Thursday, September 29, 2011

Guilford Courthouse in Miniature (13)

This is Part 13 in a series of posts depicting the battle of Guilford Courthouse in miniature. Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12.

At the battle of Guilford Courthouse, British units reached the Americans’ third and final defensive line at different times and attacked in a piecemeal fashion. First Lieutenant-Colonel James Webster led an attack against the American right that was bloodily repulsed (Part 9). Then, the 2nd Battalion of Guards attacked the American left and defeated the troops opposed to them (Part 10). The Guards’ success, however, was short-lived; they were soon mauled made by counterattacking American infantry and cavalry (the 1st Maryland Regiment and Lieutenant-Colonel William Washington’s dragoons; Part 12).

Although these attacks were unsuccessful, the threat they posed was sufficiently great that the American commander, Major-General Nathanael Greene, ordered his army to retreat (Part 11).

The setbacks also did not deter the British from continuing their attacks. The 71st Regiment reached the Guilford Courthouse building more or less opposed, where they threatened the flank and rear of the 1st Maryland Regiment. Webster’s group advanced again and attacked the 2nd Virginia Regiment. Finally, the 23rd Regiment of Foot and the remnants of the Guards began to advance once more.

The American forces still on the field could not hope to repel all of these threats.

Lieutenant-Colonel John Eager Howard was with the 1st Maryland Regiment, and recalled:

I found myself in the cleared ground, and saw the seventy-first regiment near the courthouse, and other columns of the enemy appearing in different directions. Washington's horse having gone off, I found it necessary to retire, which I did leisurely; but many of the guards who were lying on the ground, and who we supposed were wounded, got up and fired at us as we retired. [1]

Then, Webster’s men advanced again and attacked the 2nd Virginia Regiment.

Lewis Griffin of the 2nd Virginia saw his brigade commander get wounded in this clash:

General [Isaac] Huger was wounded in the right hand in my view. I saw him with his Sword in his hand raised above his head encouraging his men when a shot penetrated his hand and his Sword fell in his lap, which he caught up with his left, drew from his pocket a handkerchief, tied up his hand, and moved on, not long after this occurrence we were ordered to retreat. [2]


At top, the 33rd Regiment of Foot advances against the 2nd Virginia Regiment (click to enlarge). At lower left, the 1st Maryland Regiment holds the open ground; at lower right, the 71st Foot has reached the courthouse building (not shown).

Another view of the above. At bottom and lower left: The 23rd Foot and remnants of the Guards assemble on the edge of the open ground near three-pounders of the Royal Artillery. The 2nd Virginia Regiment is represented by the troops around the red and white flag; the 1st Maryland by the troops around the blue flag.

Another view of the above. In the foreground, the last of the North Carolina militia retreat along the Reedy Fork Road. In the background, the 23rd Foot prepares to advance.


Finally, the 23rd Regiment of Foot and the remnants of the Guards advanced once more.

According to Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis, “the two 6-pounders [of Singleton’s battery] once more fell into our hands; two ammunition-wagons and two other 6-pounders [Finley’s battery], being all the artillery they had in the field, were likewise taken… The 23rd and 71st regiments, with part of the cavalry, were ordered to pursue”. [3]


At right, the 1st Maryland Regiment retreats along the Reedy Fork Road, while the British Guards, the 23rd, 33rd, and 71st Regiments seize the American artillery.


The exhausted 23rd and 71st regiments did not advance very far, but the British cavalry thundered down the road after the retreating Continentals. They soon received a check from some troops of the 1st Virginia Regiment, who were acting as rearguard. According to Henry Ingle:

on our retreat we went about 3 quarters of a mile… got into a thicket we had not been there but a little while until we spied the British Light Horse coming through the lane full speed when they got within about 40 yards we stepped out in an open place and fired upon them and there was a dreadful slaughter again of Light horse men &c. [4]

Greene wrote, in concluding his report:

General Huger was the last that was engaged, and gave the enemy a check. We retreated in good order to the Reedy Fork river; and crossed at the ford, about three miles from the field of action, and then halted, and drew up the troops, until we collected most of the stragglers. We lost our artillery, and two ammunition wagons, the greater part of the horses being killed before the retreat began, and it being impossible to move the pieces but along the great road. After collecting our stragglers, we retired… ten miles distant from Guilford. [3]

But the battle was not quite over yet. South of the American third line, a separate battle continued between American riflemen and light infantry and Hessian infantry and British guardsmen.


1. Howard is quoted in James Herring and James Barton Longacre (1835). The national portrait gallery of distinguished Americans, Vol. 2.

2. Pension application of Lewis Griffin, transcribed by Will Graves.

3. Cornwallis' and Greene's accounts of the battle (among others) can be found in this compendium.

4. Pension application of Henry Ingle, transcribed by Will Graves.

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