Lesson Plan

Guilford Courthouse: A Pivotal Battle in the War for Independence

General Greene Monument

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.1, 6-8.RH.2, 6-8.RH.3, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.5, 6-8.RH.6, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.8, 6-8.RH.9, 6-8.RH.10, 9-10.RH.1, 9-10.RH.2, 9-10.RH.3, 9-10.RH.4, 9-10.RH.5, 9-10.RH.6, 9-10.RH.7, 9-10.RH.8, 9-10.RH.9, 9-10.RH.10, 11-12.RH.1, 11-12.RH.2, 11-12.RH.3, 11-12.RH.4, 11-12.RH.5, 11-12.RH.6, 11-12.RH.7, 11-12.RH.8, 11-12.RH.9, 11-12.RH.10
Additional Standards:
US History Era 3 Standard 1C: The student understands the factors affecting the course of the war and contributing to the American victory.
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies from the National Council for the Social Studies.
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

Why do we preserve battle sites?


1. To analyze conflicting written evidence and make reasoned judgments of the essential facts about the Battle of Guilford Courthouse;
2. To analyze statistical data to draw conclusions about the outcome of the battle;
3. To assess the aftermath of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse and explain its effect on the outcome of the Revolutionary War;
4. To examine their own community for monuments erected to commemorate wars.


The morning of March 15, 1781, was clear and cold. A light frost had disappeared under the first rays of the sun, but the ground underfoot was soft and spongy from long winter rains and snows. In the damp woods of what had been an isolated farming community in the Piedmont on a major east-west road through North Carolina, some 4,400 American troops, in various uniforms and country clothes, waited for battle.

This backwoods county seat of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, was the site of a pivotal battle in the Revolutionary War’s decisive Southern Campaign. The engagement set the stage for the region’s liberation from enemy occupation and impelled British general Lord Charles Cornwallis to take the ill-fated road that led him to final defeat at Yorktown, Virginia, seven months later.

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, the nation’s first national park established at a Revolutionary War site, preserves the 220-acre heart of the 1781 battlefield. Among the 28 monuments raised on the battlefield is a memorial containing the graves of two of North Carolina’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, William Hooper and John Penn. Although Guilford Courthouse is 600 miles south of Philadelphia and Independence Hall, it is appropriate that this monument stands at the site of one of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War. It was the sacrifices of American patriots on this and scores of other battlefields that gave substance to the bold statements of principle contained in the Declaration of Independence.

Lesson Hook/Preview

The Revolutionary War began at Lexington, Massachusetts in April 1775. For the next three years most of the heaviest fighting occurred in the northern colonies. This situation was altered when, in the aftermath of a surprising American victory at Saratoga, New York, France became America’s first significant ally. Knowing that French aid would make it more difficult to defeat the Americans, the British changed their strategy.

Beginning in 1778, the British stopped actively pursuing their Northern Campaign and directed most of their efforts toward subjugating the southern colonies. In large measure, this decision was based on the mistaken belief that most Southerners were loyalists who would actively help the redcoats. Although this assumption proved false, the British did win many significant victories before fortune turned against them. They took the two greatest seaports in the South, Savannah and Charleston, and also destroyed two American armies.

American fortunes began to improve in late 1780 when Gen. George Washington sent his best subordinate, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island, to take command in the South. Knowing that the resistance in the South would collapse if he could destroy Greene’s army, the British commanding general, Lord Charles Cornwallis, struggled to bring on a climactic battle. General Greene, equally determined to avoid a battle until his army had reached its peak strength, temporarily gave up great areas to British occupation to buy time. Finally, Greene decided that his army, consisting of 4,400 troops, was ready to confront Lord Cornwallis and his 1,900 redcoats. The place chosen for this engagement was Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, and the date was March 15, 1781.

In the months that followed, the results of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse became clear. Serious losses of manpower left the British too weak to occupy even outposts in North Carolina. Further, they were unable to pursue the defeated, but essentially intact, army of Nathanael Greene. Instead, after burying their dead and collecting the wounded, they marched away on March 18 toward the British outpost at Wilmington, North Carolina, where they hoped to find provisions shipped to them from Charleston. While at Wilmington, Lord Cornwallis made the fatal decision to lead his army into Virginia, where seven months later he would meet final defeat at Yorktown. Meanwhile, the "defeated" Americans at Guilford Courthouse marched south and fought battles that liberated South Carolina and Georgia from British control.


Getting Started Prompt
Map: Orients the students and encourages them to think about how place affects culture and society
Readings: Primary and secondary source readings provide content and spark critical analysis.
Visual Evidence: Students critique and analyze visual evidence to tackle questions and support their own theories about the subject.
Optional post-lesson activities: If time allows, these will deepen your students' engagement with the topics and themes introduced in the lesson, and to help them develop essential skills.

Additional Resources

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park is a unit of the National Park System. The park's web page details the history of the park and visitation information.

National Park Service: American Revolution Web Page
The National Park Service maintains its own American Revolution website, which provides a listing of the Park units with connections to the Revolutionary War and colonial America, information on special activities in the Parks celebrating the 225th anniversary of the war, and a timeline of events in the pivotal year of the American Revolution, 1775.

NPS Southeastern Archeology Center
The National Park Service's Southeastern Archeology Center Web page provides an excellent narrative on the Revolutionary War and the significance of the southern campaign. Scroll down to "The American Revolution: the War in the South." Also produced by the Southeastern Archeology Center, the "Southern Campaign of the American Revolution" provides further information on British strategy and generals involved in the campaign.

National Park Service - Museum Management Program
American Revolutionary War is a multi-park online exhibit showcasing museum and archival collections at selected National Park Service sites. Featured sites (Valley ForgeGuilford CourthouseMorristown, and Independence National Park) and collections commemorate significant events and individuals of the American Revolutionary War [1775-1783]. The Museum Management Program also has a lesson plan focused on Valley Forge, Guilford Courthouse, Morristown, and Independence National Park entitled American Revolution, a Revolution of Possibilities: Politics, Economy, and Society.

State Library of North Carolina
Visit the State Library of North Carolina website to discover a wealth of information on the historical background of the battle of Guilford Courthouse, the establishment of the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, and other battles of the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War.

Library of Congress
For a variety of resources on the American Revolution, Nathanael Greene, and Guilford Courthouse, search the digital collections at the Library of Congress.

The Papers of Nathanael Greene
There are many publications, some digital, of Nathanael Greene's papers. Greene is considered to be the best strategist of the American Revolution and one of the greatest military minds the United States has ever produced. The Greene Papers Project has been in existence since 1971, and is publishing the nearly 10,000 letters and orders written by and to Nathanael Greene. Read about the man and his military career or search through his letters, which include military orders, petitions, court martials, and general military business, as well as personal correspondence.

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Last updated: October 12, 2018