The blood shed at this site in South Carolina’s rural Lancaster County set the stage for subsequent battles during the Revolutionary War. It was here, on May 29, 1780, that Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton earned his infamous epithet, “Bloody Tarleton.”
The Patriots had suffered a major loss just two weeks earlier, when General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered to General Henry Clinton, leaving Charles Town to fall to the British. Prior to General Lincoln’s surrender, around 350 soldiers from Virginia, led by Colonel Abraham Buford, had been detached to Charles Town to reinforce regiments there. Not having reached Charles Town in time, Colonel Buford received new orders to march to Camden, take what provisions and weapons he could, and retreat to North Carolina instead. British Lieutenant General Charles Lord Cornwallis got wind of Buford’s plan, and on May 27th, detached 270 men, led by Tarleton, to cut the Patriots off.
Almost to the state line, Buford encountered Tarleton near Lancaster on May 29th. According to legend, Tarleton offered a flag of truce to Buford, which Buford rejected. As the Virginians formed a line of defense in preparation for battle, Tarleton’s men attacked mercilessly without giving the Patriots an opportunity to load their muskets. It is said that Buford then attempted to surrender and even waved a white flag, yet this time it was his offer that was scorned. Tarleton’s men slaughtered the Virginians.
There remains today no verification of Buford’s alleged surrender; either way, this battle was especially bloody. While the British called this victory a success, Patriots referred to it as an ambush. From that point in the Revolutionary War, Patriots would yell, “Remember Tarleton’s quarter!” when entering battle, and animosity between the two sides increased exponentially after this grisly conflict in Lancaster County.
More than 100 Patriots were killed at Buford’s Massacre, and 84 are buried in a mass grave on this site. An obelisk erected in 1860 marks the grave and commemorates the battle, though the engraving on the stone is worn and much of the stone is chipped away. An unmarked grave holding the remains of 25 more soldiers who died of injuries after the battle sits about 300 yards away. The Waxhaws Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution added a memorial in 1955 depicting the same words as on the original, and in 2005 another one was placed at the site to commemorate the massacre’s 225th anniversary. Buford Monument Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church sat here from 1893 until 1902. A single headstone from the church’s graveyard, pictured below, can be seen at the site. Others who fought here interred at Waxhaw Presbyterian Church, where they received medical care before their deaths.
Buford’s Massacre Site is listed in the National Register:
(Buford’s Battleground) On May 28, 1780, Colonel Abraham Buford, in command of a regiment of 350 Virginians, was overtaken by Colonel Banastre Tarleton of the British Army who commanded 700 cavalry and infantrymen [current research says the number was actually 270] under Lieutenant General Charles Lord Cornwallis. In the ensuing action 115 Americans were killed, 151 were wounded, and 53 were taken prisoner. There is still considerable debate over whether Tarleton’s men shot and bayoneted Patriots while they were in the act of surrendering or after they had surrendered, or whether they were falsely accused of such atrocities by the Americans in an effort to inflame resistance to the British in the backcountry.
After the battle, nearby settlers aided survivors and buried American soldiers in a long trench. The dying and badly wounded were carried several miles where they were cared for by, among others, Mrs. Andrew Jackson and her two sons Andrew and Robert. Two monuments [now three] now mark the Buford Battleground. A white monument ten feet tall, erected on June 2, 1860, marked the American gravesite. This marker became so scarred from chippings of souvenir hunters that a new monument was erected on May 1, 1955, bearing the same inscription. Buford’s Massacre was one of the many vicious actions that characterized the Revolutionary War campaigns in the backcountry South. This particular battle became a symbol of British atrocities and Tarleton became known as “Bloody Tarleton.”
Reflections on Buford’s Massacre Site
Contributor Perry A. Clanton shares the following: “This is the overall view of the memorial site. It’s small, but a good place to remember our past while enjoying a sunny picnic in the Buford Community. A couple years ago, a team came in and did a site survey. They found that the actual battle was waged across the street from the memorial site. With this site also comes a ghost story of a young lady who was found wandering. She was met by a local family, and during their conversation, her lost love came to retrieve her – a soldier who was killed in battle, and having wounds visible. They disappeared shortly after.”
Mary Camp says
My husband’s ancestor received a Revolutionary War pension on the basis of participation in “Hanging Rock” and “Buford’s Retreat” – both in 1780. Is Buford’s Retreat the same as the Buford Massacre?
Sandra Hollister Newell says
Mr. Helms, I am back from 18 months volunteering overseas. I see you were looking for me. My phone is 864-326-7979. My ancestors who were in the Battle are Judah Levi and James McGraw.
Harold Ethington says
I think that my relative Francis Ethington (Eatherton, etc.) may have been killed at the Waxhaw massacre. He served under Col. Abraham Buford and does not appear in records thereafter until Nov 1785 when the Spotsylvania Court states that he was killed in the Revolution. Is there a list anywhere of those who were killed at Waxhaw? Perhaps of list of Buford’s men?
Sandra Brown says
Just learned of this incident and Buford’s Massacre Site while searching for genealogy on the Peebles/Peeples family. Frederick Peebles was once of the Patriots killed here. This is a very interesting website. Well done and thank you, I plan to visit it soon.
Thanks so much Sandra! Glad to hear you are getting into genealogy, it becomes addicting!
Randy Beaver says
There is a section in the “Heroes of King’s Mountain” but the best I have found is in Benjamin Lossing’s Vol I and II of the American Revolution. In the early 1800’s he traveled the paths of the Patriots throughout SC and sometimes talked with survivors/local residents etc. A MUST HAVE if really interested in the American Revolution in South Carolina!!
David Helms says
What are the best books written regarding the Buford Massacre that offer possibly the most accurate account of this incident?
david helms says
Can someone help me get in touch with Sandra Hollister Newell? Much appreciated. Thanks.
Sandi Hollister Newell says
Jennifer Faircloth Bowles Reports are as few as 13 and as many as 33 survived. One of the survivors was my 5x great grandfather, Judah Levi. My 6x great grandfather, Sgt. James McGraw, was killed there. Judah Levi, as he promised James McGraw, married Mary McGraw and took care of the children until they were grown. Judah was held prisoner on a medical/prison ship for 13 months when he was offered a pardon if he'd promised he'd not take up arms against the king again. Of course he signed, prompted made his way north to join up with Lafayette, and was at Yorktown when Cornwalis surrendered.
Jacob Moore says
Many men were offered this pardon with the signed parole; however, later on the British changed the terms of the paroles to where if they found that you signed then you were required to take up arms for the British crown against the colonies, and if you wouldn’t do so, then you would be executed for refusing to fight for the king.
Jackie Hudson says
Jennifer Faircloth Bowles
Jennifer Faircloth Bowles says
How did you find out who buried the dead? My ancestor was one of the POWs. Do you happen to know how many of the POWs survived? Just curious.
David Helms says
A significant piece of SC history. Thanks to everyone who had and currently has a helping hand in maintaining the Buford Massacre site. Very important never to forget our history and those who made incredible sacrifices.