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Determining the Facts

Reading 2: The Generals' Report on the Battle

Cornwallis to Lord George Germain, March 17, 1781:

My Lord,
I have the satisfaction to inform your Lordship that His Majestyís Troops under my command obtained a signal victory on the 15th Inst[ant] over the Rebel Army commanded by General Greene....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 hardship and fatigue of a march of above 600 miles, in which they forded several large rivers, and numberless 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 the honor to inclose to your Lordship the list of our killed and wounded....

Unit: Killed Wounded Missing Total
Royal Artillery 2 4 0 6
Brigade of Guards 37 157 22 216
23rd Regiment 13 55 0 68
33rd 11 63 0 74
71st 13 50 0 63
Regt. von Bose [Hessians] 10 67 3 80
Yager [Hessians] 4 3 1 8
British Legion [cavalry] 3 14 0 17
TOTALS 93 413 26 532

Compiled from Walter Clark, ed., State Records of North Carolina, vol. XVII (Goldsboro, N.C., 1899), 1002-1007.


Nathanael Greene reports to Governor Abner Nash of North Carolina Camp near the Iron Works, March 18th, 9 a.m., 1781:

Time will not permit me to be very particular, and therefore I shall only Confirm the account of there having been an action on the 15th. The battle was fought near Guilford Court House. It was long and severe. We gave up the ground and were obliged to leave our artillery, all the horses being killed. We retreated in good order....The Enemy loss is very great, much more than ours. We ought to have had a victory, and had your Militia stood by their officers it was certain. However the enemy have gained no advantage, except the ground and field pieces. Their operating force is diminished in such a manner, that I am not without hope of turning their victory into defeat, if the Militia donít leave me....

Quoted from Richard K. Showman and Dennis M. Conrad, eds., The Papers of General Nathanael Greene, vol. VII (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 448.


On March 16, Greeneís adjutant, Col. O. H. Williams compiled a list of casualties to send to Samuel Huntington, President of Congress:

Unit: Killed Wounded Missing Total
Virginia Regulars 29 40 39 108
Maryland Regulars 15 42 97 154
Del. Battín 7 13 15 35
VA Militia, lst Brig. 11 36 141 188
VA Militia, 2nd Brig. 1 16 87 104
Rifle Regts. 3 16 94 113
Cavalry 3 8 3 14
Partizan Legion 3 8 7 18
NC Cavalry 1 1 0 2
NC Militia 6 5 563 574
TOTALS 79 185 1,046 1,310

NOTE: Most of the missing Americans were militiamen who simply went home after the battle. For this reason, most authorities figure total American casualties as 264 killed and wounded.

Compiled from Banastre Tarleton, The Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America (London, 1787), 317-20.

Questions for Reading 2

1. Does Lord Cornwallis sound like a victorious general? Does he claim the victory?

2. Does Greene sound like a victorious general? Does he claim the victory?

3. Based on the total casualty figures for both armies, what would be your assessment of the winner and loser of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse? Explain your answer. Now compute and compare the percentages of killed and wounded British and American soldiers. How would you assess the outcome of the battle based on these figures? Do you think numerical analysis is the best way to answer this question? Can you suggest other grounds on which to assess the outcome of the battle?

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