234th Anniversary of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse

March 15, 2015, marks the 234th anniversary of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, one of the most pivotal engagements of the Revolutionary War. A series of lectures pertaining to the event is scheduled during the evenings this week, and reenactments and other activities are scheduled for the anniversary weekend, March 14-15. For details of these events, please visit the Guilford Battleground Company. What contemporary maps of the battle survive? Two separate manuscript maps and one engraved map (in two variants, or states) are described below. Please notify us via the “What’s on your mind?” comment box below if you are aware of other 18th century maps of this battle.

Within the William Faden Collection at the Library of Congress are two manuscript maps of the Battle of Guildford [sic]. The larger (24 x 14 inches), Faden map 52, was likely a preliminary sketch provided by someone with detailed knowledge of the battle. Unfortunately, neither the map nor the bibliographic data provide the name of the cartographer.

Preliminary sketch of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse

Faden Map 52, William Faden Collection, Library of Congress

Battle of Guilford Courthouse manuscript map which served as template for the engraved map

Faden map 53, William Faden Collection, Library of Congress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The smaller manuscript map (8 x 10 inches), Faden map 53, is similar in size and appearance to the engraved map and undoubtedly served as the engraver’s template.

The first state of the engraved map, below left, includes the imprint, “Publish’d on March 1st 1787” outside the lower neat line. This version of the map is found in Banastre Tarleton’s A History of the campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the southern provinces of North America, (London, 1787). The first state is also found in Atlas of Battles of the American Revolution: Together with Maps Shewing the Routes of the British and American Armies, Plans of Cities, Surveys of Harbors, &c., Taken During that Eventful Period by Officers Attached to the Royal Army, published in 1793 by William Faden.

first state of the printed map of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse

State 1: From Tarleton’s History, 1787

second state of the printed map of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse

State 2: From Stedman’s History, 1794

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second state (above right), found in Charles Stedman’s History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War (2 vols. London, 1794), includes a corresponding update to the imprint below the lower neat line. The maps depict the troop positions and the order of battle that eventually saw the British in control of the battleground, albeit at a great loss of troops. For Stedman’s History, multiple revisions were made to the plate. Readily apparent, even in the thumbnail above, is the revised topography, with prominent hachuring mid-right, and a stream lower right. If you want to study the changes and incomplete erasures more closely, high resolution images are available for first state and second state. There was obviously a substantial surplus of printed copies of the first state. After the plate was revised in 1794 for Stedman’s History, printed copies of the first state were still available for inclusion in a 1796 second edition of Tarleton’s work, as well as a mid-19th century issue of Faden’s Atlas of Battles of the American Revolution.

 

The British Southern Campaign, under the leadership of Lord Cornwallis, had decimated the Southern Army of the Americans and placed essentially all of South Carolina firmly under British control by the time Major General Nathanael Greene arrived. On December 3, 1780. Greene assumed command of the hungry and ill-equipped Continentals. His first order of business was to avoid a confrontation with Cornwallis while simultaneously resupplying and growing his meager army. He succeeded superbly on both accounts. Once he had an army capable of fighting, he made battle with Lord Cornwallis very near Guilford Courthouse. Greene withdrew his army from the field after inflicting irreparable losses to the British army. This allowed Cornwallis to claim victory, and led to one of the most famous quotes related to the war. Said British statesman Charles James Fox, “Another such victory would destroy the British army.”

An excellent animated video showing the progression of troop movements during the battle, overlaid on current topography (including an apartment complex!) is available on YouTube via this link.

This author believes Nathanael Greene to be one of the greatest military leaders in our country’s history. But lest you claim bias due to my being a direct descendant of Greene’s brother, let me offer several notable quotes from more reliable sources (the author is grateful to “Congo”, a historian who compiled these quotes on this web site):

Alexander Hamilton on Congress’ hesitation of letting Greene be the commander of the southern army:
“For God’s sake, overcome prejudice and send Greene.”

Notes by Nathanael Greene on the fighting force he inherited:
“The appearance of the troops was wretched beyond description, and their distress, on account of provisions was little less than their suffering for want of clothing and other necessaries. General Gates had lost the confidence of the officers, and the troops all their discipline, and so addicted to the plundering that they were a terror to the inhabitants. The General and I met upon very good terms, and parted so. The old gentleman was in great distress, having but just heard of the death of his son before my arrival.”

George Washington’s letter to Greene 1781:
“Col. Tarlenton is said to be on his way to pay you a visit. I doubt not but he will have a decent reception and a proper dismissal.”

Cornwallis speaks of Nathanael Greene:
“Greene is more dangerous than Washington. I never feel secure when encamped in his neighborhood.”

Nathanael Greene summed up his lack of success in winning battles to a French envoy, Chevalier de la Luzerne. (unknown date):
“We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.”

Thomas Jefferson on Nathanael Greene. (unknown date):
“Second to no one in enterprise, in resource, in sound judgment, promptitude of decision, and every other military talent.”

Letter in which Nathanael Greene described his feelings towards the battle of Bunker Hill. (unknown date):
“I wish we could sell them another hill at the same price we did Bunkers Hill.”

Otho Williams recounted 10 years later with Light-Horse Harry Lee:
“The retreat of the southern army to the Dan River, though now forgotten, was, in my estimation, one of the most masterly and fortunate maneuvers of our beloved Greene.”

Cornwallis led a country-dance; the like was never seen sir.
Much retrograde and much advance and all with General Greene sir.
They rambled up and rambled down, joined hands and off they ran, sir.
And General Greene was like to drown Cornwallis in the Dan, sir.

Frances Hallam Hurt’s outstanding narrative for the Race to the Dan Diorama at the Pittsylvania Historical Society Museum in Chatham, Virginia, can be read in its entirety on this web page. One small excerpt: “By nearly 200 years, this evacuation anticipated the legendary rescue of the British soldiers at Dunkirk in World War II when Great Britain used any craft it could muster to bring them back safely to England. ‘Nothing like it has before been known,’ writes Donald Barr Chidsey in The War in the South. ‘Military men to this day go every foot of that chase, a classic.’ ” The entire narrative provides a wonderful account of Greene’s brilliant military strategy.

There are numerous biographies of Nathanael Greene throughout the past two centuries. However, if you don’t have time for such a lengthy read, an excellent synopsis is available on Wikipedia.

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