The American Revolution in North Carolina

Clapp's Mill

March 4, 1781

Patriot Cdr:

Lt. Col. Henry Lee
British Cdr:

Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton






Original County: 

Orange County
Present County:

Alamance County

On February 23rd, Major General Nathanael Greene recrossed the Dan River with his now-larger army and he once again placed Col. Otho Williams in command of another "Light Corps" as he had done the month before. Col. Williams maneuvered his forces in between Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis and Major General Greene. Lord Cornwallis in turn dispatched Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton to go find Major General Greene's army and ascertain his intentions.

Where Lord Cornwallis had camped was rapidly being exhausted of provisions. The British general had promised local farmers that he would not seize their draft oxen, but his commissary found it necessary to do just this. The forced requisitions from the farmers increased the bad feelings between the local farmers and the British. Lord Cornwallis's hopes of having a large number of Loyalists flock to his side dwindled away after the battle at Haw River (aka Pyle's defeat).

Major General Greene camped at different locations every few days or so to confuse the enemy. His camp alternated between Speedwell's Furnace on the Reedy River and Boyd's Mill on Troublesome Creek. He also moved his camp every few days because he was not yet prepared to do battle with Lord Cornwallis - he was waiting for more reinforcements to arrive. Col. Otho Williams and his Light Corps constantly moved in the "no man's land" between the two shifting armies, marching and countermarching a total of 230 miles in a few short days.

On March 2nd, Col. Williams sent out Lt. Col. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee's Legion with Capt. Joseph Graham's cavalry and Major Rowland's Botetourt Riflemen to cross Alamance Creek. The remainder of Col. Williams's force followed in reserve.

Lt. Col. Henry Lee moved forward, unable to learn much from the locals who only spoke German. Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis became restless and proceeded towards the Alamance River. He hoped that by trapping Col. Williams and his Light Corps then Major General Greene would come to rescue them and a battle would be forced upon the Americans.

British Legion Capt. Richard Hoveden was guarding a foraging party when he saw some Patriots near a plantation. He immediately sent back the foraging party and reported his findings to Lt. Col. Tarleton, who quickly moved out with his cavalry and a small body of mounted infantry. Lt. Col. Tarleton also took with him Lt. Col. Francis Dundas's Light Company and 150 men of the 23rd Regiment of Foot.

Lt. Col. Lee's scouts reported Lt. Col. Tarleton's approach, and he had his men to lay in an ambush behind a rail fence, with the cavalry protecing their flanks. Lt. Col. Tarleton and his mounted men rode unsuspectingly into the ambush and the Patriots let loose a volley. Lt. Col. Tarleton withdrew to cover and deployed his force.

Lt. Col. Francis Dundas formed a line with the 23rd Regiment of Foot and advanced with bayonets affixed. Tarleton's cavalry was posted on the right ready to cut down the Patriots. Capt. Joseph Graham's North Carolinians refused to dismount and take their place with the other riflemen. Lee's cavalry could not do much since they were in a thicket, but his infantry and the Botetourt Riflemen quickly formed and returned fire.

After about twenty minutes the British losses were about twenty men killed and/or wounded. Lee's militiamen, some under fire for the first time, began to fall back without orders. Lt. Col. Lee rode among them trying to calm their fears, but he knew they would never hold against another attack. So, he ordered them to his rear and separated the men into small groups - then, he ordered them to return to Col. Otho Williams's location by different routes. This was to confuse Lt. Col. Tarleton and to make pursuit impossible.

In his pension application statement, dated Oct. 30, 1832, Joseph Graham stated:

"After various movements and both Armies having got to the south of Haw River near Alamance Creek on the 2nd of March, a detachment of about 800 set out all Militia except Lee's Legion. We advanced in 3 columns under Lee's Command. This deponent & his Company were in front of the left with riders to support the left flank after passing through a farm near Clapp's Mill & enterning a copse of woods, we encountered a large party of the Enemy drawn up in position.

"A smart firing commenced and after 3 or 4 rounds, our line gave way. The ground was so hampered with thick underbrush & the course of the lines on the left flank it was done with difficulty, we retreated about 1 mile to the Ford on Big Alamance where Col. Otho Williams, the Regulars under his Command and Washington's Cavalry, were drawn up to support us. The Enemy did not pursue more than 500 yards.

"In this affair, 2 were killed, 3 wounded, and 2 taken prisoner of this deponent's Company in all 7."

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Lt. Col. Henry Lee (VA) - Commanding Officer

Lee's Legion, led by Lt. Col. Henry Lee, with 240 men in 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 Dismounted Troop
- Capt. James Tate - 6th Dismounted Troop

Mecklenburg County Regiment of Militia detachment of two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Joseph Graham
- Capt. Charles Polk

Caswell County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Col. William Moore, with 100 men

Guilford County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Col. John Peasley, with one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Edward Gwinn

Surry County Regiment of Militia detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Adam Brinkley

Botetourt County Riflemen (VA) led by Maj. Thomas Rowland, with 100 men

VA Mounted Riflemen led by Col. Hugh Crocket, with 160 men

Maryland Light Company, led by Capt. Edward Oldham (MD)

Boykin's Company of Catawba Indians, led by Capt. Samuel Boykin (SC)

Total Patriot Forces - 600

Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton - Commanding Officer

British Legion - Unknown number of men

Brigade of Guards detachment led by Lt. Col. Francis Dundas, with unknown number of men

23rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Welsh Fusiliers) detachment of 150 men, with at least two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. James Ingram
- Capt. Forbes Champagne
















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