In the spring of 1780, Colonel Abraham Buford’s 350 Virginia Continentals were marching from Hillsborough, N.C., to reinforce Major General Benjamin Lincoln in the defense of Charles Town. Buford made it as far as the Santee River, when he received news of the disastrous American surrender of the city. While stopped at Lenud’s Ferry on the river, Buford received orders to return to Hillsborough.
On May 27, Lord Cornwallis sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his force of 170 British Legion and British Army dragoons, plus 100 mounted British infantry and a three-pounder cannon to overtake Buford and attack the Virginians. 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.”
Although exhausted from covering more than 150 miles in 54 hours, Tarleton’s column formed up and charged Buford’s single battle line. The dragoons quickly seized the advantage over the inexperienced Continental troops. Buford attempted to surrender, but whether Tarleton never received the request or refused it is unknown. Patriot surgeon Brownfield would later write that Tarleton’s men attacked with “indiscriminate carnage never surpassed by the most ruthless atrocities of the most barbarous savages.” Tarleton’s men, refusing to take any prisoners, continued to bayonet the wounded after the fight subsided, treatment that came to be referred to as “Tarleton’s Quarter.” The battle became a symbol of British war atrocities and a rallying cry for Patriot troops.
Together, we have saved 51 acres at Waxhaws. Today, a small battlefield park maintained by Lancaster County commemorates the site of the Waxhaws Massacre. Through The Liberty Trail initiative, we plan to significantly expand this battlefield park and create a destination that immerses visitors in the nearly forgotten, but incredibly significant, events that took place at this site.