Memorial Day in the Waxhaws

statue of a woman with marble grave markers aurrounding her
Memorial to Andrew Jackson’s Mother with markers for Revolutionary War soldiers who are buried at the Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church.

Memorial Day, while meant to be a solemn day set aside every May to honor and remember those who gave their lives while serving in the United States military, for many people the day has become more about having a long weekend and enjoying the start of the Summer travel season.

As originally envisioned, Memorial Day was just about honoring American Soldiers who died to preserve the Union during the Civil War. But with the passage of time and two World Wars, Memorial Day expanded to honor troops who lost their lives in all wars and conflicts to preserve our freedoms.

Parades take place around the nation. Veterans march in memory of fallen comrades. Flags are flown at half mast until noon, and a national moment of silence is observed at 3:00 PM. While most of the remembrances are of soldiers who lost their lives in since World War II, there were many who made the ultimate sacrifice who deserve to be remembered just as much.

Granite monument with rounded top. Text Reads: "Buford Battleground in order that all may continue to share the sentiments of that group of patriotic citizens on Lancaster County who erected a monument here on June 2 1860 the inscriptions of this memorial are the same as those on the original monument. Erected by Waxhas chapter Daughters of the American Revolution and Lancaster county Historical commission may 1955
1955 Monument erected in order to preserve the fading inscription from the original 1860 monument. The original inscription is on the opposite side.

If you live along the East Coast, there’s a good chance that you live near the site where soldiers lost their lives in the name of freedom. The big sites we all know. Lexington, Concord, Yorktown, Gettysburg, and Antietam are all names we’re familiar with from history class.

short brick wall reading Buford Massacre 1780 with sc state flag us flag and Lancaster flag flying
The site of the Battle of the Waxhaws is memorialized with a roadside monument.

But there are so many more places that have been forgotten by the vast majority of people. Places where Americans made the ultimate sacrifice that are only remembered by those who still live close by. One of those places sits alongside a lonely road in rural South Carolina. A place that’s especially poignant on Memorial Day. A place where 84 Continental Soldiers were interned in a mass grave at the end of May in 1780.

Granite memorial reading: Buford's Massacre May 29 1780 On This site col Abraham Buford's force of about 350 American Patriots were returning to hillsborough, NC Following the fall of Charles Town were overtaken by British Troops commanded by Col. Banastre Tarleton It is Historically told that the patriots white flag of surrender was disregarded as tarlton's forces massacred the americans 113 patriots killed and buried here in mass graves 150 wounded most of whom died within a few days 53 captured and only a few escaped on horse back from this battle came the war cry remember tatrlton's quarter this monument is dedicated to the honored memory of the men who fought and died for our independence This 29th day of may 2005 the 225th Anniversary of the battle.
Monument telling the story of Buford’s Massacre erected in 2005 to commemorate the 225th Anniversary of the Battle of the Waxhaws.

After the fall of Charleston to British troops on May 12,1780, the Third Virginia Regiment under the command of Abraham Buford was marching north in an attempt to reach the safety of Hillsborough, North Carolina. At 380 troops, Buford’s column was now the largest contingent of Continental soldiers in the South.

On May 29, British Troops under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton caught up with Colonel Buford and his men in an area known as the Waxhaws just south of North Carolina. The ensuing battle, which became known as Buford’s Massacre was a major blow to Patriot aspirations in South Carolina. In short order, British troops killed 113 Americans and wounded 203 more while only sustaining 5 casualties themselves.

Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church Cemetery - stone enclosure on right and many old grave markers
The Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in the South Carolina upcountry. The stone enclosure built by Robert Leckie is seen on the right.

Survivors were taken to the nearby Waxhaws Presbyterian Church where they were cared for by parishioners including a young Andrew Jackson. There the survivors told the story of how the British continued attacking even after Continentals raised the white flag in surrender. That story incensed locals who spread the word of this atrocity far and wide. Soon terms like “Remember Buford” and “Give Them Tarleton’s Quarter!” were adopted by Patriots and became rallying cries in the battles that followed eventually leading to the battles at Kings Mountain and Cowpens.

Iron gate around an area with white stones forming a rectangle with a white obelisk at one end. A flagpole and interpretive sign can be seen but not read.
The site of the Battle of the Waxhaws is memorialized with a roadside monument.

Those who died on that day in May, were interred on site. Local residents were forced by the British to dig a mass grave. The location of the grave may have been completely lost to time if it hadn’t been for these locals. They worked to keep the grave’s location known even as the surrounding land was taken over for farms and homesteads. In June 1860, they managed to erect marble obelisk that still stands today memorializing those men’s sacrifice.