Buford’s Massacre

Conflict: Revolutionary War

19th century sketch of the Waxhaw Massacre

19th century sketch of the Waxhaw Massacre

In May of 1780, Colonel Abraham Buford led 350 Virginian Continentals north toward the Waxhaws region in North Carolina. The British knew of the building rebel presence in that region and began planning to capture South Carolina and Georgia. But Lord Cornwallis and his men were too slow to catch up to Buford and ordered Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton to do the job instead.

Tarleton only had about 150 men, most of them dragoons or light cavalry, but he claimed to have 700 when he sent a note to Buford, who was already marching toward Tarleton. The note demanded Buford to surrender and told him he would only have one chance to do so. Buford refused the demands and continued his march northward.

Tarleton and his men had been marching toward the rebels during the exchange and eventually caught up and attacked the rear of Buford’s troops. Buford and his front men then lined up for battle and waited for Tarleton to move forward. Once Tarleton’s men got close enough, Buford ordered his men to fire. Unfortunately, the loyalists were so close that the rebels only had enough time to fire once before the enemy reached them. Buford had more men, but they were very inexperienced, fresh recruits. The battle quickly turned into a slaughter, and the rebels laid down their weapons in hopes of being spared.

Buford knew the fight was lost and offered a white flag of surrender. Around the same time, Tarleton’s horse was shot and both he and the horse went down, leaving his men to think their leader was shot as well. The incident either prevented Tarleton from receiving the note of surrender or caused the men to think Tarleton had been killed during a plea for mercy and angered them into ensuing violence. Records of what actually happened are inconclusive. In the end, Tarleton was alive, but his men went forward with the massacre anyway.

The below flyer printed by the British doesn’t even mention an attempt to surrender by Buford but does take note of those “cut to pieces.”

British account of Battle of Waxhaws

British account of Battle of Waxhaws

Buford and a few of his men did survive the Battle of Waxhaws, and Buford continued to serve as an officer until the end of the Revolutionary War. After his service, Buford filed for a pension and spent the rest of his days in the horse racing industry.