Banastre Tarleton

Contributed by Mark Ibbotson


Banastre Tarleton was born in Liverpool to a wealthy family of high social standing. He had graduated from Oxford and was studying law when he got his first military commission. He joined the war against the colonies in May 1776, but it wasn't until the Southern campaigns of 1780 that the name "Bloody Tarleton" would become part of Revolutionary legend. At the time, the short, stocky redhead was only 26 years old, but his ruthlessness and viciousness during the many battles and raids had spread terror throughout the Southern colonies. Even his British colleagues were made uncomfortable by his bloodthirsty attitude toward the rebels.

The Continentals did get pay back against Tarleton during the battle of Cowpens (January 1781) in South Carolina. Daniel Morgan set up a brilliant counter attack against Tarleton and almost wiped out his entire force. Many officers in the British army held Tarleton responsible for the crushing defeat, and for a time it looked as though he would have to resign. But Cornwallis would not accept his resignation, and soon Tarleton was back in action, playing a major role in the British victory at Guilford Court House in North Carolina, where he was wounded twice.

Put in charge of the Gloucester defenses at Yorktown, he was sent back to England after the surrender in 1782. From there he tried his hand at Parliament. He represented Liverpool for six sessions, where he spent most of his Parliamentary time trying to protect the slave trading interests of his shipping family and similar Liverpool merchants. After Parliament, his career for the most part was uneventful until his death in 1833.

As a leader of the cavalry, many British historians consider him to be one of the most dynamic of his day, but it's his horrid treatment of civilians and soldiers in the South that dominates his legacy. Ironically, he has been largely forgotten in British history, but was so hated in the South that he's still very much remembered in Revolutionary history.

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by Stephen Luscombe