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The Battle of Waxhaw aka The Waxhaw Massacre

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The Waxhaw Massacre was one of the most important, and is one of the most neglected, events in the American Revolution. The earliest references are to “Buford’s Defeat” or the “Waxhaw Massacre”, but some have since called it “Buford’s Massacre” or “The Battle of the Waxhaws” – both of which seem unsatisfactory, as Buford was not responsible, and a Battle implies both sides were fighting.

The Massacre

Col. Abraham Buford led a force of about 350 Virginian Continentals to assist the American forces in the siege of Charleston, South Carolina. Before arriving, they learned that the city had been taken, and turned back to Virginia. However, the British Col. Banastre Tarleton learned of this, and pursued with a force of roughly 700 dragoons and mounted infantry. On May 29, 1780, Tarleton caught up with Buford in the Waxhaws – at a crossroads in what is now called Buford, S.C. Seeing that he was hopelessly outnumbered, Col. Buford ordered his men to stack arms and surrender, which they promptly began to do.

Reports differ as to what happened next. Somehow a gun may have gone off. British sources say that Tarleton’s horse was shot from under him, and his men believed that he had been killed, but other circumstances suggest this was a fabrication. In any case, the British forces (who were mostly American Loyalists, or Tories) proceeded to murder the mostly unarmed Virginians. Again, accounts differ, but many place the dead at 113 for that day. However, perhaps another 150 were wounded, and most died in the next few days.

Before the massacre, popular opinion held that the Southern States were lost to the American cause, and would stay loyal to Britain. The Waxhaw Massacre may have changed the direction of the war in the South. Many who would have stayed neutral flocked to the American cause, and “Tarleton’s Quarter!” became a rallying cry for the Whigs. This 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, North Carolina.

It is interesting to note that American history books commonly included reference to the Waxhaw Massacre up to the 20th century, but somewhere along the way dropped it – perhaps due to a combination of excessive zeal in early reports of the number of dead (the number 400 was frequently circulated), and a desire not to offend British sensibilities after becoming allies in the First World War.


Military buffs may note that a Dragoon and a Mounted Infantryman are essentially the same thing, but in this case the difference is significant. Tarleton had a force of about 350 dragoons with horses, but the British had not had time to get enough mounts for their troops, so in order to catch up with Buford with an overpowering force Tarleton doubled up on the mounts – one dragoon and one infantryman per horse.

Contemporary sources claimed that there were 400 men under Buford’s command, and all but a handful were killed – but this should be understood to be the hyperbole of propaganda. A number of sources claim 113 dead at the site, 150 wounded, and 53 taken captive. However, the number of 113 is much too low, as most sources concur that well over 100 of the wounded died of wounds within the next few days.

Source Wikipedia

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