E-mail From Groggydice

Webmaster's Note:  The following e-mail is from Groggydice@aol.com and is published with his permission.  It provides an excellent argument that the park service's new location for the third line is correct.  Those with an interest in the topic should find this interesting.

I've been looking at what's online about the battle of Guilford

Courthouse, and while I'm not the Park Service, I may be able

to give you some idea why they've changed their mind about the

third line. Basically, the "new" location puts the third line

back where the contemporary British map said it was. Perhaps you

are already familiar with it, but you didn't have a link to it.

Right after the battle, a British field engineer drew up a map

of the battle. I ran across this "Cornwallis map" on the web,

but when I tried to look up its URL for this e-mail, I couldn't

find it. Fortunately, a very exacting reproduction, the "Tarleton

map," is also online (remember to click for the larger map):


This map was drafted for Tarleton's memoirs from the Cornwallis

map, and I am impressed by its fidelity considering that this

was the pre-xerox era. The Tarleton map was cribbed in turn by

subsequent authors, apparently including "Light Horse" Lee and

Lossing. The 1961 Park Handbook has this caption:

[See Tarleton Map: This plan of battle, engraved for Henry Lee's

Memoirs of the War, is a copy of the so-called Tarleton Map, which

was published in London in 1787. It is not wholly accurate, and

the north point should be rotated 50 degrees to the left for

proper orientation.]


(Other sites also have the main text of the handbook, but not this


Compare that to question 4 on the prior link:

4. The details and scale of the battlefield are quite accurate,

but the north point should be rotated 50 degrees to the left

for proper orientation... Why might such a basic error occur on

an otherwise accurate map?

So the Park Service's assessment of the map has gone from "not

wholly accurate" to "quite accurate." It seems the "not wholly

accurate" map has proven to be more accurate than their own maps.

You can compare the various maps for yourself, but I noticed,

before I knew of the dispute, that while I could match up bends

in the New Garden road between the Cornwallis map and the NPS

map, it was a lot harder to reconcile the positions of the third

line and British artillery. (This actually may not be quite as

clear with the Tarleton map, which seems to subtly flatten out

the great southward crook in the road, despite the painstaking

care taken to reproduce the Cornwallis map.) The NPS position

for the Royal Artillery is in the woods on the Cornwallis map,

and I thought the British must have dragged their cannons through

the woods to that position, until I read that the hill on which

they took position was at the edge of the woods. Learning that

the NPS had changed its stance made everything fit.

You wondered what evidence supported their new views, but that

can be turned around to ask what was the basis for their former

views. On a Consimworld discussion board, someone said that on

a visit to the park, a ranger told him that "the original guess

at the position was based on finding a British officer's sword

there, but now the thinking is it was moved." (The Handbook

mentioned the discovery of the sword of Stuart of the Guards in

1866, which I suspect may be the sword being talked about, though

this is supposition on my part. He is supposed to have been felled

at the third line, and 1866 is late enough that there would be

few if any veterans left to tell historians where the third line

really was.) So, the basis for the previous interpretation seems

to rest on ONE SWORD.

That Consimworld post was in relation to a wargame GMT Games

is working on about Guilford Courthouse that supposedly will

incorporate the latest research. One particular item the

designer is touting is a "new road," also supposedly confirmed

by the Park Service, that Cornwallis could have used as an

alternate route to Guilford Courthouse. On this point, I am the

skeptic wanting to see the evidence, since I can't discern any

sign in Greene's deployments that he was concerned about another

road, nor any sign that Cornwallis gave any thought to taking a

different road. I have left a post laying out some of my thoughts

and concerns about this project, but so far there has been no

response. I don't know if your interest in military history

extends to wargaming, but to follow the discussion about this

project, go to talk.consimworld.com, and on to Boardgaming>

Individual Game or Series Discussion>Era: Gunpowder (Other)>

American Revolutionary War series (GMT). (The post about the

officer's sword is #557.) Also, there is GMT's page:


I personally am convinced of the restored location of the third

line. You have a map drawn by someone at the scene, right after

the battle. At least two of the commanders present implicitly

endorsed the map by copying it for their memoirs. Its accuracy

in depicting the road net suggests that it is reliable. Also, I

followed your link to the topographical map, and I thought I

could fit its contours to what I saw on the British map, further

reinforcing my faith in it. Against this, you have a single

sword, leading historians decades later to decide they knew

better than the battle's contemporaries where the third line


As for what may have prompted the Park Service to reconsider at

this particular time, I don't know. There is an abstract for a

"new geologic survey" of Guilford Courthouse that comments that

"alternate placement of one of the American lines was given more

credence by this study," but without the paper or the map, I

can't even be sure they are talking about the third line:


Beyond that, I can only speculate. One possibility is the "Babits

factor." First, he wrote a well-received book on Cowpens which

argued that Morgan undercounted his force and that Tarleton's

estimate that he was outnumbered 2-1, long regarded as self-serving,

was accurate; this could have lent more credence to his memoirs

as a source. Second, Babits gave thought to following up with a

book on Guilford Courthouse, and perhaps his research has convinced

the NPS. Also, there may be more appreciation of the British maps.

I saw a program for "Partisans and Redcoats," a book on the war

in the Carolinas, and one of the participants commented on how

these maps are helping historians to better understand these

battles even today.

On the other matters you raised, I can offer little. Your page

was the first mention I'd seen of the 5th Maryland being at

Guilford. A search did turn up some other references, including

this bibliographic entry for an article which should deal with

just this question:

Babits, L. E. "The 'Fifth' Maryland at Guilford Courthouse: An

Exercise in Historical Accuracy." Maryland Historical Magazine,

84 (Winter 1989), pp. 370-378.


Unfortunately, I don't know what the article says. But the accounts

I've been reading seem to speak of the 2nd Maryland.

As for William Washington charging from the right instead of the

left, again you are the first to inform me of this. Admittedly it

is strange that Washington would go from being on the right flank

to taking up a position on the left. I went back and checked the

accounts in the West Point sourcebook, and none explicitly say

which flank he was on. "Light Horse Harry," for instance, says

that Washington had "placed himself upon the flank of the

continentals, agreeably to the order of battle." The last part

could be interpreted to mean that he kept a position on the

right, but it could also be interpreted to mean that his move

was smoothly carried out, or proved to be fortuitous. He tells

of how "Washington fell upon [Stuart] sword in hand, followed

by Howard with fixed bayonets..." Nathanael Greene wrote that

"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..." Tarleton speaks of "the Maryland brigade, followed

by Washington's cavalry" attacking the Guards. Again, "follow"

could be interpreted as meaning only that one unit's attack

came before the other, but it might mean that one unit was behind

the other, which would suggest that Washington was on the right.

None of these versions refers to a pincer or envelopment, as

one would expect if the Guards were being hit from two sides.


This raises the question, if Washington was really on the right,

how did the idea get started that he was on the left? I don't

know, but popular accounts have Washington leaping across the

road and jumping over the ditch to charge into the Guards. If

you have a forward position for the third line, the only road

is the New Garden road and Washington must be coming from the

left. Further back, and the "road" could be the Reedy Fork road.

That's the only thing I can think of.

I decided not to attach a copy of the Cornwallis map, as it is

175KB and the Tarleton map reproduces it well, and for all I

know you have already seen it. Hopefully, a reply will come in

from the Park Service and you will have definitive answers.


Henri Navarre himself is confident of ultimate victory, and he has

communicated this to many of those who are counting on him. Said one

of them last week: "A year ago none of us could see victory. There

wasn't a prayer. Now we can see it clearly- like light at the end of

the tunnel."

--Time Magazine, September 28, 1953

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