WHS Bulldogs
Our 50th

Walter M Williams
Class of 1961

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The Crossing of the Dan (River) Memorial

In Feb 1781, American General Nathanael Greene was being chased by British General Cornwallis  from upper South Carolina to northeast North Carolina. Cornwallis had a much better trained and supplied army than Greene. Greene was headed to South Boston and Halifax Virginia to meet up with Patrick Henry, so that Henry could use his Southern Virginia excellent resources to provide more soldiers, militia, and supplies to Greene. Greene had already found the location where he wanted to turn around and fight the British...it was the old Guilford Courthouse in current day Greensboro.

Greene sent ahead his surveyor and a few troops to gather all the boats on the Dan River at South Boston on the south side of the river. Cornwallis was close on Greene's tail. The river was swollen and not fordable without boats. Greene used the boats to get his troops, horses, and wagons across the swollen river. When Cornwallis arrived at the river, he could see Greene's weakened army across the river, but could not attack Greene because Cornwallis could not cross the swollen river. The river was deep with a fast moving current. Cornwallis' muskets were ineffective across the river so Cornwallis retreated to Hillsborough, N.C. (capital of N.C. at that time) to re-supply his army. Cornwallis then headed back toward the Guilford Courthouse area looking for Greene.

One of the very impressive things about Greene's march to the Dan River, was the fact that there was snow on the ground. Greene's army had walked over 200 miles, wearing out Cornwallis and his troops who were chasing Greene and his army. It is documented that some of Greene's men had worn out their shoes and were walking barefoot in the snow, leaving bloody footprints. It's hard to believe what they did to help win our freedom and establish this country. The women and children too, sacrificed greatly, in providing food, clothing, and whatever they could, for the cause.

There were numerous skirmishes before they met in the big battle at Guilford Courthouse. One of the skirmishes was fairly large, "Pyle's Defeat", where a few hundred British Loyalist Militia farmers were killed. Pyle's Defeat occurred on Hanford Brickyard Road in Burlington near the old Highway Patrol  office where we got our driver's licenses in high school. In 1781, this was the Michael Holt Plantation. Holt was loyal to the British. As an aside, the Holt family was a founder of the mills that eventually became Burlington Mills and Burlington Industries. Two of the principal people involved in Pyle's Defeat were British Officer Banastre Tarleton (Tarleton Street behind the WHS stadium was named after him), and "Light Horse" Harry Lee, who became the father of General Robert E. Lee, head of the Confederate Army in the South.

Patrick Henry did an outstanding job of re-supplying Greene. Greene's army was strengthened and rested, and began the return to Guilford Courthouse to fight Cornwallis and the British.

Although Greene and the American Patriots eventually retreated at the end of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, it was a good tactical move. Greene's army had taken a great toll on the British (1/4 of the British were killed, or wounded and and not able to fight). Greene expected Cornwallis to follow him and continue the fight the next day. Cornwallis army was in too bad a shape to continue. He returned to Wilmington, got virtually no help from the locals there, went on to Yorktown VA to fight George Washington. There, Washington and French General LaFayette, forced Cornwallis and his troops to surrender after a 19 day battle. America had won its freedom at a terrible, but heroic, cost.

So, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse was the beginning of the end of the British in the Colonies, and The Crossing of the Dan River was a key event in the success at Guilford Courthouse.

The photos on the next page were taken in South Boston VA at the spot where Greene and his army crossed the Dan River, and Cornwallis stood on the other side of the river, could see Greene's army, and could not get to them. Greene was a brilliant leader and logistician, and in my opinion, is second only to George Washington in being the Father of our country.

I look forward to any comments from the readers of this message.
Email id: Ron Steele

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