Battle of Clapp’s Mill, 1781

Battle of Clapp's Mill - Troops led by Henry Lee ambushed British cavalry of Banastre Tarleton one mile north, March 2, 1781. Americans retreated under heavy British fire.

On March 2, 1781, Patriot forces under Col. Henry Lee, local militiamen and Catawba Indian allies surprised the Loyalist mounted cavalry of Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton in a well-planned ambush near Clapp’s Mill in Alamance County.

As soon as the confusion caused by the first American volley was brought under control, Tarleton retired to cover and deployed his troops against the Patriots. Coming under heavy fire, the American second line became panic-stricken and retreated. Tarleton chose not to pursue. The British suffered 21 casualties while the Americans had only eight.

Most of what we know about the encounter comes from the account of Joseph Graham, a member of Lee’s Legion. Lee and fellow officer Otho Williams apparently planned a major engagement at Clapp’s Mill that did not end up happening. The desired major battle would take place less than two weeks later at Guilford Courthouse.

In 1898, a local historian identified the site of Clapp’s Mill about three miles northwest of the site of the Battle of Alamance. Signs of the old dam and millrun were visible in 1898, but evidence of the mill itself had by that time disappeared.  Today a reservoir covers much of the site.

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