Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Guilford Courthouse in Miniature (1)

This is the first in a series of posts depicting the battle of Guilford Courthouse in miniature. In this post I say a few general words by way of an introduction to the subject.


  • Guilford Courthouse was in some sense the high water mark of British fortunes in the southern theater of the Revolutionary War. After the battle, the British army, commanded by Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis, embarked on a path that ended in capture at Yorktown, Virginia. Meanwhile, the American army, commanded by Major-General Nathanael Greene, began the reconquest of South Carolina and Georgia.
  • Guilford Courthouse is known for having been one of the hardest fought battles of the Revolutionary War. The British army lost more than ¼ of its men killed and wounded; American casualties were also considerable, especially among the Continentals.
  • Guilford Courthouse was the largest battle fought in North Carolina during the Revolutionary War. Today the site is a national military park, and one of the better preserved battlefields of the war.

Representation in Miniature

I am using hand-painted, 15mm-high military miniatures. One miniature represents approximately 20 historical combatants or 2 cannon. The manner in which the minis were painted was inspired by the historical dress of the combatants at Guilford Courthouse, but in many cases there are discrepancies between how the mini was painted and what the actual combatants probably wore. The representation, on the whole, is a fairly conventional telling of the battle of Guilford Courthouse, one that closely follows the narrative presented in such histories as Thomas E. Baker’s (1981) Another Such Victory and Lawrence E. Babits' & Joshua B. Howard's (2009) Long, obstinate, and bloody: The battle of Guilford Courthouse.

Historical Context

After the British captured Charleston, South Carolina, in May, 1780, the seat of war shifted to the North and South Carolina backcountry. British sought to control this vast area with small detachments, but isolated forces soon proved vulnerable, and the British met with stinging defeats at such places as Ramsour’s Mill and Williamson’s Plantation. The British gradually began to field larger, more mobile forces, but these too proved vulnerable as demonstrated by the crushing defeats at King’s Mountain, Blackstock’s Plantation, and Cowpens. The one area where the British appeared to hold a consistent advantage was in its main army versus that of the Americans. In August, 1780, the British main army, led by Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis, destroyed the American main army, led by Major-General Horatio Gates, at the battle of Camden. In late January, 1781, Cornwallis attempted to destroy the American main army again, which had regrouped and was now led by Major-General Nathanael Greene. Cornwallis chased Greene’s army across the state of North Carolina and to the Virginia border. However, the British army suffered substantial attrition in this campaign. By early March, Greene had receive reinforcements of Continentals and militia, and he felt strong enough to face Cornwallis in battle. Greene then returned to North Carolina and the two main armies clashed near Guilford Courthouse.

Cornwallis and Greene

The battle was fought on March 15th. In the early morning hours, Cornwallis got his army on the road to Guilford Courthouse where Americans encamped. The fighting began along the route the British followed when an American detachment, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Lee, repeatedly skirmished with the advancing British. Several times the Americans halted or drove back the British vanguard. However, it wasn’t long before Lee’s men were forced to give way before overwhelming numbers. This skirmishing gave Greene’s men extra time to prepare for battle. Greene deployed his army in three defensive lines. The British army reached the first defensive line near midday.