The War for American independence began well for patriots in the South. In the city of Charles Town, South Carolina (known as “Charleston” after the war)—an unfinished palmetto fort remarkably withstood the cannon balls of the British fleet in 1776. Men like William Moultrie, Francis Marion, William Jasper, and others became Revolutionary War heroes.
Four years later—the American Revolution was deadlocked. In the North, battles were won and lost with little effect. General Henry Clinton and the British high command decided what they needed was a “Southern strategy.”
Colonel Abraham Buford was leading a regiment of Continental soldiers from Virginia to South Carolina to help defend Charleston. A group of soldiers coming from Charleston met them on the road and told them Charleston had already fallen into the British hands. Col. Buford decided to turn the men back towards North Carolina to keep the British from advancing into South Carolina.
On May 29, 1780, Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and the British Legion caught up with Col. Buford’s army at a place called “The Waxhaws” in the Catawba River valley, located four miles south of the North Carolina border. Over in fifteen minutes and with 113 Americans dead on the field, this massacre became the first major battle of the Southern Campaign.
The Battle of Waxhaws was a turning point in the Revolutionary War, but not for reasons the British might have hoped. Their intent was to make the backcountry colonists feel the “heel of the boot.” But instead of disheartening the opposition, “Buford’s Massacre” rallied patriot support. Many patriots who had previously surrendered rejoined the fight, determined to repay the harshness of “Tarleton’s quarter” with a vengeance of their own.