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Battle of Waxhaws, South Carolina (published June 13, 2022)

VIDEO: Colonel Tarleton, the Butcher of Waxhaws, South Carolina

Buford's Bloody Battle The Waxhaws is a geographical region extending beyond both sides of the border between what now is North Carolina and South Carolina, United States. It encompasses the areas currently known as Lancaster, Union, and Mecklenburg counties. The name is derived from that of the Indigenous people who first inhabited the land base of the Waxhaw people. Much of the area is now the territory of the Catawba Indian Nation. South Carolina | May 29, 1780

After Charleston fell to the British under the command of Sir Henry Clinton on May 12, 1780, a column of reinforcements consisting of 380 troops under the command of Colonel Abraham Buford failed to reach the city before its fall. This force was known as the Third Virginia Detachment and consisted of two companies of the 2nd Virginia Regiment, 40 Virginia Light Dragoons, and two six-pound cannons. British commander, Sir Clinton had planned to return to New York and transfer command to his deputy, Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis in command of the Southern Army. When Cornwallis learned of the presence of Colonel Buford, he sent a force under Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton in pursuit. Tarleton commanded 230 men of his British Legion and 40 members of the 17th Light Dragoons. Tarleton also brought along a three-pound cannon. Even though the Americans were a week ahead of Tarleton, the aggressive British commander moved his men 150 miles at a rapid pace, catching up with Buford on the afternoon of May 29th, 1780. The area in which the two forces caught sight of each other lies along the border of North and South Carolina, in an area called the Waxhaws. Tarleton proceeded to send a message ahead to Buford, demanding the Patriots surrender. Buford refused and then ordered all of his heavy baggage and weapons to continue moving northward. This included his artillery, which would not play a role in the battle. Then, Buford formed a battle line in an open field across the route of march, his infantry in a single line with orders not to fire until the British approached within 10 yards. Tarleton divided his force into three attacking columns during the approach to the position of Colonel Buford. He deployed 60 British Legion dragoons as well as about the same number of mounted infantry to the right, with the intention of having the mounted infantry dismount and pour fire upon the Americans, pinning them down. At the same time, he formed a center column of his elite troops, the regular soldiers of the 17th Light Dragoons, as well as 40 Legion dragoons, to charge straight towards the American center under the covering fire of the Loyalists to their right. The left column was led by Tarleton himself and consisted of 30 handpicked men of the Legion, ready to sweep the American right flank and drive for their baggage and reserves. Tarleton kept his single cannon in reserve with the remaining Legion Dragoons. Battle of Waxhaws The British wasted no time, and attacked as soon as all of their troops were in position. Colonel Buford saw that they were overcome with British troops, ordered his men to refrain from firing, and ran up a white flag of surrender.
Colonel Banastre Tarleton
Colonel Banastre Tarleton.

But Colonel Tarleton gave No Quarter. His three columns broke through the positions and began cutting down soldiers left and right. Many American survivors of the battle claimed that their comrades were massacred while trying to surrender. Just as quickly as it had begun, the Battle of Waxhaws was over. British casualties were slight, with 5 killed and 14 wounded. The Americans lost 113 men killed and 203 wounded. Colonel Buford managed to escape from the slaughter. He reported what he saw on the battlefield to Patriot officials and the effect was electrifying. The Battle of Waxhaws became known as a bloody massacre of the American troops, and word spread throughout the colony that Colonel Tarleton was a butcher! As the word spread that the army of Colonel Buford had been cut down with swords in the face of a white flag, Carolinians, Georgians and Virginians enlisted enmass, taking up their rifles and muskets and crossing the plains to meet up with the American army. By the time the enemy had advanced into North Carolina, the "Overmountain Men", skilled and adept in hunting and fighting Indians, crossed the Appalachian mountains with their rifles and bluster guns. They arrived at the foot of King's Mountain and won the battle (October of 1780), a feat that changed the outcome of the war! They attacked the Loyalist position with cries of " Remember Waxhaws!" Resistance to the British campaign in the South continued to intensify, and in October of 1781, the British Army in the south would finally meet its fate around the Virginia port of Yorktown.