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Battle of Guilford Courthouse: March 15, 1781

On March 15, 1781, British and American troops clashed at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, in one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution and the largest battle in the southern theater. Though the British would technically emerge the victors, the cost of their victory would prove devastatingly high.

Fold3 Image - Statue of Nathanael Greene
Throughout February 1781, the British army under General Charles Cornwallis had been pursuing General Nathanael Greene’s American force through the Carolinas. Although Greene made it to relative safety in Virginia, he decided to lead his troops back into North Carolina to face the British.

Greene took his stand at Guilford Courthouse, a densely wooded area. He arranged his roughly 4,500 troops (about twice the British number) in three defensive lines, spaced a few hundred yards apart, with no men held in reserve. The North Carolina militia was in the front (flanked on either side by cavalry, light infantry, and riflemen), the Virginia militia was behind them, and the Virginia and Maryland Continentals were in the back, off slightly to the right.

The British arrived on March 15th after marching 12 miles. They attacked the Americans’ forward line, with some of the British getting diverted into fights with the cavalry and other troops on the American right and left flanks. When the Americans’ first line crumbled, the British then pushed forward to fight the second line. The American right of this line gave way, while the left held out a while longer.

When the right of the American second line crumbled, the British pushed forward again to encounter the center of the American third line. However, this part of the line contained the most experienced of the American troops, and they succeeded in repelling the British.

Meanwhile, when the left of the American second line finally gave way, the British attacked the far left of the American third line. This evolved into brutal, close fighting, and Cornwallis made the decision to fire his 3-pound guns into the melee. This resulted in casualties on both sides but did make the Americans fighting there pull back.

When Greene saw that the British had reformed their lines and were preparing to attack again, he made the decision to retreat. Cornwallis sent some of his troops to pursue the Americans, but his men were too exhausted to be effective.

With the American retreat, the British were left in command of the field, but their victory was costly. The British had suffered a much higher casualty rate than the Americans, at 27 percent to the Americans’ 6 percent. Cornwallis’ army had been significantly damaged, and this would contribute to his surrender at Yorktown later that year.

Do you have ancestors who fought in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse? Tell us about them. Or learn more about the battle on Fold3.

101 Comments

  1. My 5th great grandfather, Peter Francisco, fought in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Visited there several years ago and saw the tribute they had to him along with some of his belongings. Thank you for sharing this interesting piece about our history!

    • Mary Echols, I hope you are a member of DAR as a result of your very brave patriot. If you are not, contact me and I would be happy to assist you in proving your relationship to the patriot.

    • Thank you for your offer for assistance. I became a member of the DAR after proving relationship to Peter Francisco. It was really fun doing the research and learning about my relatives. There is also the Society of the Descendants of Peter Francisco which is a great organization for those related to Peter Francisco.

    • At a past Kentucky State DAR Conference, there was a descendant that
      portrayed your ancestor, sword and all.

      Everyone was amazed at his story. You certainly may be very proud.

  2. My 4th great grandfather was a Hessian soldier who was with Cornwallis at Yorktown. I was wondering if Cornwallis had any Hessians with him at Guilford Courthouse.

    • Yes, he did! Regiment von Bose was there. I think my ancestor was in that Regiment.
      I have Patriots of that Battle and German soldiers too.

  3. My 5th Great Grandfather, Baptist Clark, was a sharpshooter in the North Carolina militia at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.

    • Same Rick Hoover that entered Air Force in 1963 and from Ohio? I have family in the NC group.

  4. Does anyone know if the family of Robert Wilson and Eleanor Caruthers Wilson were in this battle?

  5. My fourth great grandfather, William Ligon, was in the battle at Guilford Corthouse according to his pension record. He was also listed as an express rider.

  6. My 4th great grandfather was Lieutenant Colonel John Williams. He was present with his command at the battle of Guilford Court House, and distinguished himself for his courage. His mother’s maiden name was Mary Washington, who was a first cousin of General George Washington.

  7. My 5th Great Grandfather was Captain James Dixon from the Virginia Militia. Short story from my family book called the Dixon Clan Scotland Ireland and America.

    “One day James was closing the Watergate on the mill race and fell into the mill machinery. Luckily, a steel Spike fell in with him and lodged in the gears, stopping the mill. James lived, but had severe lacerations and several broken bones, a thigh bone, an arm bone, and three ribs. He was confined to bed for three months.

    James walked after that, but he was lame for the rest of his life. He rode a horse while serving as a militia officer in the Revolutionary War.

    In an intense battle with British and Tory troops at the Guilford Courthouse on March 15th, 1781, James’ horse was shot from under him. The enemy ball went through his pants and saddle and instantly killed his horse. James was shaken but not injured.

    He was left on foot, and it looked like he would be killed or captured, being too lame to get away from the charging troops. Luckily, a mounted American officer came to his rescue, and James got away on the officer’s horse.

  8. My 6th Great Grandfather was Lt. Col. William Bryan with the Johnston Co. N. C. Militia. He saw action in three different battles: Battle of Briar Creek, Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, and the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.

    • My 6th Great Grandfather Ebenezer Folsom originized the patriots and fought the Tories at Moore’s Creek Bridge and was awarded the rank of Col. He was 46 at that time. His daughter married my 5th GGF Mathew Moore. I don’t know if either of them participated in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Col Folsom has a DAR Chapter named in his honor at Valdosta, GA.

    • Did you know that the Donald McDonald who commanded the Loyalists at Widow Moore’s Creek Bridge was a cousin of the famous Flora McDonald who saved Bonnie Prince Charlie (Prince Charles Edward Stewart/Stuart) from the British in Scotland. She was also in America and she and her daughters were stripped, flogged and their home burned because they were Loyalists.

    • I also share him on my tree

  9. My 4th great grandfather Matthew Bussell was at the battle he was with the Virginia Continental .
    He first was in the navy aboard the ship Dragon for 2yrs then joined the army for 2yrs
    There is a book out of print now but it is titled Matthew Bussell a sailor and a solider

  10. My ancestress was Martha McFarlane McGee Bell and (among other things) she rode through the British lines posing as a nurse, gathered information and shared it with the Americans.

  11. My 6th Great Grandfather, Joseph McLean fought in this battle.

  12. I have a somewhat different familial connection to the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. As some of you may be aware, the battle raged near a Quaker meeting house, the New Garden Monthly Meeting, that had been established there as the first European settlement in the area about 30 years earlier. Colonial sharpshooters used the meeting house as a shelter, and as a result it was fired upon by the British. My 5th great-grandfather Henry Worley and his family were members of the New Garden meeting and lived near the battlefield. As Quakers they refused to participate in hostilities on religious grounds – indeed, having settled there in the 1750s to escape the depredations of the French & Indian War – but also as Quakers they considered it their Christian duty to care for all who had suffered in the battle. So they treated both British and Colonial wounded in their meeting house and buried the dead from both sides in a common grave near the battlefield. An historical plaque at the site commemorates all of this.

    • Sorry, Henry was my 7th great-grandfather, not my 5th.

    • My Rebecca Worley married John Hendricks in a Quaker ceremony in Chester, PA. Her parents were Sir Francis Worley of London and Lady Mary Brassey. Any chance they’re related to your Worleys?

    • Hi Gail,

      Henry’s father was Henry Worley. His brother Francis married Mary Brassey. I assume, therefore, that your Rebecca was Henry’s cousin.

      Mike

    • Hi Gail,

      I’m afraid the records for Francis Worley and Mary Brassey are somewhat more down-to-earth. Brothers Francis and Henry Worley (fathers, respectively, of your Rebecca and my Henry) were indeed both born in England, to Henry Worley and Ann Stone, but Henry died young and Ann re-married a man named Caleb Pusey, and the family came to Pennsylvania with William Penn. Francis was not knighted, so the designations “Sir” and “Lady” are mythical. That said, he did marry Mary Brassey. The Caleb Pusey homestead still stands, as a national monument owned by the Quakers, the only remaining building known to have been visited by William Penn (who was also not knighted, though his father was).

      Mike

    • My 5th and 6th great grandfathers were members of the New Garden Monthly Meeting and beings they were Quakers, also, they treated the wounded and buried the dead regardless who they were.
      I have a map of the “Guilford Battle Field”. My family was Jacob and Thomas Jessu, if I read the map correctly Cornwallis’ Headquarters was at Thomas Jessup’s home. Some of the other surnames on the map are: Dix, Macy, Williams, Baldwin, Kathank, Johnson, Hussey, Hunt, Mill, White, Hiatt, Hunt, and Russell, on Great Salisbury Road.
      I also have a copy of the grave stone with “British and American Soldiers, buried March 1781, by, New Garden Friends, “Peace, Good Will”.

  13. Both my 6th & 7th grandfathers would have fought here under General Greene. Their farm was in nearby Alamance. Basically the Battle of Alamance was fought in their back yard. That was a pre-Rev war battle of the Regulators against the tyranny of Gov. Tryon.

  14. My 5th great grandfather was Edward Rutledge,signer of the Declaration and brother to John Rutledge gov of South Carolina and signer of the Constitution.

    • William, can you email me when you get a chance? A coworker is kin to Edward Rutledge, and I’d like to link you two up if there is indeed a connection. Mjacostausmc@yahoo.com

      Thank you,
      Michael

  15. My 4th Gr. Grandfather was Chesley BARNES. He fought at the Battle of the Guilford County Courthouse. Our son visited this battlefield years ago during a History field trip. He was a cadet at USMA at that time.
    Yes, I am a member of NSDAR.

  16. My relatives fought in the Guilford battle,my 6th great grandfather, William Paisley Jr. was wounded in his wrist, my two Great uncles were captain Robert Paisley and lt col. John Paisley. We also had Uncles and cousins from the Mclean side of the family fighting in the war. My 5th Great Grandfather Thomas Keown great Uncle James Keown were at the battle of charleston SC. My son,daughter and me walked the battlefield in 2017, we found out the courthouse was a log cabin not the pillars shown in the movie the Patriot.

    • John Paisley is my 5x great grandfather. I would appreciate any information you could share about his participation in the War.

  17. Just curious if there is a comprehensive list of the known participants of this battle?

    • Yes, the Superintendent of the park has a list. He said it was about 80% complete (circa 2005) when I added my gggggf Gatus Fox.

      Terry Fox

  18. Although I’m from NC, my 7th great grand father Thomas Johnson was a member of the Maryland Malitia. I was told but am not fore sure he was promoted by George Washington to General. And was said to become the first Governor of Maryland.

  19. Benjamin Bowen of Pickens Co SC drew Revolutionary Pension “W20 743” and stated he was born in 1756 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and removed before the Revolution with his parents to Guilford County, NC and enlisted in the Revolution in Guilford Co NC in 1776 and saw service under Capt John Nelson in Col. Piasley’s Regt….and also under Col. Lock and under Capt. George Pierce and Capt. Smith Moore…..Pension was allowed in Anderson Dist. SC – SC Agency. He died 5 Nov 1837/38. He gives a list of his children and their birth dates as well as his marriage.
    Benjamin is my 4th great-grandfather.
    I had multiple ancestors at Cowpens, most were from SC and GA but have wondered why so many who were at Cowpens did not fight at Guilford Courthouse.

  20. Both The Sons and The Daughters of the American Revolution will participate in a wreath laying ceremony on the battlefield commemorating the battle on the morning of Saturday March 17. Complete with canon and cavalary, there is a nearby afternoon reenactment of the battle on Saturday and Sunday. It’s well done and worth you time if you are near Greensboro NC. Much of the battleground has been preserved and is now a popular National Miitary Park. An excellent film on the battle is shown hourly at the visitor center.

  21. My 4th Great Grandfather on my mother’s side, James Ross of Martin County, NC and later Union County, NC, served under Captains John Kennady and James Evans in Colonel Whitmill Hill’s Regiment. He was in the battle of Guilford Courthouse in March 1781 under General Green, and later in the battle of Camden. He is recognized on a plaque for Revolutionary War soldiers at the Union County Court House.

    • Im looking for a james ross. Family ! There are so many Ross families with the same names hard to untangle. Family Im looking for married at some point a Mary Wood.
      Thanks marty

  22. There is a monument erected in the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in honor of my 5th great grandmother, KerenHappuch Norman Turner.

    Eight members of Kerenhappuch Norman Turner’s family fought in the battle – her son and seven grandsons – and her son received very serious wounds. When word of this reached her, she rode on horseback to the battlefield from her home in Maryland.

    Placing her son James Jr. in a log cabin on the battlefield in a crude bed on the floor, Kerenhappuch secured tubs in which she bored holes. These tubs she suspended from the rafters and filled them with cool water from the ‘Bloody Run’ which flows nearby. The constant dripping of water on the ghastly wounds lowered his fever and saved her son’s life. She also nursed other soldiers who were wounded during the battle.

    • Karen H. N. Turner sounds like a great, resourceful lady with lots of courage. She is one of the great unsung women who helped to make America.

  23. My patriot ancestor Col. James Martin with the Guilford militia served under General Greene at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.

    • Forgot to mention my grandfathers were Michael Shoffner and son Martin Shoffner

    • Didn’t the Shofners come from Bedford County, Tennessee? I was researching an ancestor there and found a lot of Shofners. I also have a Pickle ancestor many generations back in my tree.

    • Part of the family moved to TN after the war. The ones who stayed kept the “ff” and TN change to single F. Martin’s family were ones that migrated. You can still find the Shofner Lutheran Church founded in 1805 there in Shelbyville. It needs some funding for repairs.

    • I’m afraid my Pickle(s) ancestor is way back. One of my 10th great grandmothers is Elizabeth Pickles, born 1505 in Tilson, Cheshire, England, and died 12 Dec 1587 in Midgely, Halifax, Yorkshire, England. Her parents were John Pickles (1507-1536) and Elizabeth Ryding (1511-1536). She married Thomas Tillotson/Tilson/Tilston (1535-1587).

      I recently found that Michele Leigh Shofner is a 4th cousin 1x removed to me, but it’s through her grandmother’s McIntosh line.

      Anyway, all the best.

    • I’m a Shofner who married a Pickle…funny on an old census found Pickle’s neighbor to my grandparents… Reuben Taylor Shofner

  24. Does anyone know if there was a Coggins or Toalson at Guilford or Cowpens battle

  25. Capt John Buchanan, my 4th great grandfather and part of the over My men under Campbell, was wounded and returned home to the north fork of the Holston river at Locust Grove where subsequently died from the wound.

    • My 5th great grandfather, Sgt. John Fleece, was a member of “Light Horse Harry” Lee’s light dragoons. Two days before the Battle of Guilford Courthouse he was wounded in a skirmish with Tarleton and was permanently disabled (link below).

      http://revwarapps.org/s35945.pdf

  26. My ancestor was Major George Wynn. I wonder if any of the Wynns from Hertford County, N.C. fought in the battle of Guilford. My grandmothers ancestor was 2nd Major George Little in the Newborn District and Col. Isaac Sessums and in Newborn Lt. Solomon Sessums who foulght at Moore’s Creek Bridge in Duplin.. Can I access the names of those in the battle>

  27. After serving for a year (1776-1777) with a company out of Virginia commanded by Capt. Thomas Bowyer and Col. George Matthews, Joshua Phipps, my fifth great grandfather, was discharged in Pennsylvania. He later served as lieutenant in a volunteer company that fought in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. I am unsure whether his volunteer company originated in Pennsylvania or in Virginia, his home up to the time of his first discharge.

  28. I am trying to find documents to prove that my husbands 4th Great-Grandfather was Capt. John Forbis and his brother was Colonel Arthur Forbis of the Guilford Battle. We know for sure that our ancestor Eli Forbis b. unsure d.1834 Sefton, Fayette Co., IL was either Capt. John’s son or the son of Hugh Forbis another brother of John and Arthur’s. Our other ancestors from NC are Bryan, Gailbraith, Morrison, Gardner.

  29. My 5th. Great Grandfather, John Tuck, age 46, and his son Edward Tuck 4TH. Great Grand Father age 19 fought in the Battle of Guilford Court house battle. Edward was wounded, and his Father John Tuck brought him home on a ground slide a distance of 70 miles to their home in Red Bank near virgilina, Virginia. Edwards home in virgilina Va. is still standing.

    Fred Dorman

  30. Major Thomas Harrison was my paternal grandmother Mary Virginia Harrison’s direct Harrison ancestor.

  31. My 5x great-grandfather, Exekiel Johnston, from Botetourt County and the Virginia Militia lost his life in the Battle of Guildford Courthouse. His military experience went back to 1757-1759 as a soldier in Captain Dickerson’s Company of Rangers who protected the frontier.

  32. Nathanael Greene probably was the most flexible field commander we had in the war. He developed a strategic plan that utilized both guerilla warfare and conventional warfare tactics as required, both of which he mastered with equal aplomb. We were blessed to have leaders like Washington (who rarely made the same mistake twice, but instead learned from them), Knox (who was a brilliant logistician), and Greene. Rounding out the group were other effective leaders such as Wayne, Morgan, and Light Horse Harry Lee. It’s a pity Arnold’s vanity and ego proved his downfall, otherwise he would have been included in this illustrious fraternity.

  33. Since my ancestor, Thomas Moody, was in his late seventies when he participated in the battle, I suspect he was not really a member of the military. We know that he was in the battle only because General Nathaniel Greene wrote a letter documenting his helping with the artillery fire. Also, Thomas’s son Alexander may have died in the battle. That’s not certain, but he died in his late thirties or early forties about the time of the battle.

  34. My 5th great grandfather Gatus Fox fought with the NC Militia in Butler’s Brigrade at the front center left. He enlisted at Wake County Court House in January 1781. Fought at Cowan’s Ford (February) where he witnessed the death of General Davidson. Was at the Battle at Hillsborough Court House (Sept) under Col. Lytle and captured with NC Governor Burke by Tory Col. Fannen’s force. Prisoners were marched to Wilmington, NC. Later released (Jan 1782) and rode with the mounted Rangers until 1783.

    Sadly while residing in Tennessee and at and advanced age (1843) he finally applied for a bounty-land warrant. The application was denied as no officers were living and no records available to validate his service.

    • I believe Col. Lytle was given a land grant here in middle Tennessee. There’s a Lytle cemetery stuck in the middle of a lumberyard in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It’s at the intersection of Thompson Lane and Broad Street.

  35. I do not respond to anyone who recognizes Black History month. If there is a Black History Month there should also be a White History Month. So I am unsubscribing.

    • And there we go. There’s one in every crowd. Every month is White History Month, by default. Goodbye and good riddance. This site is for people interested in history, there’s no place for those interested in only in hatred and division.

  36. Captain Thomas Ard of the Cumberland county NC militia was my 4th great grandfather. His regiment was positioned in the middle of the first line of the patriot defenses at Guilford Court House. Their regiment fought in many battles during the war. Thomas Ard lived in Bladen / Robeson county. A lieutenant Hector McNeil was listed in Captain Ard’s company at the beginning of the war. He appears to be the same Col Hector McNeil who served with the British in 1780-81 and was with Col Fanning when he captured Governor Burke at Hillsborough. Thomas Ard’s daughter Catherine, married Reverend John Ford. The Ard’s and Ford’s were the 1st settlers in the Pearl River area, Ms in 1807. The John Ford house in Sandy Hook Ms is the oldest pioneer style home in Ms, built in 1809. Thomas Ard enlisted in the Marion County, Ms militia in 1814, just prior to the Battle of New Orleans. He was 76 years old at that time. General Andrew Jackson stayed at the Ford house on 11/27/1814 on his way to New Orleans. It appears that Thomas Ard was at the battle of Guilford Court House and at the Battle of New Orleans.

  37. My 6th great grandfather was at the Battle of Guilford Court House. This was Henry Ross who served as a captain in the North Carolina Militia. He is credited with guarding prisoners at the court house after the battle. I do not know his role in the actual battle.

    Carolyn Ann Ross Courtney

  38. Not here, that I am aware, but I do have an ancestor who was involved in the Battle of Hanover Courthouse. He was a Quaker, so go figure! LOL

  39. My ancestor was a Hessian soldier with Cornwallis at Yorktown. I think he was with Cornwallis at Guilford Courthouse. His name was Johann Andreas Lutz. He was with the Ansbach Bayreuth Reg. Jaeger Co. He deserted at Yorktown and went to N.Y. He took an oath of allegiance to the state of Pa. in 1778 and was given land grant in Luzerne Co. Any more Hessians out there?

    • Yes. Have not finished my research into his military history, but we are here. When I was a little girl my friend was named Lutz. Never met another and I wonder if that is why? Blessings!

  40. Colonel John Holcomb, VA militia. Also father-in-law to Lighthorse Harry Lee.

  41. Sally Coutta Anderson

    Wondering if 3rd great-grandfather was in that battle? Joseph Denson born Edgecome N,.C,. Family from Quaker Community in Isle of Wight, VA., It is said he fought & left church for that reason. Later in TN, the War of 1812. Any information?

  42. The Ard family was in edgcombe co nc in 1738. When was your ggf born?

  43. My Fifth Grandfather George Oliver SR fought in this battle along with 3 of his sons. George Jr was my fought grandfather and one of those sons.

  44. COUSINS in the Lewis connection in the battles of Guilford Court House and Battle of King’s Mountain — John McConnel, Thos. Benge, Micajah Lewis, Capt Joel Lewis (later Col) of Surreyco, N Coarolian, James M. Lewis, John Mackay, Abraham Music, Lewish Music, COl. David Musick, Joel Musick, Hehoid Musick, Wm. Musickm David Lewis of Spartanburg, Ed Ballendger, Peter Hawkins, Thos. Rowland, Joel Terrell of Rutherford, Cap.t Robert Admas, Robert Hackett, Rickmond Terrell, Wm. Twitty, Joel Lewis of Spartenburg

    • Are you by any chance related to Bartley McGee, James McGee, Ralph McGee, or John Calvin McGee? After John Calvin they’re all back in Ireland and the spelling of the name changes a bit.

      Hannah McGee, daughter of Bartley, is my 2nd great grandmother. She was born in Jefferson County, Tennessee. I spent 50 years trying to find her family until a nice lady at the Jefferson County Historical Society found Bartley’s will that mentioned her and sent me a copy. She married Ambrose Lewis King, whose mother was Susannah Lewis daughter of Stephen Lewis of Rowan County, NC.

  45. Dr. John Taliaferro was the son of Capt. Richard Taliaferro, both fought at Guilford Court

  46. MICAJAH LEWIS ~ born 1755, Albemarle County, VA; died March 1781. He was a major in the North Carolina Militia. It was said that he was actually wounded in one of the cavalry engagements before the battle. He was scouting the enemy position for General Greene and apparently approached too close and was wounded. It is said that he died of his wounds. His brothers, Lt. James Martin Lewis, Capt. Joel Lewis, and William Terrell Lewis, may have been involved in the battle as well. They were with him at King’s Mountain, where he was also wounded. Much of the information comes from The King’s Mountain Men, by Katherine White, but she says that Micajah’s death was at Pyles Defeat in 1781, while family tradition states that Micajah was killed at Guilford Court House.

    • There was only one casualty at Pyle’s Massacre on the Continental side. It was a POW that was with the Loyalists.

    • I found Joel and William Terrell in the family of my 6th great grandfather David Lewis Sr.

  47. My Fifth Great Grandfather was John Foard that signed the Mecklenburg Declaration
    of Independence before the Revolution War started. This I didn’t know until I read about the anniversary of the signing of the document. It doesn’t say if he served or gave support to the continental army, but I would like to know.

  48. My 5th GGF Issac Runyon served with Captain Edwards’ Company in Colonel Walter Crockett’s Regiment in the Virginia Militia in North Carolina in 1781 and probably fought in the Battle of Guilford Court House. John Prestoke, in a sworn document, states that he saw Issac Runyon in Captain Edwards’ Company shortly before the Battle.

  49. I think my ancestor was in that battle. His name was John Davis of Caswell County.

  50. My fifth great grandfather David Benge, a cousin of the Lewis, Terrell, and Martin lines fought in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse and at Kings Mountain.