What is considered excessive brutality in wartime? At the Battle of Waxhaws on May 29, 1780, Patriots accused Banastre Tarleton’s Loyalist Legion of refusing to grant “quarter,” or mercy, to surrendering Americans. This disregard of the rules of warfare and the massacre that followed earned the young British commander the title “butcher” and gave rise to a rallying cry among Patriot soldiers, “Remember Waxhaws!”
Born to a wealthy family in Liverpool in 1754, Tarleton attended Oxford, studied law, and despite having no military training, purchased a commission as a cavalry officer in the 1st Dragoon Guards. When rebellion broke out in the colonies, he sailed with Cornwallis across the Atlantic to capture Charleston and fought in the Battle of Sullivan’s Island in June 1776. After that mission failed, he served in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel at age 23, Tarleton returned South with Cornwallis’s army and commanded a unit of Loyalists. He was impetuous and daring, chasing Patriot militias, terrorizing citizens, and fighting at Monck’s Corner, Charleston, Waxhaws, Camden, Fishing Creek, and Blackstocks, before his force was devastated by the Americans at Cowpens. His ruthlessness was widely condemned.
With the British defeat, Tarleton returned to England, becoming a member of Parliament in 1790 and rising to the rank of major general by 1794. He was knighted by the King in 1820 and died in 1833.
DATE OF BIRTH - DEATH
August 21, 1754 - January 15, 1833
For more on the life of Banastre Tarleton, visit Battlefields.org.