House in the Horseshoe, North Carolina
29 July 1781
The House in the Horseshoe was Philip Alstonís home located in a horseshoe shaped bend of Deep River. Alston and his partisans had just completed an unsuccessful chase after Fanning and had returned to his home, where his men set up camp at his house. On the return from capturing Chatham Courthouse Fanning found out that some of Alstonís men had ambushed and killed his friend Kenneth Black. He also learned of the murder of Thomas Taylor. Fanning wanted vengeance and decided to attack Alston at his home.
Fanning normally did not care if he had one man or a hundred, but in this instance he had about the same number of men as Alston. The Loyalists crossed at Dicksonís Ford and arrived at the Alston house on Sunday morning. The sentinels that Alston had placed at the gate of the house were asleep and Fanning was able to capture two of them. Unfortunately for the Loyalists the other two woke and fired upon Fanningís men. The sentries ran onto the porch, where most of the rest of the rest of the militia were sleeping and rousted them out of their beds.
All of Alstonís men ran into the house and barricaded it for a fight. Alstonís family was also inside the house at the time. The children were protected by standing them up on a small table inside the brick fireplace. Mrs. Alston then lay in her bed on the second floor as bullets passed through the boards over her head.
The fight had evolved into a siege and had been going on for two hours when a British officer by the name of McKay asked Fanning if he could take command of the troops. McKayís plan was to rush the house and break in the doors as the rest of the Loyalists laid down an intense covering fire. Fanning granted the request.
McKay jumped up telling the other men to follow him. As he leapt over a rail fence Alstonís men fired a volley, hitting McKay in the head with a rifle. The same volley that had killed McKay wounded most of the men that had followed him (This may have been Lieutenant Christopher McCrae of the Royal North Carolina Regiment who died sometime between February and October 1781).
Fanning then decided to use less direct means to drive the Whigs out of the house and he bribed "a free Negro" to set fire to the building. Alston noticed Fanning talking to the freeman and suspected what the plan was. As the man was attempting to start the fire he shot him from the window. The man was not killed but he was severely wounded.
Fanning decided that the cost was too much, and he was on the verge of leaving the house when his men found an oxcart in the barn. He ordered his men to fill it full of hay and set it on fire. His plan was to roll the oxcart against the house and set the house on fire. Alston knew what Fanning was about to do, and decided to give up. However he could not show himself to surrender because he knew the Loyalists would shoot him.
Alstonís wife, Temperance, asked her husband to leave the surrender to her. She raised a white flag and stepped onto the porch. No matter how bloody the civil war in the South was, no one would intentionally fire upon women and children.
Fanning saw the woman and told her to meet him halfway. She did, telling him that "We will surrender, sir, on condition that no one shall be injured; otherwise we will make the best defense we can; and if need be, sell our lives as dearly as possible."
Fanning already had many men wounded, and an assault would be almost suicidal. He also knew that if he burned down a house with women and children in it he would lose any support from the Loyalists in the area. He agreed to the terms and he kept his word. All of Alstonís men immediately surrendered and then were paroled.
After the "battle" Colonel Fanning sent his men home to rest until the next time they were needed. On the way back to his base at Coxís Mill he learned that a wagonload of salt had passed by Deep River early that morning. Fanning took eight men and rode hard for sixteen miles until he caught up with the wagon. The Loyalists captured the wagons that were destined for the Greeneís army. Fanning returned to Coxís Mill with the salt the next morning.