The American Revolution in North Carolina

The Battle of Whitesell's Mill

March 6, 1781


Patriot Cdr:

Col. Otho Williams
British Cdr:

Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton
Killed:

8
Killed:

30
Wounded:

12
Wounded:

included in above
Captured:

Unk
Captured:

Unk
Original County: 

Guilford County
Present County:

Guilford County

The location name for this battle has been incorrectly identified as Whitsell's Mill, Weitzall's Mill, Weitzell's Mill, Wetzall's Mill and Wetzell's Mill, but the correct name is Whitesell's Mill - owned by Capt. Henry Whitesell of Guilford County Regiment of Militia, and was fought in what was then and is present-day Guilford County, North Carolina. Capt. Whitesell was of German descent, therefore the corruption of the spelling of his name.


The situation of Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis in early 1781 was full of peril. The country around Hillsborough was speedily stripped of provisions by his army, and he found it expedient to fall back and take a new position upon the south side of the Alamance River, west of the Haw River on February 27, 1781. On the same day, Lt. Col. Henry Lee and Brig. Gen. Andrew Pickens, with their respective forces, joined the main body of the American light infantry, and the whole corps crossed the Haw River, a little below the mouth of Buffalo Creek.

Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, with the main Continental Army augmented by some of the North Carolina Militia, crossed above Buffalo Creek the next morning (Feb. 28), and encamped between Troublesome Creek and Reedy Fork. It was an ineligible place; and, hoping to gain time for all his expected reinforcements to come in, Maj. Gen. Greene constantly changed his position, and placed Col. Otho Williams and his Light Corps between the two armies, now within twenty of miles of each other.

Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton occupied the same relative position to the British army, and he and Col. Williams frequently menaced each other. Finally, the latter having approached to within a mile of the British camp, Lt. Col. Tarleton attacked him on March 2, 1781, and a brief but warm skirmish ensued. This encounter was sustained, on the part of the Americans, chiefly by Lt. Col. Lee’s legion and Col. William Preston’s Botetourt Riflemen. About thirty of the enemy were killed and wounded. The Americans sustained no loss.

In the meantime, Maj. Gen. Greene’s constant change of position, sometimes seen on Troublesome Creek, and sometimes appearing near Guilford Court House, gave the impression that his force was larger than it really was, and Lt. Gen. Cornwallis was much perplexed. Knowing well that the American army was being augmented by the arrival of various militias, he resolved to bring Maj. Gen. Greene to action at once. Under cover of a thick fog, he crossed the Alamance River on March 6, hoping to beat up Col. Williams’s quarters, then between that stream and Reedy Fork to surprise Maj. Gen. Greene.

Col. Otho Williams’s vigilant patrols discovered the approach of the enemy at about eight o’clock in the morning, on the road to Whitesell’s Mill, an important pass on the Reedy Fork. Lt. Col. Lee’s Legion immediately maneuvered in front of the enemy, while Col. Williams withdrew his light troops and other corps of regulars and militia across the stream. A covering party, composed of one hundred and fifty Virginia militia, were attacked by Lt. Col. Webster, with one thousand British infantry and a portion of Lt. Col. Tarleton’s cavalry.

The militia boldly returned fire, and then fled across the creek. The British infantry followed, and met with a severe attack from Col. William Campbell’s riflemen (VA) and Lt. Col. Lee’s infantry. Lt. Col. Webster was quickly reinforced by some Hessians and chasseurs, and the whole were supported by four field pieces planted by Lt. Gen. Cornwallis upon an eminence near the banks of the stream. The artillery dismayed the North Carolina militia, which Col. Williams ordered to retire. He followed with Howard’s battalion, flanked by Kirkwood’s Delaware infantry and the infantry of Lt. Col. Lee’s Legion, the whole covered by Lt. Col. William Washington’s cavalry. The day was far spent, and Lt. Gen. Cornwallis did not pursue.

In this skirmish the Americans lost eight killed and twelve wounded. The enemy lost about thirty killed and/or wounded.

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Col. Otho Williams - Commanding Officer

Lee's Legion, led by Lt. Col. Henry Lee, with six (6) known companies, led by:
- Capt. James Armstrong - 1st Mounted Troop
- Capt. Joseph Eggleston - 2nd Mounted Troop
- Capt. Michael Rudolph - 3rd Mounted Troop
- Capt. Allen McClane - 4th Dismounted Troop
- Capt. Henry Archer - 5th Mounted Troop
- Capt. James Tate - 6th Mounted Troop

3rd Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons, led by Lt. Col. William Washington, Maj. Richard Call, with three (3) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Walker Baylor
- Capt. William Parsons
- Capt. William Barrett

1st Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Griffin Fauntleroy

Washington County Militia (VA) led by Col. William Campbell, with two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Joseph Black
- Capt. James Dysart

Boutetourt County Militia (VA) led by Col. William Preston, with 300 men in five (5) known companies. led by:
- Capt. Mays
- Capt. John Cartmill
- Capt. Matthew Wilson
- Capt. Bollar
- Capt. William McClenahan

Salisbury District Brigade of Militia led by Brig. Gen. Andrew Pickens (a temporary position), with detachments from Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina Militia in the following units:

Upper Ninety-Six District Regiment (SC) detachment led by Maj. James McCall with unknown number of men

GA Militia, led by Unknown with unknown number of men

Surry County Regiment of Militia (NC) led by Lt. Col. Joseph Winston, with eight (8) known companies led by:
- Capt. Joseph Cloud
- Capt. James Gains
- Capt. Edwin Hickman
- Capt. Joel Lewis
- Capt. Edward Lovell
- Capt. Salathiel Martin
- Capt. Arthur Scott
- Capt. William Underwood

Wilkes County Regiment of Militia (NC) detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Jesse Hardin Franklin

Lincoln County Regiment of Militia (NC) detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Thomas Lofton

Mecklenburg County Regiment of Militia (NC) detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Joseph Graham

Guilford County Regiment of Militia (NC) detachment led by Lt. Col. Robert Ralston with two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Daniel Gillespie
- Capt. Cook Tate

Caswell County Regiment of Militia (NC) detachment led by Col. William Moore, with five (5) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Herndon Haralson
- Capt. John Oldham
- Capt. Robert Park
- Capt. Dudley Reynolds
- Capt. Richard Saunders

Orange County Regiment of Militia (NC) detachment of two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Matthew McCauley
- Capt. Adam Sanders


Total Patriot Forces - ~ 700

Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton - Commanding Officer

British Legion, led by Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, with 75 men

33rd Regiment of Foot led by Lt. Col. James Webster, Maj. William Dansey, with 322 men in three (3) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Frederick Cornwallis
- Capt. James Ingram
- Capt. William Gore

III Feld Jäger Regiment Anspach-Beyreuth detachment of 97 men led by Capt. Friedrich Wilhelm von Röder

23rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Welsh Fusiliers) detachment of 258 men in two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Forbes Champagne
- Capt. Thomas Peter

71st Regiment of Foot (Fraser's Highlanders), 2nd Battalion detachment led by Capt. Dugald Stuart, with unknown number of men

Brigade of Guards led by Lt. Col. John Goodricke, with 200 men in three (3) known companies, led by:
- Lt. Col. John Goodricke - 3rd Scots Guards
- Capt. William Maynard - Coldstream Guards
- 1st Foot Guards - Lt. Col. Francis Dundas

Royal Regiment of Artillery, 3rd Battalion, Number 1 Company, led by Lt. John MacLeod with two 3-pounders and two 6-pounders


Total British Forces - ~1,000

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