The Road to Waxhaws: British Moves after the Capture of Charleston

Lieutenant General Henry Clinton, New York Public Library

With the Charleston in British hands, Clinton believed that all he had to do was establish outposts in South Carolina stationed with British regulars. This be believed would put down what was left of the rebellion in the state. These posts assisted the recruitment and training of the thousands of Loyalist troops he believed would now rally around the King’s Colors. To take the best advantage of his Regular troops, Clinton determined to establish three major outposts in the South Carolina backcountry. Clinton established these posts at Augusta (Georgia), Ninety-Six, and Camden. While these posts were to be centers for the British army, the local Loyalist militias were to serve as the pacification forces in South Carolina while the main British force was freed up for larger strategic goals. 

To recruit, enlist, and train the large, expected influx of Loyalist militia, Clinton named Maj. Patrick Ferguson as Inspector of Militia. Ferguson was ordered to enlist younger men, preferably unmarried, into companies that would form battalions. He was instructed to recruit from Georgia to North Carolina and offer short enlistments if necessary. Clinton believed that having the colonists maintain their own law and order (via Great Britain’s authority) would cause less apprehension with those that were mostly undecided about to whom they should throw their support, the Patriots or the British. 

By mid-May, the British army set out for their destinations in the back country. Clinton’s second in command, Lieut. Gen. Charles Lord Cornwallis, marched to Camden while Ferguson moved to Ninety-Six. Without much resistance, Clinton’s plan to conquer South Carolina was working perfectly. Patriot leaders scrambled to find ways to organize their resistance. The only organized Continental force remaining in South Carolina was a small force of Virginians under Col. Abraham Buford that was on its way to Charleston when the city surrendered. Ordered by Brig. Gen Isaac Huger to reverse course and make his way north toward Hillsborough, North Carolina. There along with the North Carolina militia, he could be the core of American defense in North Carolina.  

On May 27, Cornwallis ordered Lieut. Col. Banastre Tarleton with 300 of his dragoons and mounted infantry in pursuit of Buford. Tarleton’s British Legion was mostly composed of Loyalist recruits, so many in his force were from America. Tarleton pushed him men and horses hard, many horses falling out along the way. Buford was aware of a possible British pursuit but underestimated the speed in which Tarleton closed the gap. On May 29, Tarleton caught up with Buford in a region near the South and North Carolina border called the “Waxhaws.”  

Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, New York Public Library

The events that took place next are still debated today. Tarleton under a flag of truce tried to get Buford to surrender. Writing to Buford, Tarleton wrote “Resistance being vain, to prevent the effusion of human blood, I make offers which can never be repeated.” Tarleton was already creating an image of himself as an aggressive and brutal fighter. Buford, however, refused, replying, “I reject your proposals, and shall defend myself to the last extremity.” With that, Buford continued his march north towards North Carolina as did Tarleton’s pursuit. Around 3:00 p.m. the lead elements of Tarleton’s force wiped out Buford’s small rearguard, forcing Buford to stop and deal with Tarleton.  

Buford decided to create a single battle line east of the Rocky River Road. Tarleton, ever the aggressive commander, ordered his horsemen to charge the Virginians. Here, Buford made what would be a devastating blunder. He ordered his men to not fire until the British cavalry was within ten yards of the American line. This would not allow the Americans a chance to fire another volley before the British charge was upon them. The Virginians fired, taking out some of the British dragoons and horses (Tarleton himself became briefly trapped under his horse), but most charged through Buford’s line, wielding their sabers and cutting down the Virginians. Total chaos ensued, and many of Buford’s men attempted to flee. Some tried to surrender by throwing their arms to the ground, but American accounts state that the British were offering “no quarter” and killing everyone that tried to surrender. Other accounts report that Buford sent a white flag to Tarleton, but probably because he was injured, it was never received, and the fighting continued. Accounts differ widely between the Americans and British on the fighting, but the fact cannot be argued that Buford’s command was destroyed. 

Waxhaws Grave and Monument, photo and flags courtesy of the author

American casualties were estimated at 350, 113 men killed, 147 wounded, 50 captured, and 2 six-pound artillery pieces and 26 wagons captured. Buford himself was able to escape the field. Tarleton only suffered 5 killed and 12 wounded, a complete victory. What has become known as “Buford’s Massacre” was not referred to as a massacre at all in many period accounts. Tarleton himself blamed the “slaughter” on the fact that his men thought he was killed in the battle and sought revenge. The disparity in numbers and the reports of indiscriminate British slaughter of Americans led to the creation of “Tarleton’s Quarter.” Patriot leaders quickly pounced on this and began to spread stories about Tarleton’s brutal tactics. This proved to be a public relations coup for the Patriot cause, as it energized their side and led to a more robust recruitment of militia and partisan forces to take on the British who now faced no organized opposition in South Carolina or Georgia.

Stay Tuned for the Emerging Revolutionary War Series newest book releases “To the Last Extremity: The Battles for Charleston, 1776-1782” by Mark Maloy and “All That Can Be Expected: The Battle of Camden and the British High Tide in the South, August 16, 1780” by Rob Orrison and Mark Wilcox to learn more abou the 1780 Southern Campaign. Both releases are published by Savas Beatie Publshing:

Rev War Revelry Tackles the Myth of the Battle of Waxhaws

The Battle of Waxhaws, fought on May 29, 1780, was a lopsided British victory by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s British cavalry over American Colonel Abraham Buford’s Continental forces in Waxhaws South Carolina. Buford lost 316 of 350 men with the British losing less than 20. Known popularly as “Buford’s Massacre,” Continental leaders used the battle as a propaganda tool against the Crown forces in the south. But, was it really a massacre?

Join us as we welcome historian and author Dr. Jim Piecuch as we discuss his research and theory about the Battle of Waxhaws and its aftermath. Dr. Piecuch has written several books on the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution including his book “Blood Be Upon Your Head: Tarleton and the Myth of Buford’s Massacre.” This Rev War Revelry will be pre-recorded and posted on May 28th at 7pm. Grab a drink and a good seat and enjoy this great presentation on one of the most controversial battles of the American Revolution.

The French Cavalryman

   “Colonel Armand’s dragoons and militia displayed a good countenance, but were soon borne down by the rapid charge of the legion. The chase again commenced…” So wrote British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton in his work, “A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America” regarding his pursuit of retreating American militiamen from the disastrous battlefield at Camden, SC in August 1780, and the gallant effort of one Patriot cavalry commander, a foreign officer, who sought desperately to reform the panicked militia and make a stand. He was Lieutenant Colonel Charles Armand Tuffin, Marquis de la Rouerie.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Armand

   French by birth, Armand was one of many European soldiers to come to America in the 1770’s with hopes of obtaining high ranking commissions in the fledgling Continental Army during the Revolution. Arriving in 1776, Armand’s service in the war would generally become overshadowed by that of his more famous countryman, the younger Marquis de Lafayette, who would arrive a year later.

Continue reading “The French Cavalryman”

Prelude to Guilford Courthouse: Weitzel’s Mill

This March brings the 241st Anniversary of the pivotal battle of Guilford Courthouse, NC. While this battle is of immense importance to the Southern Campaign, several smaller battles leading up to it have been largely overlooked. Through February and early March of 1781, detachments of the American and British armies maneuvered across the modern-day counties of Alamance, Guilford, Orange, Chatham, and Caswell. The is the third in a series of three articles.  

            The last of the skirmishes occurred at Weitzel’s Mill, also spelled as Wetzel’s, and Wiley’s. Cornwallis was becoming more determined to strike at the Americans to either force a general battle, which he felt his veteran army could win, or destroy the isolated detachments operating near him. 

Continue reading “Prelude to Guilford Courthouse: Weitzel’s Mill”

Prelude to Guilford Courthouse: Clapp’s Mill

This March brings the 241st Anniversary of the pivotal battle of Guilford Courthouse, NC. While this battle is of immense importance to the Southern Campaign, several smaller battles leading up to it have been largely overlooked. Through February and early March of 1781, detachments of the American and British armies maneuvered across the modern-day counties of Alamance, Guilford, Orange, Chatham, and Caswell. The is the second in a series of three articles.  

            Pyle’s Defeat on February 25, 1781 was a public relations disaster for the British. The next skirmish fought between the opposing forces was at Clapp’s Mill on March 2nd and has also been called the Battle of Alamance. On February 27th, Cornwallis’ army moved from Hillsborough to the Haw River, camping on the south side of Alamance Creek at an important crossroads.

Continue reading “Prelude to Guilford Courthouse: Clapp’s Mill”

Prelude to Guilford Courthouse: Pyle’s Defeat

This March brings the 241st Anniversary of the pivotal battle of Guilford Courthouse, NC. While this battle is of immense importance to the Southern Campaign, several smaller battles leading up to it have been largely overlooked. Through February and early March of 1781, detachments of the American and British armies maneuvered across the modern-day counties of Alamance, Guilford, Orange, Chatham, and Caswell. This is the first of a series of three articles.

Having unsuccessfully chased General Nathaniel Greene’s small, ragged army across North Carolina, British forces under Lord Charles Cornwallis moved to the state capital at Hillsborough to announce their liberation of the state and call Loyalists to come forward and support them. Greene’s army retreated across the Dan River into Virginia, where he awaited supplies and reinforcements.

Continue reading “Prelude to Guilford Courthouse: Pyle’s Defeat”

“Rev War Revelry” Stays in South Carolina…

After last week’s riveting discussion on the pivotal battle of Kings Mountain, Emerging Revolutionary War decided to stay in the Palmetto State again this week. We have two special guests and historians joining “Rev War Revelry” so set a reminder to tune in on this Sunday, on our Facebook page, at 7pm EST.

From the American Battlefield Trust Catherine Noyas will join the revelry and discuss land acquisition in regards to the American Revolution around Camden, including the new visitor center that will open in spring 2021. She will give highlights on the work being done and the history behind the various initiatives.

From the South Carolina Battlefield Preservation Trust comes historian Doug Bostick. Their mission coalesces with the American Battlefield Trust with the shared goal of preserving the hallowed ground of the Palmetto State. Along with promoting the military history of the state as well.

There will also be mention of the Liberty Trail, so tune in to learn more about that program as well!

We hope you can join us for a chat on preservation, interpretation, and military history on Sunday evening.

“Rev War Roundtable with ERW” Heads to South Carolina (Virtually)

Join Emerging Revolutionary War this Sunday, at 7p.m. EST on our Facebook page as we head, virtually, down to South Carolina to discuss the importance of that colony/state in the American Revolution.

Most are familiar with the larger engagements, such as Cowpens and Kings Mountain or maybe the massacre at the Waxhaws. How about the Siege of Charleston, or the battles of Ninety-Six, or the countless other engagements that made the Palmetto State (which got its nickname from this era) one of the most hotly contested areas of the entire conflict.

Joining the “Rev War Revelry” will be ERW historians Vanessa Smiley, former Chief of Interpretation and Education at the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution National Park Group, which includes Cowpens, Kings Mountain, and Ninety-Six and Bert Dunkerly, former park ranger at Kings Mountain and author of a few histories on South Carolina in the Revolutionary War topics.

We look forward to seeing you for our sojourn into the Southern Theater this Sunday. Oh, and remember to grab your favorite brew for the trip!

The Southern Theater of the American Revolution | American ...
Battle of Cowpens
(courtesy of ABT)

“Judiciously Designed and Vigorously Executed”: The March to the Dan River

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Daniel T. Davis. 

Last month, I heard Emerging Revolutionary War co-founder Phill Greenwalt remark “when you think about retreats, victory is a word that doesn’t come to mind.” The period of January 18 to February 14, 1781 is the exception to the rule. During this time frame, the American army under Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene and the British under Charles, Lord Cornwallis, marched across the backcountry of the Carolinas. Known as the “Race to the Dan”, this episode between the engagements at Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse, is a largely forgotten but consequential even in the Southern Campaign of 1781.

The Dan River (courtesy of Rob Orrison)

Continue reading ““Judiciously Designed and Vigorously Executed”: The March to the Dan River”

Rise and Fight Again for Southern Revolutionary History

From our friends at American Battlefield Trust (ABT). To learn more about the ABT, click here.


At stake are 31 acres associated with two Southern Campaign Revolutionary War battlefields, Hanging Rock in South Carolina and Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina.

At Hanging Rock, generous battlefield preservationists like you have already secured 141 acres. These 30 acres in the part of the battlefield where the initial Patriot attack began will add significantly to the land we have saved there already.

At Guilford Courthouse, the half-acre tract at stake may be small, but it’s part of a larger strategy to deal with the modern development crowding in on this battlefield from all points of the compass. Our plan is to buy up plots of battlefield land – including small ones and those with non-historic structures on them like this one – remove all non-historic structures and restore the battlefield. The Guilford Courthouse National Military Park has generously agreed to take responsibility for demolishing and removing the house on this plot, a considerable cost that we would typically need to cover. Continue reading “Rise and Fight Again for Southern Revolutionary History”