February 2004: Guilford Courthouse National Military Park


Greensboro, North Carolina

With the Revolutionary War stalemated in the North in 1778, the British strategy to win the war shifted to the South. Georgia and South Carolina were completely under British control by 1780. Nathanael Greene, an ironmaster by trade, self-taught in the art of war and George Washington's hand-picked commander of the Southern Department, was determined to keep North Carolina out of British hands.  From his base in Virginia Greene harassed the British as their attack spread northward. Pursued by a frenetic Lord Cornwallis, Greene selected sloping ground near Guilford Courthouse to make his stand. He aligned his superior force of 4,000 men - of which scarcely one in five had ever seen battle action - in three lines to receive the British assault on March 15, 1781.

The first line, manned by inexperienced North Carolina militia, was quickly brushed aside and fled. Breaking through the second Patriot line, however, required savage fighting and by the time the redcoats reached Greene's last line, Cornwallis was becoming desperate. As the fighting raged Cornwallis directed his artillery to fire grapeshot over his own lines into the melee of friend and foe alike. The harsh directive to fire into his own troops dispersed the Americans and saved his army. Greene retired from the field. Technically the loser, his losses had been light. Cornwallis kept the field but lost the war at Guilford Courthouse. His army limped on to Wilmington, convinced that conquering Virginia would collapse the Revolution. Greene let him go and moved southward to reconquer South Carolina and Georgia, confident that American troops assem-bling in Virginia would destroy Cornwallis - which they did seven months later in Yorktown. Begun in 1887, the 220-acre park was later established in 1917 as the first battleground of the American Revolution to be preserved as a national military park. 

The military park is a local popular dog-walking destination with level, leafy paths in a suburban environment. Nothing remains of either the small wooden courthouse or the community of March 15, 1781 but the grounds are among the most decorated of Revolutionary battlefields, graced by twenty-eight monuments. The most impressive monument is the large equestrian statue of General Greene, sculpted by Francis H. Packer. Unveiled on July 3, 1915, it bears Greene's words: "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again."

Kings Mountain National Military Park (Route 161, 12 miles northwest of York, South Carlina)
Revolutionary War buffs will want to travel southwest to the site of some of the most vicious American vs. American fighting of the war at Kings Mountain. Here some 600 "backcountry" men who had marched over 200 miles attacked Carolinians loyal to the crown. The Loyalists were under the command of "Bloody" Patrick Ferguson, the only British soldier in the battle.
Ferguson chose to defend his position on traditional high ground, a rocky outcropping surrounded by a hardwood forest. The mountain men, however, worked their way up the slopes, fighting from tree to tree on their way to the summit. The high ground in this case worked against the defenders as they were unable to get clear shots at their attackers. Sir Henry Clinton called the defeat at King's Mountain, "the first link in a chain of evils that at last ended in the total loss of America." You can take your dog on an interpretive walking tour around Battlefield Ridge that includes the spot where Ferguson was killed, marked by a monument and covered with a traditional Scottish stone cairn.

The park is on New Garden Street in Greensboro, directional signs lead you in from I-85 and I-40.