The Battle of New Garden Meetinghouse
March 15, 1781 at New Garden Meeting House, Guilford County, North Carolina
Facts about the Battle of New Garden Meetinghouse
- Armies - American Forces was commanded by Lt. Col. Henry Lee and consisted of about 1,077 Soldiers. British Forces was commanded by Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton and consisted of about 1,232 Soldiers.
- Casualties - American casualties were about 17 killed/wounded. British casualties were about 31 killed/wounded.
- Outcome - The result of the battle was an American victory. The battle was part of the Southern Theater 1775-82.
On March 15, sometime after 2:00 AM, Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis sent off his baggage under the escort of Lieutenant Colonel John Hamilton’s Royal North Carolina Regiment, 20 dragoons, and probably Bryan’s North Carolina Volunteers as well, to Bell’s Mill and marched with his army to attack Major General Nathanael Greene at Guilford Court House.
About 9:00 AM, and probably around six or seven miles down the road from the New Garden Meeting House, some cavalry of his advanced troops, under Tarleton, were ambushed by a party of Lee’s cavalry scouting their movements. The British were forced to retreat. “The whole of the enemy's section was dismounted,” says Lee, “and many of the some of the dragoons killed, the rest made prisoners: not a single American soldier or horse injured.” Tarleton then took a separate route forward, and Lee, with his infantry and Campbell’s riflemen, as well as his cavalry, moved to cut him off where it was expected Tarleton would next appear.
A short time after, an animated and lively encounter took place at this location (probably 10 am) between Lee’s force and Tarleton’s made up of his Legion cavalry, the Hessian Jägers, and the Guards Light Infantry. Both sides acquitted themselves admirably, but Lee fell back when he saw the Cornwallis’ column with the Guards approaching.
The American loss was not inconsiderable and fell heavily among Campbell’s Augusta and Rockbridge County riflemen, and who became much dispersed as well. Tarleton admits of at least 20 to 30 killed and wounded. It was in this action that Tarleton lost two fingers due to rifle or musket fire.
Tarleton: “The British had proceeded seven miles on the great Salisbury road to Guildford, when the light troops drove in a picket of the enemy. A sharp conflict ensued between the advanced parties of the two armies. In the onset, the fire of the Americans was heavy, and the charge of their cavalry was spirited: Notwithstanding their numbers and opposition, the gallantry of the light infantry of the guards, assisted by the legion, made impression upon their center, before the 23d regiment arrived to give support to the advanced troops.
Colonel Lee's dragoons retreated with precipitation along the main road, and Colonel Campbell's mountaineers were dispersed with considerable loss. The pursuit was not pushed very far, as there were many proofs beside the acknowledgment of the prisoners, that General Greene was at hand. Captain Goodrick of the guards, a promising young officer, fell in this contest, and between twenty and thirty of the guards, dragoons, and yagers, were killed and wounded. The King's troops moved on till they arrived in sight of the American army. An engagement was now become inevitable, and both sides prepared for it with tranquillity and order.”
Lee: “Tarleton retired with celerity; and getting out of the lane, took an obscure way leading directly across the Salisbury road towards the British camp- while Lee, well acquainted with the country, followed the common route by the quaker meeting-house, with a view to sever the British lieutenant colonel from his army, by holding him well upon his left, and with the determination to gain his front, and then to press directly upon him with his condensed force; and thus place his horse between Tarleton and Cornwallis, presumed to be some distance behind; By endeavoring to take the whole detachment, he permitted the whole to escape; whereas, had he continued to press on the rear, he must have taken many.
As Lee, with his column in full speed, got up to the meeting house, the British guards had just reached it; and displaying in a moment, gave the American cavalry a close and general tire. The sun had just risen above the trees, and shining bright, the refulgence from the British muskets, as the soldiers presented, frightened Lee's horse so as to compel him to throw himself off. Instantly remounting another, he ordered a retreat. This maneuver was speedily executed; and while the cavalry were retiring, the legion infantry came running up with trailed arms, and opened a well aimed fire upon the guards, which was followed in a few minutes by a volley from the riflemen under colonel Campbell, who had taken post on the left of the infantry.
The action became very sharp, and was bravely maintained on both sides. The cavalry having formed again in column, and Lee being convinced, from the appearance of the guards, that Cornwallis was not far in the rear, drew of this infantry; and covering them from any attempt of the British horse, retired towards the American army. General Greene, being immediately advised of what had passed, prepared for battle…”