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Clapp's Mill, Battle of

by R. M. Steele and Pat Bailey, 2006

"Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee." NC Historical Marker G-11. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives & History. The Revolutionary War engagement known as the Battle of Clapp's Mill occurred on 2 Mar. 1781 in a wooded area near a gristmill and the intersection of three major roads in present Chatham County. Col. Otho Williams, commander of the newly formed Light Troops of Gen. Nathanael Greene's American army, designed a plan to entrap the British army, hoping to duplicate the results of the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina. Williams ordered Lt. Col. Henry Lee Jr. and his mounted Partisan Legion, the Botetourt, Va., militia, and a mixture of South Carolina and Salisbury district militia with flanking horse detachments under Capt. Joseph Graham and Capt. Richard Simmons to ford the Alamance River (now Great Alamance Creek) and proceed on the Cross Creek road to the vicinity of the British camp near the mill. In a second line following these troops were detachments of Maryland and Delaware Continentals. At the ford on the Alamance, about a mile from the British camp, Williams positioned Col. William Washington's dragoons and his own Maryland troops in hidden and strategically placed spots.

Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, commander of the British Loyal Legion and a favorite of Lord Charles Cornwallis, received intelligence of the approaching Americans and stationed British Light Troops in a cedar woods flanking the road on which the Americans were approaching. Commanding a segment of this force was Capt. Francis Dundas, who later served as the duke of Wellington's strategist in the Napoleonic Wars. Tarleton placed his Loyal Legion in a field by the mill and prepared to sweep around the hill that led down to the mill and turn the Americans' left.

Lee positioned a small detachment of infantry and six Catawba Indians in front of his legion. As these scouts began to enter the woods, they literally smelled the ambush. Heavy firing ensued, taking its toll primarily among the British Guards and Botetourt militia. Having fired several compulsory rounds, the Americans retreated with the militia in some haste and confusion as the British Guards initiated a charge.

The Americans' first line was supported by the Continentals in the second line and rallied by Williams himself; after re-forming at a nearby fort, they waited for Tarleton. Tarleton, believing statements by his prisoners that Greene was waiting at the fort, broke off the chase, evacuated his wounded, buried his dead, and returned past the mill to the British camp. Casualties were variously reported; at least 17 British soldiers were killed on the battlefield, and at least 8 Americans lost their lives. The wounded Americans were transported to the Moravian community at Salem.

As a result of the Battle of Clapp's Mill, Cornwallis, thinking that Greene might be drawn into a wider conflict, attacked him at Wetzell's Mill, New Garden, and Guilford Courthouse. Greene, however, continued to prefer skirmishing actions by small detachments to full-scale battles.


John Buchanan, The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas (1997).

Richard K. Showman and Dennis M. Conrad, eds., Papers of Nathanael Greene, vol. 6 (1991).

Image Credit:

"Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee." NC Historical Marker G-11. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives & History. Available from (accessed June 1, 2012).

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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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