Thursday, October 25, 2007

Martha McDowell, Colonel Buford, and the Butcher

My cousin Martha McDowell, daughter of Col. Samuel McDowell and Mary McClung, was born 26 June 1766 in Rockbridge County, Virginia. I don't know much about Martha, except that she married Col. Abraham Buford, a military man caught in a terrible, terrible situation still argued about in history circles.
Abraham Buford was a Continental Army officer during the Revolutionary War, most known as commanding officer during the "Waxhaw Massacre". Born in Culpeper County, Virginia, Buford quickly organized a company of minutemen upon the outbreak of war in 1775, eventually rising to the rank of colonel by May 1778. Assuming command of the 11th Virginia Regiment in September, he would be assigned to the 3rd Virginia Regiment in April 1780 and sent south to relieve the British siege of Charleston, South Carolina.
Banastre Tarleton [pictured, portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds] was a British officer and politician. His reputation for ruthlessness earned him the nickname "Bloody Ban" and "Butcher" amongst American revolutionists. On May 29, 1780, Lt. Col. Tarleton, with a force of 150 mounted soldiers, overtook the detachment of 350 to 380 Virginia Continentals led by Col. Buford near Lancaster, South Carolina. Buford refused to surrender or even to stop his march. Only after sustaining heavy casualties did Buford order surrender. The battle has always been controversial, since after breaking Buford's line Tarleton's men slaughtered many of the Virginians who surrendered, hacking them down with their sabres. Some sources, such as Buford's Adjutant Henry Bowyer and Surgeon's Mate Robert Brownfield, claim that Buford belatedly raised a white flag but was ignored by Tarleton. In Tarleton's own account, he virtually admits the massacre, stating that his horse had been shot from under him during the initial charge and his men, thinking him dead, engaged in "a vindictive asperity not easily restrained." In the end, 113 Americans were killed and another 203 captured, 150 of whom were so badly wounded that they had to be left behind. Tarleton's casualties were 5 killed and 12 wounded. The British called the affair the Battle of Waxhaw Creek, while the Americans knew it as the Buford Massacre or the Waxhaw Massacre.
Col. Buford escaped on horseback with his remaining men and would hold no further commands for the remainder of the war. He and Martha eventually settled in Scott County, Kentucky.

(sources: Wikipedia - Waxhaw Massacre, Banastre Tarleton, Abraham Buford)