On March 1, 1781, Maj. General Nathanael Greene took his army back across the Dan River into North Carolina. After two weeks of maneuvering, Greene led his army to Guilford Courthouse and prepared for battle. On March 15, 1781, British Lt. General Charles Cornwallis marched to meet Greene for the confrontation that he desired. The battle began with a skirmish of advance guard led by Lt. Colonel Henry Lee. Lee withdrew and the British advanced the final three miles to Guilford Courthouse.
General Greene had divided his force of roughly 4,400 men into three lines. The first two lines were made up of militia from North Carolina (1st line) and Virginia (2nd line), most of whom were untrained and inexperienced. The first line's left flank was supported by Lt. Colonel Lee's Legion and Colonel William Campbell's Riflemen. The right flank was supported by Lt. Colonel William Washington's calvary and Colonel Charles Lynch's Riflemen. Greene's third line was made up of Continental regulars. General Cornwallis led 2,000 veteran British troops.
The British attacked and, although suffering many casualties, were able to break the center of the first line relatively quickly, although the right and left sides of the line held battle a bit longer. The second line inflicted more casulties upon the British, but these militia also withdrew to the rear under the pressure of the battle-hardened British forces. The British now attempted to engage the third and final American line, but their advance was slowed in the center by the rough terrain between the second and third lines. Meanwhile, the right and left portions of the American line engaged the British advance. The left side of the line repelled the British here, while the right side, with the support of a cavalry charge by Lt. Colonel Washington, decimated the British forces that it engaged.
At this point, the British artillery had finally made its way through the rough terrain and were in position to attack the American line. General Greene considered the fact that he had suffered few casualties up to this point, while having inflicted extensive casualties on the British. He decided that one final equally balanced attack by his remaining line would benefit the British more than he. He thus chose to withdraw from the field of battle allowing his adversary to claim victory, but with his own forces still fully capable to engage in immediate action.
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