Banastre Tarleton

1754–1833 — American Revolutionary War, British Cavalry Officer

Banastre “Bloody Ban” Tarleton was a British officer who rose to prominence during the American Revolutionary War. He was known for his brutal tactics, which earned his nickname.

Banastrae Tarleton, Portrait, Reynolds

Banastre Tarleton. Image Souce: Wikipedia.

Who was Banastre Tarleton?

Banastre Tarleton (1754–1833) was a British officer and politician who rose to prominence during the American Revolutionary War. He was known for his brutal tactics, earning the nickname, “Bloody Ban.” A British dragoon officer, he arrived in America in 1776. While he participated in battles around New York and Philadelphia, he gained notoriety leading the British Legion in the Southern theater from 1780 to 1781. Tarleton, a skilled cavalry officer, played a role in many battles, including Monck’s Corner, and Lenud’s Ferry. However, he is most well-known for Buford’s Massacre at Waxhaws and his defeat at the Battle of Cowpens. The massacre at Waxhaws led to his nickname, “Bloody Ban,” and the slogan, “Tarleton’s Quarter.”

Battle of Cowpens, 1781, Tarleton v Washington, Illustration
This illustration depicts the duel between Tarleton and William Washington at the Battle of Cowpens in 1781. Image Source: University of South Carolina Digital Collections.

What was Tarleton’s Quarter?

The phrase “Tarleton’s Quarter” was an American slogan referring to a perceived massacre that occurred when Tarleton denied Americans the opportunity to surrender. This name originates from the Battle of Waxhaws in South Carolina, where Tarleton led an attack on retreating American forces following the capture of Charleston. It was widely reported that Tarleton’s men refused to acknowledge the surrender of the Americans, killing more than 100 Continental soldiers. In other words, Tarleton and his men gave the Americans “no quarter,” which means to give no mercy to a combatant.

Banastre Tarleton Facts

  1. Banastre Tarleton was a British army officer who gained the nickname “Bloody Ban” due to his ruthless conduct during the American Revolution.
  2. He was born into a middle-class family in Liverpool, England.
  3. Tarleton attended Oxford and briefly studied law at the Middle Temple.
  4. He received a commission in the 1st Dragoon Guards and later transferred to the 16th Light Dragoons.
  5. Tarleton participated in the first British attack on Charleston in 1776.
  6. He gained prominence by capturing Major General Charles Lee, the second in command of the Continental Army, during the American army’s retreat from New York.
  7. Tarleton commanded the British Legion, a unit that included Loyalist recruits and became a key figure in Lord Charles Cornwallis’s southern army during the Southern Campaign.
  8. His actions at the Battle of Waxhaws, where he was reported to have attacked surrendering American troops, earned him the reputation of being ruthless and resulted in the moniker “Tarleton’s Quarter.”
  9. Tarleton suffered a significant defeat at the Battle of Cowpens in 1781, where General Daniel Morgan’s strategic trap led to a decisive victory for the American forces.
  10. After the British surrender at Yorktown, Tarleton returned to England, served in the House of Commons, and received promotions in the military, including a baronetcy in 1815.

Early Life and Career of Banastre Tarleton

Banastre Tarleton was born in Liverpool, England, on August 21, 1754. He was the son of John Tarleton, a merchant and ship owner involved in the sugar trade and slave trade. He also served as the mayor of Liverpool for at least a year, in 1764.

Banastre pursued legal studies at the Middle Temple, starting in April 1770. In November 1771, he enrolled at University College, Oxford.

His father passed away in 1773, leaving him with an inheritance of £5,000, which he subsequently squandered on drinking and gambling. Attempting to avoid financial ruin, his mother helped him purchase a cornetcy in the First Dragoon Guards on April 20, 1775.

Upon completing his training, he volunteered for service in America. He sailed with forces under the command of General Charles Cornwallis, arriving at Cape Fear on May 3, 1776.

Charles Cornwallis, Portrait
General Lord Charles Cornwallis.

Banastre Tarleton in the American Revolutionary War

In June 1776, he witnessed the unsuccessful attack on Charleston at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island. Afterward, he was deployed to New York and reported to General William Howe. Tarleton was assigned to the 16th Light Dragoons, one of the two regular cavalry regiments in the theater.

Tarleton Helps Capture of General Charles Lee

Tarleton quickly gained a reputation for his bold and daring actions. On December 13, 1776, he was part of a force that successfully surprised and captured General Charles Lee at a tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Lee was writing a letter to General Horatio Gates, criticizing George Washington, when Tarleton and his men raided the tavern.

Philadelphia Campaign

Soon after, Tarleton was promoted to the rank of Captain in January 1777, and he continued to serve in the Philadephia Campaign, fighting in the Battle of Monmouth (June 28, 1777).

Captain of the 79th Foot

On January 8, 1778, Tarleton assumed his position as Captain in the 79th Foot. Despite serving with the infantry, he kept his reputation as a cavalry commander and earned a reputation for displaying ruthlessness toward civilians suspected of supporting the Patriot Cause. 

Tarleton Takes Command of the British Legion

Later in 1778, Tarleton was appointed Lieutenant Colonel Commandant of Cathcart’s Legion, which was renamed the British Legion. This unit was comprised of Loyalist cavalry and mounted infantry and often operated with the 17th Dragoons.

Raid on Pound Ridge

On July 2, 1779, Tarleton led a force of roughly 360 cavalry in an attempt to capture Major Ebenezer Lockwood, who lived in Pound Ridge, New York. 

As Tarleton approached the town, a spy, Luther Kinnicutt, warned the Americans. Major Benjamin Tallmadge organized the defenses and American forces attacked, slowing the advance.

Benjamin Tallmadge, Illustration
Major Benjamin Tallmadge. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Tarleton responded by ignoring the Americans and attacking the town. He had his men set fire to several buildings, including the home of Major Lockwood and a church.

Banastre Tarleton and the Southern Campaign

Tarleton’s chance to distinguish himself came in December 1779, when British officials decided to begin the Southern Campaign. The purpose of the campaign was to take control of the Southern Colonies, one by one. When the task was completed and the South was subdued, British forces would move north.

Tarleton traveled south with General Henry Clinton for the expedition to take control of South Carolina. The army, including the British Legion and their horses, were transported by sea. Unfortunately, all of the Legion’s horses died during the journey.

Battle of Pon Pon

On March 23, 1780, Tarleton and the British Legion won a significant victory at the Battle of Pon Pon in South Carolina, routing a group of American militia and dragoons under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William Washington. Tarleton and his men captured some horses, which they desperately needed.

Battle of Rutledge’s Plantation

Three days later, on March 26, Tarleton and Washington engaged again at Rutledge’s Plantation. Washington and his men, including Pulaski’s Legion, defeated Tarleton, forcing him to withdraw.

Banastre Tarleton and the Siege of Charleston

During the Siege of Charleson (April 1, 1780–May 12, 1780), Tarleton fought alongside men like John Graves Simcoe and Patrick Ferguson

By this time, Tarleton had perfected his battlefield tactics, which included precise scouting, quick movements, and relentless assaults on the enemy.

Using these tactics, he won two significant battles that contributed to the surrender of Charleston, and an estimated 2,500 American troops. After the British captured Charleston, Clinton returned to New York, leaving General Charles Cornwallis in command.

General Henry Clinton, American Revolution
General Henry Clinton. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Battle of Monck’s Corner

The first battle took place on April 14 when Tarleton captured Monck’s Corner on the Cooper River, effectively isolating Benjamin Lincoln’s army in Charleston.

American forces under the command of General Isaac Huger were posted at Monck’s Corner, 30 miles north of Charleston. The position was vital to American communication and supply lines, and, if necessary, Lincoln’s escape route from Charleston. Clinton sent Tarleton to engage Huger. 

Tarleton and his men attacked the Americans before dawn on April 14 and quickly brutally routed them. Within an hour, he gained control of Monck’s Corner and Biggin Bridge, completely severing Lincoln’s route to the North. Tarleton and his men also captured the supplies that were headed to Charleston.

Battle of Lenud’s Ferry

Next came the Battle of Lenud’s Ferry. At some point on May 5 or the morning of May 6, some of Tarleton’s men were captured by Americans under the command of Colonel Anthony Walton White near a plantation. 

From there, White and his men took the prisoners and moved toward Lenud’s Ferry on the Santee River, where American forces were gathering. 

Tarleton found out and went in pursuit of White and caught up with him soon after he arrived at Lenud’s Ferry. Tarleton and his men surprised White and the other American forces gathered there and easily routed them, inflicting heavy casualties in the brutal fashion that became characteristic of Tarleton and the British Legion.

General Anthjony Walton White, American Revolution
Anthony Walton White. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Battle of Waxhaws — Buford’s Massacre and Tarleton’s Quarter

On May 29, Tarleton defeated American forces. The Battle of Waxhaws — also known as Buford’s Massacre — took place in the Waxhaws Region near present-day Buford, South Carolina. 

Colonel Abraham Buford and his men were on their way to Charleston when they found out it had been captured by the British. Buford and his men turned around and started to march back to North Carolina. Buford was joined by troops who escaped from Charleston.

General Charles Cornwallis sent Tarleton after Buford. 

On May 29, Tarleton caught up with Buford in the Waxhaws Region. The accounts of the battle are generally contradictory. What is known is the fight was short, fast, and bloody. According to some American accounts, Buford tried to surrender, but Tarleton ignored him and showed no mercy, or “no quarter.” 

Other accounts say Tarleton’s horse was shot out from under him and he fell to the ground. Tarleton’s men, believing him to be killed, were outraged and ruthlessly attacked the Americans — even those who were trying to surrender. The attack led to the brutal deaths of more than 110 Americans. 

Following the victory, American forces were known to have shouted the battle cries of, “Remember Tarleton’s Quarter!” and “Remember Waxhaws!” The brutal tactics at Waxhaws enhanced Tarleton’s reputation, contributing to his nickname, “Bloody Ban.”

Battle of Waxhaws, 1780, Illustration
This illustration depicts the brutal attack at the Battle of Waxhaws. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Battle of Camden — August 16, 1780

Following the massive surrender at the Siege of Charleston, General Horatio Gates was tasked with leading American forces in the South. Believing he would have the same success in the South that he had at Saratoga, Gates assembled an army and marched toward Camden, where General Charles Cornwallis had established a supply depot.

General Horatio Gates, Portrait, Stuart
General Horatio Gates. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Learning Gates was marching to Camden, Cornwallis gathered his army and marched toward Gates, intending to attack on the 16th. Tarleton led the advance force of the British column. 

As both armies moved into position on the night of the 15th, they ran into each other. Tarleton and his men were engaged in a brief fight with American forces led by Charles Armand. However, both sides withdrew and prepared to do battle in the morning.

The next morning, both armies assemble on the battlefield. However, Gates made a critical mistake. He placed inexperienced militia forces on his left — directly across from the most experienced soldiers in the British Army. Cornwallis saw the mistake and took advantage, ordering his men to use bayonets and advanced on the militia.

Fearing for their lives, the militia turned and ran. Although the right of the American line stayed in position and fought, the line eventually collapsed and the British overwhelmed the Americans. 

As the line collapsed, Tarleton and his men rushed in and attacked the rear, forcing the Americans to retreat. Gates turned his horse and fled from the battle, abandoning his men, officers, and army. He rode for three days, covering 200 miles before stopping at Hillsborough, North Carolina.

During the battle, a key American General, Johann de Kalb, was mortally wounded after he fell from his horse. While he was on the ground, British troops attacked him and he suffered at least 8 bayonet wounds. De Kalb died three days after the battle.

Tarleton chased the Americans for almost 20 miles before he gave up the chase and returned to Cornwallis.

Battle of Camden, Death of De Kalb, Illustration
This illustration depicts the death of Baron De Kalb. Image Source:

Battle of Fishing Creek — August 18, 1780

Following Camden, Cornwallis sent Tarleton in pursuit of Thomas Sumter and his men. During the afternoon of August 18, Tarleton and his men charged into Sumter’s camp at Fishing Creek surprising the Americans, who were relaxing and swimming. Sumter was sleeping and many of his men were reportedly drunk when the British Legion galloped into the camp.

The Americans were easily routed, and around 150 were killed. Tarleton and his men captured weapons and horses, took prisoners, and freed Loyalists who were held captive. Despite the success, Sumter was able to escape.

Tarleton’s Illness

Following the victory at Fishing Creek, Tarleton fell ill with a fever and was forced to turn command of the British Legion over to Major George Hanger for a short time. 

Battle of Wahab’s Plantation (September 21, 1780) — Hanger and his men were part of a Loyalist camp that had been established on the plantation of James A. Walkup of the North Carolina Militia. Walkup led Patriot militia forces, under the command of William Richardson Davie, to the camp, where they launched a surprise attack. The Patriots inflicted heavy casualties but were forced to withdraw when a contingent of British regulars arrived.

Battle of Charlotte (September 26, 1780) — General Cornwallis led a column toward Charlotte, North Carolina, intending to take control of the town. His advance force included Hanger and some members of the British Legion. When the advance force entered Charlotte, they were engaged by the Patriot militia under Davie’s command, at the Mecklenburg County Court House. Davie and his men only intended to slow the British advance and were successful. Upon their withdrawal, the British occupied Charlotte. Hanger was wounded in the battle.

Tarleton’s illness is described as yellow fever or malaria. Accounts differ on the cause, but it is generally believed he was sick for around three weeks.

Battle of Kings Mountain — October 7, 1780

Following the Battle of Charlotte, Patriot militia in the area harassed the British, making it difficult for Cornwallis to communicate with his forces that were deployed in the Backcountry, including Major Patrick Ferguson, who was protecting the General’s left flank.

The absence of Tarleton’s leadership and the disruption of communication lines made it difficult for Cornwallis to coordinate with Ferguson. This led to the disastrous defeat of Ferguson and his Loyalist forces at the Battle of Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780. All of Ferguson’s men were either captured or killed.

During the battle, Patriot forces, known as the Overmountain Men, are said to have yelled, “Remember Waxhaws!” and nearly massacred all of the prisoners — in retaliation for Tarleton’s supposed actions at the Battle of Waxhaws. However, the commanding officers restored order.

The Patriot victory at Kings Mountain is considered a significant turning point in the American Revolutionary War, and the Southern Campaign. With the loss of Ferguson, Cornwallis decided to abandon his attempt to invade North Carolina. He stopped moving north and withdrew his army to Winnsboro, South Carolina.

Battle of Kings Mountain, Death of Patrick Ferguson
This illustration depicts the moment Patrick Ferguson was shot as he tried to break through the American lines. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Tarleton and the Swamp Fox — November 1780

Tarleton resumed his duties and Cornwallis sent him in pursuit of Colonel Francis Marion and his men. After the Siege of Charleston, Marion organized a militia group, known as “Marion’s Men,” and carried out raids on British forces. 

Marion joined Gates for the Battle of Camden, but Gates did not care for him. Before the battle, Gates sent Marion and his men on a scouting mission. Marion missed the battle but survived, and resumed using his guerilla tactics to attack British forces, especially supply lines.

While Tarleton was sick, Marion and his men won the Battle of Black Mingo (September 28, 1860). Marion followed that with another victory at the Battle of Tearcoat Swamp (October 25, 1780) and an attack on British forces at Georgetown.

Tarleton and the British Legion pursued Marion and his men throughout the South Carolina countryside and swamps for roughly two weeks, starting on November 5. 

Francis Marion, Escape from Tarleton, Illustration
This illustration depicts Francis Marion making his escape. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

However, Marion’s ability to gather intelligence on Tarleton’s movements kept him a step ahead, allowing him to escape every time Tarleton was close. Tarleton chased after him for roughly seven hours and 26 miles, but Marion escaped through a swamp.

Tarleton referred to Marion as  a “damned old fox,” which earned Marion the nickname “Swamp Fox.”

In mid-November, Cornwallis recalled Tarleton and sent him to confront General Thomas Sumter, who was moving toward Ninety-Six, South Carolina.

Battle of Blackstock’s Farm — Tarleton’s First Loss in the Field

Following the Battle of Kings Mountain, Patriot forces were in control of much of the Backcountry Region of the Carolinas. With Loyalist support at a low point, Cornwallis sent Tarleton to deal with Sumter. Cornwallis hoped the move would restore Loyalist confidence and convince some of them to volunteer to fight with the British Army.

Sumter and Tarleton skirmished with each other on the 18th and 19th. Afterward, Sumter decided to make a stand and wait for Tarleton to attack him. He chose the farm of William Blackstock, overlooking the Tyger River, as the place to wait for Tarleton.

By that time, Sumter had nearly 1,000 men, while Tarleton had around 500 men, including the British Legion and approximately 300 regulars. Tarleton also had a fearsome reputation and had not yet lost a battle during the war.

Tarleton approached Sumter’s position late in the afternoon on November 20. Instead of waiting for his entire column to arrive, he launched a frontal assault on the farm. He was able to charge in and inflict casualties but was overwhelmed by Patriot fire.

Despite the fact he was outnumbered and overwhelmed, he ordered his men to press on, but they suffered more casualties. Finally, he ordered his men to fall back. During the retreat, Sumter was wounded and forced to turn the command over to Colonel John Twiggs.

Tarleton intended to renew the attack the next day, but Twiggs withdrew overnight.

Following the battle, Tarleton’s report to Cornwallis suggested he forced the Americans to retreat and pointed to the wounding of Sumter as a success. However, he suffered heavy casualties — anywhere from one-third to more than half of the men engaged in the battle. 

Despite Tarleton’s lofty claims, historians tend to agree that he lost the Battle of Blackstock’s Farm. However, it can also be argued it was a success because American forces were diverted from Ninety-Six.

Battle of Cowpens — January 17, 1781

Despite the heavy losses at Blackstock’s Farm, Tarleton’s reputation as an exceptional leader of light cavalry, quick-strike attacks, and fierce fighting remained. However, his skills in conventional battle were not as good, and that led to disaster at the Battle of Cowpens on January 17, 1781

Cornwallis decided to make another attempt to invade North Carolina in the spring of 1781. However, he needed to eliminate General Daniel Morgan and his army first. Cornwallis assigned Tarleton the task of engaging Morgan, who the British believed was going to attack Ninety-Six.

General Daniel Morgan, Portrait
General Daniel Morgan. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Tarleton’s reputation preceded him. Believing Tarleton would target the Patriot militia, instead of the Continental Regulars, and execute a furious frontal assault, Morgan devised a trap — and Tarleton galloped right into it. 

Morgan set up what is called a “double envelopment” so he could fire on Tarleton’s men from two sides at the same time. It is believed that was the only time the maneuver was used during the war.

Morgan had his men take defensive positions near the Broad River. He also deployed his riflemen, who were ordered to slow the British advance.

When Tarleton arrived, his men were exhausted from the long march but he proceeded to attack and recklessly charged into the American line.

Morgan had his men pull back as if they were retreating from the field. The movements confused the British and allowed the Americans to mount a bayonet charge. The attack took the British by surprise and their forces collapsed. Many of the British turned and ran, but some surrendered right away. 

Tarleton managed to rally some dragoons and set fire to his baggage, but as he retreated, Colonel William Washington confronted him, and the two fought in single combat. 

They were both wounded and Washington pursued Tarleton on horseback for about 16 miles, until Tarleton managed to escape. The Americans won the day and were able to capture a significant number of the best troops under the command of Cornwallis. It is estimated that as much as two-thirds of the British forces were either killed or captured, and the British Legion was decimated.

Battle of Cowpens, Tarleton and Washington Combat, Illustration
This illustration from “The Story of the Revolution” by Henry Cabot Lodge depicts the fight between Tarleton (left) and Washington. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Following the defeat, some British officers criticized Tarleton. He responded by offering his resignation to Cornwallis, but it was rejected. However, Tarleton did not receive an independent command of a large force for the remainder of the war.

Battle of Cowan’s Ford — February 1, 1781

After Cowpens, Morgan moved to join with General Nathanael Greene, so the Continental Army could cross the Dan River into Virginia. Cornwallis was determined to destroy Greene’s army, and chased after him in what is known as the “Race to the Dan.” Tarleton was with Cornwallis during the pursuit.

Around January 28, Morgan sent General William Lee Davidson and 500 men to Beatties Ford. Davidson was given orders to engage the British long enough to slow down their advance.

Three days later, Cornwallis pushed across the Catawba River at Cowan’s Ford, under fire from Davidon’s men, who had moved to block him. Cornwallis successfully crossed the river and sent Tarleton to engage American forces at Tarrant’s Tavern.

General Nathanael Greene, Portrait, Illustration
General Nathanael Greene. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Battle of Tarrant’s Tavern — February 1, 178

Tarleton led his men 10 miles to Tarrant’s Tavern where he launched a surprise attack on the American forces gathered there. Although Tarleton was outnumbered, the Americans were at a disadvantage because their weapons were wet and they had trouble firing at the British. Tarleton charged into the American camp, which was under the command of Nathaniel Martin. According to his account of the battle, he told his men to “Remember the Cowpens.” Tarleton and his men quickly overwhelmed the Americans and captured Martin.

This victory kept the Patriot militia from opposing Cornwallis as he advanced deeper into North Carolina. It also forced Greene to speed up his retreat to Guilford Court House, where he expected to receive reinforcements under the command of General Isaac Huger.

Greene and Cornwallis — The Race to the Dan

Greene was able to beat Cornwallis to the Dan River and started crossing over to Virginia on February 13. The last of the American forces crossed the river on the night of February 14, around 8:00 p.m. After crossing, all the boats in the area were on the Virginia side of the river.

When Cornwallis and his army arrived 12 hours later, around 8:00 a.m. on the 15th, they had no way to cross over into Virginia and continue the pursuit of Greene’s army.

Greene spent just enough time in Virginia to regroup and add reinforcements from the Virginia Militia. He crossed back over into North Carolina and moved toward Guilford Court House. Cornwallis was determined to engage Greene and resumed the chase.

Battle of Clapp’s Mill — March 2, 1781

The American rearguard was joined by the Patriot militia. Together, they worked to slow down the British. Tarleton led the British advance forces, and they fought with Lieutenant Colonel Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee and his dragoons at Clapp’s Mill on March 2.

Lee, along with support from local militia and warriors from the Catawba Tribe, ambushed Tarleton. Although his forces were surprised, Tarleton quickly organized his men and took cover. He then deployed his troops who forced the Americans to retreat.

Battle of Wetzell’s Mills — March 6, 1781

Cornwallis continued his pursuit of Greene and tried to lure him into a large battle, but Greene refused to engage. Instead, Greene continued to harass Cornwallis. The move gave American reinforcements time to join Greene.

On March 6, Cornwallis tried to intercept Greene’s advance force, which was under the command of Colonel Otho Williams. Cornwallis sent Tarleton and his cavalry, along with Lieutenant Colonel James Webster and roughly 1,000 infantry to engage Williams. 

Although the British moved out under cover of fog, the Americans saw them, mobilized their forces, and moved away from their camp to join Greene’s army. 

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Lee covered the retreat with his cavalry and riflemen. He was supported by Colonel William Washington and Colonel William Campbell. Lee was able to hold Tarleton and Webster off long enough to allow Williams to march 10 miles, where he could cross Reedy Fork Creek at Wetzell’s Mill

Williams posted troops at the crossing and waited for Lee, Washington, Campbell, and the rest of the Americans to join him. Once they arrived, Williams planned to cross the river and move on to the Haw River to join Greene.

A fierce battle took place at the crossing, and the Americans were able to hold their ground at first. However, Webster led an assault that broke the American defenses. Webster and his men were able to cross the river and move up the bank on the other side, forcing the Americans there to quickly withdraw and move north.

In the aftermath of the battle, the British did not pursue the Americans. Cornwallis ordered his men to fall back. Tarleton was critical of the decision, believing it was an excellent opportunity to attack Green’s army.

Battle of Guilford Court House — Tarleton Loses Two Fingers

Greene encamped at Guilford Court House, near present-day Greensboro, North Carolina. Greene had around 4,400 under his command, including 1,490 Continental soldiers. 

Cornwallis left his baggage and wounded behind to speed up the movements of his army. He marched ahead with around 2,000 men, including Tarleton and a rebuilt British Legion. 

On the advice of Daniel Morgan, Greene placed the militia at the front of his defenses and riflemen on the flanks. Before the battle, Morgan was forced to return home due to illness. However, Morgan convinced Greene that he could defeat Cornwallis if the militiamen followed their orders and fired two volleys into the British.

Battle of Guilford Court House, 1781, Painting
This painting by H. Charles McBarron depicts American soldiers at the Battle of Guilford Court House. Image Source:

As the British advanced on March 17, the Patriot militia withstood as many as three bayonet charges. However, the Americans held their ground, fired their two volleys, and fell back. Meanwhile, Patriot riflemen fired on the British as they approached the second line of the American defenses, which was made up of Continentals from Delaware, Mayland, and Virginia.

The Americans started to gain the upper hand, and Tarleton was in the thick of the action. Cornwallis changed the tide of the battle by ordering his artillery to fire grapeshot into the fight. The Americans responded by falling back, allowing Cornwallis to regroup his men.

Greene and his men gathered in a field and then left Guilford Court House. Although Cornwallis won the battle, it came with a heavy cost. 93 of his men were killed and nearly 440 were wounded — roughly 25 percent of the men he took into the battle. The casualties included Tarleton, who was seriously wounded and had to have two fingers on his right hand amputated — the index finger and middle finger.

Tarleton’s Raids in Virginia

After Guilford Court House, Cornwallis marched into Virginia. American forces under the command of General Marquis de Lafayette and General Anthony Wayne were in the area, but Cornwallis had more men and the Americans were unable to engage in a battle.

Cornwallis sent Colonel John Graves Simcoe to attack the American supply depot at Point of Fork and sent Tarleton to Charlottesville where the Virginia Assembly was holding meetings. 

While he was in Virginia, Tarleton came into close range of several Founding Fathers and may have met Daniel Boone, the legendary Frontiersman who blazed the Wilderness Road. Most accounts indicate Tarleton wanted to capture Thomas Jefferson.

Tarleton and Daniel Boone

According to various sources, Boone was traveling to Richmond, Virginia in early June to join the Virginia legislature at Charlottesville. While Boone and others were en route, they were captured and taken prisoner by Tarleton, only to be paroled a few days later.

Daniel Boone, Portrait, Harding
Daniel Boone. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Tarlton and the “Paul Revere of the South” — the Race to Charlottesville

While he was in the Charlottesville area, Tarleton also tried to capture Thomas Jefferson and other important Virginia leaders. 

On the night of June 3, Jack Jouett, a resident of Louisa County, was at the Cuckoo Tavern. Some of Tarleton’s men were there, and Jouett overheard them talking about their plans and march to Charlottesville.

Jouett left the tavern and followed the British to Louisa Courthouse. Using a side road, he rode around the British and rushed to Charlottesville to warn Governor Jefferson and the members of the Virginia Assembly. Legend has it that Jouett rode all night, covering 40 miles, and beat Tarleton to Charlottesville, where he successfully raised the alarm.

Jefferson escaped to his property in Bedford County and others, like Patrick Henry, were able to vacate Charlottesville before Tarleton arrived.

Jouett was rewarded with a sword and a pair of pistols for his actions, and he is referred to as the “Paul Revere of the South.”

Thomas Jefferson, Painting, Rembrandt Peale
Thomas Jefferson. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Raids on American Supply Lines

From July 9 to July 24, Tarleton carried out raids on American supply depots, covering a distance of 200 miles. During the raids, he kept his movements a secret and was able to avoid capture. While his raids were successful, his forces also suffered casualties due to battle and the intense summer heat.

Francisco’s Fight

While Tarleton and the British Legion carried out the raids in Virginia, a contingent of Tarleton’s men encountered Peter Francisco, a Virginian who was an officer in the Continental Army. 

Francisco’s reputation is legendary in the lore of the American Revolutionary War. He was known as the “Virginia Giant” and the “Giant of the Revolution” because of his size and strength. The stories include:

  • During the Battle of Camden, he picked up a cannon, weighing more than 1,000 pounds, and carried it from the battlefield to keep it from falling into British hands.
  • At Guilford Court House, he singlehandedly killed 11 British soldiers, despite receiving a bayonet wound to his leg.

In another story, he engaged a detachment of Tarleton’s men, 11 in total. They surrounded him outside of a tavern and tried to arrest him. Francisco engaged them, killed at least one, and ran the others off — despite being wounded with a gunshot.

Tarleton and the Siege of Yorktown

While Cornwallis chased Greene through the South, American and French forces gathered in the North. In New York City, General Henry Clinton was worried the allied forces were planning to attack the city. Clinton’s concern with New York City led him to issue orders for Cornwallis to find a place in the Chesapeake Bay where the Royal Navy could reach him. Clinton wanted him to send any troops he could spare back to New York City. 

On August 1, 1781, Cornwallis moved his army into Yorktown, Virginia. He planned to make men available for Clinton and also to use Yorktown as a supply base for his army as he continued his campaign in Virginia.

Battle of Yorktown, 1781, Yorktown Waterfront, NPS
This painting depicts the Yorktown waterfront in 1781. Image Source: National Park Service.

However, when General George Washington found out Cornwallis was at Yorktown, he ordered American forces in the South to block land routes out of the area. On August 14, Washinton learned there was a fleet of French ships under the command of Admiral de Grasse sailing to the Chesapeake Bay from the Caribbean. Upon its arrival, the French fleet would be able to block the British escape to the sea. 

A week later, Washington marched south along with French forces led by General Comte de Rochambeau. However, they left enough men behind to make Clinton think they were planning to attack New York City.

As the Americans and French converged on Yorktown, Tarleton was stationed on the York River at Gloucester Point, across from Yorktown.

On September 28, American and French forces started to bombard the city — the Siege of Yorktown was underway. Over the next three weeks, the Allied forces slowly chipped away at British defenses. 

On October 3, Tarleton engaged French cavalry and fought a duel with the Duc de Lauzun. Although Tarleton was briefly trapped under his horse during the skirmish, he was able to escape.

Allied forces captured key British defensive positions on October 14. Two days later, the British tried to evacuate Yorktown, but a storm blew in and ruined the plan. They were forced to halt the operation. Cornwallis met with his officers, and they agreed they had no option but to surrender. 

Cornwallis formally surrendered on October 19, and Tarleton became a prisoner of war.

Lord Cornwallis Surrender at Yorktown, Painting, Trumbull
This painting by John Trumbull depicts the British surrender at Yorktown. Benjamin Lincoln is about to receive the sword from O’Hara. Image Source: Yale University Art Gallery.

After hostilities ended, British and Allied officers met for a dinner — Tarleton was not invited. By that time, his behavior and reputation had alienated him from some of his fellow officers, and the Americans wanted nothing to do with him.

Tarleton Returns to England

Following the war, Tarleton returned to England in January 1782. He was seen as a hero, enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle, and was associated with the Prince of Wales. He was memorialized by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, both of whom painted his portrait. 

He carried on an affair with the poet Mary Robinson. She was known as “Perdita” and was married to Thomas Robinson, an unsuccessful businessman. Robinson was known to be the mistress of the Prince of Wales — the future King George IV — for a time, before her affair with Tarleton.

Tarleton spent time serving in Parliament from 1786 to 1806 and earned a reputation as a defender of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

In 1787, he was criticized for his failure at Cowpens. He responded by writing his History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America. Historians tend to agree the book provides important details about the Southern Campaign but is also exaggerated and self-serving.

He continued to serve in the military and was appointed to the rank of Major General in 1798 and Full General in 1812. He was assigned to Portugal in 1798, but it was brief, and he never held a field command afterward.

In 1797, he fathered an illegitimate daughter with a woman, who is known only by the name Kolina. Tarleton’s daughter was named Banina Georgina.

In 1798, he married Priscilla Susan Bertie, the illegitimate daughter of Robert Bertie, 4th Duke of Ancaster. They did not have any children together.

Death of Banastre Tarleton

Tarleton died on January 15, 1833, in Leinwardine, England.

Tarleton’s Legacy in America

In America, Tarleton continues to be seen in a negative light due to his ruthless battlefield tactics and treatment of American soldiers and civilians. In the movie “The Patriot,” the character of Colonel William Tavington is based on Tarleton.

Banastre Tarleton Significance

Banastre “Bloody Ban” Tarleton is important to United States history for the role he played in the American Revolutionary War, particularly the Southern Campaign during 1780 and 1781. He gained notoriety for his quick-strike tactics and treatment of Americans. Tarleton served in America from 1776 to 1781. After returning to England, he is known to have been an advocate for continuing the slave trade, and was a vocal critic of Abolitionists, but he never owned slaves. 

Banastre Tarleton APUSH, Review, Notes, Study Guide

Use the following links and videos to study Banastre Tarleton, the British Southern Campaign, and the American Revolutionary War for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Banastre Tarleton Definition APUSH

Banastre Tarleton was a British military officer during the American Revolutionary War, known for his aggressive tactics and brutal reputation. He commanded the British Legion, a feared cavalry unit, and earned notoriety for his role in battles such as Waxhaws and Cowpens. Tarleton’s actions, including alleged atrocities, contributed to tension between American Patriots and British forces. His actions are often used as examples of the harshness of warfare.

Banastre Tarleton Video for APUSH Notes

This video from the American Battlefield Trust discussed Banestre Tarleton.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Banastre Tarleton
  • Date 1754–1833
  • Author
  • Keywords Banastre Tarleton, Banastre Tarleton American Revolution, Banastre Tarleton APUSH, Battle of Waxhaws, Battle of Lenud's Ferry, Battle of Monck's Corner, Battle of Cowpens
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 26, 2024