This account of Waxhaws (and I use the word "account" in the loosest possible definition) forms one chapter in a collection of anecdotal stories about American history, published in 1866 under the pretentious title of Thrilling Incidents in American History, comprising The Most Striking and Remarkable Events of the Revolution; The French War; The Tripolitan War; The Indian Wars; The Second War with Great Britain, and the Mexican War credited only to "the Author of The Army and Navy of the United States." The author did well to remain anonymous, for not only the British but Mexicans, the Spanish, the French, Native-Americans and just about everyone else had more than adequate reason to be after his neck. (More probably it was "their necks," since it was likely thrown together by employees of -- or freelancers working for -- the John E. Potter and Company, who registered the copyright.) It represents the worst of the type of myth building which took place over generations of publications following the Revolution.
[p283] IMMEDIATELY after the fall of Charleston (May 12th, 1780), Lieut. Colonel Buford, commanding the remnant of the continental force in the south, broke up his camp near Camden, and retired hastily toward North Carolina. At this time all who still adhered to the American cause were in alarm. The royalists overran the country; British garrisons were stationed at every important post, and the lives and property of the patriots were in continual danger.
At this time Cornwallis was near the Santee; and having heard of Buford's precipitate retreat,
determined to push a detachment after him. This command, consisting of one hundred and
seventy cavalry, aided by one hundred mounted infantry, was intrusted to Lieutenant-Colonel
Tarleton. This impetuous officer entered upon his duty with alacrity, and fearing lest his prey
should escape, hurried forward with the cavalry alone. One hundred and fifty miles were passed
in fifty-four hours; while terror and flight ever preceded the approach of that fierce cavalry. On
the 29th his jaded horses reached the friendly settlement of the Waxhaws, where Buford
[p285] with his force was stationed. Tarleton immediately demanded a surrender, on the same terms which had been offered to the garrison at Charleston. During the negotiation, Tarleton made preparations for an attack; and the moment a refusal was sent to his request, he ordered his cavalry to charge. The Americans were totally unprepared for battle, arid beheld the coming of the furious horsemen with the wildest terror. Beneath that headlong charge, led by Tarleton himself, the ground trembled, and the militia sent up a cry of terror that echoed dreadfully along the plain. Before the first, rude shock, man and horse and rider were flung to earth, mashed, distorted, lifeless. On those iron men drove, grinding the shrieking wretches into the sand, and over-throwing everything in their course. The cry for quarter rose above the ringing conflict; but it was met by jeers, and imprecations, and fiendish laughter. Youth and age, the suppliant wailing on his knees, and the soul too proud, too patriotic to bend, went down together. Throbbing hearts that but an hour ago were bounding with youth and buoyancy, now were crushed from their bosoms by the charger's iron heel. Still the trampling, the shouting, the ringing of sabres, and life's last piteous appeal went up, and satiated the ear of Death with savage butchery. Riding backward and forward over the mangled companies, Tarleton glutted his eyes on the terrible spectacle, and cheered on his men to their work. The prayer for mercy was music to his ears; and his haughty eye grew more a bright, more intensely thrilling, as he saw the blood of the helpless oozing [p286] among the parched sands. Through and through the ranks were those horsemen driven, until their jaded steeds could no longer leap the piles of dead that obstructed their course. Gradually the battle shout was hushed, and low agonizing moans, with yells of insufferable anguish, grew more and more distinct. On that dreadful plain the taunts of the cruel Briton sharpened the horrors of the last mortal hour, and filled up the measure of that day's iniquity.
Of four hundred American infantry engaged in this affair, but eighty or ninety escaped; a few cavalry, under Colonel Buford accompanied them. One hundred and thirteen were killed, one hundred and fifty so badly wounded as to be left on the ground, and fifty-three taken prisoners. Most of the wounded died upon the field.
This tragic event filled the Americans with the utmost indignation, and afforded a precedent for many acts of retaliation which subsequently disgraced the proceedings of the Southern war. It was stigmatized by the appellation of Tarleton's Quarters, and caused the character of that officer to be held in universal abhorrence.
[Source: Thrilling Incidents in American History (Philadelphia: John E. Potter and Company, 1866), pp283-286.]
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