments, one, the 1st Maryland, was a veteran unit.
The 2d Maryland and the two Virginia regiments were recently reorganized, had
excellent officers, and contained a good proportion of veterans in the ranks.
The total force, regular and militia, infantry, cavalry, and artillery,
numbered about 4,400. Of this total possibly 1,500 to 1,600 of all arms were
regulars, but many of these fell into the recruit classification.
Lord Cornwallis commanded an army, numerically inferior to Greene's; but
it was vastly superior in organization, discipline, training, and experience.
Engaged in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse were about 2,000 of the very
flower of the British forces in America. There were two battalions, a
grenadier, and a light infantry company of the Guards; the 23d and 33d
Regiments of foot, the former, the famous Welch Fusiliers; the 71st
Highlanders, the King's Own Borderers; the Regiment of Bose, one of the best
of the Hessian units; some Hessian Jagers (riflemen); Tarleton's Legion
Cavalry; and a detachment of the Royal Artillery. All were veterans,
thoroughly schooled in the business of war, and commanded by able, experienced
Advancing toward the east from the scene of the opening skirmish along
the New Garden Road, the attacking force crossed the stream at the foot of the
hill in front of the American position, and formed for action. Meanwhile, the
American artillery had opened fire in an attempt to delay the crossing, and to
harass the formation of the line, but with little result. The British
artillery replied with an equally useless expenditure of ammunition.
Attack formation was a single line with a small reserve. The right wing
consisted of the Highlanders and the Regiment of Bose with the 1st Battalion
of Guards in support. In the left wing the 23d and 33d Regiments were in line
and the 2d Battalion and Grenadiers of the Guards in support. The small
reserve consisted of the artillery, confined by the woods to the road in the
center; the Yagers and the Light Infantry of the Guards, stationed to the left
in the woods; and the cavalry, on the road in column behind the artillery.
Attack on the First Line
Their formation now completed, the British troops waited for the command
to attack. At its word they moved almost directly east toward the brow of the
hill held by the Americans. Brisk fighting ensued on the two flanks, where
Greene had stationed his experienced troops. This flank resistance forced the
commander of each of the two British wings to commit his small support to the
battle in its earliest stages. Gen. Alexander Leslie, on the right, brought
up the 1st Battalion of the Guards to assist in opposing the American left,
and thus extended his own line. On the British left Lt. Col. James Webster
caused his whole line to incline to the left, while his support, the 2d
Battalion and Grenadiers of the Guards, moved into the center to maintain
contact with the right wing and fill the interval caused by Webster's swerve
to the left. The Light Infantry and Yagers were brought up from the reserve
and posted on the extreme left flank. Many casualties were suffered by the
British, especially by the flank units, but the center encountered little
resistance, for that part of the American line, in large measure, broke at the
The American left flank detachment under Lee and Campbell retired toward
the southeast under pressure from the Regiment of Bose and the 1st Battalion
of the Guards. Continuing their struggle, these units became completely
detached from the main course of the engagement, conducting what amounted to a
separate conflict of their own. This battle within a battle was finally
broken off by the Americans at about the same time that the main engagement
The exact course of the American right flank detachment is unknown. It
seems most probable that it briefly took position on the flank of the second
line; and, upon the retirement of that body, moved thence to the flank of the
Attack on the Second Line
The break in the center permitted the attack to proceed east along the
road and through the woods about 400 yards, where it struck the second line.
There the Virginians gave a good account of themselves, inflicting further
casualties upon the attackers. Superior British discipline, organization, and
experience, however, were too much for the militia, who were forced to retire
to the rear. The second line withdrew in a distinctly more orderly fashion
than had the first line.
Attack on the Third Line
Withdrawal of the second line opened the way for the advance against the
third. This last line was entirely north of the road and was opposed by the
British left wing. Heavy woods and several gullies of considerable size
served to slow up the advance, particularly that of the Welch Fusiliers. The
2d Battalion of the Guards made contact with the left units of the American
line almost simultaneously with the attack on the American right by the
Yagers, the Light Infantry, and the 33d Regiment. A general engagement
resulted in which the contest was more nearly equal than any which had
The Guards were shattered by the combined efforts of the Maryland Brigade
and a charge by Washington's cavalry. This charge was the only real cavalry
action during the battle. In their attack on the American line, the Guards
had been repulsed by the 1st Maryland. Now in a counterattack, the Maryland
regulars advanced to engage with the bayonet. Precisely at this time
Washington led his saber-wielding dragoons through the broken ranks of the
Guards and then left them to the mercies of the Marylanders. The infantry
closed in a fierce but brief hand-to-hand conflict, ended only by a "whiff of
grape-shot" thrown into the struggling mass at the order of Cornwallis. Only
the imminence of a wholesale British retreat could have induced Cornwallis to
thus fire into his own men.
On the extreme left the Yagers, the Light Infantry, and the 33d Regiment
had been driven back to a position of safety by the steady fire of the
Americans. They were not pursued, the defenders in that quarter remaining
steadfast in their own position.
By this time the Fusiliers had succeeded in passing the woods and
gullies, which had impeded their progress, and were in position to attack. The
Royal Artillery had occupied a position from which it commanded almost the
entire American line with grape and canister, and the Highlanders to the south
of the road threatened to turn Greene's left flank. The Guards, extricated
from their conflict with the Marylanders by the grape-shot, were hastily
reorganized, while the latter returned to their position in the American line.
Tarleton had been dispatched with the cavalry to recall the 1st Battalion of
the Guards from the detached contest with the troops of Lee and Campbell and
to conduct that unit to the scene of the major engagement.
Thus, all was ready for a final assault in force upon the one remaining
line of American troops. That assault was never to be made, for the American
commander decided not to risk a final test of strength which might result in
the complete destruction of his army.
General Greene was faced with a difficult decision at this juncture. On
the one hand a desperate charge by his Continentals, or even a determined
stand in their established position, might conceivably have shattered the
little English force already weakened by extensive casualties. Either of
these courses, however, involved the risk of sacrificing completely, or
materially weakening, his two small brigades of regulars - the only thoroughly
dependable force in his entire command.
On the other hand, a general retirement from the field with his remaining
troops involved no risk and would leave him situated to renew the contest at
his own discretion. His Continentals had not, thus far, suffered many
casualties. They were entirely under control and fully capable of immediate
or future action. He was fully aware that much further campaigning would be
necessary if the South were to be redeemed from British domination. He had
dealt a blow to his adversary while suffering little himself. He therefore
ordered a general retreat, leaving to his enemy the field of conflict and
hence the claim to victory.
British arms had gained another hard-fought field. Disciplined,
organized, regular troops had triumphed again over greatly superior numbers of
raw militia. No more than this had been accomplished. A victory had been
won, but won at such cost that it could not be exploited. Of the entire
British force at the beginning of the battle, nearly 600, or more than
one-fourth of the whole, were casualties at its close 2 1/2 hours later.
The Americans, on the other hand, suffered only about half as many
casualties. A large number of men were missing, principally from among the
troops of the first line, but the majority of these found their way back to
the army within a few days.
The Road to Yorktown
The Battle of Guilford Courthouse was the climax of a hard campaign of 2
months in the dead of winter. Cornwallis had previously destroyed his baggage
train in order that he might pursue the Americans more rapidly during the race
for the river fords. Now, after their victory at Guilford, the British found
themselves in an almost desperate situation. Shoes, clothing, ammunition,
medicines, food - all the myriad supplies and equipment necessary for
successful campaigning were either entirely expended or dangerously low. The
men were tired and their morale was none too good. Rest, reorganization, and
refitting were essential, and for this Cornwallis required time and safety.
The English were, therefore, forced to retreat in order that they might
establish immediate contact with their base of operations at Charleston.
After the battle, Cornwallis headed southeast. His first destination was
Cross Creek near Fayetteville. The settlers in that region, almost all
Highland Scots, were largely loyalists, and it was thought that they would
provide the retreating army with food and a safe haven for reorganization. It
was also thought that water communication with Charleston could be established
by way of the Cape Fear River. But the river was not navigable to Cross
Creek, nor was food available. Of necessity, then, the march was continued to
Wilmington, where the sea route to Charleston was open, and where all needed
supplies could be delivered without difficulty.
In the meantime, Greene eagerly grasped the opportunity presented by the
action at Guilford Courthouse and the retreat of his adversary. He followed
Cornwallis part of the way to Cross Creek, seeking in his turn to bring on a
contest. This Cornwallis avoided. After a few days of fruitless pursuit,
Greene suddenly changed direction. He led his army into South Carolina and
bent his energies to the redemption of that State.
In this purpose he was successful. At the end of the summer he had lost
most of his battles, as he had lost at Guilford. But after each battle the
British were compelled to evacuate one or more of their posts. Finally, in
September, after the Battle of Eutaw Springs, the British were driven from the
whole State and continued to hold only the city of Charleston, against which
Greene was powerless for want of an assisting naval force.
Cornwallis remained at Wilmington for about a month, going thence to
Virginia where he united with an army under Benedict Arnold and operated over
much of the southern part of the State during the first part of the summer.
Early in August he established himself at Yorktown, where he was forced to
surrender on October 19.
The importance of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse lies not in the
battle itself nor in the numbers involved, the tactics employed, nor in the
casualties inflicted upon either side. Rather its importance is in the
effects which flowed from it, and in the fact that in winning, Cornwallis was
the ultimate loser.
Thus Guilford Courthouse is important in the immediate result of
rendering North Carolina safe and in the larger result of freeing Greene's
hands for reconquest to the southward. Broken was the grand British plan of
campaign which would have detached the Southern Colonies from the Colonies to
the north. Cornwallis was driven into Virginia without making secure his
rear. Greene had lost a battle but won a campaign.
[See Southern Map II: American and British troop movements in the Southern
campaign after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.]
[See Southern Table II: Southern Campaign After the Battle of Guilford
Guide to the Area
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park contains approximately 149
acres, including the site over which much of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse
was fought, and also the site of the original Guilford County Courthouse. In
the park are a total of 29 monuments and memorials, including a fine
equestrian statue of Gen. Nathanael Greene. Buried in the area are the
remains of six persons prominent in the history of the State of North
This guide has been prepared to enable you more readily to identify and
appreciate some of the points of interest on the battlefield. Two numbered
points, the Hoskins House and the Liberty Oak, are on privately owned land;
all other points are within the park boundaries. Signs and markers on the
ground lend assistance in following the flow of battle.
1. Hoskins House. This house is the only structure remaining of those that
stood on or near the battlefield during the Revolutionary War. The Hoskins
family owned much of the farmland in the vicinity. The house stands in the
area where Cornwallis halted his march and arranged his troops in battle
formation to begin the assault. The house is said to have been used as a
hospital for some of those who were wounded during the battle.
2. Front Line of Battle. The British approached from the west and attacked
the American first line near the present park boundary. The line was about
three quarters of a mile in length with its center on the New Garden Road,
where you are now standing. The North Carolina Militia made up the bulk of
the first line. Untrained and without bayonets, they broke before the British
massed charge. Regular troops on the flanks of the first line inflicted heavy
casualties upon the British before giving way.
The small monument in this area marks the remains of Capt. James Tate, of
the Virginia Riflemen, who was killed near the Quaker settlement of New
Garden, 3 miles west, in the skirmish which preceded the battle here. His
remains were reinterred on this spot in 1891.
3. Kerrenhappuch Turner Monument. According to tradition, Mrs. Kerrenhappuch
Turner rode on horseback from her Maryland home to nurse back to health a son
wounded on the Guilford battlefield. Mrs. Turner lived to be 115 years of age
and left many descendents, several of whom have been prominent in the history
of North Carolina and nearby States.
In this area are several other monuments. Beside the Turner monument is
a memorial to Mrs. Turner's grandson, James Morehead, who also fought in the
Guilford battle. Across the road is a memorial to Nathaniel Macon and
gravestones marking the remains of Maj. John Daves and Gen. Jethro Sumner. All
three men were Revolutionary War patriots.
4. Nathanael Greene Monument. The most imposing monument in the park is this
memorial to the commander of the American forces at the Battle of Guilford
Courthouse. It is located in the area where the Virginia Militia occupied the
American second line.
As early as 1848 there was an effort made by citizens of Greensboro to
erect a monument to Greene on the battlefield. An organization was formed and
funds raised in 1857-59, but this effort was dropped during the Civil War. In
1888 the first of a series of bills to erect such a monument was introduced
into the United States Congress and in 1911 a bill to appropriate $30,000 for
the purpose was passed. Work was begun in 1914 and the monument was unveiled
with appropriate ceremonies on July 3, 1915.
Francis Herman Packer was the sculptor. The central figure is an
equestrian statue of General Greene. At center front is a symbolic female
figure who is crowned with laurel. She holds two palm branches in her right
hand and a shield ornamented with an eagle and 13 stars in her left. The
monument is 35 feet high and the base is approximately 40 by 30 feet.
5. Delaware and Maryland Monuments. Delaware and Maryland regiments made up
the bulk of the Southern Continental Army at the Battle of Guilford
Courthouse. The Delaware Monument marks the grave of three unknown American
soldiers who fell on the battlefield. Their remains were discovered in 1888
and identified by coat buttons stamped U.S.A. The Maryland Monument was
erected by members of the Maryland Historical Society in memory of the
soldiers of the Maryland line. Both monuments were dedicated in 1892.
On the road nearby, Cornwallis, during the climactic phase of the battle,
ordered two cannon charged with grapeshot to be fired into the hand-to-hand
fighting being waged in the vale below. This desperate measure killed a
number of his own troops as well as Americans, but it was effective in
breaking up the fighting.
6. Third Line Marker. The American third line was composed of regular troops
of the Southern Continental Army - about 1,500 strong at the Battle of
Guilford Courthouse. Thus it was at the third line that the British
encountered the most resistance and where the hardest fighting took place. The
tall white cenotaph marks the mid-point of the third line, which extended
northward from the New Garden Road.
The small monument near the road is a memorial to Lt. Col. James Stewart,
leader of the 2d British Guards, who fell mortally wounded at this spot. His
sword was exhumed here in 1866. Colonel Stewart can be seen leading the
Guards in the action portrayed in the museum diorama at the visitor center.
7. Guilford Courthouse Site. Guilford County was formed in 1771 and the first
courthouse was erected at this location in 1774. Greene bivouaced his troops
in the clearing around the courthouse the night before the battle. The
courthouse, as the most prominent structure in the area, lent its name to the
battle fought several hundred yards to the west.
In 1808 it was decided that the county seat should be in the geographical
center of the county, which was determined to be 6 miles to the southeast. A
courthouse was constructed at the new location and the city of Greensboro
(named for General Greene) grew up around it.
As Greene retreated from the battlefield, he withdrew eastward along the
New Garden Road, then turned toward Troublesome Creek on a road that during
the Revolutionary War ran northward near the courthouse.
8. Liberty Oak. On the morning before the battle, General Greene's men camped
around this tree. A white oak, it has a circumference of 17 feet 3 inches at
breast height and a spread of more than 100 feet.
9. Francisco Monument. From this hill, Lt. Col. William Washington's cavalry
charged the British Guards in the vale below, while simultaneously the 1st
Marylanders counterattacked from the edge of the woods. Thus was enacted one
of the most dramatic scenes of the Revolutionary War.
With Washington's cavalry was Peter Francisco, a giant of 6 feet 8
inches, who wielded a 5-foot sword given him by Gen. George Washington after
Francisco's complaint that ordinary swords were too light. With his huge
sword and mighty courage, legend credits Francisco with slaying 11 men in the
battle. The monument was erected by Peter Francisco Pescud, a grandson of the
Revolutionary hero. Unveiled in 1904, the monument is also a tribute to the
Marquis de Bretigny and, through him, to all French participants in the
American War for Independence.
10. Winston Monument. Maj. Joseph Winston and Capt. Jesse Franklin led the
Surry County Riflemen against the Hessians and Tarleton's dragoons in the last
action of the battle. The figure atop the monument depicts Winston waving his
troops into battle. Both Franklin and Winston were later prominent in North
Carolina politics, with Franklin serving as Governor and Winston as a member
of Congress. The city of Winston-Salem is named in part for the latter. The
tombs of both men are located nearby, the remains being reburied here many
years after the battle.
The Guilford Battle Ground Company
Creation of the battlefield park was largely due to the vision, the
energy, and the devotion of Judge David Schenck of Greensboro, N.C., who in
the early 1880's was accustomed to make frequent visits to the area for the
purpose of studying the battle. On one of these visits in October 1886, Judge
Schenck suddenly decided to purchase the site in order to rescue it from
oblivion. It was nearly sundown, but an irresistible urge to carry out this
scheme spurred him to immediate action, and before the twilight had faded, he
had bargained for 30 acres of land.
Soon after his initial activity, Judge Schenck succeeded in imparting
some of his enthusiasm for the battleground venture to a group of his intimate
friends, and together they determined to place the enterprise on a firm basis.
They incorporated under the name of The Guilford Battle Ground Company and
petitioned the State Legislature for a charter. An act of incorporation,
passed by the legislature and ratified on March 7, 1887, stated that the
corporation would exist "for the benevolent purpose of preserving and adorning
the grounds on and over which the battle of 'Guilford Court House' was fought"
and the "erection thereon of monuments, tombstones, or other memorials to
commemorate the heroic deeds of the American patriots who participated in this
battle for liberty and independence."
In May of the same year, the stockholders enumerated in the charter held
their first meeting, organized the company, and elected Judge Schenck to the
presidency, a position he held for many years. The company then set to work
vigorously to carry out the purposes for which it had been formed. Stock was
sold at $25 a share and, as money came in from the sale of stock, more land
was purchased. It seems to have been an accepted indication of good
citizenship in the community to own one or more shares of stock in the company
and, by 1893, stock was owned by 100 individuals and corporations. As it
obtained land, the company proceeded to develop the battlefield. Woodlands
were cleared and monuments were erected. During the 30 years of the company's
existence, between 20 and 30 monuments were erected in the area - some by the
company, some by individuals, and others by governmental units, including the
United States and the State of North Carolina. The company also erected a
small museum and acquired a number of 18th- and early 19th-century items for
exhibit. A part of the museum collection is now on display in the visitor
center at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.
In addition to its program for the development of the battlefield, the
Guilford Battle Ground Company desired to make its property a historic shrine
- a repository for the remains of patriotic and distinguished individuals. As
a result, the remains of six persons were secured and reinterred on the
battlefield. Among these were two of the North Carolina signers of the
Declaration of Independence, a North Carolina senator, and a Governor of the
Under the auspices of the company, annual patriotic celebrations were
held on the "Battle Ground," a name still used locally to designate the park;
and on these occasions, usually July 4, the people of the surrounding country
gathered almost en masse.
In 1931, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse was reenacted by units of the
National Guard in commemoration of the sesquicentennial anniversary of the
Establishment of the National Military Park
An effort to have its property recognized as of national significance and
to have it declared a national preserve was inaugurated by the Battle Ground
Company in 1910. Several bills to effect the transfer of the property to the
Federal Government were introduced in Congress, but it was not until March 2,
1917, that the legislation creating Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
was enacted. Promptly after passage of the act, the Battle Ground Company
deeded its lands to the United States, wound up its affairs, and went out of
From 1917 to 1933 the park was under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of
War. In 1933 the park was transferred to the Department of the Interior to be
administered by the National Park Service. An attempt has been made by the
Service to restore the battlefield to its historic setting. To that end many
trees have been planted to give the area a semblance of the open woodland in
which the American and British forces fought.
How to Reach the Park
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park is situated in gently rolling
country in the Piedmont section of North Carolina, 6 miles northwest of the
center of the city of Greensboro. It is one-half mile east of a major
north-south highway, U.S. 220.
About Your Visit
You may obtain information about this and other areas of the National Park
System at the visitor center located immediately adjacent to the park
entrance. This building is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and contains
museum exhibits which explain the battle and its significance. Park personnel
at the visitor center will assist you. School or other large groups should
make advance arrangements with the superintendent of the park for special
Adjoining the National Military Park on the southeast is a park owned by
the city of Greensboro in which are facilities for picnics and limited
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park is administered by the
National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Park offices are
located in the visitor center. A superintendent, whose address is Box 9145,
Plaza Station, Greensboro, N.C., is in immediate charge.
Significant parts of several of the major battlefields of the
Revolutionary War have been set aside under the control of the Federal
Government to be administered by the National Park Service. Areas in this
group are: Colonial National Historical Park (which includes the Yorktown
Battlefield), Va.; Cowpens National Battlefield Site, S.C.; Kings Mountain
National Military Park, S.C.; Moores Creek National Military Park, N.C.; and
Saratoga National Historical Park, N.Y. Other areas, also administered by the
National Park Service and related to the Revolutionary War, are Federal Hall
National Memorial, N.Y.; Independence National Historical Park, Pa.;
Morristown National Historical Park, N.J.; Statue of Liberty National
Monument, N.Y.; and Washington Monument National Memorial, Washington, D.C.