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Osprey Campaign 109 : Guilford Courthouse 1781 : Lord Cornwallis's Ruinous Victory

In the Spring of 1781, the American Revolutionary War had dragged on for almost six years, and neither side had gained a decisive advantage. The British had captured Charleston in 1780 and occupied almost all of South Carolina and Georgia. A British victory at Camden had been offset by American victories at King's Mountain and Cowpens, and the fate of the Carolinas still remained in the balance. When the British commander Lord Cornwallis launched his invasion of North Carolina in early 1781, his objective was to destroy General Nathaniel Greene's army, not to capture territory. Greene fell back before him into Virginia. The American force grew daily as militia flocked to the colours, and a revitalised American army took the offensive. At Guilford Courthouse on 15 March 1781 the two armies met. Greene deployed his army in three ranks, the first two formed by his poorly trained militia, and the third made up by his battle-hardened Continental Army regulars. The small but professional British army advanced and routed the first two lines, although the militia inflicted heavy casualties on the attackers. The British regrouped and charged the American regulars. In a see-saw battle, victory seemed to be within the American grasp, but the British held off a fierce counterattack by American infantry and cavalry, forcing Greene to concede the field. It was a British victory but at a terrible cost - Cornwallis lost over a quarter of his command. When news of the 'victory' reached Britain, a politician remarked; 'Another such victory would ruin the British army.'. The battle led to the recapture of the Carolinas by Greene, and set in motion a chain of events that would culminate in the surrender of Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown seven months later. Text by Angus Konstam with illustrations by Adam Hook.

    Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chronology
  • The Opposing Commanders
  • The Opposing Forces
  • Opposing Plans
  • The Battle of Guilford Courthouse
  • The Aftermath
  • The Battlefield Today
  • Further Reading
  • Index

 

Osprey Campaign


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