Halifax, North Carolina
7-11 May 1781
In Halifax the militia gathered once again to attempt to stop Cornwallis’s march north to Virginia. Tarleton did not come from the south, but instead circled the town and came in from the north. He struck the Halifax Militia while they were assembling on a bridge. The militia retreated again, but this time Tarleton lost three dragoons dead and a number of horses killed.
The militia did not disperse, but instead occupied a redoubt on the other side of the Roanoke River. Greene’s engineer, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, had built this redoubt when he suspected that Cornwallis might attack Halifax. Brigadier General Caswell had been in command of the redoubt before the battle of Guilford Courthouse.
Tarleton noticed that the redoubt was overlooked by higher ground on the Halifax side. A cannon from the British main force would easily drive them away. Tarleton sent a note to back to the main body requesting Cornwallis to send the Guards to Halifax on horseback since he only had light troops and sixty infantry to hold the ground. Cornwallis initially declined the request, but after learning of General Phillips success in capturing Petersburg he sent on a party of pioneers and a cannon.
The cannon did not drive away the militia and they continued to fire on the British, even as Cornwallis occupied the town on May 11th with his army of 1,500. Cornwallis finally sent a detachment across the river that was able to drive them off. Lieutenant Alexander Sutherland of the Engineers constructed works beyond the river, which was manned by the Guards Light Infantry.
Cornwallis’s soldiers did not treat the town kindly after the long standoff. There was so much looting of the town that Cornwallis had to court martial and execute a sergeant and a dragoon.
He sent Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton and his men forward to find Phillips in Virginia. Tarleton asked Cornwallis if the Guards Light Infantry could be mounted and accompany him forward, but Cornwallis denied his request. Shortly afterwards Cornwallis moved his force across the Roanoke River and into Virginia.
Cornwallis’s ambitious plan to cut off the northern and Southern colonies would work as long as Phillips worked in concert with him, unfortunately Phillips died of fever a few days before Cornwallis arrived.