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.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hanging Rock (and other) Maps

One of the topics I've enjoyed reading and writing about is Thomas Sumter's 1780 campaign against British forces occupying South Carolina.

When I started researching Sumter's August 6, 1780, battle at Hanging Rock, South Carolina, I quickly noticed that the place that has been officially designated as the Hanging Rock battlefield (some hills on the western bank of Hanging Rock Creek, opposite the eponymous rock formation) was unlikely to have been the actual site of the battle to judge from statements in the source material (as explained here and here). I took this as carte blanche to determine where, in this area, the actual fighting took place. Eventually, I concluded that the battle most likely took place over a stretch of ground ranging from a plateau south of Hanging Rock Creek to a hill the northeast (as explained here).

I didn't regard this attribution as definitive because I didn't have access to all sources of information (noted here). And indeed, this year I've come across electronic copies of three old maps of the Hanging Rock battlefield that I wish I had earlier.

One map is attributed to Richard Winn, who was a participant in the battle of Hanging Rock. It can be found here.

The other two appear are in the Draper map collection, and were rendered in the late 19th Century (based, I believe, on local lore). They can be found here and here. (On the first link, north is at right; on the second, north is at top;

The maps partially confirm, and partially disconfirm, my interpretation of the Hanging Rock battlefield site.

All three maps appear to show that I was right about the placement of the main British camp on a plateau south of the creek.

All three maps appear to show that I was wrong about the hill on which British Loyalists were encamped. I concluded the hill was northeast of the main camp; these maps show the Loyalists on a hill northwest of the main camp.

I use the term "appear" because it's unclear how much confidence should be placed in these maps. The Draper maps are of a very late date, and the Winn map is wrong in at least one respect: it appears to show Hanging Rock Creek flowing west into the Catawba River, when it actually flows east into the Lynche's Creek.


This map is from one of last year's posts on Hanging Rock. The three red squares show places that I suspected to be part of the British encampment. #1 is Hanging Rock, #2 approximately corresponds with the Loyalist camp according to the Winn and Draper maps, #3 and #4 is a flat plateau bisected by the Camden Road; the Draper maps show the main British camp in this area.


The online Winn and Draper maps also provide insight into two of Sumter's later engagements. See the links listed below.

Battle of Fishdam Ford (November 9, 1780)

Battle of Blackstock's Plantation (November 20, 1780)

For more on the Draper Manuscripts, see here and here

Monday, September 19, 2011

Guilford Courthouse in Miniature (12)

This is Part 12 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.

The 2nd Battalion of Guards was one of the first British units to reach the American third line. They attacked and quickly defeated the 2nd Maryland Regiment. In their pursuit of this regiment, the Guards then captured a battery of guns and gained the American flank and rear (Part 10). This success on their part was short-lived. Moments later they were suddenly counterattacked by the 1st Maryland Regiment and charged by Lieutenant-Colonel William Washington’s light dragoons.

Lieutenant-Colonel John Eager Howard of the 1st Maryland Regiment recalled:

Our men gave them some well directed fires, and we then advanced and continued firing. At this time [Colonel John] Gunby's horse was shot… his horse fell upon him, and it was with difficulty he extricated himself. Major [Archibald] Anderson was killed about this time. As we advanced I observed Washington's horse, and as their movements were quicker than ours, they first charged and broke the enemy. My men followed very quickly, and we passed through the guards, many of whom had been knocked down by the horse without being much hurt. We took some prisoners, and the whole were in our power. [1]

Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Lee, in his history of the southern campaign, wrote that “Gunby… wheeled to his left upon [the Guards]… Here the action was well fought; each corps manfully struggling for victory; when lieutenant colonel Washington… pressed forward with his cavalry… This combined operation was irresistible… the two field pieces were recovered” and the Guards were “driven back with slaughter”.


From the third line, looking west (here and below, click to enlarge). In the foreground, the 2nd Battalion of Guards melees with the 1st Maryland and William Washington's light dragoons. In the middle ground, British infantry, artillery, and cavalry approach the third line. In the extreme distance lie casualties from the fighting on the first and second lines.

A view of the third line fighting looking south. The 2nd Guards are being mauled at upper left, while other British units approach from the right. At center, the 2nd Virginia Regiment occupies a hillside opposite the 33rd Regiment of Foot.

The 1st Maryland Regiment drives the 2nd Battalion of Guards into the open field.

Washington's light dragoons pursue the remnants of the 2nd Guards.


Most of the Guards were left prostrate on the field of battle, but a number reached the western edge of the field. Lee believed these men were “saved by the British artillery". He wrote that these guns:

“to stop the ardent pursuit of Washington and Howard, opened upon friends as well as foes; for [Lieutenant-General Charles] Cornwallis, seeing the vigorous advance of these two officers, determined to arrest their progress, though every ball, leveled at them, must pass through the flying guards.” [2]

Neither Howard nor Cornwallis mentioned the British firing on their own men. However, Cornwallis did report that “The enemy's cavalry was soon repulsed by a well-directed fire from two 3-pounders”. [2]

Hundreds of American militia were in the vicinity of this bloody clash, and it seems some were willing to continue the contest. John Wadkins stated that “some of the militia who had stopped at the Court House followed in the rear of the Horse” when they charged the Guards [3]. James Martin claimed that he helped rally “about 500 [men] & was marching them to the Battle Ground” [3].

However, Greene had previously issued orders for the army to retreat (see Part 11), and soon these militia began to move off. Martin noted that when he was approaching the fighting “I met General Stephens [i.e., Brigadier-General Edward Stevens] of [the] Virginia [militia] Corps retreating[.] I asked if the Retreat was by General Greene's Orders[;] he told me it was[.] I then retreated with him” [4].

At the same time that Howard and Washington lost their potential support, the Guards were aided by British troops coming through the woods.

Cornwallis wrote:

the 71st regiment, which, having been impeded by some deep ravine, were now coming out of the wood on the right of the Guards, opposite to the Court-house. By the spirited exertions of Brigadier-General [Charles] O'Hara, though wounded, the second battalion of Guards was soon rallied, and, supported by the grenadiers [of the Guards], returned to the charge with the greatest alacrity. The 23rd regiment arriving at that instant from our left, and Lieut.-Colonel [Banastre] Tarleton having advanced with a part of the cavalry, the enemy were soon put to flight. [2]


A challenging aspect of depicting the battle in miniature has involved issues of timing. The sequence of events involving each unit is generally clear, but it’s rather difficult to determine how the events involving one unit corresponded in time with the events involving other units on the battlefield. A source of particular consternation for me has been the retreat of Stevens’ brigade to the third line. In recent posts, Stevens’ men were depicted as reaching the third line only after major combat had begun on the third line (in the second picture, above, they are the block of retreating militia at the top of the image). There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that the 71st Foot is known to have been delayed by rough terrain on its march to the third line (see Cornwallis' quote, above); Stevens’ brigade had to traverse the same ground, and it’s reasonable to think they would have been delayed as well. The other is Martin's pension application (also quoted above), which implies that Stevens’ brigade was still moving towards the courthouse when the Guards were defeated. However, the depiction has ended up looking a bit peculiar – this huge brigade of Virginia militia is shown essentially behind the Guards during the third line fighting. Of course, the alternative would also look a bit odd – having Stevens' brigade reach the third line quickly only to stand idly about while the Guards attacked and routed the 2nd Maryland. (As is, there are already quite a few militia figures shown hovering near the third line, based on Martin’s comment above, and comments by St. George Tucker concerning Lawson’s Virginia brigade [5]). There is, to say the least, room for varying interpretations.

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

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

3. Pension application of John Wadkins.

4. Pension application of James Martin.

5. Letters of St. George Tucker to his wife (from the Magazine of American History).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Guilford Courthouse in Miniature (11)

This is Part 11 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.

At the battle of Guilford Courthouse, Major-General Nathanael Greene used an elaborate defense-in-depth to wear down the advancing British infantry. He hoped they would be primed for defeat by the time they reached the Continentals posted on the the third and final line. However, a number of things had not gone as planned. The North Carolina militia retreated without orders on the first line (Part 4). So too did part of the Virginia militia on the second line (Part 6). Also, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Lee’s flank corps had become separated from rest of the army (Part 8). Finally, on the third line, the 2nd Maryland regiment gave cursory resistance to the British 2nd Battalion of Guards, then broke and fled (Part 10). Greene later wrote:

[the Guards had] turned our left flank, got into the rear of the Virginia brigade, and appearing to be gaining on our right, which would have encircled the whole of the continental troops, I thought it was most advisable to order a retreat. [1]

There is some unwitting exaggeration in this description. The Guards had gained the rear of the American line, but probably they had not yet advanced as far as the Virginia regiments. The Guards were also much too few in number to encircle “the whole of the continental troops”. Nevertheless, the sudden collapse of his left flank may have appeared to presage the total defeat of his army. Greene's orders to retreat no doubt seemed prudent.

However, the Continental units nearest the 2nd Guards had already chosen to take matters into their own hands.

Lieutenant-Colonel John Eager Howard of the 1st Maryland recalled:

[M]y station being on the left of the first regiment, and next the cleared ground, Captain Gibson, deputy adjutant-general, rode to me, and informed me that a party of the enemy, inferior in number to us, were pushing through the cleared ground and into our rear, and that if we would face about and charge them, we might take them. We had been for some time engaged with a part of Webster's brigade, though not hard pressed, and at that moment their fire had slackened. I rode to [Colonel John] Gunby and gave him the information. He did not hesitate to order the regiment to face about, and we were immediately engaged with the guards. [2]

Also nearby was Lieutenant-Colonel William Washington’s cavalry, which consisted of the 1st and 3rd Light Dragoons, and additional troops raised recently in North Carolina and Virginia.

Lieutenant Philemon Holcombe, who served under Washington, recalled:

Colo[nel] Washington’s command was in view of the conflicting armies and were spectators of the bloody scene for several hours. The Carolina Militia had given way, and the second and third lines of the american army were hard pressed, and the British columns were passing to the rear of the american line, flushed with victory, marching rapidly and in some confusion. [3]

Coolly appraising the situation, Washington did not hesitate to act. In Holcombe’s words, “the brave and gallant William Washington ordered a charge upon their columns”.

The 2nd Battalion of Guards (at center) is simultaneously attacked by the 1st Maryland Regiment (shown here with a blue regimental flag), and Washington's cavalry (the mounted men at left). (Click to enlarge).

Another view of the above; North Carolina militiamen look on as Washington's cavalry charges.


1. Greene's account of the battle (among others) can be found in this compendium.

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

3. Pension application of Philemon Holcombe.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Guilford Courthouse in Miniature (10)

This is the tenth 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.

The second battalion of British Guards was placed in reserve at the start of the battle, but before long the battalion entered the action and on the second line it helped defeat both Lawson’s (Part 6) and Stevens’ (Part 7) brigades of Virginia militia. The Guards then pressed on towards the American third line. The units to their left and right were delayed in the woods, and when the Guards reached the third line, they were without support.

The second battalion of Guards found opposite them, in an open field, the 2nd Maryland Regiment. Although the 2nd Maryland was considerably larger, the Guards did not hesitate to attack.


The Guards Approach the Third Line (click to enlarge). The 2nd Battalion of Guards has entered the field at left and is attacking the 2nd Maryland Regiment. In the foreground, Virginia and North Carolina militia rally. In the distance, Stevens' Virginia militia and several British units approach the edge of the woods, and American light infantry clash with the British left (see Part 9).


The Marylanders’ regimental commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Benjamin Ford, reacted aggressively. According to an American staff officer (Colonel William Davie), Ford “ordered a charge, that proceeded some distance,” but the brigade commander, Colonel Otho Holland Williams, ordered them to halt and reform their line. The British meanwhile “continued to advance (at the run)”. Soon they brought the disordered Marylanders “under a heavy fire”. [1]

When the 2nd Maryland was ordered to attack again, they gave way and headed for the rear.

Lieutenant-Colonel John Eager Howard blamed this collapse on “the want of officers, and having so many new recruits” in this regiment. Howard’s own regiment, the 1st Maryland, was nearby but provided no immediate assistance. He noted, “This transaction [between the Guards and 2nd Maryland] was in a great measure concealed from the first regiment by the wood, and unevenness of the ground.” [2]

The Guards’ followed the 2nd Maryland into the rear of the American position, and in this pursuit they captured Captain Singleton’s battery of two 6-pounders.


The Guards pursue the 2nd Maryland and gain the Americans' left flank.



1. Blackwell P. Robinson (1976). The Revolutionary War sketches of William R. Davie, as cited by Lawrence E. Babits (1998). The "Fifth" Maryland at Guilford Courthouse: An exercise in historical accuracy.

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

St. Kitts (10): The Campaign Concludes

This is the tenth and final entry in a series of posts on the St. Kitts campaign of 1782. The St. Kitts campaign took place in what is known as the West Indies theater of the Revolutionary War. [Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9].


On the evening of February 12th, the officers of the St. Kitts militia petitioned Governor Shirley to be allowed to surrender. They stated that they were “fully determined, from our zeal to our Sovereign, and a proper regard to the interest of this island, to defend it while prudence justified us, or till we should be relieved by his Majesty’s fleet or army”. However, “the fleet and troops which we looked upon for relief, have been arrived near three weeks, without affording us any assistance, and in all human probability cannot, from the superiority of the enemy by sea and land.” They feared that if they did not open surrender negotiations now they “would lose their estates and properties, and possibly would be sent to a French island or Old France.” [1]

Governor Shirley and Brigadier-General Thomas Fraser conceded that surrender had become the best option, and sent envoys to the French.

A French officer, the Chevalier de Goussencourt, noted the event in his journal: “On the 12th, to the great joy of all, we saw a white flag raised on the breach of the redoubt. We could scarcely believe our eyes”. He added, “the toil and hardship that de Bouillé’s army had to undergo are incredible… There were officers and men who slept only one night under their tents during the whole siege.” [2]

The Marquis de Bouillé granted the garrison generous terms, including the provision that the troops could return to England so long as they did not serve again against France for the duration of the war.

On the 13th, the British regulars and the St. Kitts militia (close to 1,000 men in total) marched out of the garrison with the honors of war and laid down their arms. The British regulars had lost about 250 men between the siege of Brimstone Hill and the January 28th battle on the Mooring Hills. The Marquis de Bouillé claimed to have lost a little more than 300 men between these affairs. [3]

The French were buoyant after the fall of the island. One of their officers was later heard to boast “that it was not necessary to keep their intentions any longer secret, that Barbadoes and Antigua were the next objects, then Jamaica, and lastly New York, and then they will consent to make peace…” [4]

Hood Escapes

Hood learned that the garrison surrendered on the evening of the 13th. He later wrote, “Under this situation of things I had no longer any business in Basseterre Road”. He also thought it was only a matter of time before the French army began to place guns and mortars on the high ground along the shore in order to bombard his ships. [5]

Fortunately for Hood, on February 14th, de Grasse’s ships were anchored near Nevis, taking on badly needed provisions that had arrived from Europe. [6]

Hood decided to sail that night, under cover of darkness. He added: “I judged it necessary… that every ship should be under sail as nearly as possible at the same moment, for the better preserving [of] a compact body”. The ships’ captains were instructed to cut their cables at the same time. Hood also had lights fixed to small boats or buoys that were placed alongside each of his ships. At the same time, the lights were extinguished on his vessels. When the British fleet set sail, the decoy lights remained behind, making it appear as if the British were still at anchor. [7]

The French did not discover Hood’s departure until morning. The Chevalier de Villebresme, recalled that “when M. de Grasse went on deck to see his enemies ...., they were fifteen leagues away. De Grasse, more and more surprised at the inventive genius of his opponent, returned to the anchorage that he had left [i.e., Basseterre Roadstead]”. [8]

French ships at sea.

Rodney Arrives

After St. Kitts fell to the French, Nevis capitulated as well. De Bouillé’s army then embarked on de Grasse’s navy and they set sail on February 20th for the French base at Martinique. De Bouillé placed Colonel Arthur Dillon (the Comte de Dillon) in command of the captured islands and left him a garrison of 850 men and part of the artillery. En route, Comte de Barras was dispatched to seize Montserrat with some ships and soldiers of regiment Auxerrois. The island had no regular army garrison. [9]

Meanwhile, Admiral George Brydges Rodney (at right) had at last reached the West Indies. He wrote:

On the 19th of February, after five weeks passage with the fleet under my command, I arrived in Carlisle Bay, Barbadoes, and instantly proceeded to join the fleet under Sir Samuel Hood, in hopes of bringing the enemy’s fleet to battle, and saving the island of St. Christopher’s [i.e., St. Kitts], which I heard they were then besieging. [10]

Rodney immediately sailed for St. Kitts, via Antigua. Meanwhile, Hood left Antigua and sailed for Barbados in hopes of finding Rodney. The two fleets took different routes and initially missed each other. It wasn’t until February 25th that Hood and Rodney finally united, in the waters west of Antigua. At that point, according to Rodney, “Every endeavour was used to arrive off Martinique before the enemy”. De Grasse, however, narrowly reached Martinique first, and anchored in Port Royal Harbor on February 26th. [11]

So concluded the St. Kitts campaign of 1782, a campaign that marked the high point of French fortunes in the West Indies. In the spring of 1782, de Bouillé and de Grasse embarked on the conquest of Jamaica. De Grasse’s fleet, however, was attacked and defeated at The Saintes by the united fleet of Rodney and Hood. This bloody battle ended France’s island-hopping campaign, for while they remained strong on land, thereafter the British controlled the seas.


1. The Remembrancer, Vol. 14.

2. John Gilmary Shea (1864). The operations of the French fleet under the Count de Grasse in 1781-2 as described in two contemporary journals.

3. The 1st Foot lost 30 killed, 97 wounded, and 2 missing. The grenadier and light infantry companies of the 15th Foot lost 7 killed, 17 wounded, and 6 missing. The Royal Artillery detachment lost 1 killed, 10 wounded, and 5 missing. Prescott’s loss on January 28th was around 71 men. De Bouille stated his total loss was 13 officers and about 290 men.

4. The statement was allegedly made by Colonel Arthur Dillon; Captain Robert Manners was relaying a statement he received second hand; see Letters and papers of the Duke of Rutland.

5. David Hannay (1895). Letters written by Sir Samuel Hood (Viscount Hood) in 1781-2-3.

6. Shea, ibid.

7. Shea, ibid; Hannay, ibid; Souvenirs du Cheavlier de Villebresme.

8. Souvenirs du Cheavlier de Villebresme (Translation is my own).

9. Shea, ibid; R. de Kerallain (1928). Bougainville à l’Armée du Cte de Grasse. Journal de la Société des Américanistes de Paris, 20, 1-70; Attaque et prise de Saint-Christophe dit le «Gibraltar» des Antilles (janvier-février 1782), in Revue Historique des Armées, Vol. 1, 1974. This article includes extracts from «Mémoires Secrets» de Bouillé. René Chartrand and Francis Back (1991). The French Army in the American War of Independence.

10. George Basil Mundy (1830). The life and correspondence of the late Admiral Lord Rodney, Volume 2.

11. Shea, ibid; Mundy, ibid.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Guilford Courthouse in Miniature (9)

This is the eighth 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.

At the beginning of the battle, Lieutenant-Colonel James Webster commanded the left half of the British line (the 23rd and 33rd regiments, aided by part of the British Guards and a company of jaegers). With these men, he overcome part of the North Carolinians defending the rail fence (Part 4), and got into a nasty fight with William Washington’s flank corps in the woods (Part 5). During these actions, Webster gravitated to wherever the action was hottest. He boldly led the 23rd Foot through the open fields in front of the North Carolinians on the first line, and then joined the 33rd Foot after its flank was threatened by Washington. [1]

Webster’s men fought with skill and courage, and eventually they pushed through the woods to the Americans’ third and final line. Probably their advance was facilitated by the early and almost total collapse of the second line troops nearest them (i.e., Randolph’s and Holcombe’s regiments of Lawson’s brigade, see Part 6).

In any case, Webster reached the third line before the rest of the British army. Many of the Continentals on the third line were placed on a wooded hillside and hidden from view; Webster, however, could see that part of the line which abutted an old field to his front. He ordered an attack.

According to Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Lee:

Webster… sought with zeal the continental line; and presently approached its right wing. Here was posted the first regiment of Maryland… The enemy rushed into close fire; but so firmly was he received by this body of veterans, supported by Hawe's regiment of Virginia [i.e., the 2nd Virginia] and Kirkwood's company of Delawares… that with equal rapidity he was compelled to recoil from the shock. [2]

A soldier with the 2nd Virginia vividly recalled that the Continentals were positioned “along behind a fence near a creek”, and that “when the British marched up towards us we fired upon them and there was a dreadful slaughter indeed… he could have walked for one hundred yards upon dead men and not have touched the ground.” [3]

According to Lee, Webster fell back across “a ravine in his rear,” “occupied an advantageous height,” and waited “for the approach of the rest of the line.”

Then, the men in Washington’s flank corps tried to exploit this reverse. Sergeant-Major William Seymour of the Delaware regiment wrote, “Washington’s Light Infantry… pursued them up a very steep hill, almost inaccessible”. The British “lay concealed in ambush,” and when the Americans approached they “[rose] up, and [poured] in a very heavy fire” by which the Americans “suffered very much” and “were obliged to retreat”. [4]

Webster's men (at center) approach the 3rd line (here and below, click to enlarge). The blue-coated Continentals are, from left-to-right, the 1st Maryland Regiment, the 2nd Virginia Regiment, and the 1st Virginia Regiment (cf. the third line at Guilford Courthouse). Some of the Virginia militia can be seen retreating from the second third line or rallying behind the Continentals.

The 33rd Foot is staggered by a volley.

“Washington’s light infantry” pursue Webster's men.


William Seymour served in Captain Robert Kirkwood’s company of the 1st Delaware Regiment and kept a journal during the southern campaign of the Revolutionary War. At Cowpens, Kirkwood’s company participated in a sudden American counterattack that broke apart the British and turned the battle into a major American victory. Something similar appears to have been attempted on this occasion. The British had fought their way through the militia, only to be bloodily repulsed by the Continentals. The Americans then made a bold counterattack. However, the counterattack at Cowpens is famous, while this counterattack at Guilford Courthouse has been almost wholly forgotten (presumably because the former succeeded while the latter did not). At Cowpens, the American counterattack was made by all of the Continentals and across a short expanse of fairly level ground. At Guilford Courthouse, only “Washington’s Light Infantry” are credited with the counterattack, and the movement was made across a wider and more difficult expanse of ground.

Washington’s Continental light infantry included Kirkwood's Delaware light infantry company, and Captain Phillip Huffman's Virginia light infantry company [cf. Babits & Howard (2009) Long, obstinate, and bloody: The battle of Guilford Courthouse]. Possibly some or all of Colonel Charles Lynch’s Virginia riflemen, who also served in Washington’s flank corps, participated in this counterattack.

1. See the accounts by Charles Cornwallis, Charles Stedman, and Roger Lamb in this compendium of sources.

2. Henry Lee (1812). Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States.

3. Pension application of Henry Ingle.

4. William Seymour (1896). A journal of the southern expedition: 1780-1783. Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware, 15, 3-42.