Expanding on a research paper originally presented at the Tarleton Symposium in Camden, this small book presents a clear, succinct analysis of events pertaining to the fateful encounter between Tarleton's Legion and the retreating column commanded by Abraham Buford. Unlike most past (and too many contemporary) historians, Piecuch returns to primary sources, winnowing through their sparse and often contradictory accounts in search of verifiable information and plausible suppositions. Not surprisingly, his research soundly explodes the legend of the "Waxhaws massacre."
According to the introduction, the author's interest in the incident was triggered by the discovery of Buford's own report to the Virginia Assembly, which is seldom, if ever, referenced or quoted. As he observes: "Few historians have read Colonel Abraham Buford's account of the battle because it is hidden among the vast number of documents assembled [in the Thomas Addis Emmet Collection in the New York Public Library]. Just skimming the contents of the American commanders report immediately called into question everything I had read about the affair. ... [W]hen later I compared it to the other accounts, I realized that everything we thought we knew about the Waxhaws Massacre had to be reevaluated under closer and more careful scrutiny." An excellent job he's done of it, too.
In addition to providing a plausible reconstruction of the time line before, during and after the skirmish itself, Piecuch analyzes the mythology of "Buford's massacre" from its early growth throughout the years of the war to its subsequent entrenchment as "accepted fact." The appendices provide the reader with reprints of primary and early secondary accounts of the incident, ranging from the familiar correspondence between Tarleton and Cornwallis to such hidden gems as Buford's aforementioned letter to the Assembly, excerpts from pension statements of veterans who claimed to have been at the skirmish, and newspaper coverage throughout the colonies.
The book is available through the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution website. Here's a direct link to their list of publications. Highly recommended!
[Thanks to Charles Baxley and Jim Piecuch for kindly providing me with a copy of the book for review.]
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