Daily Archives: March 22, 2009

Piedmont history on the battlefield’s doorstep

My string of Guilford Courthouse-related posts is finally coming to a close, with this last historic site review from my jaunt over to North Carolina.  The final site in this batch is Tannenbaum Historic Park in Greensboro, managed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, which is just a stone’s throw away.

Two centuries ago, this park was part of the Joseph Hoskins farm.  Hoskins was a sort of Revolutionary War version of Wilmer McLean, the fellow who moved from the battlefield of First Bull Run only to end up hosting Lee’s surrender at his parlor in Appomattox.  In the 1770’s Hoskins lived near Valley Forge, while Washington’s army was keeping an eye on British-occupied Philadelphia.  He then migrated to the North Carolina backcountry, settling near the site of Guilford County’s small courthouse.  On March 15, 1781, Cornwallis used his farm as a staging area, forming his troops there before sending them forward against Greene’s lines, posted just across the fields.

I headed over to THP after touring the battlefield and grabbing some lunch.  My plan was to breeze through the place in half an hour or so and then rush over to hit Alamance Battleground before closing time.  Things didn’t work out that way.  I never made it to Alamance, because I didn’t know there was so much to see at Tannenbaum.  It’s nothing less than a trip through the entire early history of the Carolina Piedmont.

 The park encompasses about seven acres of the farmsite, with a few early nineteenth-century buildings typical of those found in the area.  It’s also home to the Colonial Heritage Center, a museum devoted to life in the early backcountry and the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.  The Heritage Center is a fantastic little museum, brimming over with information on the region’s early history—its settlement, politics, religion, architecture, and trade.  It’s a great overview of the backcountry and the perfect way to contextualize your visit to the battlefield.  History buffs will admire the research backing up the exhibit narrative, while parents with kids will appreciate the models and interactive elements that illustrate different aspects of backcountry life.  It’s a much more detailed and insightful examination of the Carolinas’ hilly interior during the late eighteenth century than you’ll find in most museums.

In addition to the main gallery, there’s also a separate room devoted to the battle.  The centerpiece here is a wonderful diorama, accompanied by a very effective recorded narration and electronic presentation that clearly explains the deployments and the way the battle unfolded.  Along the walls are a series of gorgeous paintings of the battle by Dale Gallon, as well as other objects that illustrate various aspects of the war.  (Click here to see Gallon’s depiction of the Hoskins farm as it appeared when used as a launching pad for the British attack.)

Unfortunately, none of the buildings that were on the property during the battle remain today.  There is, however, an 1813 house used by the Hoskins family, a restored barn, and a couple of reconstructed free-standing buildings and gardens.  It’s a rare chance to see the types of structures that were once common in the backcountry but often disappeared or were altered beyond recognition.

A lot of what you’ll see at the park is due to the dedicated efforts of the Guilford Battleground Company, which spearheaded its creation and now supports the operations both there and at the national battlefield.  I highly recommend that you visit their website and have a look at what they’ve done and are continuing to do.  They deserve both your gratitude and your support.

I recommend, too, that you make an effort to visit Tannenbaum Historic Park.  My suggestion is to give yourself a good part of the day to see both Tannenbaum and Guilford Courthouse.  Go to THP first, and plan on spending about an hour and a half there to take in all the exhibits before touring the military park.  You’ll appreciate the battlefield more when you understand something of the surrounding region and its people, a people whose history neither began nor ended when their homes became the seat of war.


Filed under American Revolution, Colonial America, Museums and Historic Sites