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American History: Banastre Tarleton – The Butcher

Banastre Tarleton is one of the most controversial figures of the American Revolution. Most Americans will cock their head sideways when his name is heard, they respond with a “Who’s that?” The name Banastre Tarleton was a name that struck fear in the hearts of colonists. He was young, aggressive and most of all effective. Crops were burned, homes were destroyed, wives were seduced and sons were killed. Tarleton, the leader of the Green Dragoons, was one of Cornwallis’ most prized commodities.

His story begins in England, where he volunteered for service in America. He was known for his impeccable ability as a horse rider. His first notable accomplishment was the capture of one of America’s most celebrated Generals, Charles Lee.

At the time most of the British believed that Charles Lee was more important to the American’s than George Washington, which lead to much celebration in England over his capture. The way Lee was captured is almost comical if it was not so tragic. He was still in his pajamas, plotting against George Washington.

Next, Tarleton aided General Henry Clinton in the capture of Charleston, South Carolina. He was a talented officer and was quickly becoming a rising star in the British Army.

On May 29, 1780, Tarleton and 150 mounted soldiers ran into Virginia Continentals led by Abraham Buford. This battle has become one of the most heated debates in all of events that took place in the American Revolution. It is officially titled the Battle of Waxhaw Creek.

American History: Banastre Tarleton   The Butcher

The controversial moment came towards the end of the battle. Buford, who had refused to surrender, had finally waived the white flag. At that moment Banastre Tarleton’s horse was shot out from underneath him. The loyalists under Tarleton’s command believed that the Continentals had tricked them only to kill their commander and they rode into them. The Green Dragoons massacred the wounded and those who were surrendering. It is argued whether or not Tarleton was directly involved, but his behavior throughout the war suggests that he was capable of it. The Americans who witnessed it believed that Tarleton was to blame, however Tarleton himself believes that it was just his men defending his honor. Regardless, Banastre Tarleton was labeled as “the butcher” and the event was labeled “The Waxhaw Massacre.” Tarleton’s actions in the battle was referred to as “Tarleton’s Quarter.” The American’s avenged this act in the Battle of King’s Mountain.

The young leader of the Dragoons was ordered to track a rough frontiersman, Daniel Morgan . Morgan stayed one step ahead of Tarleton until he chose a fitting ground to engage him. Tarleton had expressed much disregard for American militia, in fact he had seen them run many times in battle. Morgan knew this and planned accordingly to take advantage of Tarleton’s aggressive nature.

The Battle of Cowpens decimated Banastre Tarleton’s Green Dragoons. Morgan fooled him into chasing after the retreating militia while actually leading him into a trap. Morgan’s sharpshooters sniped the Dragoons while the strategically placed Colonial regulars obliterated them. Tarleton was able to escape with a few men, but this loss cut his dragoon to shreds.

Francis Marion also proved to be a thorn in the side of Tarleton. Marion was a folk hero, protected by many in South Carolina while Tarleton was hated for his ruthless tactics. Marion continually harassed his supply lines.

The last notable event of Tarleton’s military career was his attempt to capture Thomas Jefferson in Virginia. He was unsuccessful in his attempt because Jefferson was warned ahead of time, however he did succeed in finding and destroying continental stores of ammunition.

After the surrender at Yorktown he returned to England. Here he became a politician and fought against the liberation of slaves. He and William Wilberforce had passionate debates on the subject, but in end Wilberforce won and Tarleton all but faded away into history.

Banastre Tarleton, although he was very successful, often found himself on the wrong side of history. If the British had one he would no doubt have been a hero of the war. He was courageous, aggresive, and most of all effective. However his brutal tactics caused a violent backlash at the Battle of King’s Mountain and hurt his reputation with the townspeople. His ruthless tactics were effective on the battlefield but had a negative effect on Britain’s image.