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Military History Phrase of the Day: A Pyrrhic Victory

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I ran across the phrase “A Pyrrhic Victory” this evening in reference to the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (teachers, see great lesson plan on this battle here) where Nathaniel Greene and Lt. General Charles, Earl Cornwallis clashed in one of the most important battles of the American Revolution.

Charles, Earl Cornwallis (pictured below, see bio here)

Cornwallis

Nathaniel Greene (pictured below, see bio here)

Charles Willson Peale painted a portrait of General Greene from life in 1783, which was then copied several times by C.W. Peale and his son, Rembrandt Peale.

“The armies met at Guilford Courthouse in a furious battle in which the British won a Pyrrhic victory. Cornwallis’s losses were so severe that he moved to Wilmington to recuperate and be resupplied by sea.”[i]

According to the good folks at dictionary.com,

Pyrrhic victory\PIR-ik\, noun:
A victory achieved at great or excessive cost; a ruinous victory.

A Pyrrhic victory is so called after the Greek king Pyrrhus, who, after suffering heavy losses in defeating the Romans in 279 B.C., said to those sent to congratulate him, “Another such victory over the Romans and we are undone.” [ii]

Pyrrhus of Epirus.

Pyrrhus of Epirus

I am quite sure that a number of hard fought American Civil War battles had Pyrrhic victories.

[Note that the papers of Nathaniel Greene are available here.]

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[i] Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 76.
[ii] Pyrrhus defined. http://dictionary.reference.com/wordoftheday/archive/2003/07/16.html
Photo source for Pyrrhus, Cornwallis, and Nathaniel Greene: Wikicommons, public domain.

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