Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tarleton, Banastre
TARLETON, Sir BANASTRE (1754–1833), general, third son of John Tarleton (1719–1773), merchant, of Liverpool, and mayor of that city in 1764, and of his wife Jane (d. 1797), eldest daughter of Banastre Parker of Cuerden, Lancashire, was born in his father's house in Water Street, Liverpool, on 21 Aug. 1754. He was educated at Liverpool and Oxford University, and was entered in one of the inns of court, but on 20 April 1775 a commission as cornet in the king's dragoon guards was purchased for him. He obtained leave to accompany Lord Cornwallis [see Cornwallis, Charles, first Marquis] as a volunteer to North America, when he took out reinforcements, in Sir Peter Parker's squadron.
Tarleton sailed from Portsmouth on 26 Dec. 1775, and from Cork harbour on 12 Feb. 1776, arriving on 3 May at Cape Fear, North Carolina, where Sir Henry Clinton the elder [q. v.], with his small force, awaited this reinforcement. He accompanied the army under Clinton to the attack of Charleston, arriving there on 4 June; took part in the unsuccessful operations of 28 and 29 June, re-embarked with the troops on 15 July, and sailed on the 21st for Staten Island, where Clinton's force joined the main army under Sir William (afterwards fifth Viscount) Howe [q. v.], commander-in-chief. Tarleton served, under Sir William Erskine [q. v.], who commanded the cavalry, in the operations against New York at the end of August, and was present at the capture of that city on 15 Sept., at the battle of White Plains on 28 Oct., at the capture of Fort Washington on 16 Nov., and of Fort Lee on 18 Nov.
Tarleton commanded the advanced guard of the patrol under Colonel (afterwards Lord) Harcourt, which on 13 Dec. made a successful dash and captured the American general, Lee, who, reconnoitring three miles away from his army, had stopped with his escort for breakfast at a farmhouse. He took part in the operations in January 1777, under Lord Cornwallis, in the neighbourhood of Brunswick, Princeton, and Trenton. His merits led to his rapid promotion in the local forces, and he was promoted to be captain in Harcourt's horse, and appointed a brigade major of cavalry.
In July 1777 Tarleton proceeded by sea with the army under Sir William Howe, to the Delaware and Chesapeake, disembarking in the Elk river on 25 Aug. He took part in the battle of Brandywine on 11 Sept., in the capture of Germantown on the 25th, and of Philadelphia on 27 Sept.; in the action at Germantown on 4 Oct., and in the operations connected with opening up communication with the fleet by the Delaware. He was in Philadelphia during its occupation by the British, and took part in the various raids against Washington's force. He was promoted to be captain in the 79th foot on 8 Jan. 1778.
War with France necessitated concentration of the British forces in America, and on 18 June Sir Henry Clinton, who had succeeded Howe in the chief command, evacuated Philadelphia, and commenced his march to New York. Tarleton took part in the cavalry skirmishes along the line of march, and in the battle of Freehold Courthouse on 28 June, and arrived in New York with the army on 5 July 1778. He was engaged in the various expeditions from New York, and was singled out by Clinton for the arduous post of lieutenant-colonel commandant of the British legion. A force originally of light infantry (first raised and commanded by Captain Sutherland, one of Clinton's aides-de-camp, under the name of the ‘Caledonian volunteers’), the British legion, towards the close of 1778, was commanded by Sir William Schaw Cathcart (tenth Baron Cathcart) [q. v.], under whom its organisation was changed to a mixed force of cavalry and light infantry. The legion cavalry acquired, from the colour of its facings, the name of Tarleton's ‘Green Horse.’ Tarleton was promoted to be brevet major in the British service on 11 Aug. 1779.
Tarleton sailed for New York in command of the British legion with the expedition under Clinton against Charleston on 26 Dec. 1779, and lost nearly all his horses on the voyage, owing to tempestuous weather. He disembarked on John Island, thirty miles from Charleston, on 11 Feb. 1780. With difficulty Tarleton supplied the places of the lost horses. At the close of the month of March the whole force crossed Ashley river, and ground was broken within eight hundred yards of the enemy's works. By a skilful movement Tarleton surprised three regiments of the enemy's horse (Pulaski's legion, Washington's horse, and Bland's or White's dragoons) on 14 April, at Bigging Bridge, near Monk's Corner, and again on 6 May at Lenew's Ferry, and destroyed them, capturing all their stores and baggage and four hundred horses. He was thus enabled to horse his legion in an efficient manner. These enterprises were attended with innumerable difficulties; rivers had to be crossed and a strongly posted enemy dislodged. Tarleton scoured the country and cut off all communication with Charleston by his light troops, although the place was not completely invested by the army. Charleston capitulated on 12 May. Tarleton was mentioned with high praise in Clinton's despatch.
Lord Cornwallis now moved on Camden in pursuit of a force under the American Lieutenant-colonel Burford. Finding him, however, too far advanced to be overtaken by his main body, he despatched Tarleton in pursuit, with the cavalry of his legion, part of his infantry on horseback, and a 3-pounder gun. After a march of 105 miles in fifty-four hours, he caught up Burford at Waxhaws, on the borders of the two Carolinas, at 3 P.M. on 29 May, at once brought him to action, and defeated his superior force with great slaughter, taking four pieces of artillery, five colours, and all the baggage, which contained stores and clothing for the garrison of Charleston. He rejoined Cornwallis, who now assumed command of the army in Carolina on the departure of the commander-in-chief for New York.
On 1 June Cornwallis entered Camden, and the following day, in his despatch to Sir Henry Clinton, expressed ‘the highest encomiums’ of Tarleton's conduct. Clinton in his despatch to Lord George Germain dated 5 June, points out ‘that the enemy's killed, wounded, and taken exceed Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton's numbers with which he attacked them.’
The victory of Camden gained by Cornwallis on 16 Aug. 1780 over the American general, Gates, was completed by a charge of cavalry under Tarleton against infantry and artillery, and a pursuit continued for upwards of twenty miles from the field of battle, when all the baggage and the last piece of the enemy's ordnance were taken. Cornwallis, in his despatch of 21 Aug., again commended Tarleton's ‘capacity and vigour.’ On the morning of 17 Aug. Tarleton was detached with the legion cavalry and infantry, and the corps of light infantry—350 men all told—to attack General Sumpter wherever he could find him. He executed the service, says Cornwallis, ‘with his usual activity and military address’ by surprising Sumpter on 18 Aug. at Catawba Fords. He totally destroyed or dispersed his detachment, consisting then of seven hundred men, killing 150 on the spot, taking two pieces of brass cannon, three hundred prisoners, and forty-four wagons.
In November 1780 Sumpter again made his appearance in the north-west of the province, and Tarleton was directed to proceed by the nearest route against him. After cutting to pieces part of Sumpter's rearguard at a ford upon the Enoree, Tarleton pressed on, on 20 Nov., with only the cavalry and eighty-six mounted men of the 63rd regiment, some 180 men in all, leaving the infantry and the 3-pounder gun to follow more leisurely. He came up with Sumpter about 5 P.M. at Blackstock Hill. After an obstinate fight, in which Sumpter was badly wounded and placed hors de combat, three of his colonels killed, and 120 men killed, wounded, or taken, Tarleton, as darkness came on, fell back to meet his main body. Sumpter seized the opportunity to get his disorganised and diminished force across the neighbouring river Tiger. Tarleton occupied Blackstock in the morning, and as soon as he had taken care of his wounded he pursued and dispersed the remaining part of Sumpter's corps, and then returned to the Broad river in the neighbourhood of Brierleys Ferry. Cornwallis, in his despatch of 3 Dec., concludes his account of the episode with the words: ‘It is not easy for Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to add to the reputation he has acquired in this province; but the defeating one thousand men posted in very strong ground, and occupying log-houses, by one hundred cavalry and eighty infantry without the assistance of any artillery, is a proof of that spirit and those talents which must render essential service to his country.’
On 13 Dec. 1780, reinforcements having arrived at Charleston under Major-general Leslie, and started for the front, Cornwallis towards the end of the month began his march to North Carolina, and detached Tarleton with the legion and light infantry, the 7th fusiliers, the 1st battalion 71st regiment, 350 cavalry, and two field guns, in all about one thousand men, for the protection of post ‘ninety-six,’ with orders to strike a blow at General Morgan, who was advancing on that station, and at all events to oblige him to repass the Broad river. On 16 Jan. 1781 Tarleton crossed the Pacolet river within six miles of Morgan's encampment. Morgan retreated in haste, and early next morning made a stand near Cowpens. After a fatiguing march through swamps and over broken ground Tarleton came up at 8 A.M., and at once attacked with his first line, hardly giving his men time to form. His first line consisted of the 7th fusiliers, the infantry of the legion, and the light infantry, with a troop of cavalry on each flank. The remainder of his force was in reserve. The enemy's first line, composed of raw militia, gave way, and quitted the field, pursued by the British troops. Morgan's second line, composed of regulars and of continentals, concealed under cover of a wood, now opened a reverse and flank fire on the British, who were pursuing in some disorder the American first line. This heavy fire from an unexpected quarter occasioned the utmost confusion and panic. The 1st battalion of the 71st regiment and the cavalry in reserve were successively ordered up; but neither the exertions, entreaties, nor example of Tarleton could prevent the panic becoming general. The two 3-pounders and the colours of the 7th fusiliers were taken, but the guns were abandoned only when the artillerymen were cut to pieces. When all appeared lost Tarleton, with characteristic spirit but with difficulty assembled a party of his troopers, whom, with fourteen officers accustomed to follow him, he led in a final charge against Colonel Washington's horse, repulsing them, then retook the baggage of the British corps, cutting to pieces the detachment of the enemy who had taken possession of it. But no partial success could retrieve the fortunes of the day, and, after destroying such of the baggage as could not be carried, Tarleton retired with the remainder unmolested to Hamilton's Ford, near the mouth of Bullock's Creek, on his way to join Cornwallis, then at Turkey Creek, about twenty-five miles from the field of action. The British loss was over four hundred men in killed, wounded, and taken.
A junction with Leslie having been effected on 18 Jan. 1781, the army, destroying all baggage which could be spared, moved as rapidly as possible to overtake either Morgan or Greene and strike a blow, arriving at the Catawba river on the evening of 29 Jan. just as Morgan's last corps had crossed the fords. A heavy rain rendered the river impassable, and enabled the enemy to make arrangements to dispute the passage; but on 1 Feb. the passage was made under fire, in the face of the enemy, who were attacked and dispersed, and Tarleton was sent with the cavalry and 23rd regiment in pursuit. Learning on his march that three or four hundred of the neighbouring militia were to assemble that day at Tarrants House, about ten miles off, he left his infantry behind, and pushing forward with the cavalry, surprised the militia men, as he expected; ‘with excellent conduct and great spirit,’ says Cornwallis (despatch to Lord George Germain, 17 March 1781), ‘Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton attacked them instantly, and totally routed them with little loss on his side, and on theirs between forty or fifty killed, wounded or prisoners.’
This stroke of Tarleton's, with Cornwallis's spirited passage of the fords, so effectually disheartened the American militia that no further opposition was encountered in the march to the Yadkin river through one of the most rebellious districts. On 2 March 1781 Tarleton moved from Allemance Creek, and fell in with three or four hundred of Lee's legion, whom he immediately attacked and routed, ascertaining that General Greene was not far distant. On 6 March the outposts at Weitzell's Mill on the Rocky Fork were driven in. On 14 March Cornwallis sent his baggage under escort to Bell's Mills on Deep river, and marched at daybreak of the 15th to meet Greene. Tarleton, who commanded the advanced guard about four miles from Guildford, fell in with an outpost of the enemy, which he attacked ‘with his usual good conduct and spirit,’ and defeated. The main body of the enemy, three times the strength of the British, were found posted a mile and a half from the court-house. Tarleton was directed to keep his cavalry compact, and in readiness to act when required. Towards the close of the action he swept down on the enemy's left and put them to flight. Four 6-pounders, all the artillery they had in the field, were captured. Tarleton was badly wounded in the right hand.
Tarleton accompanied the army to Wilmington, and in its march thence into Virginia, covering all its movements with his legion. Cornwallis, in his despatch from Wilmington of 10 April, refers to the great assistance he received from Tarleton as deserving of his warmest acknowledgments and highest commendation; and again, in his despatch from Cobham, Virginia, writes in a similar strain. In June the army was in Hanover County, Virginia, and Tarleton, having obtained remounts for his cavalry, was sent with 180 horse of the legion and seventy mounted infantry of the 23rd regiment to break up the Virginia general assembly then sitting at Charlotteville. Tarleton proceeded with great expedition, and, having destroyed in his way twelve wagons laden with arms and clothing, dashed into the village through a ford of the Revanna, and took or dispersed the guard on the opposite bank, seized seven members of the assembly, and captured or destroyed one thousand new firelocks, four hundred barrels of gunpowder, and some hogsheads of tobacco, clothing, and stores. Tarleton was promoted to be lieutenant-colonel in the English army on 15 June 1781.
On 6 July the army, having left Williamsburg to cross the James river, was attacked near Jamestown by Lafayette and General Wayne, and Tarleton did good service in the victory gained by the British. In August Yorktown and Gloucester were occupied, in obedience to orders from Sir Henry Clinton, and Tarleton held the post of Gloucester with a force of six hundred men. The siege began on 29 Sept. On 1 Oct. Tarleton made a sally, and took a good many prisoners. By the 17th, however, after vainly waiting for relief by Clinton, which arrived just too late, Cornwallis found it impossible to hold out any longer; terms of capitulation were arranged the following day, and on the 19th Yorktown and Gloucester were surrendered to Washington, and Tarleton returned to England on parole early in 1782.
Tarleton was appointed a lieutenant-colonel of light dragoons on 25 Dec. 1782; and his ambition was now directed to enter parliament. An expert electioneerer, he readily adapted himself to all classes. He was unsuccessful at his first attempt in 1784, but was returned for Liverpool free of expense at the head of the poll at the general election of 1790. In the House of Commons he uniformly sided with the opposition, and in consequence the tories endeavoured to prevent his re-election in 1796. Their candidate was his own brother, John Tarleton, who had sat in the preceding parliament for Seaford. Banastre Tarleton was, however, returned triumphantly. In 1802 he was again unsuccessfully opposed, and he held the seat without interruption until 1806, when he was beaten by William Roscoe [q. v.]; but his absence from parliament was of short duration, and he was again returned in 1807, and continued to sit until 1812, when he gave place to Canning. As a speaker in the House of Commons he evinced earnestness and some power, but his ignorance of mercantile matters and love of pleasure made him no very efficient representative of an important commercial town like Liverpool.
From 24 Oct. 1783 to 1788 he was on half-pay as lieutenant-colonel. He lived for some years with ‘Perdita’ (Mary Robinson [q. v.]) after her connection was broken off with the Prince of Wales, with whom he was on intimate terms. Tarleton published in 1787 his ‘History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America,’ London, 4to, with map and four plans. It is more than probable that Tarleton was assisted in this work by others, among them Mary Robinson. Valuable as containing documents otherwise difficult of access, as a narrative it is marred by the vanity of the author. It was severely criticised by Colonel Roderick Mackenzie in his ‘Strictures on Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton's History’ (1787) and in the ‘Cornwallis Correspondence;’ it contained an attack upon Cornwallis, which was a poor return for the commendations which Tarleton had received in despatches from his commander. He attributed his defeat at Cowpens to want of co-operation on the part of Cornwallis. Cornwallis describes Tarleton's attack upon him, in a letter from Calcutta to the bishop of Lichfield, as ‘most malicious and false.’
Tarleton was promoted to be colonel in the army on 18 Nov. 1790, and to be major-general on 3 Oct. 1794. At the close of 1798 he was sent to Portugal as a major-general, but, not liking the limited nature of the employment, he obtained his recall. He was appointed colonel of the Durham fencible cavalry on 11 May 1799, and was promoted to be lieutenant-general on 1 Jan. 1801. He was transferred to the colonelcy of the 22nd light dragoons on the 8th of the same month, and on 29 April 1802 to the colonelcy of the 21st light dragoons. On 25 Sept. 1803 he was sent to Ireland to command the Cork military district, comprising all the south of Ireland. After this he commanded the Severn military district for six years. On 23 Feb. 1808 he was made governor in Berwick and Holy Island. On 21 Jan. 1812 he was promoted to be general. He was transferred to the colonelcy of the 8th light dragoons on 15 Jan. 1818. On the enlargement of the order of the Bath in January 1815 it was limited to officers who had distinguished themselves after 1803. This Tarleton conceived a great injustice to himself, and he wrote from his residence at Leintwardine, near Ludlow, on 27 Jan. 1815, to the Earl Bathurst to protest, and forwarded a statement of his services. He received a polite acknowledgment; but, although his protest was at the time ineffectual, he was created a baronet on 6 Nov. the same year, and on 20 May 1820 was made a knight grand cross of the Bath. He died without issue at Leintwardine, Shropshire, on 25 Jan. 1833. He was a born cavalry leader, with great dash, and as such was unequalled in his time.
Tarleton married, on 17 Dec. 1798, Susan Priscilla, natural daughter of Robert Bertie, fourth duke of Ancaster.Tarleton's full-length portrait (now in possession of Lieut. Alfred H. Tarleton, of 58 Warwick Square, London, son of Admiral Sir J. W. Tarleton, who was great-nephew of Sir Banastre) was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds for Tarleton's mother in 1782. It is one of Reynolds's happiest conceptions. Tarleton, in the uniform of the British legion, is in a half-stooping attitude, adjusting his sword, with a horse behind him. The attitude gave rise to the ludicrous description by Peter Pindar, ‘Lo! Tarleton dragging on his boot so tight.’ The portrait was engraved in mezzotinto by J. R. Smith the same year, and also by S. W. Reynolds. In 1782 Tarleton's portrait was also painted by Gainsborough, and exhibited with the Reynolds portrait in the Royal Academy the same year. Another portrait of him was painted by Cosby and engraved by Townley. [War Office Records; Despatches; Blackwood's Mag. vol. cxvi.; Stedman's Hist. of the American War, 2 vols. 4to, 1794; Correspondence of Charles, first Marquis Cornwallis, ed. Ross, 3 vols. 1859; The Narrative of Lieutenant-general Sir Henry Clinton, relative to his Conduct during part of his Command of the King's Troops in North America, London, 1785; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Allibone's Dict.; Appleton's Cyclopædia; Liverpool as it was during the last Quarter of the Eighteenth Century, by Richard Brooke, Liverpool, 1853; Tarleton's Hist. of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America, 1787; Colonel Roderick Mackenzie's Strictures on Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton's Hist., London, 1787; Martial Biography, or Memoirs of the most eminent British Characters who have distinguished themselves under the English Standard by their splendid Achievements in the Field of Mars, London, 1804, with a print of Tarleton by Blackberd; The Life and Career of Major John André, by Winthrop Sargent, 8vo, Boston, 1861; Cust's Annals of the Wars of the Eighteenth Century, vol. iii.; Lecky's Hist. of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. iv.; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, vol. ii.; Leslie's Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. xii., 8th ser. i.; Royal Military Cal. vol. i. 1820; Gore's Liverpool Advertiser, 21 Feb. 1782; United Service Journal, 1833; Ann. Register, 1833; Gent. Mag. 1833 pt. i. p. 273, 1843 pt. ii. p. 378.]