Colonel Banastre Tarleton: massacre in South Carolina



Meanwhile Colonel Abraham Buford, with four hundred Continental infantry, a small number of cavalry and two cannon, who had hastened toward Charleston to help Lincoln, had been dreadfully smitten by Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Buford had retreated from Camden toward Charlotte, in North Carolina, on the approach of Cornwallis. Tarleton, with seven hundred cavalry and mounted infantry, was sent in pursuit. By a forced march of one hundred and five miles in fifty-five hours, he overtook Buford, on the Waxhaw (May 29th, 1780), and almost surrounded him before the republican leader was aware of his approach. Tarleton demanded his instant surrender upon the terms granted at Charleston. Buford refused compliance. While flags for conference were passing and re-passing, Tarleton, contrary to military rules, made preparations for assault when that conference should end. The instant he received Buford's reply, his cavalry made a furious charge upon the unprepared and astonished Americans. All was confusion. Some resisted; others threw down their arms and begged for quarter. None was given, and men without arms were hewn in pieces by the British cavalry. One hundred and thirteen were slain; one hundred and fifty were so maimed as to be unable to travel; and fifty-three were made prisoners, and graced Tarleton's triumphal march into Camden. The spoils of victory were Buford's artillery, ammunition and baggage. Cornwallis eulogized this savage act of Tarleton; Stedman, one of Cornwallis's officers, and a historian of the war, wrote: "On the occasion, the virtue of humanity was totally forgot." Tarleton received the special favor of Lord George Germain, for the cold-blooded massacre; and "Tarleton's quarter," became the synonym for cruelty. It was the war-cry for vengeance of the patriots in the field afterward. Among the witnesses of that massacre was Andrew Jackson, then a lad thirteen years of age. The event fired his patriotism, and he and his brother Robert entered the military service under Sumter. They were made prisoners, and while in captivity the spirit of the future military hero and headstrong President of the United States was displayed. A British officer ordered Andrew to clean his muddy boots. The boy refused to do this menial service for an enemy of his country, and received from the officer a sword-cut, the scar of which he bore to the grave sixty-five years afterward.

This massacre spread terror throughout the interior of South Carolina. Families fled from their homes in the pathway of the invaders, until there was no place of refuge for them. The exasperated patriots were ready to fight, but there was no military organization. Taking advantage of their helplessness, the conqueror now attempted to crush out all independence in the State by requiring every able-bodied man to join the British army, and take an active part in the re-establishment of royal rule, and threatening all who should refuse compliance with treatment as "rebels to the government of the king." The silence of fear and weakness overspread the State. Mistaking this lull in the storm, and the numerous applications for protection, for permanent tranquillity, Clinton and Arbuthnot, with a large body of troops, returned to New York. On the eve of his departure, Clinton wrote to Germain: "The inhabitants from every quarter declare their allegiance to the king, and offer their services in arms. There are few men in South Carolina who are not either our prisoners or in arms with us."





Return to Our Country, Vol II