Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Battle of Guilford Courthouse Project

From the end of 1778 through the spring of 1780, the British army made significant gains in the American southern colonies, overrunning Georgia and South Carolina, and threatening to capture North Carolina. However, starting in June, 1780, the British began to meet with setbacks in the North and South Carolina backcountry, and these were later followed by major defeats at King’s Mountain and Cowpens. British Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis believed that victory in the south could be secured if he vanquished the Continental army commanded by Major-General Nathanael Greene if he stopped the flow of arms and men from the more northerly colonies. To this end, he advanced his army into North Carolina in early 1781, and chased Greene and his men into Virginia. However, the Americans soon returned to North Carolina, and in greater numbers than before. At Guilford Courthouse, on March 15, 1781, the two armies met in battle, with the fate of the southern colonies on the line.

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse is one that I’ve long wanted to represent with military miniatures. About 20 years I painted up a number of 25mm Minifigs with this goal in mind, but I was quite unskilled, and that plus, well, life (I was a college undergraduate) led me to abandon the endeavor.

At left, 25mm British Guards, painted about 20 years ago; at right, 15mm British Guards, painted last year. (Both sets are by Minifigs).

When I got back into the hobby some years ago, creating a Guilford Courthouse diorama was no longer a major priority, but it continued to be a goal. Earlier this year I decided the time was right for such an undertaking.

There are three major parts to this project: 1) create 15mm miniature versions of each unit at the battle of Guilford Courthouse (specifically at a 1:20 ratio), 2) create a miniature version of the battlefield, and 3) use the miniatures to illustrate the different parts of the battle.

At present, I’m painting the last of the units I need for this representation, and I’m preparing to get started on the miniature battlefield.

In planning out the miniature battlefield, I started with a topographic map of the area, removed modern landscape features and traced the following contour lines: 780, 800, 830, 850, 880. Using MS Paint I filled in the area within each contour line and used lighter colors to represent higher elevations. My intention is to create a series of tiered hills and ridges based on these contour lines that will represent the basic topography of the area, while still providing flat surfaces for the miniatures. The area that I’ve selected to represent includes the scene of most of the fighting. [1]

Decisions about where to place the roads and fields on this map were based on several sources, including the present-day topography of the area, statements by participants in the battle, a map prepared by Lieutenant Henry Haldane (and its derivatives), and statements and maps by historians.

At left, a copy of the Haldane map (click to enlarge), with arrows and text by the National Park Service (a larger version can be found on their website). At right, a modified version of this map, showing the position of the British army (in red), and three American lines defensive lines (in blue) as they were deployed at the beginning of the battle.

For example, the set of fields at the western (bottom) edge of the map represents the Joseph Hoskins Plantation. According to a National Park Service publication, archaeological evidence has shown that these fields abutted the western boundary of the modern National Military Park. I drew in one edge of the fields based on this location (specifically using the maps in Thomas E. Baker’s (1981) Another Such Victory as a guide) and completed the other boundaries based on the Haldane map and present-day topography.

I was (and am) unsure about the exact location of the separate field that is south (right) of the main fields. Banastre Tarleton published a cleaned-up version of the Haldane map in his early history of the southern campaign, but a few years later, Charles Stedman included a modified version of this map in his history of the Revolutionary War. On the Stedman map, the separate field was moved westward (towards the bottom).

Stedman may have intentionally deviated from the Haldane/Tarleton map based on his recollections (Haldane, Tarleton, and Stedman were all present at the battle). Perhaps Haldane’s judgment of the separate field was influenced primarily by its incorporation into the American First Line, while Stedman's judgment was influenced primarily by the proximity of the field to a woodland stream the British right wing had to cross [2]. In any case, I’ve represented the field in a manner that attempts to draw a balance between the Haldane and Stedman maps, and local topography.


1. Areas not represented: the site of the skirmishing near New Garden Meeting House, the site where the “separate battle” is thought to have ended (most of the “separate battle” area is included, however), and the site of a rearguard action between Virginia Continentals and the British Legion. Note that the selected area includes

There has been some controversy concerning the site of the “Third Line” fighting at the battle, with the National Military Park changing its stance on this subject a number of years ago. The map is based on the “new” interpretation.

2. The stream can be seen running diagonally across the lower right portion of the map I prepared. This stream is nearly, but not quite, perpendicular to the road along which the British advanced -- thus this stream may have appeared to be a good basis by which to judge the westerly limits of the Hoskins' fields.


  1. One of my favorite battles of the war and what I've been modeling my collection on. Looking forward to following this.


  2. Adam,

    Good luck with this. Some what half heartedly I have been accumulating 28mm lead for a number of years to do the same thing although I have to say I am tempted to drop down to 10mm and start again from scratch.

    How do you feel about the proposals for a different position for the American third line from the one currently marked by marked by the NPS?

  3. Adam

    Apologues should have read the footnotes before posting! However I would be interested in your views of the different positions. I have to say I am in favour of the 'revisionist' interpretation.

  4. Thanks, Thomas. There are some really nice 10mm figures out there now, with detail better than that for some of the 15mm lines.

    In an upcoming post I will discuss the third line deployment in some detail. I'm not sure when exactly it will be online, but almost certainly sometime this month.

  5. Adam

    I will look forward to reading your comments on the third line in due course. I agree with you about the 10mm stuff but your approach to mix & matching different 15mm ranges almost tempted me that way. Maybe I will conceive of a distinct 15mm project at some point. I am also looking forward to your comments on making up the terrain.

  6. Thanks again. Not sure when I'll have a post up on the terrain (I've barely gotten started), but I should have a post up on the 3rd line in a few days.