Alamance River, North Carolina
7 March 1781
A day after the skirmish at Wetzell’s Mill Williams decided
to try his hand at surprising Tarleton’s camp. Williams assigned Captain
Robert Kirkwood and his Delaware Continentals to raid the Provincial
camp. Captain Kirkwood took forty riflemen with him.
After conducting a reconnaissance of the camp Kirkwood moved
against Tarleton’s force at one o’clock in the morning. Tarleton’s
sentries challenged Kirkwood’s men, but they received no answer. They
“immediately discharged their pieces and ran in to their guard.”
Kirkwood’s men captured one of the sentries, and he guided them to the
guard post. The Patriots “fired very briskly at them.” Tarleton quickly
formed his men and moved his camp two miles away to the main army.
As he marched to his new camp Tarleton ran into a large group of
Loyalists, marching in to join Cornwallis. Tarleton thought that they
were rebels and began to cut them down. The Loyalists thought that the
British Legion were Patriot forces and began to fight back. Sergeant
Major Seymour wrote, “There commenced a smart skirmish in which great
numbers of the Tories were sent to the lower regions.” This was the last
straw for many of the Loyalists. After Pyle’s massacre and Tarleton’s
fratricide very few came to fight for Cornwallis.
Kirkwood’s raiders marched back to their camp, and arrived
there at daybreak. Seymour wrote that they had “marched all night
through deep swamps, morasses, and thickets, which rendered our marching
unpleasant and tiresome, twenty-six miles.”
3 March (also given as the 5th , and 6th ). [skirmish] Alamance Picket (Alamance County, N.C.) Otho Williams’ light
troops, including Kirkwood’s Delaware company, in the evening of the 3rd , surprised a British picket, capturing 2
and killing and wounding a small number. American losses, if any, are not recorded. Greene wrote to von
Steuben on the 5 March: “On the evening of the 3rd , one of the enemy pickets were surprised by Captain
Kirkwood: “March 3d Some few were killed but only 2 Prisoners were taken.
“March 4th We came up with the Enemy at Allmance...[marched] 60 [miles]
“March 5th Marched this night to the old Regulation ground and attack’d the advance picquet. Brought off one of
their Centinells & returned to Camp by morning...[marched] 24 [miles].”
Note: Kirkwood identifies the place of the action as the 1771 Alamance battleground. Basis of location.