Waxhaw massacre

Waxhaw massacre

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The Battle of Waxhaws took place during the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

 on May 29, 1780, near Lancaster, South Carolina
Lancaster, South Carolina
Lancaster is a city in Lancaster County, South Carolina which is in the United States and is located 35 miles south of Charlotte, North Carolina and 20 miles east of Rock Hill, South Carolina. As of the United States Census of 2010, the city population was 10,160. It is the county seat of...

, between a Continental Army
Continental Army
The Continental Army was formed after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in...

 force led by Abraham Buford
Abraham Buford
Abraham Buford was a Continental Army officer during the American Revolutionary War, best known as the commanding officer of the American forces at the Battle of Waxhaws.-Biography:...

 and a mainly Loyalist
Loyalist (American Revolution)
Loyalists were American colonists who remained loyal to the Kingdom of Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War. At the time they were often called Tories, Royalists, or King's Men. They were opposed by the Patriots, those who supported the revolution...

 force led by Banastre Tarleton
Banastre Tarleton
General Sir Banastre Tarleton, 1st Baronet, GCB was a British soldier and politician.He is today probably best remembered for his military service during the American War of Independence. He became the focal point of a propaganda campaign claiming that he had fired upon surrendering Continental...

. The American commander refused an initial demand to surrender but when his men were attacked by Tarleton's cavalry, most of them threw down their arms in surrender. Little quarter was given them: out of over 400 men, 113 were slain outright, 150 were so badly injured that they could not be moved, and only 53 prisoners were carried off by the British. "Tarleton's quarter" became a common expression for not giving quarter in battle
No quarter
A victor gives no quarter when the victor shows no clemency or mercy and refuses to spare the life in return for the surrender at discretion of a vanquished opponent....

, and some subsequent battles in the Carolinas saw few prisoners taken alive.


Following the British defeat at Saratoga in 1777 and French entry into the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

 in early 1778, the British decided to embark on a "southern strategy
Southern theater of the American Revolutionary War
The Southern theater of the American Revolutionary War was the central area of operations in North America in the second half of the American Revolutionary War. During the first three years of the conflict, the primary military encounters had been in the north, focused on campaigns around the...

" to win back their rebellious North American colonies. This campaign began in December 1778 with the capture of Savannah, Georgia
Capture of Savannah
The Battle of Savannah, or sometimes the First Battle of Savannah due to a siege later in the campaign, was an American Revolutionary War battle fought on December 29, 1778 between local American Patriot militia and Continental Army units holding the city and a British invasion force under the...

, and gained further ground in 1780, when General Sir Henry Clinton brought an army south and captured Charleston, South Carolina
Siege of Charleston
The Siege of Charleston was one of the major battles which took place towards the end of the American Revolutionary War, after the British began to shift their strategic focus towards the American Southern Colonies. After about six weeks of siege, Continental Army Major General Benjamin Lincoln...

 on May 12, 1780.


Colonel Abraham Buford
Abraham Buford
Abraham Buford was a Continental Army officer during the American Revolutionary War, best known as the commanding officer of the American forces at the Battle of Waxhaws.-Biography:...

 commanded a force of about 380 Virginian Continentals
Continental Army
The Continental Army was formed after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in...

 (the 3rd Virginia Detachment (composed of the 7th Virginia Regiment
7th Virginia Regiment
The 7th Virginia Regiment was raised on January 11, 1776 at Gloucester, Virginia for service with the Continental Army. The regiment would see action at the Battle of Brandywine, Battle of Germantown , Battle of Monmouth and the Siege of Charleston...

, two companies of the 2nd Virginia Regiment
2nd Virginia Regiment
The 2d Virginia Regiment was authorized by the Virginia Convention, July 17, 1775, as a force of regular troops for the Commonwealth's defense. It consisted of seven companies, 476 privates and the usual regimental officers...

 and an artillery detachment with two six-pounders). Most of his men were raw recruits with little battle experience, although Buford did have experienced officers under his command. Due to delays in outfitting his command, Buford had been unable to reach Charleston to participate in its defense. Charleston's commander, General Benjamin Lincoln
Benjamin Lincoln
Benjamin Lincoln was an American army officer. He served as a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War...

, had ordered him to take a defensive position near Lenud's Ferry on the Santee River
Santee River
The Santee River is a river in South Carolina in the United States, long. The Santee and its tributaries provide the principal drainage and navigation for the central coastal plain of South Carolina, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean approximately from its farthest headwater on the Catawba River...

 outside the city, but Lincoln surrendered around the time Buford reached this position. Buford was eventually joined by about 40 Virginia Light Dragoons who had escaped the siege or the battles that took place outside the city, and by Richard Caswell
Richard Caswell
Richard Caswell was the first and fifth governor of the U.S. State of North Carolina, serving from 1776 to 1780 and from 1784 to 1787....

's North Carolina militia. Upon receiving news of the surrender, Buford was ordered by General Isaac Huger
Isaac Huger
Isaac Huger was a planter and Continental Army general during the American Revolutionary War.-Life and work:...

 to return to Hillsborough, North Carolina
Hillsborough, North Carolina
Hillsborough is a town in Orange County, North Carolina, United States. The population was 5,653 at the 2008 census. It is the county seat of Orange County....

, so he turned his column around and headed north. At Camden
Camden, South Carolina
Camden is the fourth oldest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina and is also the county seat of Kershaw County, South Carolina, United States. The population was an estimated 7,103 in 2009...

, Buford and Caswell parted ways, with Buford heading north into the Waxhaws
The Waxhaws is a geographical area on the border of North and South Carolina.-Geography:The Waxhaws region is in the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina, southwest of the Uwharrie Mountains. The region encompasses an area just south of Charlotte, North Carolina, to Lancaster, South...

 region. Buford was accompanied for a time by South Carolina Governor John Rutledge
John Rutledge
John Rutledge was an American statesman and judge. He was the first Governor of South Carolina following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the 31st overall...

, who had been actively recruiting militia in the backcountry. When Buford stopped to rest his troops at Waxhaw Creek, Rutledge rode ahead toward Charlotte, North Carolina
Charlotte, North Carolina
Charlotte is the largest city in the U.S. state of North Carolina and the seat of Mecklenburg County. In 2010, Charlotte's population according to the US Census Bureau was 731,424, making it the 17th largest city in the United States based on population. The Charlotte metropolitan area had a 2009...


General Clinton learned of Huger's force and Rutledge's presence, and on May 15 ordered Lord Cornwallis
Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis
Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis KG , styled Viscount Brome between 1753 and 1762 and known as The Earl Cornwallis between 1762 and 1792, was a British Army officer and colonial administrator...

 to bring the South Carolina and Georgia backcountry under British control. His army moving too slowly to keep up with Buford, Cornwallis on May 27 sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton
Banastre Tarleton
General Sir Banastre Tarleton, 1st Baronet, GCB was a British soldier and politician.He is today probably best remembered for his military service during the American War of Independence. He became the focal point of a propaganda campaign claiming that he had fired upon surrendering Continental...

 in pursuit with a force of about 270 men, consisting of 170 British Legion and British Army dragoon
The word dragoon originally meant mounted infantry, who were trained in horse riding as well as infantry fighting skills. However, usage altered over time and during the 18th century, dragoons evolved into conventional light cavalry units and personnel...

s, 100 mounted British Legion infantry, and a three-pounder cannon. Tarleton reached Camden late on May 28, and set off in pursuit of Buford around midnight the next morning. By that afternoon, his advance force of 60 dragoons from the 17th Light Dragoons
17th Regiment of Light Dragoons (1759)
The 17th Regiment of Light Dragoons was a cavalry regiment of the British Army raised in 1759 and disbanded in 1763.It was raised in Scotland by Captain Lord Aberdour in 1759, for service in the Seven Years' War, and disbanded following the Treaty of Paris in 1763.-References:"On the institution of...

 and the British Legion cavalry, 60 mounted infantry from the British Legion, and an additional flanking force of 30 British Legion dragoons and some infantry, had reached Buford's resting place. Buford had, however, been warned of Tarleton's pursuit, and had begun moving north, and was 2 miles (3.2 km) up the road.


Tarleton sent Captain David Kinlock forward to the rebel column, carrying a white flag, to demand Buford's surrender. Upon his arrival, Buford halted his march and formed a battle line while the parley took place. In his message, Tarleton hugely exaggerated the size of his force—claiming he had 700 men—hoping to sway Buford's decision. The note also stated firmly to Buford, "Resistance being vain, to prevent the effusion of human blood, I make offers which can never be repeated", indicating that Tarleton would ask only once for Buford to surrender. Buford refused to surrender with the message: "I reject your proposals, and shall defend myself to the last extremity." Buford then reformed his troops into a column, and continued the northward march, with his baggage train near the front of the column.
Around 3:00 pm the leading edge of Tarleton's force caught up with Buford's rear guard. According to a Patriot eyewitness, a field surgeon named Robert Brownfield, the five dragoons of the rear guard were captured, and their leader, Captain Pearson, was "inhumanely mangled" by saber cuts, some inflicted after he had fallen. Buford stopped the column (except for the artillery and the baggage, which he ordered to continue on), and formed a single battle line near some open woods. Tarleton, some of whose horses were so tired out from the pursuit that he was unable to bring is field artillery into range, established a command post on a nearby hill, and organized his forces for the attack. According to his account of the battle, he arrayed 60 British Legion dragoons and a like number of infantry on the right, the dragoons of the 17th along with some additional British Legion dragoons in the center, and he personally took command of the left, commanding "thirty chosen horse and some infantry". Stragglers were to form a reserve corps atop the hill.

What happened next is the subject of much debate, due to the controversial nature of the events and significant inconsistencies in the primary accounts. Tarleton's line charged, and Buford waited until the enemy was within 10 yards (9.1 m) before giving the order to fire. This was a tactical mistake on Buford's part, for it enabled Tarleton's formations to hold, while only giving Buford's men time to fire a single volley before the British riders were attacking the line. As Tarleton's cavalry tore Buford's inexperienced line to pieces, many of the Americans began laying down their arms and offering to surrender. According to Patriot accounts, Buford, realizing the cause was lost, dispatched a white flag toward Tarleton in an attempt to surrender. However, Tarleton had been unhorsed (exactly when differs among the accounts), and may never have received it. Although it is clear from Patriot accounts that a flag was sent, they differ both on who carried it, and how its messenger was treated. What is also apparent is that fighting continued on both sides even though the flag was visible, and the conflicting Patriot accounts (none of the British accounts of the battle mention the flag) agree that flag was effectively refused. Buford and some of his cavalry then escaped the battlefield.

By conventional historical accounts, Tarleton's unhorsing gave some of the Loyalist cavalry the impression that the rebels had shot at their commander while asking for mercy, and they began what became a slaughter. According to the Patriot surgeon Brownfield, whose account was written many years after the war, the Loyalists attacked, carrying out "indiscriminate carnage never surpassed by the most ruthless atrocities of the most barbarous savages". Tarleton's men stabbed the wounded where they lay, regardless of implied surrender, for fifteen minutes after the battle had ended.

According to Tarleton's report of the battle, the American rebel casualties were 113 men killed, 147 wounded and released on parole, and the 2 six pounders and 26 wagons captured. The British losses were 5 killed, 12 wounded, with 11 horses killed and 19 horses wounded. Tarleton's men were also able to recover the American baggage train.

Historians in the 19th century blamed Tarleton for the massacre, even though most contemporary references to it did not describe it as such. Tarleton in his report to Cornwallis described the battle as a "slaughter", but claimed that his men, thinking their commander dead, engaged in "a vindictive asperity not easily restrained" after he was unhorsed. William Moultrie
William Moultrie
William Moultrie was a general from South Carolina in the American Revolutionary War.He was born in Charleston, South Carolina. He fought in the Anglo-Cherokee War and served in the colonial assembly before the advent of the American Revolution....

 noted that the lopsided casualty count was not unusual for similar battles in which one side gained a decided advantage early in a battle. Historian Jim Piecuch argues that the battle was as much a massacre as similar events led by Patriot commanders. David Wilson, on the other hand, holds Tarleton responsible for the slaughter, noting that it represented a loss of discipline, something Tarleton would have been responsible for maintaining. (Tarleton had been reprimanded for transgressions by his men at the Battle of Moncks Corner in April, and a Cornwallis aide, Charles Stedman, wrote of British actions at Waxhaws that "the virtue of humanity was totally forgot.")


After the battle, the wounded were treated at nearby churches by the congregants, one of whom was a young Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

. Tarleton claimed that after the battle ended, the wounded of both sides were treated "with equal humanity" and that the British provided "every possible convenience". Due to the large number of wounded, people from all over the countryside came to assist in their care. They learned of what had happened, and news of the apparent violation of quarter on Tarleton's part spread rapidly.
The battle at least temporarily consolidated British control over South Carolina, and Patriot sentiment was at a low ebb. General Clinton, among other acts before he left Charleston for New York, revoked the parole of surrendered Patriots. This affront (technically violating accepted "rules of war"), and reports of this battle, may have changed the direction of the war in the South. Many who might have stayed neutral flocked to the Patriots, and "Tarleton's Quarter!" and "Remember Buford" became rallying cries for the Whigs
Patriot (American Revolution)
Patriots is a name often used to describe the colonists of the British Thirteen United Colonies who rebelled against British control during the American Revolution. It was their leading figures who, in July 1776, declared the United States of America an independent nation...

. News of the massacre was also directly responsible for the creation of volunteer militia forces among the "over-mountain men" (from the Watauga Association
Watauga Association
The Watauga Association was a semi-autonomous government created in 1772 by frontier settlers living along the Watauga River in what is now present day Elizabethton, Tennessee...

 settlement at Sycamore Shoals
Sycamore Shoals
The Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga River, usually shortened to Sycamore Shoals, is a rocky stretch of river rapids along the Watauga River in Elizabethton, in the U.S. state of Tennessee...

 at a location is now Elizabethton, Tennessee
Elizabethton, Tennessee
Elizabethton is the county seat of Carter County, Tennessee, United States. Elizabethton is also the historical site both of the first independent American government located west of both the Eastern Continental Divide and the original thirteen British American colonies.Elizabethton is also the...

). These militia participated in actions against British Loyalists at both the Battle of Musgrove Mill
Battle of Musgrove Mill
The Battle of Musgrove Mill, August 19, 1780, occurred near a ford of the Enoree River, near the present-day border between Spartanburg, Laurens and Union Counties in South Carolina...

 on August 18, 1780 near present-day Clinton, South Carolina
Clinton, South Carolina
Clinton is a city in Laurens County, South Carolina, United States. The population was 8,091 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Greenville–Mauldin–Easley Metropolitan Statistical Area. Clinton was first settled by Scots-Irish immigrants two decades before the American Revolutionary...

 and in the decisive defeat of British Major Patrick Ferguson's
Patrick Ferguson
Major Patrick Ferguson was a Scottish officer in the British Army, early advocate of light infantry and designer of the Ferguson rifle. He is best known for his service in the 1780 military campaign of Charles Cornwallis, in which he aggressively recruited Loyalists and harshly treated Patriot...

 command on October 7, 1780 at Kings Mountain
Battle of Kings Mountain
The Battle of Kings Mountain was a decisive battle between the Patriot and Loyalist militias in the Southern campaign of the American Revolutionary War...

, near present-day Blacksburg, South Carolina
Blacksburg, South Carolina
Blacksburg is a town in Cherokee County, South Carolina, United States. The population was 1,848 at the 2010 census. The communities of Cherokee Falls, Kings Creek, Cashion Crossroads, Buffalo, and Mt...



The community in which the battlefield is located is now called Buford
Buford, South Carolina
Buford is an unincorporated community in Lancaster County, South Carolina, United States...

. The battlefield is owned by Lancaster County, and is preserved as a local park. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is the United States government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation...

 as the Buford's Massacre Site in 1990.

In the 2000 movie The Patriot
The Patriot (2000 film)
The Patriot is a 2000 historical war film directed by Roland Emmerich, written by Robert Rodat, and starring Mel Gibson, Chris Cooper, and Heath Ledger. It was produced by the Mutual Film Company and Centropolis Entertainment and was distributed by Columbia Pictures...

, Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger
Heath Andrew Ledger was an Australian television and film actor. After performing roles in Australian television and film during the 1990s, Ledger moved to the United States in 1998 to develop his film career...

's character Gabriel Martin is wounded in a battle that takes place not long after the fall of Charleston. Gabriel states afterward that "Gates ordered us to march straight at the Red Coats
Red coat (British army)
Red coat or Redcoat is a historical term used to refer to soldiers of the British Army because of the red uniforms formerly worn by the majority of regiments. From the late 17th century to the early 20th century, the uniform of most British soldiers, , included a madder red coat or coatee...

". Horatio Gates
Horatio Gates
Horatio Lloyd Gates was a retired British soldier who served as an American general during the Revolutionary War. He took credit for the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga – Benedict Arnold, who led the attack, was finally forced from the field when he was shot in the leg – and...

 was not present at Waxhaws, and the American column was marching away from the British at Waxhaws, not toward them. This is likely a reference instead to the August 16, 1780 Battle of Camden
Battle of Camden
The Battle of Camden was a major victory for the British in the Southern theater of the American Revolutionary War...

, in which Gates was defeated in another lopsided victory by Cornwallis.

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