30 May 2019

Remembering Waxhaws: Defeat on the Road to Victory

Remembering Waxhaws: Defeat on the Road to Victory

239 years ago today, Banastre Tarleton with his British Legion and Dragoons caught up with Abraham Buford and a column of Patriots in a place called Waxhaws, on the border of North and South Carolina. There, a small but brutal battle would have a huge impact on the outcome of the American Revolution.

On the heels of a British victory at Charleston, Tarleton’s force marched more than 105 miles in 54 hours in pursuit of Buford’s retreating troops. Buford had been on his way to reinforce Charleston but turned back when he learned that the six-week siege there had ended in Patriot surrender.

Overtaking Buford by the afternoon of May 29, Tarleton sent Captain David Kinlock to demand Buford’s surrender. Tarleton’s message stated, “Resistance being vain, to prevent the effusion of human blood, I make offers which can never be repeated.” Buford is reported to have responded, “I reject your proposals, and shall defend myself to the last extremity.” Ordering his heavy baggage and weapons to continue moving northward, Buford turned to face the advancing British and Loyalists.

What happened next may forever remain a subject of controversy. We know that 113 Americans were killed and 150 more wounded, compared to only five British killed and 12 wounded. While the British reported that the wounded on both sides were treated fairly, as was custom of the day, Patriot survivors claimed that their comrades were massacred while trying to surrender. In Tarleton’s account, published more than a decade after the fact, he claimed that his troops had attacked viciously after seeing their commander’s horse shot from under him and thinking him slain.

We may never know exactly how the surrender at Waxhaws went down, but its result was unequivocal. The battle became known as “Buford’s Massacre” and Tarleton, already known as an aggressive commander, was condemned as a butcher. As the British advanced into North Carolina, men from all over the South took up arms against the “butchers” of Waxhaws. At the Battle of King’s Mountain in October of 1780, the “Overmountain Men” would attack their Loyalist foes with cries of “Remember Waxhaws!” Southern resistance to the British campaign continued to intensify until the British army finally met its fate at Yorktown in October of 1781.

To date, you and your fellow modern patriots have preserved 51 acres of land at this critical battlefield. Take a minute today to honor the men who fought at Waxhaws by learning more about the Revolutionary War’s Southern Campaign and the development of a “Liberty Trail” to preserve this foundational yet underappreciated history.


American Battlefield Trust

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