powered by google
Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Advanced Search Options
Letter from Charles Cornwallis, Marquis Cornwallis to George Sackville Germain, Viscount Sackville
Cornwallis, Charles Cornwallis, Marquis, 1738-1805
March 17, 1781
Volume 17, Pages 1002-1007

-------------------- page 1002 --------------------
GEN. EARL CORNWALLIS TO LORD GEO. GERMAIN.

Guilford, March 17th, 1781.

My Lord:

I have the satisfaction to inform your Lordship that His Majesty's Troops under my command obtained a signal Victory on the 15th Inst. over the Rebel Army, commanded by General Greene.

In pursuance of my intended Plan, communicated to your Lordship in my dispatch No., &c., I had encamped on the 13th Inst. at the Quakers' Meeting, between the forks of Deep River. On the 14th I received information that General Butler with a body of North Carolina Militia, and the expected Reinforcements from Virginia, said to consist of a Virginia State Regiment, a Corps of Virginia eighteen months men, 3,000 Virginia Militia, & Recruits for the Maryland Line, had joined General Greene, and that the whole Army, which was reported to amount to 9,000 or 10,000 men, was marching to attack the British Troops. During the afternoon intelligence was brought, which was confirmed in the night, that he had advanced that day to Guilford, about 12 miles from our Camp. Being now persuaded that he had resolved to hazard an engagement, after detaching Lieut. Colonel Hamilton with our Waggons and Baggage, escorted by his own Regiment, a detachment of 100 Infantry and 20 Cavalry, towards Bell's Mill on Deep River, I marched with the rest of the Corps, at daybreak on the morning of the 15th, to meet the Enemy or to attack them in their encampment. About four miles from Guilford our advanced Guard, commanded by Lieut. Colonel Tarleton, fell in with a Corps of the Enemy, consisting of Lee's Legion, some back Mountain Men, and Virginia Militia, which he attacked with his usual good conduct and Spirit, and defeated. And continuing our March, we found the Rebel Army posted on rising Grounds about a mile and a half from the Court House. The Prisoners taken by Lieut. Colonel Tarleton having been several days with the advanced Corps, could give no account of the Enemy's Order or position, and the Country people were extremely inaccurate in their description of the Grounds. Immediately between the head of the Column and the Enemy's Line was a considerable Plantation, one large Field of which was

-------------------- page 1003 --------------------
on our left of the Road, and two others, with a Wood of about two hundred yards broad, between them on our right of it. Beyond these Fields the Wood continued for several miles to our right. The Wood beyond the Plantation in our front, in the Skirt of which the Enemy's first Line was formed, was about a mile in depth, the road then leading into an extensive space of cleared Ground about Guilford Court House. The woods on our right and left were reported to be impracticable for Cannon, but as that on our right appeared to be most open, I resolved to attack the left Wing of the Enemy, and whilst my disposition was making for that purpose, I ordered Lieutenant Macleod to bring forward the Guns and cannonade their Center. The Attack was directed to be made in the following Order.

On the right, the Regiment of Bose and the 71st Regiment, led by Major General Leslie, and supported by the 1st Battalion of Guards; on their left, the 23d and 33d Regiments, led by Lieut. Colonel Webster & supported by the Grenadiers, and 2d Battalion of Guards, commanded by Brigadier General O'Hara. The Yagers and Light Infantry of the Guards remained in the wood on the left of the Guns, and the Cavalry in the Road, ready to act as circumstances might require. Our preparations being made, the Action began about half an hour past one in the afternoon. Major General Leslie, after being obliged by the great extent of the Enemy's Line to bring up the 1st Battalion of Guards to the right of the Regiment of Bose, soon defeated everything before him. Lieut. Colonel Webster having joined the left of Major General Leslie's division, was no less successful in his front, when on finding that the left of the 33d was exposed to a heave fire from the right Wing of the Enemy, he changed his front to the left, & being supported by the Yagers & Light Infantry of the Guards, attacked & routed it. The Grenadiers & 2d Battalion of Guards, moving forward to occupy the Ground, left vacant by the movement of Lieut. Colonel Webster.

All the Infantry being now in the Line, Lieut. Colonel Tarleton had directions to keep his Cavalry compact, and not to charge without positive orders, except to protect any of the Corps from the most evident danger of being defeated. The excessive thickness of the woods rendered our bayonets of little use, and enabled the broken

-------------------- page 1004 --------------------
enemy to make frequent stands, with an irregular fire, which occasioned some loss and to several of the Corps great delay, particularly on our right, where the 1st Battalion of Guards and Regiment of Bose were warmly engaged in front, flank & rear with some of the enemy that had been routed on the first attack, and with part of the extremity of their left wing, which by the closeness of the wood had been passed unbroken. The 71st Regiment & Grenadiers & 2d Battalion of Guards, not knowing what was passing on their right, and hearing the fire advance on their left, continued to move forward, the Artillery keeping pace with them on the road, followed by the Cavalry. The 2d Battalion of Guards first gained the clear ground near Guilford Court House, and found a Corps of Continental Infantry, much superior in number, formed in the open field on the left of the Road. Glowing with impatience to signalize themselves, they instantly attacked and defeated them, taking two sixpounders; but pursuing into the wood with too much ardour, were thrown into confusion by a heavy fire, and immediately charged and driven back into the field by Colonel Washington's Dragoons, with the loss of the six-pounders they had taken. The Enemy's Cavalry was soon repulsed by a well directed fire from two threepounders, just brought up by Lieut. Macleod, & by the appearance of the Grenadiers of the Guard and of the 71st Regiment, which, having been impeded by some deep Ravines, were now coming out of the wood on the right of the Guards, opposite to the Court House. By the spirited exertions of Brig. General O'Hara, tho' wounded, the 2d Battalion of Guards was soon rallied, & supported by the Grenadiers, returned to the charge with the greatest alacrity. The 23d Regiment arriving at that instant from our left, and Lieut. Colonel Tarleton having advanced with part of the Cavalry, the enemy were soon put to flight, & the two six-pounders once more fell into our hands, two Ammunition Waggons & two other six-pounders, being all the Artillery they had in the field, were likewise taken. About this time the 33d Regiment and Light Infantry of the Guards, after overcoming many difficulties, completely routed the Corps which was opposed to them, and put an end to the Action in this quarter. The 23d and 71st Regiments, with part of the Cavalry, were ordered to pursue; the remainder of the Cavalry was detached with Lieut. Col. Tarleton to our right, where a heavy fire still
-------------------- page 1005 --------------------
continued, and where his appearance and spirited attack contributed much to a speedy determination of the action. The Militia with which our right had been engaged dispersed to the woods; the Continentals went off by the Reedy Fork, beyond which it was not in my power to follow them, as their Cavalry had suffered but little. Our troops were excessively fatigued by an action which lasted an hour & a half, and our numerous wounded, dispersed over an extensive space of Country, required immediate attention. The Care of our wounded and the total want of provisions in an exhausted Country made it equally impossible for me to follow the blow next day. The Enemy did not stop until they got to the Iron Works on Troublesome Creek, 18 miles from the field of Battle.

From our own observation, and the best accounts we could procure, we did not doubt but the strength of the enemy exceeded 7,000 men. Their Militia composed their Line, with parties advanced to the Rails of the Fields in their front, the Continentals were posted obliquely in the rear of their right wing. Their Cannon fired on us, whilst we were forming, from the center of the Line of Militia, but were withdrawn to the Continentals before the attack.

I have the honor to inclose to your Lordship, the list of our killed and wounded. Captain Schwutz's wound is supposed to be mortal, but the Surgeons assure me, that none of the other Officers are in danger, and that a great number of the men will soon recover. I cannot ascertain the loss of the enemy, but it must have been considerable, between 2 & 300 dead were left upon the field. Many of their wounded that were able to move, whilst we were employed in the care of our own, escaped and followed the routed enemy, and our Cattle Drivers and foraging parties have reported to me, that the houses in a circle of 6 or 8 miles around us are full of others. Those that remained we have taken the best care of in our power. We took few prisoners owing to the excessive thickness of the woods facilitating their escape, and every man of our army being repeatedly wanted for action.

The conduct and actions of the Officers and Soldiers that compose this little Army, will do more justice to their merit, than I can by words. Their persevering intrepidity in Action, their invincible patience in the hardships and fatigues of a march of above 600 miles, in which they have forded several large Rivers, and numberless

-------------------- page 1006 --------------------
Creeks, many of which would be reckoned large rivers in any other Country in the world, without Tents or covering against the Climate, and often without provisions, will sufficiently manifest their ardent zeal for the honor and interests of their Sovereign and their Country.

I have been particularly indebted to Major General Leslie, for his gallantry and exertion in the Action, as well as his Assistance in every other part of the Service. The zeal & Spirit of Brigadier General O'Hara, merit my highest commendations, for, after receiving two dangerous wounds, he continued in the field while the Action lasted. By his earnest attention on all other occasions, seconded by the Officers and Soldiers of the Brigade, His Majesty's Guards are no less distinguished by their order and discipline than by their Spirit and valour.

The Hessian Regiment of Bose, deserves my warmest praises for its discipline, alacrity and Courage, and does honor to Major Du Buy who commands it, and who is an Officer of superior merit.

I am much obliged to Brigadier General Howard, who served as Volunteer, for his spirited example on all occasions.

Lieut. Colonel Webster conducted his Brigade like an Officer of experience and Gallantry. Lieut. Colonel Tarleton's good conduct & spirit in the management of his Cavalry, was conspicuous during the whole action, & Lieut. Macleod, who commanded the Artillery, proved himself, upon this, as well as all former occasions, a most capable & deserving Officer. The attention and exertion of my Aides-de-Camp, and of all the other public Officers of the Army, contributed very much to the success of the day.

I have constantly received the most zealous assistance from Governor Martin during my command in the southern district. Hoping that his presence would tend to incite the loyal Subjects of this Province to take an active part with us, he has cheerfully submitted to the fatigues and dangers of our Campaign, but his delicate constitution has suffered by his public spirit, for by advice of the Physicians, he is now obliged to return to England for the recovering his health.

This part of the Country is so totally destitute of subsistence that forage is not nearer than nine miles, and the Soldiers have been two days without bread; I shall therefore leave about 70 of the

-------------------- page 1007 --------------------
worst of the wounded cases, at the New Garden Quaker Meeting house, with proper Assistance, & move the remainder with the Army tomorrow morning to Bell's Mill. I hope our friends will heartily take an active part with us, to which I shall continue to encourage them; still approaching our shipping by easy marches, that we may procure the necessary Supplies for further operations, and lodge our sick and wounded, where proper attention can be paid to them.

This Dispatch will be delivered to Your Lordship by my Aidede-camp Captain Brodrick, who is a very promising Officer, and whom I beg leave to recommend to Your Lordship's Countenance and favor. I have the honor to be with great respect My Lord, Your Lordship's Most obedient & Most humble Servant,

EARL CORNWALLIS.