Waxhaws: Blood in the Backcountry | The Southern Campaign


The American War
for Independence began well for the
Patriots in the South. In Charles Town,
South Carolina– later known as Charleston
after the war– an unfinished Palmetto
fort remarkably withstood cannonballs from
the British fleet in 1776. Men like William Moultrie,
Frances Marion, William Jasper, and others became
Revolutionary War heroes. MAN 1: One more shot
for King George! NARRATOR: 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. MAN 2: Our goal in the South
is to support the Loyalists and restore the authority
of the King’s government. [MUSIC PLAYING] DR. WALTER EDGAR:
The British decided to bring the war to the South
for a couple of reasons. One was political. Going on back home, they hadn’t
really won any major victories. The other reason
was they thought that there were a lot of
Loyalists here in the South, particularly in
the two Carolinas. And if they captured
the Southern Colonies, they captured the most
valuable colonies. NARRATOR : More than 6,000
British troops were shipped from New York to Charles Town. This time, after a short
siege, the city fell. The entire Continental Army
of South Carolina surrendered. And Charles Town found
itself under martial law. Paroles were revoked,
and rebels were ordered to swear an oath
of allegiance to the Crown. Charles Town would supply the
British army with provisions and become the
base of operations to secure the interior
of the Carolinas and achieve victory
in the South. Americans opposed to the British
were known as Patriots, Whigs, Rebels, or Partisans. Americans on the
British side were called Loyalists, Royalists,
Tories, the King’s Men, or Crown Forces. In colonial South
Carolina, the British had developed a
system of townships. DR. WALTER EDGAR: The
British township system evolved in the 1730s to
provide for orderly settlement of the frontier. And if you look at
the earliest ones, they were to ring Charleston
with settled areas. NARRATOR: The townships
protected the low country from French, Spanish,
and Indian attack. The back country, or upcountry,
of South Carolina was populated by Scots-Irish– also known as Ulster Scots– Welsh, Dutch, Germans, French
Huguenots, and other Europeans. Many of these settlers
landed in Philadelphia and came down the Great
Wagon Road from Pennsylvania. These men and women were
hardworking, religious, and independent. Make ready! NARRATOR: They didn’t
know they would be fighting a war
for independence sooner, rather than later. The first major battle
in the back country occurred May 29th, 1780, at
a place called the Waxhaws in the Catawba River Valley. Colonel Abraham Buford
was leading a regiment of continental soldiers from
Virginia to South Carolina to help defend Charleston. When he realized he was
too late to do any good, he turned around. MAN 3: We run into
a group of soldiers that was come up
from Charleston, which we learned had just
fell to the British a few days before. Colonel Buford told us that
we was to join his group and march back to North
Carolina to defend our state from the British
advancing behind us. I was driving a wagon
loaded with supplies. Lt. Samuel Patton,
North Carolina Militia. NARRATOR: General Clinton
sent a lightning-fast unit of Loyalists recruited
from the Northern Colonies to pursue Buford’s men. This British Legion was a
combination of infantry, cavalry, and artillery forces
led by Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Tarleton was a driven person. He was 26, British
officer, who had shown an aggressiveness in
battle that far exceeded his experience and age. If he saw a challenge or an
enemy, he was set upon it. He didn’t waste any time. NARRATOR: The
British Legion caught up with Buford’s army
on the Rocky River Road, about four miles south of
the North Carolina border. KEN OBRIOT: Buford set
up his 350 men in a line. It was called single line. NARRATOR: Buford didn’t
give the order for his men to fire until it was too late. Tarleton’s horses struck the
line of Patriot soldiers. British swords and bayonets
did far more damage that day than musket balls. KEN OBRIOT: The Americans were
mostly inexperienced soldiers. When you have mounted horseman
raining blows down upon you, many of them threw their
guns down immediately. But it was over in 15 minutes. In 15 minutes, there was 113
Americans dead on the field. NARRATOR: In the
confusion of Buford’s men asking for quarter, trying to
surrender, many were killed. MAN 4: We didn’t learn until
the next day what had happened. The British attacked
our men full force and after our lines had fired,
they rushed and massacred our men, even after
they had raised a white flag of surrender. NARRATOR: 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
back country 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. KEN OBRIOT: I’d call
it the Alamo moment. And that’s what galvanized
the people of the back country to rise up against the British. DR. WALTER EDGAR: There were
lots of bloody engagements. But the Waxhaws kind of set
the tone for the conflict in the back country. Terror begat terror. And it was an increasing
cycle of revenge and violence by both sides.

2 thoughts on “Waxhaws: Blood in the Backcountry | The Southern Campaign

  1. In memory of my 4th great grandfather Private Peter Howard, who served in the 3rd regiment Virginia under Colonel Abraham Buford. He suffered several wounds at the Battle of Waxhaws. However he was one of the few who escaped and survived the war. He and his family are buried in the cemetery of Salem Primitive Baptist Church just east of Floyd, Virginia. It was originally known as Head of the River Baptist Church. The church was co-founded in the 1784 by William Howard (who made guns for the Revolution) and his son, Peter, who later served as full pastor. The denomination was originally known as the United Baptist Church or English Baptist Church. The current Primitive Baptist denomination are the offspring of those early Baptists.

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