Tag Archives: Guilford Courthouse

Opportunity to help save critical battlefield ground in the Carolinas

Every visit I’ve made to Guilford Courthouse has been a little bittersweet. I’m always delighted to be there and enjoy the National Park Service’s superb interpretation, but also upset at how much of the ground around the park has been smothered by development.

That’s why this opportunity from the American Battlefield Trust comes as such good news.  It’s a chance to turn back the development clock at Guilford while also securing land at the small but significant battleground of Hanging Rock in South Carolina:

At stake are 31 acres associated with two Southern Campaign Revolutionary War battlefields, Hanging Rock in South Carolina and Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina.

At Hanging Rock, generous battlefield preservationists like you have already secured 141 acres. These 30 acres in the part of the battlefield where the initial Patriot attack began will add significantly to the land we have saved there already.

At Guilford Courthouse, the half-acre tract at stake may be small, but it’s part of a larger strategy to deal with the modern development crowding in on this battlefield from all points of the compass. Our plan is to buy up plots of battlefield land – including small ones and those with non-historic structures on them like this one – remove all non-historic structures and restore the battlefield. The Guilford Courthouse National Military Park has generously agreed to take responsibility for demolishing and removing the house on this plot, a considerable cost that we would typically need to cover.

Best of all, matching fund opportunities will allow us to buy these 31 acres for less than a fifth of their full value! That’s right, we have a $5.20-to-$1 matching opportunity to buy these $475,000-worth of Revolutionary history for just $91,250.

Click here and pitch in as much as you can.

National Park Service Digital Image Archives [Public domain]

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Historic sites and sequestration

CBS News talked to NPS Director Jon Jarvis about how sequestration will affect services and operations at the national parks:

“Running a national park is like running a small city,” Jarvis said. “We do everything from utilities to law enforcement to search and rescue to firefighting to proving public information when the visitor shows up. And when you take 5 percent out of that, you have a direct impact on all of those services.”

Looks like we’re in for closed facilities, reduced hours, cancelled programs, and less maintenance (which means uncollected trash, uncleared paths, uncut grass). And it’s not just the parks themselves that will take a hit.

As many agencies have argued, blindly cutting the parks budget, Jarvis said, has a domino effect on local economies across the country. A newly released 2011 NPS report on benefits to local communities from national park visitation shows that park visitors spent $12.95 billion in local gateway regions, meaning within roughly 60 miles of the park. Nationally, that contribution created 251,600 jobs, $9.34 billion in labor income and $16.50 in value added.

To see how the cuts might affect specific parks, check out these articles on Guilford Courthouse, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, and MLK.

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Flash forward

Here’s some harmless fun courtesy of Google Street View.

This is the first American line at Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781, as depicted by Dale Gallon:

Image from Gallon Historical Art, Inc.

Roughly same view, present day:

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Sumner burial monument at Guilford gets smashed

A driver passing through Guilford Courthouse National Military Park this past weekend reportedly swerved to avoid hitting a deer and ended up crashing into the monument marking the final resting place of Gen. Jethro Sumner, whose remains were moved to the battlefield in 1891.

The motorist also knocked over a barrier and hit two trees, all while going only 30 mph.  Was this a car or an Abrams tank?

The marker may be damaged beyond all repair, and the NPS might end up relocating Sumner’s grave to a safer location, which would, of course, require an exhumation.  So this is kind of a big deal.

Oh, by the way—today is the anniversary of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, so this happened just in time for the park’s annual commemoration this weekend.

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The third line

I used this picture of the third American line at Guilford Courthouse in a slide this week, and one of my students said, “That’s a neat picture.”  I think so, too.

The original image is from the U.S. Army Center for Military History; I got it from Wikimedia Commons.

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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

A battlefield you shouldn’t miss

My apologies to those of you who are sick of hearing me talk about the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, but I’m afraid you’ll have to indulge me a little more. 

As I said in my last post, I’m going to start offering some informal reviews of historic sites and museums that I visit.  I made Guilford the centerpiece of my trip to North Carolina this week, having been forced to cancel my plans to attend the anniversary festivities.  I’d been a couple of times before, but hadn’t been been able to devote as much time to walking the ground as I did on this visit.

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro, NC was the site of a genuinely pivotal battle of the American Revolution.  After splitting his army (part of which won an impressive victory at Cowpens in January 1781), Nathanael Greene successfully reunited his forces and evaded a determined pursuit by Lord Cornwallis across North Carolina, finally reaching safety across the Dan River in Virginia.  Greene then returned to North Carolina, his army substantially reinforced, and offered battle to Cornwallis at the small crossroads village of Guilford Courthouse on March 15.  Greene posted his men in three successive lines, militia composing the first two lines and regulars his third, with riflemen and cavalry on his flanks.  The British drove Greene from the field after prolonged and savage fighting, but at a staggering cost.  Cornwallis marched to Wilmington to refit his shattered army, and finally decided that he’d had enough of the Carolinas.  He took his bloodied force to Virginia, only to lose it at Yorktown in October.  Guilford was thus an essential step along the road to final American victory.

In many ways, Guilford isn’t your typical southern Rev War site.  King’s Mountain, Cowpens, and Ninety-Six are all in rural areas, but the city of Greensboro has GCH surrounded.  Furthermore, the woods on the preserved areas of the field are much more extensive than they were in 1781.  Throw in the fact that this was a particularly confused and sprawling battle, and you’ve got quite a challenge facing the National Park Service interpreters.  They’ve overcome these challenges admirably.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the park’s Visitor Center.  I’m not sure you can appreciate what the NPS has accomplished with its exhibit at Guilford unless you’ve actually faced the propsect of telling a complicated story using artifacts in a small space.  I’ve tried to do so, but I’ve never come close to succeeding to the degree that the designers of the Guilford exhibit have. 

The visitor center is a small building, and just a portion of it is devoted to the exhibit gallery.  Within that confined area, the NPS tells the story of the coming of the Revolution to the backcountry, the strategic situation that preceded the battle, eighteenth-century military life, the engagement itself, the aftermath, and the way the battle has been remembered.  And the exhibit conveys all this with perfect clarity, without sacrificng substance.  Managing all this within such severe space limitations is a remarkable accomplishment, and rarely have I seen it done so creatively.  For instance, when the exhibit turns to the fighting of the battle itself, you’ll step over to a large window wall above a row of panels on the militia who fought on the first line.  You’ll find that the designers have incorporated this window into the exhibit, describing the militia’s retreat across the very ground you’re seeing, with silhouettes of the fleeing soldiers positioned outside.  It’s an ingenious use of the building’s layout.  And there’s plenty of fascinating original material on display—officers’ personal belongings, common soldiers’ tools, musical instruments, and archaeological artifacts.

The visitor center also features a map program and film, both of which are extremely helpful in making sense of this complex engagement.  There’s a good selection of books in the gift shop, from overviews of the Revolution to more specialized military and regional studies.

One of the interesting things about Guilford is the fact that when efforts to preserve the field began, North Carolina intended to turn it into a kind of one-stop destination to commemorate the state’s role in the Revolution.  You’ll find monuments to Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence and markers commemorating other aspects of the state’s experience in the Revolution, in addition to the usual battlefield markers.  Interpretive signage placed by the NPS covers the issue of historical memory and myth pretty extensively, and it’s a story almost as interesting as that of the battle.

The driving tour essentially circles the periphery of the park, and many of the most interesting and important spots aren’t visible from the road.  (Check out the brochure map to see what I mean.)  It’s important to strike out on the foot paths that cross the field if you want to see everything the park has to offer.  If you want, you can leave your car at each tour stop and walk to whatever points of interest are nearby before returning to the driving tour, but I’d advise you to take advantage of the walking guide offered on the park’s website. 

Another alternative is to do the driving tour, return to the visitor center to park your car, and then walk along the New Garden Road path that extends down the length of the field.  This path follows the route of the eighteenth-century road that marked the axis of the British advance.  It’ll be easier to stay oriented to the flow of the action if you follow the general direction of the British attack along this path, strolling over to points of interest on each side as necessary.  Of course, the downside is that you’ll have to walk back to the visitor center when you’re done.  However you decide to tour the park, make sure you don’t miss the foot paths that criss-cross the heart of the battlefield.

Because I’m so fixated on the 1780-81 campaigns, I’m predisposed to love this site.  Even if I weren’t obsessed with the southern war, though, I’d still heartily recommend a visit to Guilford.  The battle itself was of critical importance, the park is beautiful, and the interpretation is exemplary.  This is one historic site you definitely shouldn’t miss.


Filed under American Revolution, Museums and Historic Sites

Guilford Courthouse study on the way, and it’s about time

One of the most critical battles of the Revolutionary War was the brutal face-off between the armies of Nathanael Greene and Lord Cornwallis at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina on March 15, 1781.  It was a pivotal engagement, a Pyrrhic victory that crippled the British army and contributed to Greene’s reconquest of South Carolina and the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.

I’ve looked long and hard for a full-length, documented account of this battle and I’ve never been able to find one.  That’s why I was thrilled to discover that a new one will be available this March, courtesy of UNC Press: Long, Obstinate, and Bloody: The Battle of Guilford Courthouse, by Lawrence Babits and Joshua Howard.  Babits is also the author of an incredibly detailed book on the Battle of Cowpens, in which he used intensive research to clear up quite a few misconceptions, providing us with a clearer understanding of that event than ever before.  I can’t wait to see what he and Howard have uncovered about one of the unduly-neglected battles of the decisive Southern Campaign.


Filed under American Revolution, Historiography