Banastre Tarleton

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Sir Banastre Tarleton, Bt
"Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton" by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Nickname(s) Bloody Ban, the Butcher, the Green Dragoon
Born 21 August 1754
Liverpool, Lancashire, England, Great Britain
Died 15 January 1833(1833-01-15) (aged 78)
Leintwardine, Herefordshire, England, United Kingdom
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
 United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1775–1812
Rank General
Unit 1st Dragoon Guards
Commands held British Legion
Battles/wars American War of Independence
Siege of Charleston
Battle of Monck's Corner
Battle of Lenud's Ferry
Battle of Waxhaws
Battle of Fishing Creek
Battle of Camden
Battle of Blackstock's Farm
Battle of Cowpens
Battle of Cowan's Ford
Battle of Torrence's Tavern
Battle of Wetzell's Mill
Battle of Guilford Courthouse
Battle of Green Spring
Siege of Yorktown
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath

Sir Banastre Tarleton, 1st Baronet, GCB (21 August 1754 – 15 January 1833) was a British soldier and politician. He was eventually ranked as a general years after his service in the colonies during the American War of Independence, but he never led troops into battle after that.[1]

He is probably best remembered for his military service during that war, which he started at the age of 21. He was the subject of a rebel propaganda campaign claiming wrongly that his men had slaughtered surrendering Continental Army troops at the 1780 Battle of Waxhaws in South Carolina. It was not until the 19th century that this event became known in American history as the Waxhaws Massacre. In the American biography The Green Dragoon: The Lives of Banastre Tarleton and Mary Robinson (1957) by Robert D. Bass, Tarleton was referred to as 'Bloody Ban' and 'The Butcher.' In popular culture these became his nicknames; as noted in this book, his reputation in the United States was for 'brutality' during the war,[1] while the colonial Loyalists and British hailed Tarleton as an outstanding leader of light cavalry, praising him for his tactical prowess and resolve, even against superior numbers.[2][3]

Tarleton's cavalrymen were frequently called 'Tarleton's Raiders'. His green uniform was the standard of the British Legion, a provincial unit organised in New York in 1778. After his return to Great Britain in 1781 at the age of 27, Tarleton was elected a Member of Parliament for Liverpool, being returned to office into the early 19th century. He became a prominent Whig politician despite his reputation as a young man as a roué.[1] Given the importance of the slave trade to the shipping industry in Liverpool, Tarleton strongly supported it.[4]

Early life

Banastre Tarleton was the third of seven children born to the merchant John Tarleton (1718–1773), who served as Mayor of Liverpool in 1764 and had extensive trading links with Britain's American colonies.[5] His paternal grandfather Thomas Tarleton had been a shipowner and slave trader.[6]

Banastre's younger brother John (1755–1841) entered the family business. He was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP).[7]

Tarleton was educated at the Middle Temple, London and went to University College, Oxford University in 1771, preparing for a career as a lawyer. In 1773 at the age of 19, he inherited £5,000 on his father's death. He squandered almost all of it in less than a year on gambling and women, mostly at the Cocoa Tree club in London.[citation needed] In 1775 he purchased a commission as a cavalry officer (Cornet) in the 1st Dragoon Guards, where he proved to be a gifted horseman and leader of troops. Due to his abilities, he worked his way up through the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel without having to purchase any further commissions.[citation needed]

American Revolutionary War

In December 1775 at the age of 21, Tarleton 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, South Carolina.[8] After this failed, Tarleton joined the main British Army in New York under General Howe.

Under the command of Colonel William Harcourt, Tarleton as cornet 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 and forced Lee, still in his dressing gown, to surrender by threatening to burn the building down. Lee was taken to New York as a prisoner and was later exchanged.

Tarleton's service during 1776 gained him the position of a brigade major of cavalry at the end of the year; he was 22.[9]

Banastre was present at the Battle of Brandywine and at other engagements in 1777 and 1778.[9] 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.[10]

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. Here he supported Sir Henry Clinton in the operations which culminated in the capture of Charleston.[9] This was part of the 'southern strategy' by which the British directed most of their efforts to that theatre, hoping to restore authority over the southern colonies. They believed there was more support here for the Crown, as many men had important business and trading relationships with England.[citation needed]

After Tarleton's first major victory at Monck’s Corner, during the Siege of Charleston, one of his men was involved in an attempted sexual assault that entered legend. The attack by one of Tarleton’s soldiers against a civilian woman in the area was halted by one of his companions.[11] The incident later became part of American folklore.

Battle of Waxhaws

A Continental light dragoon from the American Revolution.

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 to stop his march. Only after sustaining heavy casualties did Buford order the surrender. Tarleton ignored the white flag and his forces massacred Buford's men. In the end, 113 Americans were killed and another 203 captured, 150 of whom were so badly wounded that they were left behind, unable to travel. Tarleton's casualties were 5 killed and 12 wounded.[12] The British called the affair the Battle of Waxhaw Creek. At the time, the Americans referred to the high casualty rate as "Tarleton's quarter," meaning "no quarter" to be offered. This became a rallying cry for American patriots for the rest of the war. Nineteen century historians in the United States perpetuated Tarleton's description as a ruthless butcher, while contemporary authors are divided, some of them taking a more lenient approach towards their actions.[13]

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. Loyalist cavalrymen apparently concluded 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." According to him, Tarleton's men stabbed the wounded where they lay.[14]

In Tarleton's account published in 1787, he said that his horse had been shot from under him and his men, thinking him dead, engaged in "a vindictive asperity not easily restrained."[15] On the other hand, Tarleton was an advocate of repression. He even criticized Lord Cornwalli's mild methods because in his own words moderation "did not reconcile enemies, but...discourages friends".[16] People were inspired to support the revolution in the face of such alleged British atrocities.[13]

Later that year, on 7 October 1780, American troops at the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina, mindful of Tarleton's deeds at Waxhaw Creek, gave no quarter to the opposing Loyalists, who wanted to surrender after their British officer, major Patrick Ferguson, was killed by a sniper.[17]

Tarleton's forces in South Carolina were harried by Francis Marion, an American militia commander known as the "Swamp Fox" for his practice of guerrilla warfare tactics. Tarleton was unable to capture or otherwise neutralise him. Marion was popular with South Carolina residents who opposed the British and gained support from them for his guerrilla campaign. Tarleton, by contrast, alienated the citizenry by arbitrary confiscating their cattle and crop stocks.[18]

Tarleton materially helped Cornwallis to win the Battle of Camden in August 1780.[9] He defeated 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.[9] In January 1781, Tarleton's forces were virtually destroyed by American Brigadier General Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens. Tarleton and about 200 men escaped the battlefield.[19]

He was successful in a skirmish at Torrence's Tavern while the British crossed the Catawba River (Cowan's Ford Skirmish 1 February 1781) and took part in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in March 1781. With his men, Tarleton marched with Cornwallis into Virginia.[9] There he carried out a series of small expeditions while in Virginia. Among them was a raid on Charlottesville, where the state government had relocated following the British occupation of the capital at Richmond. He was trying to capture Governor Thomas Jefferson and members of the Virginia legislature. The raid was partially foiled, and Jefferson and all but seven of the legislators escaped over the mountains. Tarleton destroyed arms and munitions and succeeded in dispersing the Assembly. In July 1781 some of his forces allegedly were involved in Francisco's Fight, an alleged skirmish between colonial Peter Francisco and nine of Tarleton's dragoons, which resulted in one dead, eight wounded and Francisco capturing eight horses.[20]

After other missions, Cornwallis instructed Tarleton to hold Gloucester Point, during the Siege of Yorktown. On 4 October 1781, the French Lauzun's Legion and the British cavalry, commanded by Tarleton, skirmished at Gloucester Point. Tarleton was unhorsed, and Lauzun's Legion drove the British within their lines, before being ordered to withdraw by the Marquis de Choisy.[21][22][23] The Legion suffered three Hussars killed, and two officers and eleven Hussars wounded. Fifty British were killed or wounded, including Tarleton.[24] The British surrendered Gloucester Point to the French and Americans after the surrender at Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781. Tarleton returned to Britain on parole, finished with this war at the age of 27.[9]

Post-war years

Tarleton lost two fingers from a bullet received in his right hand in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse,[25] but "his crippled hand was to prove an electoral asset" back home.[26] The condition of his hand is disguised in the pose of his 1782 portrait (shown in this article) by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

After his return to Great Britain, Sir Banastre wrote a history of his experience in the war in North America, entitled Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America (London, 1781).[27] He portrayed his own actions in the Carolinas favourably and questioned decisions made by Cornwallis. It was criticized by Lieutenant Roderick Mackenzie in his Strictures on Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton's History (1781) and in the Cornwallis Correspondence.[9][28]


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, was re-elected to the House of Commons until 1812.[9] 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, which was highly important to the port of Liverpool. Its ships were deeply involved in slave trading. 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. 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, Tarleton was promoted to Major-General, in 1801 to Lieutenant-General and in 1812 to General, but he never again led troops into battle.[1] 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.[9] In 1815, he was made a baronet and in 1820 a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB).

Personal life

Portrait of Mary Robinson by Thomas Gainsborough, 1781

For 15 years, he had a relationship with the actress Mary Robinson (Perdita), whom he initially seduced on a bet. She was an ex-mistress of the future King George IV while he was still Prince of Wales. Tarleton and Robinson had no children; in 1783 Robinson had a miscarriage. She was important to his parliamentary career, writing many of his speeches. His portrait was painted by both Joshua Reynolds, who showed him at battle in the American Revolution, and Thomas Gainsborough.[9]

Tarleton ultimately married Susan Bertie, the young, illegitimate and wealthy daughter of the 4th Duke of Ancaster in 1798. They had no children.[9]

Tarleton died in January 1833, at Leintwardine, Herefordshire.


  • The house at the site of his defeat in Pennsylvania came to be known as "Tarleton."[29]
  • The Tarleton Nursery School appears to have been named for him.[30]

Representation in other media

  • American folklorist Washington Irving's biography of George Washington referred to an alleged argument between Tarleton and fellow British officer Patrick Ferguson over the culprit ought to be executed or released. According to Irving:

“We honor the rough soldier Ferguson 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.[31]

  • In the 1835 novel Horse-Shoe Robinson by John Pendleton Kennedy, a historical romance set against the Southern campaigns in the American War of Independence, fictional characters interact with the historic figure of Tarleton. He is depicted as a forceful martial character, sensitive to the duties of honour and chivalry.
  • In the 1959–1961 American Disney television series The Swamp Fox, John Sutton portrayed Colonel Banastre Tarleton.
  • 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. He relies on his cousin's political connections to support his position.
  • 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.[32]
  • 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 is unclear whether or not the character is based on the historical Tarleton. He turns out to be a demon disguised in human form, and is listed in the credits only as "Tarleton Demon."[citation needed]
  • In Rick Riordan's spin-off novel, The Blood of Olympus, Banastre Tarleton is mentioned to be a Roman demigod, his mother is Bellona, the Roman Goddess of War.

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.[33] 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 No. 7 dating from 1778.[34] 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 was used by light British troops until the end of the Napoleonic Wars.[citation needed] It became popular in several other European armies before it fell out of fashion. 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.[citation needed]


  • Bass, Robert D. The Green Dragoon, Sandlapper Pub. Co. 500pp. 2003.[35]
  • Reynolds, Jr., William R. (2012). Andrew Pickens: South Carolina Patriot in the Revolutionary War. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-6694-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Scotti, Anthony J. Brutal Virtue: The Myth and Reality of Banastre Tarleton, Heritage Books, 302pp., 2002. ISBN 0-7884-2099-2.
  • Wilson, David K. The southern strategy: Britain's conquest of South Carolina and Georgia, 1775–1780. University of South Carolina Press, 2005. ISBN 9781570037979


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Review by: Hugh F. Rankin; Reviewed Work: The Green Dragoon: The Lives of Banastre Tarleton and Mary Robinson by Robert D. Bass, The North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 34, No. 4 (October, 1957), pp. 548-550
  2. Bass, Robert.D (August 1957). "The Green Dragoon: The Lives of Banastre Tarleton and Mary Robinson ". North Carolina Office of Archives and History. Retrieved 18 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Agniel, Lucien (June 1972). "The Late Affair Has Almost Broke My Heart: The American Revolution in the South, 1780-1781". Chatham Press. Retrieved 18 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Thomas, Hugh (1997). The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440 - 1870. Simon and Schuster. p. 516. ISBN 0684835657.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Scotti p.14
  6. "Banastre Tarleton; Biography, Part 1".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Port, M. H.; Fisher, David R. (1986). R. Thorne, ed. "TARLETON, John (1755–1841), of Finch House, nr. Liverpool, Lancs". The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790–1820,. Boydell and Brewer. Retrieved 10 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Wilson p.243
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 9.11 Chisholm 1911.
  10. "Battle in Chesco pitted notable foes Capt. Henry Lee of the Continental Army and British Maj. Banastre Tarleton faced off in 1778. Local History". philly-archives.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Allaire, Anthony. "Diary of Loyalist Lieutenant Anthony Allaire". Retrieved 24 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Boatner, Cassell's Biographical Dictionary, Page 1174
  13. 13.0 13.1 Rubin, Ben. "The Rhetoric of Revenge: Atrocity and Identity in the Revolutionary Carolinas". Journal of Backcountry Studies. Retrieved 7 November 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Steel Wills, Brian (2014). The River Was Dyed with Blood: Nathan Bedford Forrest and Fort Pillow. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 7. ISBN 0806146044.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Banastre Tarleton, A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America, London and Dublin, 1787, p 32.
  16. O'Shaughnessy, Andrew (2013). The Men Who Lost America: British Command during the Revolutionary War and the Preservation of the Empire. Oneworld Publications. p. 259. ISBN 1780742479.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Steel Wills (2014), pp. 7-8
  18. Lanning, Michael Lee (2008). The American Revolution 100: The People, Battles, and Events of the American War for Independence, Ranked by Their Significance. Sourcebooks, Inc. p. 218. ISBN 1402210833.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "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 10 December 2007.
  20. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value). (Link for 1845 edition)
  21. [1]
  22. Richard M. Ketchum, Victory at Yorktown, p. 216
  23. The Battle of the Hook, History
  24. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, "Extracts from the Journal of Lieutenant John Bell Tilden", The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, p.60
  25. "BANASTRE TARLETON by Janie B. Cheaney".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. "TARLETON, Banastre (1754-1833), of St. James's Place, Mdx".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. "A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. "Strictures on Lt. Col. Tarleton's History "of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 ..."<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. "Township History", Easttown Township; accessed 2014.01.16.
  30. "Banecdotes: The Tarleton Nursery School, Berwyn, PA".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Irving, Washington (1856–59). George Washington: A Biography. Da Capo Press (1994 Reprint). pp. vol. 4, 52–3. ISBN 0-306-80593-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. Carroll, Joe (2000-07-15). "Older Americans uncomfortable with Mel Gibson's playing of patriot game". Irish Times. Retrieved 2016-01-03. Tavington is based on a historical figure, Col Banastre Tarleton, who later ended up as an MP for Liverpool<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. "Second Continental Light Dragoons".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. Edgar, Walte (2014). "Mel Gibson's The Patriot: An Historian's View". American Revolution Institute: The Society of the Cincinnati, Inc.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Tarleton, Sir Banastre". Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • A Sketch of the Life of Brig. General Francis Marion by William Dobein James, A.M. (Member of Marion's Militia)
  • Christopher Hibbert (30 January 2008). Redcoats and Rebels. Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-1-84415-699-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cassell's Biographical Dictionary of the American War of Independence, 1763–1783 by Mark Mayo Boatner (Cassell, London, 1966. ISBN 0-304-29296-6)
  •  Vetch, Robert Hamilton (1898). "Tarleton, Banastre". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. 55. London: Smith, Elder & Co.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value). (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)

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