The American Revolution in North Carolina

The NC Light Horse Regiment

Date Established:


Known Lt. Colonels:

February 7, 1781

Col. James Read
Col. Guilford Dudley

Lt. Col. Guilford Dudley
Lt. Col. Thomas Taylor
Lt. Col. John Webb

Date Disbanded:

Known Majors: 

Known Adjutants:


Maj. Guilford Dudley
Maj. Thomas Walker
Maj. John Webb

None Known

Known Captains:

Thomas Alston

Jesse Basey

Asa Bryan 

Jesse Bryan

Gresham Coffield

David Cowan

Samuel Crowell

Elijah Denby

William Douglas

William Dunn

John Elliott

Samuel Espey

James Evans

Edward Gandy / Gaudy

William Hall

Jordan Harris

Roland Harris

William Hicks

George Hodge

? Horne

William Hunter, Jr.

Joel Lewis

Nicholas Long, Jr. 

Taverner Marsh

Josiah Martin

James Mebane 

George Nasworthy

? Randolph 

James Reed

Dudley Reynolds

? Robinson

Joseph Roper

Joseph Rosser

Thomas Thompson

James Trousdale

? Wharton


James Williamson


Known Privates / Fifers / Drummers, etc. - Captain Unknown:

 Joel Cohoon

Joel Coplan

Thomas Merritt


Calza Rubison


Brief History of Battalion:

On February 7, 1781, the General Assembly resolved to raise a new regiment of Light Horse from the Halifax District to be led by Continental Captain James Read, with a Militia rank of Major/Commandant. Within weeks, Read was promoted to a full Colonel, with a lieutenant colonel and two majors under his command. As the new regiment grew with units added from other parts of the state, many considered this unit to be "State Troops," but most considered themselves to be Militia.

The name - "NC Light Horse Regiment" is merely designated by this Author for convenience. Nowhere else does this name show up. The Author has not been able to determine just what name it was given by the officers or the NC General Assembly. In later Federal Pension Applications, men simply stated that they served under Col. James Read or Col. Guilford Dudley, and sometimes mentioned that they were "in the Light Horse."

Other Light Horse units were authorized at the same time all across the state. Some were folded into existing regiments such as the NC Light Dragoons Regiment, and some were folded into this regiment. Some remained attached to their home county regiment.

On February 8, 1781, the General Assembly directed Brigadier General Allen Jones of the Halifax District Brigade to assemble his recently-authorized Light Horse and send them to Wilmington. With Lord Cornwallis in the western part of the state, this order was soon rescinded and Maj. James Read (soon to become Colonel) was ordered to Hillsborough instead.

Col. James Read hurriedly assembled as many Light Horse companies as he could, and they gathered just in time to meet up with Major General Nathanael Greene before the battle of Guilford Court House. Col. Read placed some units out front to meet the British before they arrived. They were soon engaged in the firefight at New Garden Meeting House just prior to the start of the batle of Guilford Court House a few hours later.

Some of the Captains identified above may have never been "officially" assigned to the NC Light Horse Regiment, but were perhaps simply hastily "attached" to Col. James Read just for the battle of Guilford Court House. It is very difficult to sort out these, so the Author simply assigned them all to this regiment, at least for this battle. Some units were, indeed, officially part of Col. James Read's new regiment.

The remainder of the NC Light Horse Regiment was on the second line at the battle of Guilford Court House, along with the Virginia and Delaware Continentals, Col. Charles Lynch's Riflemen, one company of the North Carolina Light Dragoons, and Lt. Col. William Washington's cavalry - all on the northern flank. Some of the worst fighting occurred on the northern and southern flanks. All cavalry units earned their pay this day, then effected a planned retrograde back to the third line.

They all survived two successful withdrawals and then positioned themselves on the southern flank of the third line, across the road from the Court House. With a decent road behind the Continentals, these cavalrymen were ideally situated to react to any possible crisis along the third line. After a fierce engagement, all units were ordered off the field - to fight again another day.

Col. James Read followed Major General Nathanael Greene to Ramsey's Mill in North Carolina, then into South Carolina on April 6th, as Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis marched his beat-up army towards Wilmington. Lord Cornwallis arrived in Wilmington on April 9th.

On April 25th, Major General Nathanael Greene met up with Francis, Lord Rawdon near Camden, SC and the battle of Hobkirk's Hill soon erupted. This short battle is considered a British win, but Lord Rawdon soon returned to Camden, and Major General Greene retook the field. Col. James Read of the NC Light Horse Regiment was wounded in the right hand at the battle of Hobkirk's Hill, and his second in command, Lt. Col. Guilford Dudley, was soon promoted to full Colonel and he led the regiment for a few months before Col. Read returned to active duty.

On the night of May 7th, Francis, Lord Rawdon crossed the Wateree Ferry and moved to attack what he thought was the main American force at Sawney's Creek in present-day Kershaw County, South Carolina, but which, as it turned out, was only the light infantry and cavalry pickets of the Patriot army.

On May 8th, Major General Nathanael Greene moved his Patriot army to Sawney's Creek after finding out that a British force, commanded by Francis, Lord Rawdon, had returned to Camden. That morning, Lord Rawdon marched his force to Wateree Ferry. He followed Major General Greene to the lower side of Sawney's Creek, a rough area of pine and oak trees, where his advance troops met the pickets of Lt. Col. William Washington's dragoons. A short skirmish ensued, with the pickets being driven away. Both Major General Greene and Lord Rawdon withdrew their forces without any more engagements. Finding Major General Greene's position too strong, Lord Rawdon withdrew back to Camden.

In his 1832 pension application, Guilford Dudley (W8681) asserted:

"It was not long, however, before [Maj.] Genl. [Nathanael] Greene got intelligence of this circumstance, and therefore was upon the lookout for a visit from Lord Rawdon, with his increased force; which we were not exactly in a situation to resist with our mortified troops, whose spirits were yet rather depressed by their late repulse before Camden. General Greene, knowing his adversary would strike at him, as soon as [Lt. Col. John] Watson reached Camden, hastily broke up from this camp, about an hour by sun in the evening of the 6th or 7th of May; and, falling back, by a rapid march, gained the heights of Sawney's Creek, the strongest position I ever saw anywhere in South Carolina, or, perhaps anywhere else; and sat down on its summit; a stupendous hill, faced with rock, having a difficult pass of steep ascent to climb up; his artillery posted in the road, on the eminence, where the gap was somewhat lower than the hill on either side.

"In the morning of the 7th or 8th, before day, Rawdon put his army in motion, and, crossing the ferry below town, was at the dawn of day in General Greene's deserted camp, greatly disappointed by not finding his intended victim there; but, still determined upon his destruction, followed him up to the lower side of Sawney's Creek, covered with lofty timber, both of pine and oak; and where his advanced troops met our strong pickets and [Lt.] Col [William] Washington's cavalry (always their terror) judiciously posted. Instantly a handsome firing took place-Lord Rawdon paused, examined with caution the ground his adversary occupied; Washington keeping himself raised up in his stirrups, watching the exact moment when to strike with the saber; his quondam friend Major [John] Coffin, with the British cavalry in view.

"In the meantime, on the upper side of the creek, all was in motion; General Greene in person, and the adjutant general, forming our troops on the heights in battle array; my battalion [NC Light Horse Regiment] ordered down the hill to cross a narrow, lengthy field in the bottom, not in cultivation that spring, and to post myself in, and around sundry deserted houses near the ford of Sawney's Creek, under the supposition that the enemy would force a passage; and there to maintain my post as long as I could. This order I received from the general himself, on the brow of the hill. But scarcely had I reached the houses before I was recalled.

"At this moment the General had received information of another crossing place about two miles lower down the creek, quite convenient for the enemy's purpose of getting at him, and attacking him in the rear of his present position on the lofty summits of the hill. This intelligence instantly changed the mind of the general and produced the determination to retrograde again, and once more fall back 3 or 4 miles to a large creek of still, deep water (Colonel's Creek, I believe, it was called), having over it a framed bridge covered with plank.

"Lord Rawdon, not liking to risk an attack upon his adversary in his strong position on the heights, thought it best to retire into Camden, at the same moment Greene was retrograding, and prepare for its evacuation. On the upper side of this bridge I posted my battalion, having in charge the baggage of the army, our herds of cattle, swine, &c, whilst the General with his suite halted about a mile below, and took up his headquarters in a comfortable dwelling house on the margin of the road…"

On May 13th, at ten o'clock in the morning, after riding all the night before, Capt. David Fanning struck the camp of Capt. John Fletcher, with 25 Cumberland County Regiment Militiamen at Legat's Bridge in present-day Hoke County. The Patriots returned fire for about ten minutes, then retreated, leaving behind four killed and one captured. Capt. Fletcher took three wounded men with him. Capt. Fanning also captured eighteen horses - he only had one man wounded, who later died - Daniel Campbell.

Immediately after this engagement, Capt. David Fanning learned that Col. Guilford Dudley was coming home from Major General Nathanael Greene's camp near Camden, South Carolina. Col. Dudley served with distinction at the battle of Hobkirk's Hill (SC) and was discharged by Major General Greene on May 10th. His men were returning home with their baggage wagons and had only light cavalry escorting them.

Capt. David Fanning placed his men in an ambush site on the side of the road and waited. After a long time, he decided to go see where Col. Dudley was, so he took one man and they rode off. After about a mile and a half, they encountered Col. Guilford Dudley with the baggage wagons. Capt. Fanning turned and sped back to his men with Patriot dragoons hot on his heels.

When Capt. Fanning reached his men, the Patriots tried to fire their pistols, but they misfired. Capt. Fanning's men rose and fired, killing five Patriots, the rest fleeing. Capt. Fanning's men pursued them for about 2-1/2 miles and captured three of Col. Dudley's men, the baggage wagon valued at "1,000 Sterling," and nine horses. He decided to break off the pursuit and take his cargo to Cox's Mill. Within the baggage were mostly the possessions of Col. James Read of the NC Light Horse Regiment.

In his 1832 pension application, Guilford Dudley (W8681) asserted:

"… when I got upon Little River of Pee Dee, I found the country in my front all the way to Haw River and Chatham Court House (on my right down along Drowning Creek and the Raft Swamp to Wilmington, on my left to Uwharrie Creek and the Yadkin River) in a state of insurrection, and parties of armed Tories spreading themselves in every direction before me and on either flank. I nevertheless determined to push on with my baggage wagon and its valuable contents to Chatham Court House, not only as my best route home, but as my nearest point of safety, with only one companion in arms, a youth of 19 years old and a cadet in [Lt. Col. William] Washington's Regiment of Cavalry. But before I got to Searcey's Ford I found we were hemmed in on every side; yet I was still determined to go on and cut my way through if possible, for there was no alternative; and retreat in any direction was equally hazardous for want of correct intelligence from some person upon whom I could rely, for they were all Tories and in arms. Crossing the ford, and leaving the wagon to come on with all expedition, I went forward with my young friend, both of us well armed with sabers & holster pistols. I soon fell in with the infamously celebrated Col. David Fanning, a Loyalist (Tory), then and long before in the British service, and his party, lately recruited, well armed, and mounted upon the best horses the country afforded, with whom I had two re-encounters in the space of little more than an hour, in the last of which I was forced to give up my baggage wagon with many valuable effects, both public and private, and retreated up the country to Randolph old Court House, in a direction quite contrary to that I wished to go, and chased for about six miles by the party, when they had to decline the pursuit owing to the fleetness of our horses. Finding myself at the Court House upon the old trading road leading from Hillsborough to Salisbury, I turned down it to the east and reached Bell's Mill on Deep River, three miles below, where I lodged in secret that night, being surrounded at that time by Tories in arms on every side, having traveled 60 miles that day, 20 of which was with my baggage wagon. Rising at daybreak the next morning, instead of keeping the direct road down to Hillsborough, about 55 miles, I had to turn to my left, among three roads that centered at Bell's Mill, and, directing my course in a north direction, entered the New Garden settlement of Quakers in about sixteen or eighteen miles, considerably above Guilford Court House, and at last reached this latter place, where I deemed myself safe from further pursuit and molestation and where I halted to see my acquaintance Captain Barrett, who was left there in March so dangerously wounded and whom I found in a convalescent state, and from thence down to Hillsborough, about 50 or 55 miles, having been turned out of my proper course by Fanning and other royalists about a hundred miles." [minor edits]

On September 12th, in a heavy fog, Col. David Fanning and 500 Loyalists creeped into Hillsborough and completely surprised the sleepy citizens, their civil leadership, and a small group of Patriot troops stationed near the Court House. Fanning's men gradually made their way to Governor Thomas Burke's home in the eastern part of Hillsborough, and the governor put up a vigorous defense along with his personal Life Guard, Capt. John DeCoin of Edgecombe County. The Patriots were quickly overpowered, and upon the word of a British officer accompanying the boisterous Loyalists that no harm will come to them if they surrender, then did Governor Burke give up his sword. In addition, Col. David Fanning and his Loyalist regiment took nearly 200 prisoners on that day.

Included in Fanning's prisoners were Col. James Read, Capt. Thomas Thompson, and Capt. James Trousdale of the NC Light Horse Regiment.

In his 1833 pension application, William Gordon (S3403) asserted:

"…Captain [James] Trousdale was called for with his company to furnish three month tours. And applicant, with said company, was placed at Hillsborough to guard the government council. The Tories came, seven or 800 and surrounded the troops at Hillsborough, and applicant was taken prisoner. And, the prisoners were taken to Wilmington & from there to Charlestown, where they were confined on board of a prison ship for upwards of 12 months, but 15 of the prisoners, amongst whom was this applicant, got parole & went home." [minor edits]

Col. James Read was retained until November 26, 1782, when he was finally exchanged. The others of his unit were paroled on the day they were captured.

Col. Guilford Dudley continued to lead the NC Light Horse Regiment into 1782. He transmitted letters from Virginia well into 1782, but it is not known if this regiment was with him at that point in time or not.

It is currently not known when this regiment was officially disbanded or if it merely disintegrated.


Known Battles / Skirmishes:


New Garden Meeting House


Guilford Court House


Hobkirk's Hill (SC)


Sawney's Creek (SC)


Legat's Bridge



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