The American Revolution in North Carolina

The Battle of Lindley's Mill

September 13, 1781


Patriot Cdr:

Brigadier General
John Butler
Loyalist Cdr:

Col. David Fanning
Killed:

25
Killed:

27
Wounded:

90
Wounded:

90
Captured:

10
Captured:

0
Original County: 

Orange County
Present County:

Alamance County

aka Cane Creek, aka Mendenhall's Mill.


The battle of Lindley's Mill was fought a few hundred yards across the road from Lindley's Mill and was on the land of Thomas Lindley.

On September 13, 1781, at Lindley's Mill, Brigadier General John Butler with 500+ Patriots attempted to rescue Governor Thomas Burke and thirteen others from Col. David Fanning's 600 Loyalists. The previous day Col. Fanning and 21 to 22 of his men had ridden into Hillsborough in broad daylight and captured the Governor. This battle is sometimes referred to as Cane Creek, which is also nearby.


Thomas Lindley, who lived in what is now Alamance County, North Carolina, was a Loyalist. It is not known if he was an active participant in the battle of Lindley's Mill or not. The battle of Lindley's Mill occurred on September 13, 1781. Thomas Lindley died on that day. So...

The battle was sparked by the action of the Loyalists who captured Governor Thomas Burke the day before this battle. They also captured thirteen high ranking Patriot officials, all of which they intended to turn over to the British occupying force in Wilmington, North Carolina. The Loyalists did, in fact, turn them over after this battle.

This was a dreadful day for Thomas Lindley as well as all families involved in the battle. Tragically, several families including the Lindley family were split on which side to fight. As a result of this, it pitted father against son, and brother against brother.

Thomas Lindley was 75 years of age at this time and it is believed that he died this day as a result of a heart attack or stroke, after seeing his family fighting among each other. After the battle the women tended to the wounded at Thomas Lindley's home as well as many others in the area, Loyalist or Patriot, it did not matter.


Before the Revolution, Brigadier General John Butler had been the Sheriff of Orange County. During the war, he had led part of the North Carolina Militia at the battles of Stono Ferry (SC), Camden (SC), and Guilford Court House (NC). When Major General Nathanael Greene and his Continentals left North Carolina after the battle of Guilford Court House and marched back into South Carolina, Brigadier General Butler was ordered to rid central North Carolina of the many Loyalists forces within his sphere of influence. However, Brigadier General John Butler was known to be an "extremely cautious" commander, and many Patriots were disappointed that he was not more assertive in his leadership of the Hillsborough District Brigade of Militia.

At the time of Col. David Fanning's famous Loyalist raid on Hillsborough where he captured the governor of North Carolina and others, Brigadier General John Butler was encamped on the south bank of the Haw River at Ramsey's Mill in Chatham County. Patriot Brigadier General Alexander Mebane, Commissary General over all North Carolina Militia, managed to escape from Hillsborough and spread the word of Governor Thomas Burke's capture throughout the nearby countryside.

Brigadier General Butler knew that Col. Fanning would be taking his prisoners to the British-occupied Wilmington, so he raced his army to Thomas Lindley's mill on Cane Creek in what is today southern Alamance County. Brigadier General Butler set up an ambush on the high ground near the ford that overlooked the road to the creek.

On September 13th, Col. David Fanning's army broke camp and headed towards his base camp at Cox's Mill on the Deep River. They crossed Woody's Ford on the Haw River without incident. Col. Fanning was relieved since he knew that all the fords on his route home were obvious ambush positions.

At 9:30 a.m., Capt. "Sober John" McLean informed his commander that Col. Hector McNeill had failed to put out any scouts in front of the column. Col. Fanning rode forward to find Col. McNeill and to learn why there had been such a lapse in security. He found Col. McNeill at Stafford's Branch on Cane Creek, and asked him why he had not placed any scouts out front. McNeill began to reply when gunfire interrupted him.

The Loyalists had been completely unaware of the presence of their enemy at Cane Creek until a volley was fired into their ranks. Several Loyalists fell and the rest took shelter along the creek bank. Attempts were made to dislodge the Patriots, all to no avail. Col. Hector McNeill ordered his men to withdraw back beyond the range of the enemy's weapons.

Loyalist Col. Archibald McDugald was outraged and questioned Col. McNeill's courage. Col. McNeill then changed his mind and led his men on a charge against the Patriots on top of the hill. This reversal of his decision caused his previous night's premonition to come true. Col. McNeill was hit by eight musket balls and he fell from his horse, which had also been hit five times. His men yelled out that their colonel was dead, but Col. McDugald told them it was a lie.

He knew that the death of their commander would break their spirit. He then led them in an orderly retreat back up the road to where Col. McNeill had wanted to go in the first place.

Col. David Fanning soon discovered that the ambush at Stafford's Branch was only a diversion. Brigadier General Butler was moving with the rest of his army upon the rear of Fanning's column. The prisoners jumped to their feet expecting to be rescued but Capt. "Sober John" McLean told them to sit down and be quiet or he'd kill them all. He then moved the prisoners into the Spring Friend's Meeting House, which freed up some of the guards to go back to the fight.

Col. Fanning then ordered all of his men to withdraw back to the meeting house, anticipating that Brigadier General Butler's goal would be to liberate his prisoners. Col. McDugald swore that if the Patriots did flank the church he would kill the prisoners inside. Somehow, Brigadier General Butler learned of this threat and he had his men to return to their positions on the hill beside Stafford Branch.

Col. Fanning ordered Col. McDugald to attack Stafford Branch while he moved across the creek to hit the Patriots from their rear. He then circled around Brigadier General Butler's men and fought with them for nearly four hours. Brigadier Gen.eral Butler finally ordered retreat and the Patriots left their dead and wounded.

Ignoring this order, Patriot Lt. Col. Robert Mebane (a Continental officer) rallied his men and conducted a delaying action so Col. Fanning's Loyalists could not pursue. When his men were running low on powder, Lt. Col. Mebane carried powder in his hat and distributed it to the men, each of them taking what they needed. When he wiped his face it became black with the coarse powder.

Lt. Col. Mebane's force looked like it would be overwhelmed, but Col. Fanning was soon wounded in the left arm. The bullet broke the bone and severed an artery. His command fell to Capt. John Rains, but the loss of their colonel broke the spirit of the Loyalists. Both sides disengaged during the next lull in the fire. The Patriots moved to Alamance Creek and the Loyalists continued on towards Wilmington with their prisoners.

This violent engagement left over 200 men killed and wounded on the battlefield. Dr. John Pyle was among the first outsider to reach the battlefield and he mininstered to Patriots and Loyalists alike. In doing so, he received a pardon for his past transgressions, which included leading many Loyalists in his defeat at Haw River.

After the battle, Col. Archibald McDugald commanded the remnant of Col. David Fanning's army. It moved very slowly since they now had many wounded along with their many prisoners. A lot of the mounted militia were now without horses. Col. McDugald decided against returning to Cox's Mill and instead he went through the sandhills by way of McPhaul's Mill. They stopped for the night at Hickory Mountain in Chatham County.

Early on September 14th, the Loyalists broke camp and resumed their march towards Wilmington. At the ford on Rocky River, a group of about twelve to twenty Patriots fired upon the large column of Loyalists. The Patriots were not much of a threat and were quickly chased away. At McPhaul's Mill, Col. Duncan Ray and his Anson County Loyalist Militia met up with Col. Archibald McDugald.

Col. Ray's men were not exhausted from a recent battle and the marching, so they took the prisoners off Col. McDugald's hands. Col. McDugald and Capt. Stephen Holloway of Fanning's regiment accompanied them on their way to Wilmington.


In his 1846 Pension Application statement, Isaac Brewer (R1185) asserted:

"During this tour deponent was in a battle at Lindley's Mills on Cane Creek Orange County. Colonel Fanning and McNeill commanded the enemy who were supposed to amount to nine hundred men. Colonel Mebane's regiment was between four and five hundred strong. Deponent states that the action continued about an hour and the conflict was a sharp one. Colonel Mebane ordered a retreat, and on the retreat deponent received a shot near the spine, which was never retracted......

"During the action at Lindley's Mills, Colonel McNeill and Major John Nall met in single combat both fired at the same instant, McNeill's ball struck Nall near the left pap, and Nall's ball penetrated McNeill in the forehead; both died on the spot. A good many men were killed & wounded on both sides."

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Brigadier General John Butler - Commanding Officer

Hillsborough District Brigade of Militia led by Brigadier General John Butler, with 500+ men in the following units:

Chatham County Regiment of Militia led by Col. John Luttrell (killed), Major John Nall (killed), Major William Gholson, and Major Roger Griffith, with twelve (12) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Alexander Clark
- Capt. Hawkins Dye
- Capt. Charles Gholson
- Capt. William Griffin
- Capt. John Hudgins
- Capt. John Jones
- Capt. Taverner Marsh
- Capt. John Mayben
- Capt. Richard B. Meacham (wounded)
- Capt. James Mebane
- Capt. Abner Nash (killed)
- Capt. Joseph Rosser

Orange County Regiment of Militia led by Lt. Col. Robert Mebane and Major William Cage, with fourteen (14) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Abraham Allen
- Capt. Lewis Bledsoe (from Wake Co.)
- Capt. Nathaniel Christmas
- Capt. Matthew Collier (from Wake Co.)
- Capt. Charles Crawford (from Cumberland Co.)
- Capt. Joshua Hadley (from Cumberland Co.)
- Capt. John Honeycutt (from Cumberland Co.)
- Capt. William Jamieson
- Capt. William Jones
- Capt. James Kell
- Capt. Matthew McCullers (from Johnston Co.)
- Capt. John McFarland (from Wake Co.)
- Capt. William Ray
- Capt. William Smith

Randolph County Regiment of Militia detachment of four (4) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Edward Beeson
- Capt. John Johnston
- Capt. John Knight
- Capt. Robert McLane

Caswell County Regiment of Militia detachment of three (3) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Nathaniel Dickerson
- Capt. William Douglas
- Capt. Mason Foley

Salisbury District Brigade of Militia detachment led by Col. Thomas Wade, with the following units:

Anson County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Col. Thomas Wade, with three (3) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Patrick Boggan
- Capt. Joseph Howell
- Capt. Stephen Tomkins

Guilford County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Lt. Col. John Humphreys, with two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Edward Gwinn
- Capt. William Gwinn

Rowan County Regiment of Militia detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Peter Hedrick

Surry County Regiment of Milita detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. James Gains

Wilmington District Brigade of Militia detachment led by "Unknown," with the following unit:

New Hanover County Regiment of Militia detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Thomas Handley

Col. David Fanning (wounded) - Commanding Officer

Fanning's Regiment of Loyalists - 435 men in five (5) known companies, led by:
- Capt. John Rains-Randolph County Militia
- Capt. Benjamin Underwood-Chatham County Militia
- Capt. Edward Edwards (killed)-Orange County Militia
- Capt. Stephen Holloway-Orange County Militia
- Capt. William Deaton (killed)-Chatham County Militia

Royal North Carolina Militia of Bladen County, led by Col. Hector McNeill (killed), with 70 men

Royal Militia of Cumberland County, led by Col. Archibald McDugald, with 200 men in two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. "Sober John" McLean
- Capt. Archibald McKay

Gov. Martin's Corps, led by Capt. Alexander McGraw

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