From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.
March 16.—Yesterday morning an engagement was brought on near Guilford Court House, between a small part of the American regulars, joined by a very considerable body of militia, and most of General Cornwallis’s army.1 Early in the morning, the American reconnoitring parties reported the enemy advancing on the Great Salisbury road. The army was drawn up in three lines: the front line was composed of the North Carolina militia, under the command of Generals Butler and Eaton; the second line of Virginia militia, commanded by Generals Stevens. and Lawson, forming two brigades; the third line, consisting of two brigades, one of Virginia, and one of Maryland Continental troops, commanded by General Huger and Colonel Williams. Lieutenant-Colonel Washington, with the dragoons of the first and third regiments, a detachment of light infantry, composed of Continental troops, and a regiment of riflemen under Colonel Lynch, formed a corps of observation for the security of the flank; Lieutenant-Colonel Lee, with his legion, a detachment of light infantry and a corps of riflemen, under Colonel Campbell, formed a corps of observation for the security of the left flank.
The greater part of the country is a wilderness, with a few cleared fields interspersed here and there. The army was drawn up upon a large hill of ground surrounded by other hills, the greater part of which was covered with timber and thick underbrush. The front line was posted, with two field-pieces, just on the edge of the woods, and the back of a fence which ran parallel with the line, with an open field directly in their front. The second line was in the woods, about three hundred yards in rear of the first, and the Continental troops about three hundred yards in the rear of the second with a double front, as the hill drew to a point where they were posted, and on their right and left were two old fields.
In this position the Americans waited the approach of the enemy, having previously sent off the baggage to the Iron Works, (about ten miles from Guilford Court House,) appointed to rendezvous at in case of a defeat. Lieutenant-Colonel Lee, with his legion, his infantry and part of his riflemen, met the enemy, on their advance, and had a very severe skirmish with Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton, in which the enemy suffered greatly. Captain Armstrong charged the British legion, and cut down near thirty of their dragoons, but as they reinforced their advanced party, Lieutenant-Colonel Lee was obliged to retire, and take his position in the line.
The action commenced by a cannonade, which lasted about twenty minutes, when the enemy advanced in three columns; the Hessians on the right, the guards in the centre, and Lieutenant-Colonel Webster’s brigade on the left. The whole moved through the old fields to attack the North Carolina brigades, who waited the attack until the enemy got within about one hundred and forty yards, when part of them began to fire; but a considerable part left the ground without firing at all. The generals and field-officers did all they could to induce the men to stand their ground, but neither the advantage of the position nor any other consideration could induce them to stay. Generals Stevens and Lawson, and the field-officers of those brigades, were more successful in their exertions. The Virginia militia gave the enemy a warm reception, and kept up a heavy fire for a long time, but being beaten back, the action became general almost everywhere. The corps of observation under Washington and Lee were warmly engaged and did great execution. In a word, the conflict was long and severe, and the enemy only gained their point by superior discipline.
The enemy having broken the second Maryland regiment, and turned our left flank, and got into the rear of the Virginia brigade, and appearing to be gaining our right, which would have encircled the whole of the Continental troops, General Greene thought it most advisable to order a retreat. About this time Lieutenant-Colonel Washington made a charge with the horse upon a part of the brigade of guards, and the first regiment of Marylanders, commanded by Colonel Gunby, and seconded by Lieutenant-Colonel Howard, followed the horse with their bayonets; near the whole of this party fell a sacrifice. General Huger was the last that was engaged, and gave the enemy a check.
The Americans retreated in good order to the Reedy Fork River, crossed at the ford, about three miles from the field of action, and there halted, and drew up the troops, until they collected most of their stragglers. They lost their artillery and two ammunition wagons, (the greater part of the horses being killed before the retreat began,) it being impossible to move the pieces but along the great road. After collecting their stragglers, they retired to the Iron Works, where they now are.
From the best information, we learn the British loss is very great, not less in killed and wounded than six hundred men, besides some few prisoners that the Americans brought off.2
1 Letter in the New Jersey Gazette, April 4.
2 General Greene’s letter to Samuel Huntington; and the New Jersey Journal, April 11.