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  • 5/29/2010

The Day in History:

Waxhaw massacre

waxhaw massacre

Part of the American Revolutionary War

Date: May 29, 1780

Location: South Carolina

Result: British victory


The Waxhaw Massacre is an alternative name for the controversial Battle of Waxhaws that took place during the American Revolution on May 29, 1780, in Lancaster, South Carolina, between a Patriot force led by Abraham Buford and a mainly Loyalist force led by Banastre Tarleton.


Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton by Joshua Reynolds.Colonel Abraham Buford led a force of between 350 and 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) - to assist the Patriot forces in the Siege of Charleston. Before arriving, they learned that the city had already been captured by the British, and they turned back to Virginia.

However, British Colonel Banastre Tarleton heard that South Carolina's Patriot Governor John Rutledge was traveling with Buford. Anxious to capture Rutledge, Tarleton pursued with a force of roughly 230 men, consisting of 130 Legion dragoons, 100 Mounted British Legion infantry, and a three-pounder cannon. In the event, only an 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 actually engaged in the main attack.


On May 29, 1780, Tarleton caught up with Buford in the Waxhaws, at a crossroads in what is now Buford, South Carolina. By then, Governor Rutledge had already separated from Buford's detachment.

While waiting for his reserves to move up, Tarleton sent Captain David Kinlock to demand Buford's surrender. In his message, Tarleton hugely exaggerated the size of his force—claiming he had 700 men—hoping to sway Buford's decision. Buford refused with the message: "I reject your proposals, and shall defend myself to the last extremity."

Despite this, Buford made the unwise decision to keep marching rather than prepare for battle. When Tarleton's attack came, Buford waited until the enemy was within ten yards to give the order to fire. This had minimal effect on the charging cavalry and resulted in a rout of the Virginians. According to Tarleton's after battle report, the Patriots lost 113 men killed, 147 wounded and released on parole, and the 2 six pounders and 26 wagons captured. The British lost 5 killed, 12 wounded, with 11 horses killed and 19 horses wounded.

AftermathThe battle has always been controversial, since after breaking Buford's line Tarleton's men slaughtered many of the Virginians who surrendered, hacking them down with their sabres. Some sources, such as Buford's Adjutant Henry Bowyer and Surgeon's Mate Robert Brownfield, claim that Buford belatedly raised a white flag but was ignored by Tarleton. In Tarleton's own account, he virtually admits the massacre, stating 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."

The wounded of both parties were treated with equal humanity by the British. The American officers and soldiers who were unable to travel, were paroled the next morning, and placed at the neighbouring plantations and in a meeting house, not far from the field of battle. Surgeons were sent for from Camden and Charlotte town to assist them. Every possible convenience was provided by the British.

In recounting Tarleton's action at the scene one member of the British Army who was there, a surgeon named Robert Brownfield, wrote that

"... Tarleton with his cruel myrmidons was in the midst of them, when commenced a scene of indiscriminate carnage, never surpassed by the ruthless atrocities of the barbarous savages."

Before the massacre, popular opinion held that the Southern states were lost to the Patriot cause and would remain loyal to Britain. The reports of the Waxhaw Massacre, however, 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. The massacre was also directly responsible for the over-mountain men (from what is now Tennessee) forming a volunteer force that utterly destroyed Major Patrick Ferguson's command at Kings Mountain, South Carolina.

Popular cultureIn the 2000 movie The Patriot, Mel Gibson's character's oldest son Gabriel is wounded at the Waxhaw massacre. This happens just before he returns to the Martin plantation and is not seen on screen.

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com

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