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under Lieutenant-Colonel McLeod. The first battalion of the guards, under Lieutenant-Colonel Norton, served as a support for the right, and the second, with one company of grenadiers under General O'Hara, for the left wing. Tarleton's dragoons were held in reserve. The British commander having made all his dispositions advanced, fired one round, and charged bayonets. Our militia having given a few shots while the enemy was at a distance were seized by a panic when they saw him coming down upon them. Many of them threw away their muskets, and the entreaties of Butler, Eaton, and Davie, with the threats of Lee, were of no avail. Almost the entire body fled. The artillery now retired to the left of the Marylanders. At this crisis the enemy considered victory as already within his grasp and continued to push on when he was attacked on his right and left by Lee and Washington. Cornwallis perceiving this threw one regiment out to engage Lee, and one regiment together with his light infantry and yagers to resist Washington, filling up the breach thus created by advancing the grenadiers with two battalions of the guards, which had formed the supports to the flanks. Lee and Washington fell back in good order, delivering their fire until they came up with the second line which gave battle in good earnest. The right flank was supported by Washington, who ordered Lynch's riflemen to fall upon the left of Webster, who had to be supported by O'Hara. Here Webster ordered the Thirty-third regiment to attack Lynch and was thereby in a measure relieved. O'Hara charged the Virginia right wing, which was obliged to yield ground.
Lee on the left nobly did his duty and firmly held his position. When the militia on the right gave way those on the left fell back and were not rallied until they came up on the left of the third line. Campbell's riflemen and Lee's legion stood perfectly firm and continued the contest against one regiment, one battalion, and a body of infantry and riflemen. The American reserve, with the artillery posted in a most favorable position, was fresh and ready for the word of command. Webster having overcome the Americans of the second line in his front advanced upon the third and was received by Gunby's Maryland regiment with a most galling fire which made his troops falter. Gunby advanced, charging bayonets, when the enemy was completely routed.
Leslie, after the left of the Virginia militia gave way, advanced to the support of O'Hara, who had forced the American right wing, and the combined commands of these generals charged the Second Maryland regiment of the third line. This regiment, panic-stricken, fed. Gunby, coming up at the time, held the enemy in check and a deadly conflict ensued. Gunby having his horse shot under him, Lieutenant-Colonel Howard assumed the command. Washington seeing how hot was the battle at this point pushed forward and charged the enemy, and Howard advancing with his bayonets levelled, the British were completely routed.
The pursuit was continued for some distance when Cornwallis came up and determined to gain the victory at any cost. He opened the fire of his artillery alike on friend and foe, causing an indiscriminate slaughter of British and Americans.
The British were rallied at all points, and Greene, considering it better to preserve the advantages he had gained, withdrew his forces. This was done in good order and Cornwallis continued the pursuit but a short distance. The loss of the Americans was about 400 in killed and wounded; that of the British about 800. The enemy retained the field, but his victory was both empty, and disastrous.
Notwithstanding Cornwallis claimed a victory he resolved to fall back on Wilmington, near the mouth of Cape Fear river, where he could recruit his troops and obtain supplies and reinforcements by sea.
Greene retreated about fifteen miles, taking post behind a small stream called Troublesome creek, where he expected and awaited an attack.
THE CAMPAIGN AT THE SOUTH CONCLUDED.
O HILE the events recorded in the last chapter were
passing Washington was by no means a passive
spectator. He held a constant correspondence with Greene and sent him all the aid he could. Writing to him on the 9th of January, 1781, he says: “It is impossible for anyone to sympathize more feelingly with you in the sufferings and distresses of the troops than I do, and nothing could aggravate my unhappiness so much as the want of ability to remedy or alleviate the calamities which they suffer and in which we participate but too largely, * * * The brilliant action of General Sumter and the stratagem of Colonel Washington * deserve great commendation. It gives me inexpressible pleasure to find that such a spirit of enterprise and intrepidity still prevails.”
Writing to Greene again (on the 21st of March, 1781), he says: “ You may be assured that your retreat before Lord Cornwallis is highly applauded by all ranks and reflects much honor on your military abilities.” Such words, from such a man, must have inspirited Greene amidst his toils and perils.
Greene, writing to Washington three days after the
* Referring to the affair at Rugely's Mills, where Colonel Washington frightened the militia colonel into a surrender by means of a pine log mounted like a cannon.
battle of Guilford Courthouse, says: “In my former letters I inclosed to your Excellency the probable strength of the British army, since which they have been constantly declining. Our force, as you will see by the returns, was respectable, and the probability of not being able to keep it long in the field, and the difficulty of subsisting men in this exhausted country, together with the great advantages which would result from the action if we were victorious, and the little injury if we were otherwise, determined me to bring on an action as soon as possible. When both parties are agreed in a matter all obstacles are soon removed. I thought the determination warranted by the soundest principles of good policy and I hope events will prove it so though we were unfortunate. I regret nothing so much as the loss of my artillery, though it was of little use to us, nor can it be in this great wilderness. However, as the enemy have it, we must also.”
“Lord Cornwallis,” he writes in the same letter, "wi!! not give up this country without being roundly beaten. I wish our force was more competent to the business. But I am in hopes, by little and little, to reduce him in time. His troops are good, well found, and fight with great obstinacy. * * *
“ Virginia has given me every support I could wish or expect since Lord Cornwallis has been in North Carolina, and nothing has contributed more to this than the prejudice of the people in favor of your Excellency which has been extended to me from the friendship you have been pleased to honor me with.”
The reader will not fail to observe the soundness of Greene's judgment as to the beneficial effect of the battle of Guilford Courthouse. It was truly a disastrous victory for Cornwallis and a fortunate defeat for Greene, whose subsequent operations we must now notice.