Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park (Blog Hike #339)

Trail: Battlefield Tour
Hike Location: Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
Geographic Location: north side of GreensboroNC (36.13077, -79.84634)
Length: 1.8 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: February 2011
Overview: A lollipop loop on gravel and asphalt trail through a Revolutionary War battlefield.
Battlefield Information: http://www.nps.gov/guco/index.htm
Hike Route Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=96852
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Greensboro, take US 220 north 6 miles to New Garden Road.  A brown park sign marks this intersection.  Turn right on New Garden Rd. and drive 0.3 miles to the park entrance on the right.  Park in the small paved parking lot in front of the Visitor Center.

The hike: Today Guilford Courthouse lies well within noisy, congested metropolitan Greensboro, but in 1781 Guilford Courthouse was a small settlement on the western fringe of the American frontier.  The American Revolution was then in its fifth year, and both American and British attention had turned to the south because the two sides had fought to a stalemate in the north.
            The British, commanded by Charles Earl Cornwallis, had achieved significant success in the south, controlling most of Georgia and South Carolina.  Realizing the importance of the south, in the fall of 1780 George Washington handpicked Nathanael Greene, a Rhode Island Quaker, to take over the American effort in the south.  For several months Cornwallis and Greene played a game of cat and mouse across the southern American frontier as an outnumbered and outgunned Greene skillfully eluded his counterpart.
            On March 14, 1781, Greene received new reinforcements, and he was finally ready to make a stand against Cornwallis at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina.  The next day, Cornwallis attacked.  Greene’s defense was organized into three lines, the first two of which succumbed to the well-trained British quickly.  The third line, bolstered by cavalry units, fared better, but it too became outflanked.
            After about 2 hours of fighting, Greene was forced to retreat.  Although he lost the ground and therefore officially the battle, the practical outcome was not so bad for Greene.  Cornwallis’ victory had come at such a high price that he lacked the manpower to pursue and destroy Greene’s army.  Instead, running low on men and supplies, a few days after the battle Cornwallis was forced to retreat to British strongholds along the Carolina coast.  The British losses sustained were so bad that, seven months and several defeats later, Cornwallis would be forced to surrender at YorktownVirginia.
            In 1887, the Guilford Battle Ground Company began efforts to preserve the battlefield, and today’s national park represents the culmination of those efforts.  A small Visitor Center contains some interesting exhibits and a film about the battle, and a 2.5 mile tour road allows visitors to see the battlefield by car or by bike.  Unfortunately, few of the battlefield monuments are visible from the road, so anyone choosing to tour the battlefield by car will have to park at each stop to see anything.  This stopping and starting can be avoided by choosing to tour the battlefield on foot via the 1.8 mile hike described here.
Asphalt Trail leaving Visitor Center
            After walking out the front door of the Visitor Center, turn right and walk along the asphalt trail leading north away from the Visitor Center.  You quickly come to gravel Historic New Garden Road, an old extension of the road you drove in on.  The gravel portion, now closed to vehicle traffic, serves as the main artery through the center of the battlefield.
            Turn right on the historic road and pass several monuments on the right.  As you walk east along the gravel road, you are walking in the direction the British advanced.  Carefully cross paved (and high traffic) Old Battleground Rd. to reach the main area of the park.  Immediately in front of you and towering to your right is the Greene Monument, a tribute to the American leader Nathanael Greene.  The grand Greene Monument is the largest and oldest monument in the park, so take some time to appreciate it.  Behind the Greene Monument is the Signers’ Monument, a smaller stature dedicated to the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Greene Monument
            After you have viewed the Greene Monument, turn left, leave the gravel road, and walk to the Schenck Monument, a small pillar erected to honor David Schenck, a visionary behind this park’s development.  The Schenck Monument sits across the tour road, but our hike turns right and heads into the woods on an asphalt trail.  Although the trail is paved, this segment represents some of the best hiking in the park.  The trail heads over gentle hills covered with mature beech-maple forest.  Some nice, wide wood-steel bridges take you over some of the park’s larger streams.  Except for the hard, ugly pavement, hiking does not get any better than this.
Nice bridge on paved trail
            The trail passes the Regulars’ Monument, a spike honoring British soldiers, then heads downhill to arrive at two more intersections with other paved trails.  Turn left in each case to continue heading east.  After dipping through a steep ravine, you reach the American Third Line, Greene’s last line of defense.  This line contained Greene’s best soldiers, and this line is where Cornwallis took most of the British casualties.  Some interpretive signs describe this area’s events.
            The paved trail continues a short distance past the Third Line to reach the tour road, but there are no further points of interest along this trail.  Thus, this hike turns around here and heads back through the ravine.  Where the trail you entered on exits uphill to the right, stay left to explore the southern part of the battlefield.  Climb gradually out of the ravine, cross gravel Historic New Garden Road, and continue climbing to reach the Cavalry Monument (a stone pillar) at stop 5 of the Tour Road.  This monument is one of the highest points in the park, and a bench provides a nice view down the clearing to the northwest.
Historic New Garden Road
Cavalry Monument
            Continue on the paved trail as it makes a sweeping right turn past the Cavalry Monument and starts descending.  Upon reaching the Historic New Garden Road again, turn left to walk gradually uphill along the road.  Now walking west through the heart of the battlefield, you pass the Maryland, Delaware, and Caldwell Monuments in quick fashion.  At 1.5 miles, you arrive back at the Greene Monument to close the loop portion of this hike.  Retrace your steps back across Old Battleground Rd. to the Visitor Center to complete your journey through Guilford Courthouse Battlefield.

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