Battle of the Waxhaws Entrance - a memorial site for the Buford Massacre of 1780. It features three flags raised on flagpoles in a grassy area with trees in the background. The central flag is the United States flag, flanked by two other flags, one of which appears to be a state flag. In front of the flags is a brick sign with the inscription “BUFORD MASSACRE 1780” surrounded by a well-maintained flower bed with yellow flowers. The sky is partly cloudy. This site indicates historical significance.
The site of the Battle of the Waxhaws is memorialized with a roadside monument.

Waxhaws Massacre Site

Click Here for everything you need to know to plan your visit to Buford’s Massacre Site in The Waxhaws.

About The Battle of the Waxhaws

One of the most pivotal battles of the Southern Campaign during the American Revolution didn’t result in a Patriot victory. In fact the Battle of the Waxhaws which took place on May 29, 1780 in Lancaster, South Carolina was such a horrible defeat that it became known as Buford’s Massacre. While their victory temporarily bolstered British moral, the massacre became a rallying cry of the Patriot cause and even inspired a future president to take arms against the British.

Buford Marching North through the Waxhaws After the Fall of Charleston

On May 12 1780, General Benjamin Lincoln was forced to surrender Charleston to the British under the command of General Sir Henry Clinton. With that, 6000 Continental troops, the majority of American troops in the South, were taken out of action. Clinton returned to New York leaving Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis in charge with strict orders to pacify the Carolina Backcountry and bring it under British control.

As General Lincoln was handing over Charleston, the Third Virginia Detachment under the command of Colonel Abraham Buford was moving to reinforce Continental forces in the city. His command consisted of 380 troops most of whom were raw recruits out of Virginia and two six-pound cannons. When he was 30 miles outside Charleston, Buford got word of the fall of Charleston and was ordered to regroup in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Along the way they were joined by 40 Virginia Light Dragoons who had managed to escape Charleston, and they all marched north together.

By the time Cornwallis learned of this enemy column moving north, Buford had a one week head start, and the main army was moving far too slow to catch up. So on May 27, he sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his British Legion after them.

Tarleton’s British Legion consisted of around 230 Loyalists recruited in New York who all wore distinctive green jackets. He also commanded a 40 members of the 17th Light Dragoons and he brought a three-pound cannon along for good measure.

Battle in the Waxhaws

Colonel Tarleton pushed his men and their horses hard. After covering 150 miles in just 54 hours they caught up with Colonel Buford and his Third Virginia Detachment in the Waxhaws just south of Charlotte on May 29.

A messenger under a flag of truce was sent to demand Buford’s surrender. The demand was refused, but unbeknownst to Buford, Tarleton had continued his army’s advance while under the flag of truce. The Patriots resumed their march north, but by 3:00 PM the British forces had overtaken them and quickly overwhelmed Buford’s rear guard.

The Virginians quickly prepared for battle. The advanced guard along with artillery were ordered to continue moving north towards Salisbury. Buford formed the rest of his men into a single line and ordered them not to fire until the British were within 10 yards.

Tarleton formed his men into three columns. On the right he placed 60 of his British Legion dragoons along with mounted infantry. In the center were 40 British Legion dragoons along with the elite 17th Light Dragoons with orders to charge directly at the enemy. Tarleton took personal command of the left column along with 30 handpicked men to outflank the enemy and attack their artillery and reserves.

The Battle of The Waxhaws

The battle was over almost as soon as it started. Because the Patriots were ordered to hold fire until the British were within 10 yards, they were only able to get off a single shot. They were quickly overrun by the charging mounted Dragoons. British soldiers broke through the line and attacked with sabers and bayonets while the Americans were powerless to defend themselves. As one British officer remarked, “in three minutes after the attack was begun, there was not a rebel on the field that was not leveled with the ground.”

What happened next has been debated by historians for over 200 years. American survivors claimed that the British ignored white flags and continued the massacre even as their opponents were trying to surrender. As his men were laying down their weapons and trying to surrender, Buford in fact dispatched a white flag of surrender, but Tarleton was trapped under his horse at the time.

Tarleton’s official report stated that his horse had been shot out from under him in the opening volley of the battle, and his men, thinking he was dead, took it upon themselves to exact revenge. He argued that their blood lust could not be easily restrained. Americans believed that Tarleton had ordered the slaughter to continue even though the white flag was clearly visible.

In the end 5 British were killed and 14 wounded. American losses were 113 killed and 203 wounded. Very few prisoners were taken. Locals were ordered to bury the dead at the sight of the battlefield with 84 being buried in a single mass grave and 25 others in a nearby grave.

The Battle of The Waxhaws Becomes Known as Buford’s Massacre

Those survivors that could be moved were taken in wagons to Waxhaw Presbyterian Church (now known as the Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church). People from all over the settlement came to the church to help care for the wounded. Among them were a young Andrew Jackson, his brother Robert, and his mother Elizabeth. Those who died were buried in the church cemetery.

wooden grey building with a sloped roof and a stone foundation a single window is on the side and am arched doorway on front.
Meeting House at Andrew Jackson State Park along the Crawford Trail. Made to resemble a Presbyterian Church built by early Scotch-Irish Settlers. Much like the one Andrew Jackson would have attended.

The wounded soldiers told the story of the battle and how Tarleton had ignored the white flag and violated quarter. As word spread, the victory the British won on the battlefield became a massive propaganda loss. The battle became known as “Buford’s Massacre”. The narrative became that “Bloody Tarleton” had tricked Buford, offering his men quarter and then brutally massacring them. The battle became a symbol of British atrocities and Tarleton the most hated man in the Carolinas.

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 including Andrew Jackson’s older brothers.

“Remember Buford” became a rallying cry as men from all over the South flocked to joint the Patriot cause. Word even reached settlers on the far side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Few Overmountain Men joined the fight at first, but soon a 1000 man rag tag army was brought together and marched to Kings Mountain in South Carolina. During the ensuing battle cries of “Tarleton’s Quarter!” and “Give them Buford’s play!” could be heard as Patriot commanders struggled to restrain their men.

Visiting Waxhaws Massacre Site

The battlefield is located in the Buford community in Lancaster County. It’s a small roadside memorial of only about about 2 acres. The mass grave where 84 Patriot soldiers are buried is on site and protected by an iron fence. A monument was erected in June 1860 at grave. The inscription has been largely eroded away, but second monument was erected in 1955 that duplicates the inscription.

The Inscription reads:

Erected to the memory and in honor of the brave and patriotic American soldiers who fell in the battle which occurred at this place on the 29th May 1780 between Col. Abraham Buford who commanded a regiment of 350 Virginians and Col. Tarleton of the British Army with 350 Cavalry and a like number of Infantry.

Nearly the entire command of Col. Buford was either killed or wounded, 84 gallant soldiers are buried in this grave. They left their homes for the relief of Charleston, but hearing at Camden of the surrender of that city, were returning. Here their lives were ended in the service of their country.

The cruelty and barbarous massacre committed on this occasion by Tarleton and his command after the surrender of Col. Buford and his regiment, originated the American war cry, “Remember Tarleton’s Quarter.” A British historian confesses at this battle “The virtue of humanity was totally forgot.”

Battle of the Waxhaws Marker - 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.

Another mass grave, this one of 25 soldiers who later died of their wounds is located about 300 yards away.

A short walkway leads from the mass grave, past the monuments, to a few interpretative signs that tell the story of the battle and it’s aftermath. There are a some picnic tables beyond that.

Fast Facts About Waxhaws Massacre Site

Type:Roadside Historical Site – Revolutionary Battleground
Location:262 Rocky River Rd, Lancaster, SC 29720
Jump to map

Things to do: Historical Site, benches, picnic tables

Map to the Waxhaws Massacre Site