(May 29, 1780). The Battle of the Waxhaws, also known as Buford’s Massacre, was one of several incidents in the backcountry that helped turn the Revolutionary War in the South into a bloody civil war. Most of Georgia and South Carolina fell under British and Loyalist control after the fall of Savannah in late 1779 and the surrender of Charleston, along with 5,500 Continentals and militiamen, on May 12, 1780.
In late May, Colonel Abraham Buford’s patriot force of 350 to 400 Virginians, primarily infantry and the only significant body of Continentals remaining in the South, retreated toward North Carolina intending to join militia units there and help rebuild the American army in the Carolinas. Colonel Banastre Tarleton pursued him with a force of about 250 to 300 British regulars and Loyalists made up of cavalry, mounted infantry, and dragoons. He overtook Buford on May 29 just south of the North Carolina–South Carolina border (in present-day Lancaster County) and demanded his immediate surrender. Buford refused, and Tarleton charged the Americans, routing them. Though some Americans tried to surrender, others kept fighting, and the British and Loyalists shot or bayoneted many of them, with more than 250 killed or wounded and more than 50 taken prisoner. Tarleton later boasted, “I have cut 170 Off [ice]rs and Men to pieces.” American accounts claimed that the British and Loyalists “killed at least 200 men in a most Cruel & Inhumane manner.”
Most Americans considered Buford’s defeat a massacre rather than a battle, and a British history of the Revolution published a few years after the war commented, “the virtue of humanity was totally forgot.” This bloody action inspired many in South Carolina and elsewhere to continue, or in some cases to join, the fight against the British and Loyalists in spite of the immense odds against them. “Tarleton’s Quarter!” and “Remember Buford!” became watchwords among the patriots in the southern backcountry for the rest of the war.
Edgar, Walter. Partisans and Redcoats: The Southern Conflict That Turned the Tide of the American Revolution. New York: Morrow, 2001.
Lumpkin, Henry. From Savannah to Yorktown: The American Revolution in the South. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1981.
Power, J. Tracy. “‘The Virtue of Humanity Was Totally Forgot’: Buford’s Massacre, May 29, 1780.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 93 (January 1992): 5–14.