Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Charles Cornwallis Orderly Book, 1780-1781

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, February 2010

Summary Information
Title: Charles Cornwallis orderly book
Creator: Great Britain. Army
Inclusive dates: 1780-1781
Extent: 1 volume
The Charles Cornwallis orderly book (148 pages), contains orders from Cornwallis' moving headquarters in the southern theater of the American Revolutionary War. These document the British march across North Carolina, the aftermath of the Guilford Courthouse campaign, and Cornwallis' campaign in Virginia. The book contains lists of promotions and reports of courts martial, as well as general marching orders and information on supplies, transportation, and the sick and wounded.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Gift of the Clements Library Associates, 1977. M-1815.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Charles Cornwallis Orderly Book, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The Charles Cornwallis orderly book documents events in the southern theater of the American Revolutionary War, particularly in North Carolina and Virginia, from February 8, 1781-July 13, 1781. Many of the orders were issued by Charles Cornwallis (1738--1805), a British lieutenant-general during American Revolution. In February 1781, Cornwallis and his army were in pursuit of the American Army of the South under General Nathanael Greene. Both armies were stationed in North Carolina but avoided engagement until March 15 at the battle at Guilford Court House. Though the British won the battle, they failed to defeat Greene and suffered heavy casualties. By May 10th, Cornwallis had moved his army to Virginia, and on May 20th, he took control of the British Army in that state. Cornwallis then pursued Lafayette's army through Virginia but failed to engage them in a decisive battle. Cornwallis' army arrived in Richmond, Virginia, on June 17th and moved to Jamestown in early July. They faced the Americans on July 6th, in the Battle of Green Spring, near Jamestown, Virginia, but this too was an indecisive encounter. Cornwallis next moved to defend the British held Yorktown, where he was forced to surrender on October 19th, 1781.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Charles Cornwallis orderly book (148 pages), written by an anonymous British officer, contains orders from a moving headquarters in the southern theater of the American Revolutionary War, covering November 10, 1780 through July 13, 1781. These document the British march across North Carolina, the aftermath of the Guilford Courthouse campaign, and Cornwallis' campaign in Virginia. The book contains lists of promotions and reports of courts martial, as well as general marching orders and information on supplies, transportation, and the sick and wounded.

The orderly book's entries are not ordered strictly chronologically. The bulk of the orders are from Cornwallis' army in North Carolina and Virginia; these entries run from February 8-July 13, 1781. However, orders from New York, dating from November 10, 1780-February 8, 1781, are periodically copied out of sequence. The Box and Folder Listing provides the page numbers of the different blocks of entries.

Many of Cornwallis' orders concern disciplinary matters such as courts martial and guidelines for enforcing authority. For example, the order of May 11, 1781, states: "Lord Cornwallis has had several Complaints of Soldiers going out of camp in the night & plundering the Inhabitants of the Country. Commanding Officers of Corps are desired to use every means to prevent such Shameful Irregularities in future" (p.69). Other Cornwallis orders praise the army for bravery on the battlefield, and send news to the troops. For example, the May 8, 1781, entry states that: "Lord Cornwallis has the pleasure to inform the Army that he has the greatest Reason to believe that Lord Rawdon has gained a Signal Victory over the Rebel Army near Camden" (p.68). To celebrate, he ordered a double allowance of rum for the troops. The orders also reveal information on other important military subjects, such as the use of horses and the practice of recruiting loyalists (see the subject index). Of note are several entries on African Americans' role in the British side of the conflict.

Among other entry types, the book contains 81 marching orders. Roughly half specify the order in which participating units would be marching; the other half simply mention that battery horses and wagons were to be loaded and troops ready to march the following morning. Two directly state that the regiments would not be marching. These orders typically specify the daily parole and countersign, and the location of the army. Entries in the orderly book terminate before Cornwallis's defeat and surrender at Yorktown in October 1781.

The volume documents the promotions of 32 British regiments between 1779 and 1781. The book lists promotions by regiment (see the General Subject Index), and pages 148 to 152 contain lists of promotions by rank. The book documents the promotions of the following regiments:

  • 7th foot
  • 17th foot
  • 17th light dragoons
  • 7th regiment
  • 9th regiment
  • 16th regiment
  • 17th regiment
  • 21st regiment
  • 22nd regiment
  • 23rd regiment
  • 24th regiment
  • 33rd regiment
  • 37th regiment
  • 38th regiment
  • 42nd regiment
  • 43rd regiment
  • 44th regiment
  • 54th regiment
  • 57th regiment
  • 60th regiment/2nd battalion
  • 60th regiment/3rd battalion
  • 60th regiment/4th battalion
  • 62nd regiment
  • 63rd regiment
  • 64th regiment
  • 70th regiment
  • 71st regiment
  • 71st regiment/2nd battalion
  • 76th regiment
  • 80th regiment
  • 82nd regiment
  • 84th regiment

Subject Terms

    • Camden, Battle of, Camden, S.C., 1780.
    • Courts-martial and courts of inquiry.
    • Guilford Courthouse, Battle of, N.C., 1781.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Participation, African American.
    • Cornwallis, Charles Cornwallis, Marquis, 1738-1805.
    Genre Terms:
    • Orderly books.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Charles Cornwallis orderly book [series]
    Pages   1-42  
    Lanier's Plantation to Wilmington, North Carolina,  February 8, 1781-April 13, 1781
    Pages   43-50  
    New York,  November 10, 1780-December 7, 1780
    Pages   50-53  
    New York,  December 10, [1780]
    Pages   54-55  
    New York,  December 11, 1780
    Pages   55-81  
    Wilmington to Westover, North Carolina,  April 14, 1781-May 24, 1781
    Pages   81-103  
    New York,  March 9, 1781-April 25, 1781
    Pages   103-117  
    Westover to Goochland, Virginia,  May 27, 1781-June 14, 1781
    Pages   118-121  
    New York,  April 26, 1781-May 1, 1781
    Pages   121-127  
    Richmond to Williamsburg, Virginia,  June 20, 1781-June 28, 1781
    Pages   128-163  
    New York,  December 14, 1780-February 8, 1781
    Pages   163-170  
    Williamsburg to Suffolk, Virginia,  June 29, 1781-July 13, 1781
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Regiments and People Mentioned

    • Bose, Regiment of
    • Brown, Lieutenant (of the Pioneers)
    • Clinton, Henry
    • Dundass, Lieutenant Colonel
    • Hamilton, Lieutenant Colonel
    • Leslie, Major General [Alexander]
    • McLeod, Lieutenant
    • Munroe, James
    • North Carolina Volunteers
    • Queen's Rangers
    • Rice, Rigdon
    • Tarleton, Lieutenant Colonel [Banastre]
    • Webster, Lieutenant Colonel [James]
    • Battle of Guilford Court House
    • Broderick, Captain [Henry]
    • Dubury, Major
    • Haldane, Lieutenant
    • Howard, Brigadier General
    • Leslie, Major General [Alexander]
    • O'Hara, Brigadier General [Charles]
    • Ross, Major
    • Shelly, Captain
    • Tarleton, Lieutenant Colonel [Banastre]
    • Webster, Lieutenant Colonel [James]

    Related Materials

    A similar British orderly book appeared in four separate issues of the North Carolina Historical Review, vol. 9: January 1932 (p. 57-78); April 1932 (p. 163-186); July 1932 (p. 273-298); and October 1932 (p. 366-392), edited by Albert Ray Newsome. The published version covers August 28, 1780, through March 20, 1781. The two orderly books originated from the same general orders.

    The following collections comprise some collections at the Clements Library that pertain to the southern campaign:


    Bernhard, Winfred E. A. "Cornwallis, Charles,". American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Partial Subject Index
    African Americans.
    • 7-8, 72, 74-75, 106, 112, 120, 124-126
    Arnold, Benedict.
    • 133
    Camden, Battle of.
    • 70
    • 21-25, 70, 102-103, 127, 133, 166-167
    Courts Martial.
    • 49, 160-163
    Disorderly Behavior of Soldiers.
    • 5-6, 28-29, 32-33, 49, 69, 72, 75-78, 81, 100-101, 105-106, 109-110, 112, 113, 160, 163
    Flags of Truce.
    • 106
    Guilford Court House, Battle of.
    • 21-23, 102-103
    Horses and Cavalry.
    • 7-8, 32-33, 41-42, 74-75, 105-106, 109, 121, 124-126, 166-167
    Hospitals, Surgeons, and Wounded.
    • 25-27, 43, 56, 86-89
    Northern Army Personnel.
    • 128-129, 131-136
    Outposts, Passes, and Leaving Camp.
    • 9-10, 14, 81, 114, 116
    • 58-59
    Pay, Rations, and Supplies.
    • 40-41, 58, 86, 119, 129-130
    Plundering and Stealing.
    • 5-6, 28-29, 32-33, 69, 75-78, 100-101, 105-106, 109-110, 112
    Prisoners of War.
    • 9-10, 28
    • 51-53, 61, 81-85, 89-99, 101, 128, 136-154
    • 118
    • 47
    • 2, 40, 75-78
    • 61, 86-87
    • 155-159