Banastre Tarleton – British Military Personnel


General Sir Banastre Tarleton, 1st Baronet, GCB (21 August 1754 – 15 January 1833) was a British soldier and politician.

He is today probably best remembered for his military service during the American War of Independence. He became the focal point of a propaganda campaign claiming (without merit) that he had fired upon surrendering Continental Army troops at the Battle of Waxhaws. In a fictional novel The Green Dragoon: The Lives of Banastre Tarleton and Mary Robinson by Robert D. Bass (published in 1952) he was given the nickname ‘Bloody Ban’ and ‘The Butcher’, which has carried over into popular culture as being his nickname of the day, a moniker given to him for rebel propaganda purposes.

He was hailed by the Loyalists and British as an outstanding leader of light cavalry and was praised for his tactical prowess and resolve, even against superior numbers. His green uniform was the standard of the British Legion, a provincial unit organised in New York in 1778. Tarleton was later elected as a Member of Parliament for Liverpool and became a prominent Whig politician. Tarleton’s cavalrymen were frequently called ‘Tarleton’s Raiders’.

== Early life ==

Banastre Tarleton was the fourth of seven children born to the merchant, ship owner and slave trader, John Tarleton of Liverpool (1718 – 1773), who served as Mayor of Liverpool in 1764 and had extensive trading links with Britain’s American colonies.

Tarleton was educated at the Middle Temple, London and went up to University College, Oxford University in 1771 and prepared for a career as a lawyer. In 1773 he inherited £5,000 on his father’s death. Unfortunately for him he squandered almost all of it on gambling and women, in less than a year, mostly at the Cocoa Tree club in London. In 1775 he purchased a commission as a cavalry officer (Cornet) in the 1st Dragoon Guards and proved to be a gifted horseman and leader of troops. Due to his outstanding ability alone, he worked his way up through the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel without having to purchase any further commissions.

==American Revolutionary War==

In December 1775, he sailed from Cork as a volunteer to North America where rebellion had recently broken out triggering the American Revolutionary War. Tarleton sailed with Lord Cornwallis as part of an expedition to capture the southern city of Charleston. After this failed, he joined the main British Army in New York under General Howe. His service during 1776 gained him the position of a brigade major of cavalry.

Under the command of Colonel William Harcourt, Tarleton was part of a scouting party sent to gather intelligence on the movements of General Charles Lee in New Jersey. On 13 December 1776, Tarleton surrounded a house in Basking Ridge, New Jersey and forced Lee, still in his dressing gown, to surrender by threatening to burn the building down. Lee was taken back to New York as a prisoner and was later exchanged.

Banastre was present at the Battle of Brandywine and at other engagements in 1777 and 1778. One of these was an attack on a communications outpost in Easttown Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, guarded by troops commanded by Capt. Henry Lee. The attack was repulsed, and Tarleton wounded.

===Capture of Charleston===

After becoming the commander of the British Legion, a mixed force of cavalry and light infantry also called Tarleton’s Raiders, he proceeded at the beginning of 1780 to South Carolina, rendering valuable services to Sir Henry Clinton in the operations which culminated in the capture of Charleston. This was part of the ‘southern strategy’ by which the British directed most of their efforts to that theater hoping to restore authority over the southern colonies where they believed there was more support for the crown.

After his first major victory at Monck’s Corner, during the Siege of Charleston, an incident occurred that would transform itself into a critical part of the mythology surrounding the Colonel’s reputation. Following the battle, one of Tarleton’s soldiers perpetrated an act of attempted sexual assault against a civilian woman in the area, which was halted by one of his companions. This much of the story is well-documented and historical. However, the story was embellished as an anecdote in a biography of George Washington by the 19th-century American folklorist Washington Irving, who alluded to an argument between Tarleton and fellow British officer Patrick Ferguson over whether the culprit ought to be executed or released. According to Irving: “We honor the rough soldier Ferguson,” Irving wrote “for the fiat of instant death with which he would have requited the most infamous and dastardly outrage that brutalizes warfare.” Tarleton, on the other hand, reveled in his own misconduct and that of his soldiers “for afterwards, in England, he had the effrontery to boast, in the presence of a lady of respectability, that he had killed more men and ravished more women than any man in America.” Irving himself would go on to be reintroduced to a new generation of readers through the late nineteenth century writings of Lyman Draper. There is no historical evidence of this disagreement ever taking place and was likely an invention of Irving’s. However, the story, contained in both volumes, paired with Tarleton’s alleged brutality at Battle of Waxhaws (see below), helped to create the common image of him as a brutal commander, uninterested in the conventions of civilized warfare.

===Battle of Waxhaws===

On 29 May 1780, Tarleton, with a force of 149 mounted soldiers, overtook a detachment of 350 to 380 Virginia Continentals led by Abraham Buford. Buford refused to surrender or even to stop his march. Only after sustaining heavy casualties did Buford order the surrender. What happened next is cause of heated debate. According to American accounts, Tarleton ignored the white flag and mercilessly massacred Buford’s men. 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 called it the “Buford Massacre”, “Tarleton’s Quarter”, or the “Waxhaw Massacre.”

In recounting Tarleton’s action at the scene, an American field surgeon named Robert Brownfield wrote that Colonel Buford raised a white flag of surrender, “expecting the usual treatment sanctioned by civilized warfare”. While Buford was calling for quarter, Tarleton’s horse was struck by a musket ball and fell. This gave the loyalist cavalrymen the impression that the rebels had shot at their commander while asking for mercy. Enraged, the loyalist troops charged at the Virginians. According to Brownfield, the loyalists attacked, carrying out “indiscriminate carnage never surpassed by the most ruthless atrocities of the most barbarous savages.” Tarleton’s men stabbed the wounded where they lay. 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.” The Waxhaw massacre became an important rallying cry for the revolutionaries. Many people who had been more or less neutral became ardent supporters of the Revolution after the perceived atrocities. “Tarleton’s quarter,” meaning no quarter would be offered to British and Loyalist soldiers, became a rallying cry for American Patriots for the rest of the war especially at the massacre by American troops on loyalist forces at the Battle of Kings Mountain,{Citation needed|date=October 2012} 7 October 1780, where all the participants save for one British officer were colonists.

One of Tarleton’s nemeses in South Carolina was Francis Marion, an American militia commander and early practitioner of guerrilla warfare tactics, whom Tarleton was unable to capture or otherwise neutralize. Marion remained quite popular with South Carolina residents and continued his guerrilla campaign with their support. Tarleton, by contrast, alienated the citizenry by numerous acts of cruelty to the civilian population. For example, at one plantation of a deceased Patriot officer, he had the man’s body dug up, then required the widow to serve him a meal. One of Marion’s men later wrote of the incident:

On one expedition (Nelson’s Ferry – November 1780), Tarleton burnt the house, out houses, corn and fodder and a great part of the cattle, hogs and poultry, of the estate of Gen. Richardson. The general had been active with the Americans, but was now dead; and the British leader, in civilised times, made his widow and children suffer for the deeds of the husband and parent, after the manner of the East and coast of Barbary. What added to the cruel nature of the act, was that he had first dined in the house and helped himself to the abundant good cheer it afforded. But we have seen before the manner in which he requited hospitality. It was generally observed of Tarleton and his corps, that they not only exercised more acts of cruelty than any one in the British army, but also carried further the spirit of depredation.

This representation of Tarleton is contrary to his nature as described by his conduct at Monticello of which Thomas Jefferson later noted,

I did not suffer by him. On the contrary he behaved very genteely with me. … He gave strict orders to Capt. Mcleod to suffer nothing to be injured.{Citation needed|date=September 2013}

Tarleton materially helped Cornwallis to win the Battle of Camden in August 1780. He was completely victorious in an engagement with Thomas Sumter at Fishing Creek, aka “Catawba Fords”, but was less successful when he encountered the same general at Blackstock’s Farm in November 1780. Then in January 1781, Tarleton’s forces were virtually destroyed by American Brigadier General Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens. Tarleton however managed to flee the battlefield with less than 200 men.

Having been successful in a skirmish at Torrence’s Tavern while the British crossed the Catawba River (Cowan’s Ford Skirmish 1 February 1781) and having taken part in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in March 1781, he marched with Cornwallis into Virginia. Tarleton undertook a series of small expeditions while in Virginia. Among them was a raid on Charlottesville, Virginia in an attempt to capture then-Governor Thomas Jefferson and disrupt the meeting of the Virginia legislature. The raid was partially foiled when Jack Jouett rode 40 miles through the night to warn Jefferson and the legislature of Tarleton’s approach. All but seven of the legislators escaped, but Tarleton did destroy arms and munitions and succeeded in his objective of dispersing the Assembly. Another episode in July 1781 was Francisco’s Fight – an alleged skirmish between Peter Francisco and nine of Tarleton’s dragoons which resulted in one dead, eight wounded and eight horses captured. After other missions, Cornwallis instructed Tarleton to hold Gloucester Point, Virginia. This post, however, was surrendered to the Americans with Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781 and Tarleton returned to England on parole.

Tarleton lost two fingers from a bullet received in his right hand in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, but “his crippled hand was to prove an electoral asset” back home The condition of his hand is disguised in the pose of his 1782 portrait (shown in this article) by Sir Joshua Reynolds, reaching towards the sword at his left hand side behind his raised left leg.

== Politics ==

In 1784, Tarleton stood for election as M.P. for Liverpool, but was narrowly defeated. In 1790 he succeeded Richard Pennant as MP for Liverpool in the Parliament of Great Britain and, with the exception of a single year, remained in the House of Commons until 1812. He was a supporter of Charles James Fox despite their opposing views on the British role in the American War of Independence. Tarleton spoke on military matters and a variety of other subjects.

He is especially noted for supporting the slave trade, with which the port of Liverpool was particularly associated. In reality, Tarleton was working to preserve the slavery business with his brothers Clayton and Thomas and he became well known for his taunting and mockery of the abolitionists. He generally voted with the Parliamentary opposition, except that when the Fox-North Coalition came to power, he supported the government nominally headed by William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland. He was rewarded with the title of Governor of Berwick and Holy Island.

In 1794, he was promoted to Major-General, in 1801 to Lieutenant-General and in 1812 to General. He had hoped to be appointed to command British forces in the Peninsular War, but the position was instead given to Wellington. He held a military command in Ireland and another in England. In 1815, he was made a baronet and in 1820 a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB).

== Legacy ==

For 15 years, he had a relationship with the actress Mary Robinson (Perdita), whom he initially seduced on a bet. Tarleton and Robinson had no children, although in 1783 Robinson had a miscarriage. He married Susan Bertie, the illegitimate daughter of the 4th Duke of Ancaster in 1798. They had no children. His portrait was painted by both Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough.

Sir Banastre wrote a History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America (London, 1781), which favourably portrays his actions in the Carolinas; it also questions decisions made by Cornwallis. It was criticized by Colonel Roderick Mackenzie in his Strictures on Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton’s History (1781) and in the Cornwallis Correspondence.

Tarleton died in January 1833, at Leintwardine, Herefordshire. The house at the site of his defeat in Pennsylvania came to be known as “Tarleton”, later giving its name to Tarleton School.

===Cultural portrayal===

In the 1835 novel Horse-Shoe Robinson by John Pendleton Kennedy, a historical romance set against the background of the Southern campaigns in the American War of Independence, Tarleton appears and interacts with the fictional characters in the book. He is depicted as a forceful and somewhat abrupt martial character, yet sensitive to the duties of honor and chivalry.

In the alternate history series The Domination by author S. M. Stirling, the castle Tarleton in the Domination capitol Archona is named after him.

In the novel Sharpe’s Eagle by Bernard Cornwell (the first in the Richard Sharpe series), the novel’s main antagonist, Colonel Sir Henry Simmerson is said to be a cousin of Tarleton and relies on his cousin’s political connections to support his position despite his incompetence as a military leader.

In the 1986 film Sweet Liberty Tarleton is played by actor Michael Caine and portrayed to the history professor Michael Burgess’ (Alan Alda) dismay as a romantic, dashing hero.

In the 2000 film The Patriot, a fictitious Colonel “Tavington” is portrayed (by Jason Isaacs) as a skilled but ruthless commander of a cavalry unit. The person is based in part on Tarleton.

In the 2006 film Amazing Grace, Tarleton is played by Ciarán Hinds and is portrayed as a leading supporter of the slave trade and a major opponent of William Wilberforce.

In the episode “The Sin Eater” of the 2013 TV series Sleepy Hollow, a villainous British army officer named “Colonel Tarleton,” played by actor Craig Parker, is featured as the commander of protagonist Ichabod Crane during a flashback to Crane’s service in the Revolutionary War. Other than the name and his cruelty towards accused colonial rebels, it’s unclear whether or not the character is based on the historical Tarleton (or at least on his popular, if inaccurate, reputation). He turns out to be a demon disguised in human form, and is listed in the credits only as “Tarleton Demon.”

==2006 Captured American battle flags sold at auction==

In November 2005, it was announced that four rare battle flags or regimental colours seized in 1779 and 1780 from American rebels by Tarleton and still held in Britain, would be auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York City in 2006. Two of these colours were the Guidon of the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons, captured in 1779; and a “beaver” standard – possibly a Gostelowe List Standard # 7 dating from 1778. The “Beaver” Standard and two other flags (possibly division colours) were apparently captured at the Waxhaw Massacre. The flags were sold at auction on Flag Day in the United States (14 June 2006).

==Tarleton helmet==

Tarleton introduced to the British Legion and wore himself a leather helmet with antique style applications and a fur plume (woolen for lower ranks) protuding far into the upper front side. It is depicted in Sir Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Tarleton above and was named after the officer. The helmet remained lending its style to light British troops till the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It became popular in several other European armies, too, but came out of fashion soon again. In Germany it became the distinctive, almost iconographic mark of what was to be considered a “typical” soldier of the Bavarian army, a Chevau-léger, until abolished and substituted by the German Reichs typical Pickelhaube after Ludwig II of Bavaria’s death in 1886.