Guilford Courthouse
Administrative History
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The rising world shall sing of us a thousand
years to Come
And tell our Children's Children the Wonders We
have Done. [1]

It is clear that one of the principal motivating factors for Americans of the Revolutionary War generation was the certain knowledge that their posterity would revere them for their sacrifices. Public and private writings of the period plainly suggest that although relatively few in number, the rebels "often felt the presence of tens of millions more and looked at their own conduct through the eyes of the unborn." [2] Revolutionary polemicist Thomas Paine gave voice to this sentiment in "The American Crisis," Number 1:

The heart that feels not now is dead: the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy.

National parks associated with Revolutionary War occurrences are among the most important means chosen by Americans of succeeding generations to preserve the memory, to "sing" of those whose sacrifices established the nation, and gave substance to the bold statements of principle contained in the Declaration of Independence. Guilford Courthouse NMP, the first Revolutionary War battlefield set aside as a national park, is important not only for the event it was established to commemorate, but also for its role in the development of the American historic preservation movement. It was the first National Military Park that was not a Civil War battlefield. It was the only National Military Park created during a period in the first quarter of the twentieth century when Congress grappled with the question of how best to preserve notable American battlefields. Unfortunately, it is likewise noteworthy as an example of the negative consequences of urban encroachment upon a historic site, and of the absolute necessity of "planning beyond park boundaries."

This administrative history was undertaken to provide a tool for park managers whereby they could understand in fairly short order how this area developed, the forces that shaped it, mistakes that have been made along the way, and the lessons that can be learned from our corporate successes and failures. Because we like to think of the National Park Service as the nation's leading conservation agency, it is altogether fitting that we preserve and learn from our own organizational history. American history supplies many examples that can inspire us. Like any other aspect of human endeavor, it also provides ample opportunities to consider the effects of human error. Fault-finding is not a particularly pleasant task, but it is necessary if we are to learn from our past. This park is much more than the sum of its enabling legislation and planning documents. As in military history, assessment of individual performance is critical to evaluation of strategy and tactics. Mistakes have been made, but they need not be repeated endlessly.


1 A song copied into the orderly book of the Second New York Regiment, quoted in Almon W. Lauber, ed., Orderly Books of the Fourth New York Regiment, 1778-1780 [and] the Second New York Regiment 1780-1783 (Albany, New York, 1932), p. 633.

2 Charles Royster, A Revolutionary People at War, the Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979), pp. 4-10.

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Last Updated: 10-Feb-2003