The iron discipline of the British army saved the day at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. It allowed the soldiers to fight through three lines of American troops and militiamen despite withering fire, and drive the Americans from the battlefield. But the cost was heavy: almost 530 soldiers killed, wounded and captured. That’s roughly a quarter of General Cornwallis’ 1,900-man army. The Americans had a force of about 4,400 soldiers and suffered about 330 casualties (killed, wounded and captured).
When word of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse reached England, what happened in North Carolina was immediately criticized. Charles James Fox told the House of Commons that "another such victory would ruin the British Army.” As events would show by the end of the year, this was an accurate statement.
General Cornwallis was still intent on conquering the South, and shifted his attention to Virginia, which he reasoned provided more access to ports and supplies as well as a place to rebuild his army. However more American troops and their French allies were there waiting. Seven months after Guilford Courthouse, Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington and the combined armies at the Battle of Yorktown.
So while the brief fight at Guilford Courthouse was technically an American defeat, it proved a strategic victory for the Americans.
Ironically, with the battle's great historic importance, in Greensboro years ago, many people knew nothing about it. This was the case in 1881, when former North Carolina Superior Court Judge David Schenck arrived in Greensboro. In fact, Judge Schenck noticed there wasn't anything in the area to even indicate the intense struggle that had happened there 100 years earlier.
The judge then gathered associates and formed The Battleground Company, with the goal of saving the battlefield. The group was granted a state charter in 1887 to preserve the site and “erect monuments, tombstones and other memorials to commemorate the heroic deeds of the American patriots who participated in this battle for liberty and independence.”
The Battleground Company followed the charter, erecting 27 monuments, clearing miles of grounds and trails, and saving the area over the course of 30 years. The privately owned park was one of the first efforts in the country to preserve a Revolutionary War battlefield.
In 1917, the federal government made the park a National Military Park. Today, visitors can walk the path around the battlefield, and visit key locations of the battle. Today, the memory of what was a pivotal Revolutionary fight is better preserved for generations to come.
— Frank Graff
Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!