Battle of Waxhaws

Coordinates: 34°44′31.03″N 80°37′32.85″W / 34.7419528°N 80.6257917°W / 34.7419528; -80.6257917
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Battle of Waxhaws
Part of the American Revolutionary War
Waxhaw massacre sketch.jpg
19th-century sketch of the battle
DateMay 29, 1780
Location34°44′31.03″N 80°37′32.85″W / 34.7419528°N 80.6257917°W / 34.7419528; -80.6257917
Result British victory
 Great Britain  United States
Commanders and leaders
Banastre Tarleton Abraham Buford
150 infantry and cavalry 380 infantry
40 cavalry[1]
Casualties and losses
5 killed
12 wounded
113 killed
150 wounded
53 captured

The Battle of Waxhaws (also known as the Waxhaws massacre and Buford's massacre) was a military engagement which took place on May 29, 1780 during the American Revolutionary War between a Patriot force led by Abraham Buford and a British force led by Banastre Tarleton near Lancaster, South Carolina. Buford's men consisted of Continental Army soldiers, while Tarleton's force was mostly made up of Loyalist troops. After the two forces sighted each other, Buford rejected an initial demand to surrender. Tarleton's cavalrymen launched a charge against the Patriot troops, which led many of Buford's men to throw their arms down in surrender. However, as Tarleton was shot under his horse during the charge, his infuriated soldiers attacked their Patriot opponents, killing several.[2][3]

Of the 420 soldiers serving under Buford during the battle, 113 were killed, 150 were injured and 53 were captured. The British suffered 5 men killed and 12 wounded. Patriots subsequently coined the term "Tarleton's quarter" to refer to the practise of giving no quarter during battles, though he had not ordered his men to attack the surrendering Patriots. In subsequent engagement in the Carolinas, it became rare for either side to take significant prisoners. The battle became the subject of an intensive propaganda campaign by Patriots to bolster recruitment and incite resentment against the British. After the 1781 siege of Yorktown, the only British officer not invited to dine with George Washington was Tarleton.


Following the British defeat at Saratoga in 1777 and French entry into the American Revolutionary War in early 1778, the British embarked on a "southern strategy" to regain control over their North American colonies. The British believed they had more supporters in the South due to the close business and trading relationships, and that they might concentrate power in the South and later retake the North. They began the campaign in December 1778 with the capture of Savannah, Georgia. In 1780, General Sir Henry Clinton brought an army south and captured Charleston, South Carolina on May 12, 1780, after a siege.[4]


Colonel Abraham Buford commanded a force of about 380 Virginian Continentals (the 3rd Virginia Detachment, composed of the 7th Virginia Regiment, two companies of the 2nd Virginia Regiment and an artillery detachment with two six-pounders).[1] Most of his men were raw recruits with little battle experience, although Buford had experienced officers under his command. Because of delays in outfitting his command, Buford had been unable to reach Charleston and participate in its defense.[5] Charleston's commander, General Benjamin Lincoln, had ordered him to take a defensive position near Lenud's Ferry on the Santee 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 during battles outside the city, and by Richard Caswell's North Carolina militia. Receiving news of the surrender, Buford was ordered by General Isaac Huger to return to Hillsborough, North Carolina. He turned his column around and headed north.[1][6] At Camden, Buford and Caswell parted ways, with Buford marching north into the Waxhaws region. Buford was accompanied for a time by South Carolina Governor John Rutledge, 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.[7]

General Clinton learned of Huger's and Rutledge's forces and on May 15 ordered Lord Cornwallis to bring the South Carolina and Georgia backcountry under British control.[5] His army moving too slowly to keep up with Buford, Cornwallis on May 27 sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton in pursuit with a force of about 270 men. Tarleton commanded the British Legion, a primarily Loyalist provincial regiment. The force he took in pursuit of Buford consisted of 170 Legion and British Army dragoons, 100 mounted British Legion infantry, and a three-pounder cannon.[1][7] Tarleton reached Camden late on May 28, and set off in pursuit of Buford around midnight early the next day.[7] By that afternoon, his advance force of 60 dragoons from the 17th Light Dragoons 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. Warned of Tarleton's pursuit, Buford 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. Tarleton greatly exaggerated the size of his force in his message—claiming he had 700 men—hoping to sway Buford's decision. The note also said, "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, responding: "I reject your proposals, and shall defend myself to the last extremity."[8] Buford reformed his troops into a column, and continued the northward march, with his baggage train near the front of the column. Tarleton, in violation of accepted rules of war, had continued his march while the parley took place.[8]

Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton by Joshua Reynolds

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.[8] 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.[9][10] Tarleton, some of whose horses were so tired from the pursuit that he was unable to bring his 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".[9] Stragglers were to form a reserve corps atop the hill.[9]

What happened next is the subject of much debate; there are significant inconsistencies in the primary accounts. Tarleton's line charged, and Buford waited until the enemy was within 10 yards (9 m) before giving the order to fire.[9] This was a tactical mistake on Buford's part, for it enabled Tarleton's formations to hold, while giving Buford's men time to fire only a single volley before Tarleton's force attacked their line.[11] As Tarleton's cavalry tore Buford's 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 (exactly when differs among the accounts). However, Tarleton was trapped beneath his dead horse, following the mount being shot from under him during the surrender, and may never have received it. Although Patriot accounts say that a surrender flag was sent, they differ both on who carried it, and how its messenger was treated. Tarleton's men were incensed at the betrayal and fighting continued on both sides despite the white flag being visible. The conflicting Patriot accounts agree that flag was effectively refused. None of the British accounts of the battle mention the surrender flag. Buford and some of his cavalry were able to escape the battlefield.[12] According to Tarleton's report of the battle, the American rebel casualties were 113 men killed, 147 wounded and released on parole, and 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 had also recovered the American baggage train.

Historians in the 19th century blamed Tarleton for the massacre, but most contemporary references to it do not describe it as such.[13] Tarleton, in a version published in 1781, said that the battle was a "slaughter"; he said that his horse had been shot from under him during the initial charge and his men, thinking him dead, engaged in "a vindictive asperity not easily restrained".[14] William Moultrie 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 no more a massacre than similar events led by Patriot commanders.[15] David Wilson, on the other hand, holds Tarleton responsible for the slaughter. He notes that it represented a loss of discipline, something for which Tarleton was accountable. He had already been reprimanded for transgressions by his men at the Battle of Monck's Corner in April. Charles Stedman, a aide-de-camp to Charles Cornwallis, wrote regarding the battle at Waxhaws that "the virtue of humanity was totally forgot."[16]


After the battle, the wounded were treated at nearby churches by the congregants, one of whom was a young Andrew Jackson.[17][citation needed] Tarleton reported that after the battle ended, the wounded of both sides were treated "with equal humanity" and that the British provided "every possible convenience".[10] Due to the large number of wounded, people from all over the countryside came to assist in their care. When they learned of what had happened, albeit one-sidedly, news of the apparent violation of quarter on Tarleton's part spread rapidly through the region.[18]

Monument and mass grave at the battle site

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 (violating accepted "rules of war"[citation needed]), 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. News of the massacre directly inspired the creation of volunteer militia forces among the over-mountain men (from the Wataugan settlements at, and near Sycamore Shoals). These militia participated in actions against Loyalist forces at both the Battle of Musgrove Mill on August 18, 1780, (near present-day Clinton, South Carolina) and in the decisive defeat of a Loyalist army led by Major Patrick Ferguson on October 7, 1780 at Kings Mountain (near present-day Blacksburg, South Carolina).


The community in which the battlefield is located is now called Buford, and the nearby high school is named Buford High School, after Colonel Buford.[19] The battlefield is owned by Lancaster County, and is preserved as a local park.[20] In 1990 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Buford's Massacre Site.[21] The American Battlefield Trust and its partners have acquired and preserved 51 acres (0.21 km2) of the battlefield.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Wilson, p. 260
  2. ^ Bass, Robert.D (August 1957). The Green Dragoon: The Lives of Banastre Tarleton and Mary Robinson. North Carolina Office of Archives and History. pp. 79–83. ISBN 0878441638.
  3. ^ Agniel, Lucien (June 1972). "The Late Affair Has Almost Broke My Heart: The American Revolution in the South, 1780–1781". Chatham Press. pp. 55–56.
  4. ^ See e.g. Wilson chapters 6-11 for details on the British campaigns between 1778 and May 1780.
  5. ^ a b Wilson, p. 251
  6. ^ Scoggins, p. 41
  7. ^ a b c Scoggins, p. 44
  8. ^ a b c Wilson, p. 253
  9. ^ a b c d Wilson, p. 254
  10. ^ a b Scoggins, p. 45
  11. ^ Piecuch, p. 8
  12. ^ Piecuch, pp. 8–9
  13. ^ Piecuch, p. 5
  14. ^ A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, Banastre Tarleton, Dublin, (1781) 1787, p 32.
  15. ^ Piecuch, p. 9
  16. ^ Wilson, p. 259
  17. ^ Meacham p. 11
  18. ^ Scoggins, p. 46
  19. ^ Bigham, John (1959-09-04). "The Roamer visits the Buford Battleground". The Columbia Record. pp. 4–A. Retrieved 2022-07-11 – via
  20. ^ "Park Directory". Lancaster County Government, South Carolina. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  21. ^ "Buford's Massacre Site listing". South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  22. ^ [1] American Battlefield Trust "Saved Land" webpage. Accessed May 24, 2018.


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