Defense in Depth as a Revolutionary War Battlefield Tactic

Part Three (click here for first two installments)

Determined to avenge his embarrassing defeat at Cowpens, Lt. Gen. Charles Lord Cornwallis set his army out in a determined pursuit of the American army. Knowing that he was too weak to face Cornwallis in a pitched battle, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, the Southern Department commander, retreated northeastward from Salisbury, North Carolina toward the Virginia state line, where he hoped that additional militia troops would reinforce his army and he would receive supplies. The British chased Greene to the Dan River, near the Virginia border, but Greene wisely put the river between his army and the enemy. Cornwallis and his weary soldiers arrived at the rain-swollen river on February 15, too late to catch Greene’s army, which had finished crossing earlier that day. Frustrated, Cornwallis withdrew to Hillsborough, North Carolina.

Lord Charles Cornwallis

After receiving both the expected supplies and reinforcements, and after an opportunity to rest his command, Greene soon marched back into North Carolina to face Cornwallis’ tired and poorly supplied army, which now numbered less than 2000 men. After several weeks of skirmishing with Loyalist militiamen and a great deal of maneuvering Greene assumed a defensive position around Guildford Courthouse (near modern Greensboro, North Carolina) on March 14, 1781. Greene had more than 4000 Continentals, militiamen and cavalry, meaning that his army outnumbered Cornwallis’ by more than twice their strength. Continue reading “Defense in Depth as a Revolutionary War Battlefield Tactic”

Looking Back to Cowpens: William J. Hardee and the Battle of Averasboro

Lieutenant General William J. Hardee.
Lieutenant General William J. Hardee.

After abandoning Fayetteville, North Carolina to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s army group, Lieutenant General William J. Hardee withdrew his corps north of the city. Hardee had ordered the Clarendon Bridge over the Cape Fear River destroyed, removing the possibility of a vigorous pursuit by the Federals. The situation for the Confederates, however, remained dire. Hardee’s immediate superior, Gen. Joseph Johnston, was in the process of assembling a makeshift army to delay Sherman’s advance. By the middle of March, the forces that Johnston hoped to consolidate were still scattered throughout the state. More time would be needed for the Confederates to rendezvous. Since Hardee’s corps was naturally positioned to contest the enemy as they left Fayetteville, it would fall to him to engage Sherman once he resumed his march. The veteran officer would prove to be more than equal to the task.

Continue reading “Looking Back to Cowpens: William J. Hardee and the Battle of Averasboro”