On the Trail to Independence; Racing to the Dan River

In the winter of 1781, having overwhelmed the Southern Continental Army, Cornwallis was attempting to consolidate British control of the Carolinas; his ultimate goal is to bring the war north to Yorktown, Virginia.  

General Washington knew well that his Continental Army was no match for a direct confrontation with the British; at least not yet. A positive turn toward good fortune was in the making; the General received consent from Congress to appoint a replacement for what remained of the Southern Command and he turned to Nathanael Greene naming him Major General of the Southern Continental Army. 

Greene had seasoned well in previous conflicts with the Red-Coats and knew well how to fight them; today we often refer to his tactics as guerilla warfare. The Major General decided that the best way to fatigue the British was to engage them in a running (hit & run) battle simultaneously fracturing their resources by baiting the Red-Coats into chasing after two fighting units.  The Major General affected this scheme by splitting his approximately 2000-man force (including 600 Militia) into two corps; one under his command and the smaller “light corps’ of 700 men he’d assigned to the spirited Col. Otho Williams.  The Colonel’s instructions were quite simple: “…harass the enemy in their advance, check their progress….” Cornwallis took the bait; dividing his forces who gave chase to two very crafty Commanders north across the very difficult Carolina backcountry; Racing to the Dan River was on!  

Meanwhile, Greene had arranged for all available boats to be secured and concealed at Irvine’s Ferry in Halifax County, Virginia as an effective means for transporting the Continentals and leaving the British Forces, now battered and short on supplies, without boats to continue the chase; the Dan River’s waters being too deep to cross on foot.  

The success of Greene’s hit and run strategy of retreat worked exceptionally well and has long been regarding as one of the most tactically significant military maneuvers of all time. Within a week’s time Greene would lead his forces back across the Dan River and into the first, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, of a series of battles which would immortalize Major General Greene as a premier military tactician and under who’s leadership the Continental Army pressed a forced withdrawal of the British Army’s southern flank back to their quarters in Charleston South Carolina were they remained until the British vacated the City in December of 1782.   

Six weeks after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse the Major General’s forces engaged the British again in Eutaw Springs, South Carolina. This Battle, and the Americans who gave their lives, where immortalized by Philip Freneau in his poem To the Memory of Brave Americans. 

Under General Greene, in South Carolina,

                        who fell in the action of September 8, 1781

At Eutaw Springs the valiant died;

            Their limbs with dust are covered o’er–

Weep on, ye springs, your tearful tide;

            How many heroes are no more!

If in this wreck or ruin, they

            Can yet be thought to claim a tear,

O smite your gentle breast, and say

            The friends of freedom slumber here! 

Thou, who shalt trace this bloody plain,

            If goodness rules thy generous breast,

Sigh for the wasted rural reign;

            Sign for the shepherds, sunk to rest! 

Stranger, their humble graves adorn;

            You too may fall, and ask a tear;

‘Tis not the beauty of the morn

            That proves the evening shall be clear.– 

They saw their injured country’s woe;

            The flaming town, the wasted field;

Then rushed to meet the insulting foe;

            They took the spear–but left the shield. 

Led by thy conquering genius, Greene,

            The Britons they compelled to fly;

None distant viewed the fatal plain,

            None grieved, in such a cause to die– 

But, like the Parthian, famed of old,

            Who, flying, still their arrows threw,

These routed Britons, full as bold,

            Retreated, and retreating slew. 

Now rest in peace, our patriot band,

            Though far from nature’s limits thrown,

We trust they find a happier land,

           A brighter sunshine of their own.


So long as the threat persists, the fight for Freedom is Never Fully Won! 

Curtis C. Greco, Founder

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