July 6, 1781
Hear the crack of flintlock muskets and smell the smoke from cannon fire! On this site, on July 6, 1781, 5,000 British troops under General Charles Cornwallis and Colonel Banastre Tarleton clashed with 900 American soldiers led by the Marquis de Lafayette and Brigadier General "Mad" Anthony Wayne.
Following a campaign in the Carolinas and central Virginia, Cornwallis encamped nearby. He planned to cross the James River and head toward Portsmouth in order to send reinforcements to General Clinton in New York. Cautiously pursued by Lafayette and Wayne, Cornwallis correctly assumed he was vulnerable to attack at this river crossing. He set a trap to destroy American forces.
With the bulk of his men concealed in a wooded ravine, his rear guard pickets were ordered to resist the approaching American units led by General Wayne. A single British cannon was placed in an open area as a decoy.
Deceived by faulty intelligence, Wayne moved his soldiers aggressively from headquarters at Green Spring Plantation along "the causeway," today's Greensprings Road. In 1781 it was a primitive road through swamp and woodlands. Lafayette, riding near the river to reconnoiter, observed British activity and realized an ambush was set.
Before he could notify Wayne, the Americans broke out of the woods into the open field. Wayne's soldiers raced to capture the cannon. Cornwallis began flanking maneuvers to his right in an attempt to envelop the Americans. As the main British infantry line moved forward, Wayne launched a temporary charge toward the Redcoats. When the enemy hesitated to advance, the Americans quickly withdrew north along "the causeway" while covered by rear guard reinforcements. As night fell, Cornwallis decided not to pursue the Americans.
On the following day, British soldiers crossed the James River unopposed. At least six Virginia soldiers and 22 from Pennsylvania died in the battle. Some may be buried at or near the Church on the Main. There were approximately 75 British casualties.
The Battle of Green Spring raised American morale and was one of the last Virginia land engagements prior to the British surrender at Yorktown on October 19, 1781.