SHARE:
The Battle of Waxhaws

On May 29, 1780, the British Legion, led by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, attacked Patriot militia, commanded by Colonel Abraham Buford, who were retreating through Waxhaws toward North Carolina. The encounter soon turned into a bloodbath, with Tarleton’s men offering no “quarter,” or mercy, to the defeated American troops. Known afterward as “Buford’s Massacre,” the engagement inspired Patriot defiance and “Remember Waxhaws!” became a rallying cry.

Waxhaws

Buford's massacre

South Carolina  |  May 29, 1780

On May 29, 1780, British commander Banastre Tarleton engaged and overwhelmed a Patriot force under the command of Abraham Buford in a dreadful defeat for the Patriots. However, Continental forces in the South turned this stunning loss into a propaganda victory, stirring up anti-British sentiment throughout the colonies.

How It Ended 

British Victory. Once Tarleton’s attack commenced, the Patriot lines were quickly overwhelmed and routed from the field. Many Patriot survivors recalled how the British massacred many men who tried to surrender—resulting in Tarleton becoming known as a butcher and the engagement becoming a battle cry for Patriot forces citing “Remember Waxhaws!”  in the Southern Theatre. 

In Context 

On May 12, 1780, Charleston, South Carolina, fell to the British under the command of Sir Henry Clinton. With plans to return to New York, Clinton transferred command to his deputy, Gen. Charles, Lord Cornwallis.

In the days after the British capture of Charleston, South Carolina, Cornwallis soon learned of a column of reinforcements consisting of 380 men, the 3rd Virginia Detachment, under the command of Colonel Abraham Buford that failed to reach the city before it fell. Cornwallis dispatched Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton to pursue and engage Buford.

Forces Engaged
570
American
420
British
150

Even though the Americans were several days ahead of him, Tarleton moved his men 150 miles at a wicked pace, catching up with Buford on the afternoon of May 29, 1780. The area where the two forces caught sight of each other lies along the border of North and South Carolina, the Waxhaws.

Prior to reaching the Waxhaws, Tarleton sent ahead a message to Buford, demanding the Patriots surrender. Buford refused and ordered all his heavy baggage and weapons to continue moving northward. He then 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 ten yards.

Approaching Buford's position, Tarleton divided his force into three attacking columns. First, he deployed sixty British Legion dragoons and about the same number of mounted infantry to the right, intending to have the mounted infantry dismount and pour fire upon the Americans, pinning them down. At the same time, he formed a center column of the 17th Light Dragoons, as well as forty Legion dragoons, to charge straight towards the American center. The left column was led by Tarleton and consisted of thirty men of the Legion, ready to sweep the American right flank and drive for their baggage and reserves. 

The British attack commenced as soon as all of their troops were in position. The Patriots managed to get off a single volley before being overwhelmed.

American
316
113 killed
150 wounded
53 missing & captured
Estimated Casualties
333
American
316
British
17
British
17
5 killed
12 wounded
0 missing & captured

The British columns broke through positions, cutting down soldiers left and right. Many American survivors of the battle claimed that their comrades were massacred while trying to surrender. Buford managed to escape from the slaughter. The Battle of Waxhaws became known as “Buford’s Massacre,” and Tarleton, already known as an aggressive commander, was condemned as a butcher.

1. Was the Battle of Waxhaws a massacre?

There is some debate as to whether or not a massacre took place, however, given the evidence available Tarleton did lose control of his men and Patriot soldiers were killed while attempting to surrender. The effect of the event in 1780 was dramatic. Patriot ranks swelled in response to the battle and it served as a rallying point for the cause of independence. Just months later, as the Overmountain Men attacked a Loyalist force at King’s Mountain, their battle cry was “Remember the Waxhaws” and “Give them Buford’s play!”

2. What role did Andrew Jackson play in the Battle of Waxhaws?

In the aftermath of the Battle of Waxhaws, wounded soldiers from both sides were moved into surrounding homes and churches to be treated by the locals. One of the volunteers was Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States.

All battles of the Southern Theater 1780 - 1783 Campaign

Rev War  |  Battle
Charleston
South Carolina  |  Feb 11 - May 12, 1780
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 5,764
American: 5,506
British: 258
Rev War  |  Battle
Lenud's Ferry
Berkeley County, SC  |  May 6, 1780
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 41
American: 41
Rev War  |  Battle
Waxhaws
South Carolina  |  May 29, 1780
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 333
American: 316
British: 17
Rev War  |  Battle
Alexander's Old Field
Beckhamville, South Carolina  |  Jun 6, 1780
Result: American Victory
Rev War  |  Battle
Huck's Defeat
South Carolina  |  Jul 12, 1780
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 96
American: 1
British: 95
Rev War  |  Battle
Rocky Mount
Fairfield County, South Carolina  |  Jul 30, 1780
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 32
American: 12
British: 20
Rev War  |  Battle
Camden
South Carolina  |  Aug 16, 1780
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 2,224
American: 1,900
British: 324
Rev War  |  Battle
Musgrove Mill
South Carolina  |  Aug 19, 1780
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 149
American: 16
British: 133
Rev War  |  Battle
Kings Mountain
South Carolina  |  Oct 7, 1780
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 1,108
American: 90
British: 1,018
Rev War  |  Battle
Blackstock's Plantation
Union, SC  |  Nov 20, 1780
Result: American Victory
American: 7
British: 192
Rev War  |  Battle
Rugeley's Mill
South Carolina  |  Dec 4, 1780
Result: American Victory
Rev War  |  Battle
Hammond's Store
Laurens County, South Carolina  |  Dec 30, 1780
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 150
British: 150
Rev War  |  Battle
Cowpens
South Carolina  |  Jan 17, 1781
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 1,017
American: 149
British: 868
Rev War  |  Battle
Guilford Courthouse
North Carolina  |  Mar 15, 1781
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 1,842
American: 1,310
British: 532
Rev War  |  Battle
Beattie's Mill
Abbeville County, South Carolina  |  Mar 21, 1781
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 76
British: 76
Rev War  |  Battle
Siege of Fort Watson
Summerton, South Carolina  |  Apr 15 - 23, 1781
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 116
American: 2
British: 114
Rev War  |  Battle
Hobkirk Hill
South Carolina  |  Apr 25, 1781
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 528
American: 270
British: 258
Rev War  |  Battle
Ninety Six
South Carolina  |  May 22 - Jun 19, 1781
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 232
American: 147
British: 85
Rev War  |  Battle
Parker's Ferry
Colleton County, SC  |  Aug 30, 1781
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 209
American: 4
British: 205
Rev War  |  Battle
Eutaw Springs
South Carolina  |  Sep 8, 1781
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 1,461
American: 579
British: 882
Rev War  |  Battle
Wadboo Barony
South Carolina  |  Aug 29, 1782
Result: Inconclusive
Est. Casualties: 20
American: 3
British: 17
Rev War  |  Battle
Dills Bluff
James Island, SC  |  Nov 14, 1782
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 15
American: 10
British: 5

Related Battles

South Carolina | May 29, 1780
Result: British Victory
Commanders
Forces Engaged
570
American
420
British
150
Estimated Casualties
333
American
316
British
17