The Road to Yorktown via the Piedmont

On October 19, 1781, Lord Cornwallis surrendered more than 8,000 troops to a combined Franco-American force at Yorktown. The surrender came on the heels of much fighting in North Carolina. From January to March 1781, Cornwallis’s army pursued troops—including some local militia—under Daniel Morgan around the state. He continued chasing Morgan’s successor Nathanael Greene, in what became known as the “Race to the Dan.”

The campaign included several skirmishes, namely Cowan’s Ford, Bruce’s Crossroads, Clapp’s Mill and Weitzell’s Mill. It culminated in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, the largest engagement fought in North Carolina during the Revolution. Although an American defeat, Cornwallis lost more than a quarter of his army; so many men that he had to retreat to British-held Wilmington. Charles Fox, a British Parliamentarian, reportedly exclaimed upon learning of Cornwallis’s losses, “Another such victory will ruin us.”

After Guilford, as Cornwallis’s army marched for Virginia, and Greene headed into South Carolina, North Carolina became a battleground for an ongoing civil war between local Patriots and Tories. Loyalist David Fanning terrorized the region, and in September captured Governor Thomas Burke and other lawmakers in a raid on Hillsborough. Fanning left North Carolina for the relative safety of the British forces at Charleston after the surrender at Yorktown.

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