Greensboro N.C. is home to battle that helped turn tide for American independence


By Brent Laurenz
 Most North Carolinians probably aren't aware that a key battle helping decide the fate of American independence was fought on Tar Heel soil.

The battles and battlefields of the American Civil War tend to dominate our history and imaginations here in the South, but it's important to remember North Carolina's revolutionary past as well.

This month marks the 233rd anniversary of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in Greensboro. That Revolutionary War engagement played a pivotal role in turning the tide for the American army in the South, and in our ultimate victory over the British.

The fight in Greensboro was not a clash of huge armies. According to the National Park Service, which preserves and interprets the battlefield in Guilford County, the Americans led by Major General Nathanael Greene were only 4,500 strong. And the British commanded by Lord Charles Cornwallis were less than 2,000. 

Despite being outnumbered more than two-to-one, the battle would end in a tactical victory for the British. However, while the Americans were forced to withdraw when the dust cleared, the fierce fighting took a devastatingly heavy toll on British forces. Cornwallis lost more than a quarter of his army during the two and a half hours of battle, while Greene was able to retain the strength of his forces as he withdrew from the field.

Ultimately, Cornwallis would shift his army from North Carolina to Virginia after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse and end up surrendering to General George Washington at Yorktown just seven months later.

The battle is a remarkably important piece of American history. And coupled with the Mecklenburg Declaration, which some consider the first declaration of independence from Britain, it highlights just a portion of the important role North Carolina played in the founding of our country. To this day, the date of the Mecklenburg Declaration -- May 20, 1775 -- is on our state flag.

North Carolina is full of important, and fascinating, history and historical sites, some more prominent than others.

For example, if you head east on Interstate 40 from the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, you will come to Bennett Place in Durham.

Managed by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, Bennett Place was the site of the largest troop surrender of the Civil War. It happened in April 1865 when Confederate General Joseph Johnston finally surrendered his forces to Union General William Sherman, more than two weeks after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

From the birthplaces of presidents to the first airplane flight, the Tar Heel state has a rich, diverse history that all North Carolinians should experience and appreciate. A shared understanding of our past is vital to a collective effort to move our state forward in a direction that serves the best interest of all citizens.


(Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education and a contributor to He can be contacted at

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