A re-evaluation in the light of The Cornwallis Papers
Works about the Revolutionary War are littered with references to troop numbers, whether to rank and file or not, and betray some confusion between the two. On analysing British and British American regimental returns I discovered that the proportion of officers, staff, non-commissioned officers and drummers was consistently 17.5% of all ranks. I apply this factor to rank and file returns in order to calculate Tarleton’s total force at the Battle of Cowpens, Cornwallis’s remaining force for the winter campaign, and use it in attempting to re-assess Cornwallis’s total force at the Battle of Guilford ― all of which had previously been uncertain. That the factor is accurate is borne out by the correlation of the two returns, one for rank and file appearing in The Cornwallis Papers, and the other for all ranks provided by Johnston, that capitulated at Yorktown.
So how many troops did Cornwallis actually bring to the field at Guilford? If we take the return of rank and file fit for duty on March 1, we find that due to attrition the figure (excluding artillery) had decreased from 2,440 to 2,213 in one month, a loss of 227 men. If we then allow proportionately for continuing attrition between then and March 15, the date of the battle, we arrive at a figure of 2,137, giving, when we extrapolate by the factor of 17.5%, the figure of 2,511 for all ranks. Yet before the battle Cornwallis had detached the Royal North Carolina Regiment (221 rank and file as proportionately reduced by attrition), 100 infantry and 20 cavalry with the waggons and baggage towards Bell’s Mill on Deep River. If we increase the total by 17.5% to cover all ranks, we arrive at an overall figure of 341, leaving Cornwallis with a total of 2,170 men (excluding artillery) brought by him to the battle. On the other hand, according to the return of troops who fought there, the number for all ranks was 1,924 (including 50 artillery), leaving, when we subtract the artillery, 296 men unaccounted for. Quite simply, the two returns do not correlate.
Can we then resolve the impasse? I believe so. In his dispatch of April 10, 1781 Cornwallis reports to Clinton that his force was 1,360 infantry, rank and file, and about 200 cavalry. When writing to Phillips on April 26 Clinton remarks that he was totally at a loss to conjecture how Cornwallis’s numbers were so reduced, and indeed there are solid reasons for questioning whether an astute battlefield commander like Cornwallis would ever have been prepared to risk a general action in which his force was so depleted. While the figure for Tarleton’s cavalry is accurate, that given for Cornwallis’s rank and file cannot fail to be suspect. So what can have led to it? Well, in the eighteenth century there was a marked similarity in the way in which “3” and “8” were written, so much so that, if “8” was written badly, it was at times easy to confuse the two. A copyist may well have made this mistake when preparing for signature Cornwallis’s dispatch to Clinton. In that event the correct figure should have been 1,860 (presumably including artillery) which, when we extrapolate by using the factor of 17.5%, gives a combined figure of 2,185. When added to the figure of 200 for cavalry, Cornwallis’s total force would have amounted to 2,385, not too far from the figure of 2,220 (2,170 plus 50 artillery) calculated by me above on the basis of the first return mentioned there.
 If we take Tarleton’s total force at Cowpens, I accurately calculate it as 1,150 men (Ian Saberton ed., The Cornwallis Papers: The Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Theatre of the American Revolutionary War (Uckfield: The Naval & Military Press Ltd, 2010) (“CP”), 3: 11). Whereas the likes of Higginbotham, Waring and Ward agree with me, others such as Hunter, Schenck and Treacy put the figure as low as 850. By contrast Bass, Carrington, Fortescue, Graham and the Wickwires are among those who specify a figure of 1,000 (Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1952), 2: 755; M. F. Treacy, Prelude to Yorktown: The Southern Campaigns of Nathanael Greene 1780-81 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press), 111; Robert D. Bass, The Green Dragoon: The Lives of Banastre Tarleton and Mary Robinson (reprint of 1958 edition, Columbia SC: Sandlapper Press Inc, 1973), 143, 147, 159; Sir John Fortescue, A History of the British Army (London: Macmillan & Co., 1902), 3: 359; Franklin and Mary Wickwire, Cornwallis: The American Adventure (Boston MA: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1970), 256; Alice N. Waring, The Fighting Elder: Andrew Pickens (1739-1817) (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1962), 47; Henry B. Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution, 1775-1781 (5th edition, New York, 1888), 542; Don Higginbotham, Daniel Morgan: Revolutionary Rifleman (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961), 130; Cyrus Lee Hunter, Sketches of Western North Carolina … illustrating principally the Revolutionary Period (Raleigh NC, 1877), 333; David Schenck, North Carolina 1780-81 (Raleigh NC, 1889), 219; James Graham, The Life of General Daniel Morgan (New York, 1856), 277-8).
 Accurately calculated by me as some 2,850 men by extrapolating by a factor of 17.5% from a return for rank and file (CP, 3: 12 and 4: 61-2).
 According to Johnston, the besiegers numbered 5,500 Continentals, 7,500 French, and 3,000 militia ― a total of 16,000, and he calculates the besieged to be 7,500, though they were in fact 225 fewer. Of those that capitulated, the return of October 18 appearing in the CP lists 5,950 rank and file, and when we extrapolate by using the factor of 17.5% to cater for officers etc., we arrive at a figure of 6,991 for all ranks. If from the return of October 27 provided by Johnston we subtract the staff of the public departments, followers of the army, pioneers, and odds and sods not listed in the former return, the figure is 6,949 for all ranks, so that the two returns correlate, as it is reasonable to assume that some of the severely wounded had died in the interval before the latter return was prepared. Not accounted for in the above figures are some 800 marines (CP, 6: 6 and 116-7; Henry P. Johnston, The Yorktown Campaign and the Surrender of Cornwallis 1781 (reprint of 1881 edition, Williamstown MA: Corner House Publishers, 1975), 164-5).
 CP, 4: 61-2.
 CP, 4: 61-3.
 CP, 4: 109.
 CP, 5: 51.
 CP, 3: 11.