Sir Banastre Tarleton, 1st Baronet
21 August, 1754 – January 16, 1833 (aged 78)
General Sir Banastre Tarleton by Sir Joshua Reynolds
"Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton" by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Nickname Bloody Ban, The Butcher
Place of birth Liverpool, England
Place of death Leintwardine, Shropshire, England
Allegiance Great Britain
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1775-1781
Rank General
Unit 1st Dragoon Guards
Commands held British Legion
Battles/wars American War of Independence
Battle of Waxhaws, Battle of Camden, Battle of Cowpens
Awards GCB

General Sir Banastre Tarleton, 1st Baronet, GCB (21 August 175416 January 1833) was a British soldier and politician.

He is today probably best remembered for his military service during the American War of Independence. His reputation for his ruthless policy of taking no prisoners and his involvement in the Battle of Waxhaws earned him the nickname "Bloody Ban". The British and American loyalists hailed him as an outstanding leader of light cavalry and called him "The Green Dragoon".

Early life Edit

Banastre Tarleton was the fourth of seven children born to the merchant, ship owner and slave trader, John Tarleton of Liverpool (1719 – 1773), who was mayor of Liverpool (1768). Tarleton was educated at the Middle Temple, London and went up to University College, Oxford University where he matriculated in 1771, after which he entered the British Army.

As a young man, he had inherited £5,000 on his father's death, but squandered it all on gambling, in less than a year, mostly at the Cocoa Tree club in London. In 1775 he purchased a commission as a cavalry officer in the 1st Dragoon Guards, and proved to be a gifted horseman and leader of troops.

American War of IndependenceEdit

In December 1775, he sailed as a volunteer to America with Lord Cornwallis, and his services to the British during the American War of Independence in the year 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 Friday, December 13, 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.

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, South Carolina.

On May 29 1780, Tarleton, with a force of 150 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.[1] The British called the affair the Battle of Waxhaw Creek, while the Americans knew it as the Buford Massacre or the Waxhaw Massacre.

In recounting Tarleton's action at the scene, an American field surgeon named Robert Brownfield, wrote that Col. 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.[citation needed] "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, October 07, 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 - Nov. 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.

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, or 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 perhaps 250 men[2].

Having been successful in a skirmish at Tarrants House, 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 - a 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.

Politics Edit

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, but he is especially noted for supporting rather than opposing the slave trade, with which the port of Liverpool was particularly associated. In reality, Tarleton was working to preserve the slavery business of 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 Edit

File:Gainsborough Mary-Robinson.jpg

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 in Shropshire. [3]

Cultural PortrayalEdit

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 1985 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 Ciaran Hinds and is portrayed as a leading supporter of the slave trade and a major opponent of William Wilberforce.

2006 Captured American battle flags sold at auctionEdit

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 (see Sotheby's Press Release). 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.[4]. 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 (June 14, 2006).


  1. Boatner, Cassell's Biographical Dictionary, Page 1174
  2. "70th Congress, 1st Session House Document No. 328: Historical Statements Concerning the Battle of King’s Mountain and the Battle of the Cowpens" page 53. Washington: United States Government Printing Office (1928). Retrieved on 2007-12-10.
  3. Sir Banastre Tarleton
  4. Commander S. Tarantino of 2nd Regiment Light Dragoons-Sheldon's Horse


  • Template:1911
  • A Sketch of the Life of Brig. General Francis Marion by William Dobein James, A.M. (Member of Marion's Militia)
  • Redcoats and Rebels by Christopher Hibbert
  • Cassell's Biographical Dictionary of the American War of Independence, 1763-1783 by Mark Mayo Boatner (Cassell, London, 1966. ISBN 0 304 29296 6)

External links Edit

Parliament of Great Britain
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