Many Were Sore Chased
And Some Cut Down
Fighting Cornwallis with the Rockbridge Militia
by Odell McGuire, © Dec '95
III. Battle near Guilford Courthouse.
General Greene chose for his stand against Cornwallis a nondescript stretch of low rolling hills, broken here and there by moderately steep ravines. A forest of tall hardwoods, much of it with thick undergrowth, covered most of the ground. The main Hillsborough-Salisbury road, then the most important in North Carolina, ran east-west through the woods. Greene arrayed his troops astride the road, facing west, to block the British, marching along it toward them. His army of over 4500 outnumbered the enemy better than two to one. Sounds of a severe skirmish four miles east, between Campbell's riflemen and the van of Cornwallis' army, had alerted Greene and given him time to form his troops. The Americans were ready.
In front, at the western skirt of the
woods, behind rail fences and looking out over cleared fields, was a north-
south line of over 1000 North Carolina militiamen. One brigade was north
of the road under a General Eaton and General Butler's was south of it.
Behind them in the woods, 300 yards east, were the Virginia militia, also
around 1000 strong. Again the road was a dividing line. Robert Lawson's
brigade on the north was drawn mainly from Virginia's southside counties:
Pittsylvania, Prince Edward, Cumberland, Amelia, etc. Edward Stevens'
was composed in considerable part of men from the western Virginia 'rifle
counties': Rockbridge, Augusta, Rockingham, and perhaps others. Their
officers and many in the ranks were experienced soldiers who had fought
in earlier campaigns, mostly against Indians. This brigade would be
fighting south of the road where the ground was a little rougher and the
woods thicker. It was their kind of country. As added encouragement,
General Stevens put a line of sentinels in their rear with orders to shoot
anybody who tried to run away.
A half-mile east of the Lawson's
brigade, near Guilford Courthouse and wholly on the north side of the
road, Greene posted his line of 1500 Continental foot soldiers, one brigade
from Virginia on the north or right flank, and another from Maryland,
running southways on an arc bowed toward the west and reaching the road
somewhat west of Guilford Courthouse. A series of open fields sloped
down and away from the Continental front, westward into a narrow
cleared valley. It was the best defensive position on the battlefield, offering
high ground, forest cover to the immediate rear, and open fields of fire in
front. Also, and by no means coincidentally, lying a few score yards to the
rear of the Continental line and protected by it, was the army's escape
road. This led north from the courthouse to Speedwell Furnace on
Troublesome Creek, halfway to the Dan crossings into Virginia.
There was a battery of four English-
cast, six-pounder brass cannons, called 'butterflies', from the Virginia
Regiment of Artillery. These were posted at the center of the North
Carolina line and would fall back along the road as events proved
Finally, Greene had two somewhat
misnamed 'corps of observation' for use in the harassment of Cornwallis'
flanks and the protection of his own. They numbered around 500 each. The
one on the north consisted of William Washington's regular Virginia
cavalry, Robert Kirkwood's company of Delaware continentals, and
Colonel Charles Lynch's 360 riflemen from Bedford County, Virginia.
And there was a similar unit composed of the Virginia Legion of Light
Horse Harry Lee, a regiment of cavalry with a company of Continental
infantry, plus 350-400 riflemen under Colonel William Campbell, most
of them from western Virginia counties and the rest from North
Carolina. After their mid-morning fight at New Garden Meeting House,
they were now formed in a west trending, wooded ravine which marked
the southern limit of the cleared fields lying before the North Carolinians'
What did Greene hope to accomplish
by these dispositions, and how closely did they conform to Dan Morgan's
letter of advice to him on how to fight Cornwallis? Two thirds of his best
Virginia riflemen were placed on the flanks under their own 'enterprising
officers' as Morgan had recommended. And, like Morgan at the Cowpens,
Greene had posted his musket militias in the center and in front of his
Continental line, with orders to get in a few good rounds and then
withdraw. But Morgan had also warned him that the militias might not
fight at all, in which case: ...[Cornwallis] will beat you and perhaps cut
your regulars to pieces , which will be losing all our hopes. And it is
this thought which seems to have dominated his battle plan at Guilford.
Greene's post was with his regulars a
half mile through the woods to the rear of his militias. He could not
control, support, or even observe them. But he was guarding and
practically on his planned route of retreat, and no matter what the militias
did or didn't do, he could save his regulars by going back to Virginia. He
might get beat but he was not going to preside over a disaster.
But if the militias did fight, what
might be expected to happen? Cornwallis' army would deploy in a line and
run, or rather stumble, through a half-mile gauntlet in the forest, severely
impeded, harassed, and deranged by trees and undergrowth and by frontal
fire from the two lines of militia. And killing, enfilade fires would come
from the corps of riflemen on both flanks, who were instructed to keep
even with the British progress all the way back to the Continental line.
There, the redcoats might be sufficiently exhausted and reduced in
numbers, that Greene's regulars could destroy them by close-in fire and
bayonets in a general melee.
It was a good plan, in keeping with the
Quaker General's subtle approach to warfare. It offered reasonable
guarantees against disaster, some chance of winning, and even better
chances of doing severe damage to the British with his expendable militias
and escaping with his regulars intact.. But it was only a plan. And
marching up the road was the completely unsubtle Lord Charles Cornwallis
with an army of veteran killers. The only plan he knew or cared to know
was straight-up-the-middle, all-out fighting; victory or perish. He arrived
in front of Greene's carefully positioned North Carolina militia early in the
afternoon of March 15th, 1781:
... I ordered Lieutenant Macleod to
bring forward the guns .[two or three three-pounders, 'grasshoppers']
and cannonade their center The attack was directed to be made in the
On the right the regiment of Bose .[Hessians] and the 71st regiment .[Highlanders], led by
Major-general Leslie and supported by the 1st battalion of guards; on the
left, the 23rd .[Royal Welsh Fuzileers] and 33rd .[English
foot] regiments, led by Lieutenant-colonel Webster, and supported by
the grenadiers .[Guards company] and 2d battalion of guards,
commanded by Brigadier-general O'Hara; the yagers .[Hessian light
infantry company] and light infantry of the guards remained in the
wood on the left of the guns, and the cavalry .[Tarleton's legion] in
the road, ready to act as circumstances might require. Our preparations
being made, the action began at 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; Lieutenant Colonel
Webster ...was no less successful in his front .[left of the road];
when, on finding that the left of the 33rd was exposed to a heavy fire from
the right wing of the enemy, he changed his front to the left, and, being
supported by the yagers and light infantry of the guards, attacked and
routed it, the grenadiers and 2d battalion of the guards moving forward to
occupy the ground left vacant by the movement of Lieutenant-colonel
When Webster's brigade on the left
wheeled to face the terrible enfilade fire of Lynch's Bedford riflemen, it
was joined on its own left by the two reserve light infantry companies and,
on its right, the Grenadier Guards and 2nd Guards battalion filled in the
gap which had been opened to the immediate left, north, of the road. The
advance of Leslie on the right, though he too had to commit the Regiment
von Bose and his reserve battalion of guards against Campbell's riflemen,
was less troubled. Harry Lee, whose legion supported Campbell,
...When the enemy came within
long shot, the American line, by order, began to fire. Undismayed, the
British continued to advance , and having reached a proper distance,
discharged their pieces and rent the air with shouts. To our infinite distress
and mortification, the North Carolina militia took to flight, a few only of
Eaton's brigade excepted....All .[effort by officers to stop the
flight] was vain; so thoroughly confounded were these unhappy men,
that, throwing away arms, knapsacks, and even canteens, they rushed like a
torrent headlong through the woods...
The characterization of Eaton's
resistance north of the road, as given by Lee, was taken from General
Greene's report rather than his own observation. By eyewitness accounts
from that sector, the Carolinians did well enough, greeting the Welshmen
with two or three well aimed rounds at reasonable range before they fled.
But on the south, Butler's brigade, by most credible accounts, broke and
ran, as Lee says, without doing the Highlanders any harm. A lone exception
was the company of a Captain Forbis, who refused to run away but joined
with Campbell's riflemen. These with the aid of Lee's legion infantry
brought sufficient fire on Leslie to force him to commit his reserve.
On the American right, north,
Lawson's brigade of Virginia militia put up a good, overall fight at the
second line. Some companies ran away early. Others fired their requisite
rounds before retreating. Still others refused to give ground to the
charging British and fought from pockets of underbrush for a time after
they had been bypassed. The flanking corps of Lynch and Washington,
made another strong stand at the second line.
South of the road, the action at the
second line was much more complicated and prolonged. Colonel
McDowell's Rockbridge battalion began its long fight at the extreme south
end of the General Stevens' line. In Private Sam Houston's diary account,
he refers to Eaton's men when he says 'Butler's', to Campbell's flank corps
of riflemen, which had three companies from Augusta County, when he
says 'the Augusta men and some of Campbell's', and to the 71st
Highlanders when he speaks of the British. He was unaware of any North
Carolinians to his front and, as they put up so little resistance, he may have
mistaken the sound of their fire for that of a picket line:
Thursday 15th--Was rainy in the
morning. We often paraded, and about ten o'clock, lying about our fires,
we heard our light infantry and cavalry, who were down near the English
lines, begin firing with the enemy. Then we immediately fell into our
ranks, and our brigades marched out, at which time the firing was ceased.
Col. McDowell's battallion of Gen. Stephens' brigade was ordered on the
left wing. When we marched near the ground we charged our guns.
Presently our brigade major came, ordering to take trees as we pleased.
The men run to choose their trees, but with difficulty, many crowding to
one, and some far behind others. But we moved by order of our officers,
and stood in suspense. Presently the Augusta men, and some of Col
Campbell's fell in at right angles to us. Our whole line was composed of
Stephens' brigade on the left, Lawson's in the centre, and Butler's, of N.
C., on the right. Some distance behind were formed the regulars. Col.
Washington's light horse were to flank on the right, and Lee on the left.
Standing in readiness, we heard the pickets fire; shortly the English fired a
cannon, which was answered; and so on alternately till the small armed
troops came nigh; and then close firing began near the centre, but rather
towards the right, and soon spread along the line. Our brigade major, Mr.
Williams, fled. Presently came two men to us and informed us the British
fled. Soon the enemy appeared to us; we fired on their flank, and that
brought down many of them; at which time Capt.Tedford was killed. We
pursued them about forty poles, to the top of a hill, where they stood, and
we retreated from them back to where we formed. Here we repulsed them
again; and they a second time made us retreat back to our first
Houston is thought to have been in
Tedford's company. Andrew Wiley, 51 years later, recalling this series of
attacks and counterattacks in his pension application, speaks from the
slightly different perspective of David Cloyd's company, also of the
Rockbridge battalion. There are two versions of this account, one
somewhat garbled and a second, less confusing, pasted over the first. I have
used brackets here to insert interesting information from the first which
was omitted by the interviewer from the second:
This applicant states that...at the
outset of the action, the Carolina forces .[,who were formed into a
line extending from where the cannon were stationed to the riflemen on the
left wing,] broke and ran---that the Riflemen to which this applicant
belonged were stationed upon the left wing---that when the Carolina line
retreated, the British forces came down upon a ridge between the Riflemen
on the left wing and a company .[formed on the rear of the left wing
and] commanded by Col. Campbell of Rockbridge Cty. (then Augusta)
who, as this applicant believes, brought on the action, and were swept off
by the Virginia Riflemen, but formed again and again until finally they
came down upon the ridge in columns of 12 and 16 men in depth .[but
were cut off by applicant's company] and were compelled to ground
By 'brought on the action' Wiley
means that Campbell's men had fought in an earlier skirmish, the same
heard by Houston. The contingent of Highlanders, by Wiley's account,
resorted to a column assault tactic, rarely used in that age, to penetrate the
angle between McDowell's and Campbell's riflemen. Its survivors were
made prisoners. Houston didn't learn of this capture til next day. Before it
occurred, his company and Captain John Paxton's, the two now led by
Major Alex Stuart, became separated from the rest of the Rockbridge
battalion under repeated assaults by the Scots and and their own efforts at
counterattack. Henceforth they would fight a different battle, further south,
in the same sector of the woods as Campbell's men. The thread of their
story will be picked up later.
General Stevens, after being painfully wounded in the thigh, ordered his brigade to retire to the third line. Colonel McDowell, with the remaining Rockbridge companies of Cloyd and, probably, Gilmore, retreated with them. The general was of notable corpulence, but was somehow carried by his men from the woods to Guilford Courthouse, and ultimately, all the way back to Troublesome Creek.
Meanwhile, the flank corps of Lynch
and Washington had retreated to the third, the Continental line. The
riflemen formed on the right of the Virginia brigade, and Washington,
apparently learning that Lee's legion had not yet arrived, rode with his
troopers to the other end of the line and occupied a low hill just south of
the road, so as to give flank protection to the Marylanders.
Then came Colonel James Webster
with the 33rd Foot, the Guards Light Infantry, and the Jaegers, who had
already had two sharp fights with Lynch and Washington, but now faced
the center of the Continental line across the cleared vale, well north of the
road. Hawes' Virginians were to his left and Gunby's 1st Maryland
Regiment on his right. Webster promptly attacked. But the luck which had
guided him across Reedy Fork under the guns of Campbell's sharpshooters
and in the charges which he had led against Lynch, now left him. When he
and his men came within thirty yards or so of the Americans, they were
met by a massive volley of musket fire from both regiments. The Colonel
was one of those who fell. His kneecap was shattered, a wound which was
immediately painful and disabling and would ultimately kill him. He was
helped back across the ravine, where his men quickly retreated, and found
a good observation point from which he could watch developments along
the whole line. On the other side, Colonel Gunby was also disabled when
his wounded horse fell on him. Command of the 1st Maryland was soon
passed to John Eager Howard, who had capably commanded Morgan's
line of Continentals and Virginia riflemen at the Cowpens.
Before Webster's action was concluded
the 2nd Guards Battalion and Grenadier Guards arrived on the road
opposite the 2nd Maryland Regiment which was posted at the south end of
the Continental line. Brigadier O'Hara was still with the Guards, but
Lieutenant Colonel James Stuart had assumed active command because of
O'Hara's wounds. Stuart ordered an immediate charge.
The 2nd Maryland, a recently
regularized militia unit led by Colonel Benjamin Ford, was the least
experienced and most questionably officered of Greene's Continental
regiments. It had been placed at this post of most obvious danger and
sensitivity by Otho Williams, brigade commander of the Maryland Line. It
was supported by two six pounders. These Continentals fired a half-hearted,
ineffective volley at the advancing Guardsmen, dropped their muskets and
ran away. None of Greene's much defamed militia had ever behaved worse
or with more damaging effect. The jubilant lobsterbacks now rushed by the
abandoned guns, poured around a thickety little woods, which had
separated the two Maryland regiments, and headed for the rear of the
Several key commanders realized what
was happening at about the same time and took various actions. Colonel
Otho Williams, commander of the Maryland Brigade, had just watched the
repulse of Webster and now rode over to see how his other regiment was
doing. When he saw, what he did was send aides galloping to Greene and
Howard with the bad news. What he said, surely something choice, is
unrecorded. Colonel Howard, after quickly consulting the fallen Gunby,
faced his 1st Maryland Line about and wheeled them into position to block
the British from the army's rear. Colonel Webster, seeing an opportunity
as the 1st Maryland's move exposed Hawes' flank, ordered his bleeding
33rd and their light infantry support back across the vale to assault the
Virginians. But Kirkwood's Delaware company, and, possibly, some of
Stevens' militia brigade came up beside Hawes. General Nathanael Greene
gave orders to prepare for a general retreat. But things were happening
much too fast for his orders to affect events already in progress.
Colonel William Washington was
watching from his hilltop just south of the road. He gathered up his great
roly-poly frame, swung up onto his horse, drew his saber, and ordered his
cavalry to charge the Guardsmen. He led the van himself, as always. Riding
with the fierce, moonfaced leader of horsemen on this day was the Virginia
giant, Private Peter Francisco of the Prince Edward County militia. He was
six foot eight and supposed to be the strongest man in the Commonwealth.
He swung a specially forged five-foot broadsword. They thundered down
the slope on their great warmblood horses, crossed the road, jumped the
ditch beside it, and hit the startled Guards at a gallop. They cut and
trampled their way through, shattering the ranked formations, then turned
and overrode them again, going the other way. Francisco is most
frequently credited with eleven kills in the action, but he only remembered
four in his own pension application. One redcoat pinned the giant's thigh to
his horse's flank with a bayonet. By the legend, he leaned over and, with
free hand, helped the Guardsman withdraw the weapon before, with sword,
he cleft him, helm and skull, down to the collar bone. Now Howard's 1st
Marylanders fell on the broken British, closing with them after only one
point-blank volley. Captain John Smith, after cutting down a Guardsman,
was attacked by James Stuart, Guards' Colonel. Stuart lunged with his short
sword, missed, stumbled over the fallen soldier, and was killed by Smith
with a backhand slash. Then the colonel's batman came at Smith but was
killed by another Marylander. Smith cut down one more guardsman before he
was shot in the back of the head. Some of Washington's riders lingered with
mounted senior infantry officers on the periphery of the fight, slashing at
redcoats who tried to break out.
The swirling mass of men and horses,
bayonets and sabers, moved westward, past the guns again and toward the
British side of the vale, propelled mainly by desire of the surviving
Guardsmen to escape the apocalyptic nightmare that enveloped them.
Among some newly arrived British on the west side was Cornwallis. One
of his proudest units was broken and being slaughtered before his eyes.
the spectacle might dispirit others, he put a quick end to the Guards' agony.
His artillery was up and he ordered Lieutenant Macleod to fire on the
melee, friend and foe alike. This was done. Washington and Howard soon
pulled their men back to safety, Smith's men carrying their fallen Captain.
To their surprise and enjoyment, he soon revived. A pathetic remnant of
the Guards fled to the British side of the ravine. No officers came back
with them, carried or otherwise.
The twice wounded Guards
commander, Brigadier O'Hara, was lying by the British guns as they
blasted his soldiers with grapeshot. His protests of the bombardment to
Cornwallis and Macleod, if heard at all by them, were not obeyed. Now he
reassumed command of the officerless survivors long enough to post them
as replacements to the much depleted 23rd Welsh Fuzileers and 71st
Highlanders, just coming up. Webster's second assault had turned into a
vicious seesaw fight with the Virginians and Delawares for another
section of American cannons stationed there. Other preparations were made
by their surviving officers to get the terribly battered British
collected for a final assault on the Continental line. They weren't
necessary. If General Greene found reasons, in the clearing of his rear
and the destruction of the Guards, to reconsider his decision to retreat,
they weren't strong enough to change his mind.
The Earl Cornwallis, in his report to
Lord Germaine two days later, embellished the events just described in
such a way as to make it appear that the British pushed Greene off the field
by main force. This was made easy for him because Greene abandoned his
four cannons, unspiked, and over 200 rounds of ammunition with powder.
But Greene's retreat, by American reports, simply went as planned. His guns
were left, he reported, for lack of horses to pull them. Why the
and powder were not blown or the wagons, limbers, and carriages not
destroyed, is unknown. Here is Macleod's report:
MOUNTED on travelling carriages ,
with limbers and boxes complete, 4 six-pounders. Shot, round, fixed with
powder, 160 six-pounders; Case, fixed with ditto, 50 six pounders; 2
ammunition wagons; ...
J. Macleod, Lieut...
Perhaps Cornwallis' distorted report
reflects a self-deception, an inability to believe that a General of Greene's
stature, ability and undoubted personal courage would, with five or six
intact regiments, voluntarily abandon the battlefield, his wounded, and such
a prize of artillery to an army as depleted, exhausted, and bloody as his
own. And, though Greene almost certainly didn't know it, he left a battle
that wasn't yet over.
The British cavalry leader Tarleton
picks up the story: ...Earl Cornwallis did not think it advisable for the
British cavalry to charge the enemy, who were retreating in good order,
but directed Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to proceed with a squadron of
dragoons to the assistance of Major-general Leslie on the right, where, by
the constant fire which was yet maintained, the affair seemed not to be
determined. The right wing... had a kind of separate action after the front
line of the Americans gave way, and was now engaged with several bodies
of militia and riflemen above a mile distant from the center of the British
army. The 1st Battalion of the guards, commanded by Lieutenant-colonel
Norton, and the regiment of Bose, under Major DuBuy, had their share of
the difficulties of the day...
And according to other British reports
of these 'difficulties' the 'excessive thickness of the woods' made their
bayonets 'of little use' and enabled the enemy riflemen to 'make frequent
stands' so that they suffered losses and delays while 'warmly engaged on
front flank and rear'. At one time the 1st Guards Battalion was 'completely
broken' with the loss of most of its officers and had to be withdrawn from
the action. Lee, by his report, thought the Guards were headed for the
third line. He sent his cavalry to the Courthouse and, with his Legion
infantry and a company of Campbell's riflemen, got into the rear of the
Guards and attacked them. The assault threw them back on
the Hessians who were already being forced toward the Guards by
Campbell's riflemen. Lee now thought that Campbell's men were
more than a match for the surviving British and Hessians in their part
of the woods. He
hurried on back to the Courthouse. But Greene, meantime, had already begun
his retreat. So the only serious result of Lee's moves was that Campbell's
men were left without cavalry support as Tarleton's dragoons rode through
the woods toward the sound of their gunfire.
Tarleton says in his account that he
rescued several groups of Hessian and British prisoners being
held under light guard by riflemen in the woods. When he finally reached the
survivors of the Regiment von Bose and the Guards, he says they were at the
base of a rise of ground, held by a considerable force of riflemen.
While the Hessians fixed their attention with a demonstration on their
front, Tarleton rode in on their flank. Rockbridge Private Houston's
dairy also records this final action of the battle:
...we were deceived by a
reinforcement of Hessians, whom we took for our own, and cried to them
to see if they were our friends, and shouted Liberty! Liberty! and advanced
up till they let off some guns; then we fired sharply on them and made
them retreat a little. But presently the light horse came on us, and not being
defended by our own light horse, nor reinforced --though firing was long
ceased in all other parts, we were obliged to run, and many were sore
chased and some cut down. We lost our major and one captain then, the
battle lasting two hours and twenty-five minutes. We all scattered, and
some of our party and Campbell's and Moffitt's collected together, and
with Capt. Moffitt and Major Pope, we marched for headquarters, and
marched across till we, about dark, came to the road we marched up from
Reedy Creek to Guilford the day before, and crossing the creek we
marched near four miles, and our wounded, Lusk, Allison, and in
particular Jas. Mather, who was bad cut, were so sick we stopped, and all
being almost wearied out, we marched half a mile, and encamped, where,
through darkness and rain, and want of provisions we were in distress.
Some parched a little corn. We stretched blankets to shelter some of us
from the rain. Our retreat was fourteen miles.
The Regiment von Bose wore blue coats, similar to those of the Continental foot. 'Moffitt' is Colonel George Moffett who commanded the Augusta contingent of Campbell's men. It was Major Alex Stuart that Houston says was lost, caught in a little clearing by Tarleton's dragoons. They made the Major take off his boots and pants, stand there in epauletted coat and cocked hat only, while they beat the surrounding bushes for his riflemen. He was taken prisoner unhurt, and exchanged after a few months. In James Tate's hard luck company from south Augusta, two who were chased were the Steeles, Samuel and David. Sam shot one dragoon during the rout, but was later captured by two of them before he could reload. When they commanded him to hand over his rifle, he just kept repeating: 'O I couldn't do that. I can't do that.' They let him keep it and a little later, while their attention was directed elsewhere, he loaded the weapon. And when they looked at him again, he brandished it at them. They fled. David was sabered about the head, his skull splintered. He was left for dead in the woods, but eventually revived and returned hom where the splinters were removed and a silver plate inserted. Both men lived into old age.
Also lost in the chase, from the
Rockbridge Battalion, was Captain John Paxton, with a badly wounded foot
which never completely healed. Presumably he lay in the woods overnight
without help in cold downpour which began that evening. So did all the
American wounded. The British had not even enough men left on their feet
to tend all their own until next day. They lay down exhausted, without
tents or rations, on bloody, rainsoaked Guilford battlefield. They slept
amid hundreds of unburied dead, the cries and moans of hundreds more mangled
Sam Houston continues: Friday,
16th--As soon as day appeared (being wet) we decamped, and marched
through the rain to Speedwell furnace, where Green had retreated from
Guilfordtown, where the battle was fought, sixteen miles distant; there we
met many of our company with great joy, in particular Colonel M'Dowell;
where we learned that we lost four pieces of cannon after having retaken
them, also the 71st regiment we had captured. After visiting the tents we
eat and hung about in the tents and rain, when frequently we were rejoiced
by men coming in we had given out for lost. In the evening we struck tents
and encamped on the left, when the orders were read to draw provisions
and ammunition, which order struck a panic in the minds of many. Our
march five miles.
Soldiers' superstitions, old as war: dread of being blown up by their own heavy weapons, lost to the enemy; of being killed by enemy soldiers they had already beat and captured, but let escape. But there wasn't any need for panic. Greene, still wary of the British, would not go back and confront them. And Cornwallis, soon realizing that his shattered, hungry army was in no condition to fight again, simply declared the battle a victory, which was true. Then, less than three days after he came to Guilford, leaving both his own and the American wounded behind, he began a rapid retreat march to his coastal base at Wilmington, 180 miles south. Greene, declaring the campaign a victory, also true, trailed at a safe distance two days later.
On the 19th, a day before Greene began his
pursuit, Charles Magill,
Jefferson's liason officer, wrote his Governor: ...I am sorry to
inform your Excellency that a number of the Virginia Militia have sully'd
the Laurels reap'd in the Action by making one frivolous pretence and
another to return home. A number have left the Army very precipitately.
The best Men from Augusta and Rockbridge have been foremost on this
According to Sam Houston's diary, many of the men had lost their blankets and coats during the fight. It was cool and rainy in the morning, warm and sunny most of the day, a cold forty-hour rain commencing in the evening. During the fight, coats would have been in the knapsacks, blankets rolled and hung from the shoulder. When being chased by Tarleton's cavalry, packs would be the first thing a man might drop, assuming he was a good enough soldier to hold onto his rifle and ammunition. A cold forty-hour rain. Of course all this would sound like 'frivolous pretence' to a noncombatant Major at Greene's headquarters. He hadn't been chased. He had his warm clothes, even his pen and ink. He wasn't shivering so hard he could'nt write the elegant words that he wrote. In any case, by the time Greene decided to follow the British, the Rockbridge and Augusta riflemen had gone home to the Valley of Virginia.