Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton

Image of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton
Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton

Artist: Unknown
National Portrait Gallery - London, England

Tarleton, Banastre. 1754-1833.

Banastre Tarleton, son of a wealthy Liverpool merchant, was Oxford educated. It was said that while at Oxford, Tarleton excelled in only two things, athletics and gambling. Tarleton attempted to learn law but, due to gambling problems, he had to give up his attempt. Instead, his family was able to scrape together enough money to purchase him a cornet's commission in the King's Dragoon Guards in 1775. Less than a year later he requested, and received, permission to join Cornwallis' troops that were bound for the war in America.

In February 1776, Tarleton joined Cornwallis' troops and was assigned to the cavalry. He fought without distinction in many battles in the north during 1776 and 1777. It was only during the British occupation of Philadelphia that Tarleton came to the attention of his superiors and they promoted him to captain. His rise through the ranks continued when, in 1778, General Clinton, the British commander-in-chief, promoted him lieutenant colonel (local rank). At the same time that he was promoted he was given command of a unit that he would help make famous, The British Legion. The Legion was a Loyalist unit.

Tarleton and the Legion accompanied General Clinton south and participated in the capture of Charleston, South Caroloina, in 1780. Tarleton remained with Cornwallis when Clinton left for New York. It was during the Southern Campaign that Tarleton would make a name for himself.

Tarleton was a very aggressive and ruthless commander. He was often so agressive that it gave the appearance that he offered "No Quarter" to American troops. He firmly gained this reputation at the Waxhaws where his men crushed and inflicted very heavy casualties on an American force. His actions at the Waxhaws earned him the name "Bloody Ban" and made him one of the most hated men in the southern colonies.

Tarleton, and the British Legion, were not always victorious. Tarleton, holding an independent command which included the Legion, was decisively beaten at the Battle of Cowpens. Tarleton rejoined Cornwallis and accompanied him to Virginia. One of his most notable achievements in Virginia was coming within minutes of capturing Thomas Jefferson at his home, Monticello. Tarleton was promoted to colonel in the 79th Regiment in June 1781, though he still retained the command of the British Legion.

During the Siege of Yorktown, Tarleton commanded the British troops that were at Gloucester Point. When the surrender took place on October 19, special precautions were taken to ensure that Tarleton would not be hung by the victorious Americans. Tarleton returned to England in December 1781 and continued his military career. Before he left the army, he rose to the rank of full general in 1812.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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