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Revolutionary War

Save Critical Revolutionary War History at Hanging Rock and Guilford Courthouse

A message from Jim Lighthizer, American Battlefield Trust president

 

Jim Lighthizer Square
Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.

“I never saw such fighting since God made me. The Americans fought like demons.”

–General Charles Lord Cornwallis, after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse

“We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.”

–General Nathanael Greene, describing his resilient American army

April 26, 2019

Dear Friend and Fellow Preservationist,

With those eight words, Revolutionary War Major General Nathanael Greene – George Washington’s most-trusted general – tells us how he and the citizen soldiers under his command helped win our independence.

With those eight words, General Greene tells us how he ultimately defeated the British army in the “Southern Campaign,” bleeding and exhausting them to the point of surrender at Yorktown.

And with those eight words, General Greene also inspires you and me to never give up fighting to save our country’s priceless history, as it is written on its battlefields, sanctified by the blood of those who fought there, and those who lie there still in patriot graves.

“We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.” Has there ever been a clearer statement of American determination to fight on, no matter the odds? And has there ever been a better description of our struggle to save America’s hallowed ground?

That’s why today, I hope you will join me in seizing the chance to save 31 absolutely crucial acres associated with two “Southern Campaign” Revolutionary War battlefields at a $5.20-to-$1 multiplier of your generous donation dollar . . .

. . . including the first land we have ever helped to save at Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina, where Greene may have suffered a tactical defeat, but it was Cornwallis whose army was nearly destroyed!

If you will give me just the next two minutes, I will do my best to quickly update you on these exciting opportunities at Hanging Rock in South Carolina, and Guilford Courthouse, two key battles of the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War . . . the campaign that led to ultimate American victory!

That’s a bold claim, I know. Many people still think of the Southern Campaign in Georgia and the Carolinas as a minor sideshow to the better-known northern battles of Bunker Hill, Princeton, Saratoga… and then, the story goes, the British surrendered at Yorktown, and everyone went home.

But the more I have learned about the Southern Campaign, the more I understand this is a crucial part of our country’s history that many people – even people who have an excellent knowledge of American history – simply do not know.

While many of those better-known Revolutionary War battles fought in densely developed northeastern states still have important battlefield land that needs to be saved, that property is very expensive, and the acreage available to buy is often very small.

What is most exciting to me is that in the Southern Campaign, it is just the opposite; there are not only hundreds if not thousands of acres of open battlefield land that still can be saved, those acres are also much more affordable, meaning that your donation dollar will have an exponentially greater impact.

There are also some significant matching fund opportunities (that’s how we get to a $5.20-to-$1 match on the land I’m writing to you about today), and there are also some great local partner groups who are leading the way and helping us efficiently target which land to save.

Are you with me? Then let’s begin at the Battle of Hanging Rock, where you helped save 141 acres in the last few years. Located on the road between Camden, South Carolina and Charlotte, North Carolina, Hanging Rock served as one of a series of British strongholds intended to maintain their position in South Carolina.

The Americans, led by Major William Richardson Davie, first attacked the post on July 30, 1780; at the same time, General Thomas Sumter (the “Gamecock”) attacked Rocky Mount. Major Davie targeted a nearby house and successfully took 60 horses and 100 stands of arms but was unable to take the British camp at Hanging Rock.

On August 5, General Sumter, Major Davie, Colonel Robert Irwin, and 800 men marched 16 miles through the night, reaching Hanging Rock. The attack began at 6:00 a.m., when Sumter’s men crossed the creek slamming into the first of three British camps, breaking its center within half an hour.

When Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s men charged with bayonets, General Sumter’s men took cover behind rocks and trees, firing into the lines of British troops. Within a few minutes, most of the British officers were wounded or killed. After three long hours, the battle ended and the victorious Americans plundered the camp while the British watched helplessly. The roughly 30 acres we are saving today is where the first American advance against the British camp occurred, and adds significantly to the land we have saved there already. The Civil War equivalent would be to save land associated with the first shots fired at Gettysburg, or Stonewall Jackson’s Flank Attack at Chancellorsville.

At Guilford Courthouse, the tract I need to tell you about today is a small one, at about a half-an-acre, with a modern house on it. But it is part of a much larger strategy.

As you can see from your battle map, this battlefield has modern development crowding in from all points of the compass. This half-acre is part of a long-term plan to buy up small plots of battlefield land, many with older non-historic houses on them, remove the structures, and restore the battlefield.

Usually, we have to buy the land and also pay to have the modern structures demolished and removed. This time, however, the great news is that the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park has the funds not only to reimburse us for our cost to acquire the land, they will also be responsible for taking down the house!

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse was fought on March 15, 1781. After a stinging defeat at Cowpens, South Carolina, in mid-January of that year, where his 3,300-man army was reduced to 2,550, Cornwallis spent two months driving his men in pursuit of Greene’s army.

Marching hundreds of miles over wretched roads in often horrible weather, Cornwallis and his notorious cavalry commander Banastre Tarleton, pursued Greene, but could never catch him. Greene, whose main objective was to keep his army in the field and avoid a disaster, finally turned to face Cornwallis at Guilford Courthouse.

The Americans deployed 4,400 soldiers into three lines, much as they had at Cowpens. By this time, Cornwallis’ army had been reduced even further to about 1,900 British Regulars, but he remained confident that the raw American militia were no match for his professional soldiers.

On March 15th, after marching for 12 miles with no breakfast, the Redcoats, says author W.J. Wood, “wheeled smartly into long scarlet lines. Polished musket barrels glittered in the noonday sun, while the roll of the drums and the keening of the fifes were carried to the Americans in the clear March air.”

At 1:30 p.m., the British stepped off, beginning one of the biggest battles of the Southern Campaign and one of the bloodiest battles fought during the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately for Cornwallis, most of the blood spilled at Guilford Courthouse was British.

While the Regulars succeeded in driving back the three successive American defensive lines, the cost was terribly high. Greene retired from the field with 78 killed and 183 wounded, as opposed to Cornwallis’ total of more than 500 killed and wounded – about 27 percent of his army – including many key officers. Another such “victory” would have utterly destroyed Cornwallis’ army. Retreating to Wilmington to rest and refit, he advocated for abandoning the Carolinas completely, turning his focus on Virginia, a decision which he would regret seven months later at Yorktown!

The Marquis de Lafayette said, “in the very name of Greene are remembered all the virtues and talents which illustrate the patriot, the statesman, and the military leader.” Yet, even after all this acclaim, he died in Georgia in 1786, still suffering from the severe financial difficulties incurred during his long service to our country, just one month shy of his 44th birthday.

By saving these 31 acres today, at two major battlefields of the Southern Campaign, you and I have the chance to preserve this land forever and expand the story of this crucial theater in the fight for our independence.

Remember Greene’s words: “We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.” But I also ask you to remember Cornwallis’ words following his mauling “victory” at Guilford Courthouse: “The Americans fought like demons.”

Today, I need you to “fight like a demon” to help save these two battlefields . . . 31 acres with a transaction value of $475,000 . . . and to help preserve the legacy of heroes like Nathanael Greene. With the matching funds we either have in place or anticipate receiving, we believe we have all but $91,250 of that amount already covered! That’s a $5.20-to-$1 match of every dollar you can send to help today.

Hopefully, you are now on your way to becoming an expert on the Southern Campaign, and you are ready to join in the fight to save this essential, unknown part of our history.

Every $1 you give turns into $5.20 to save an enormously important part of our history that few people know about. Not only are you saving history, but you are making history at the same time.

That’s why I ask you to please consider sending the most generous contribution you can to help the Revolutionary War Trust raise our portion of the match, $91,250. I know this is a lot of money, but remember that every $1 you give to this effort is multiplied into nearly $5.20 – an unbeatable return on your charitable “investment.”

Any amount that you can send today will help tremendously, and will be greatly, greatly appreciated. I can never thank you enough for your heroic support for this historic effort.

Yours, 'til the battle is won,

Jim Lighthizer Signature

Jim Lighthizer
President

P.S. In a letter written after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, Nathanael Greene said, “The Enemy got the ground the other Day, but we the victory. They had the splendor, we the advantage.” In the preservation business, it sometimes seems like developers and others have all the advantages, and sometimes, temporarily, it looks like they are winning. But if we stick to our guns, and always fight together, I know we will eventually win, and save our country’s history.

Please help preserve these crucial parts of our national story with your most generous contribution today. For more information, and to donate immediately, please visit our special web page dedicated specifically to this campaign at www.battlefields.org/2019Carolinas. Thank you for all you do!