Every year on Fourth of July weekend I try to pick some badass freedom fries patriot who spent the latter part of the 18th century grinding a bunch of taxatin'-without-representatin' redcoats into hamburger sauce with a monster truck shaped like the Statue of Liberty. This is the Fourth of July, Independence Day, the day that we stopped giving a shit about royal weddings and started paying more attention to things like freedom, justice, automatic weapons, and whatever the fuck Kendall Jenner had for breakfast this morning.
Well, this year, it's time for something a little bit different. This year, we talk about the toughest, most ruthless, most hated, and most badass warrior operating against American nationalist interests during the 1780s – Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton, better known as "Butcher Tarleton." The Darth Vader of Great Britain in the American Revolution, the guy they based the evil guy from The Patriot on, and a man so intensely-hardcore that the patriots used to use the term "Tarleton's Quarter" to mean "take no prisoners, ask no prisoners."
"Bloody Ban" was born August 21, 1754, the fourth child of the former Lord Mayor of Liverpool. The Lord Mayor was a pretty successful merchant specializing specifically in slaves and sugar, and Banastre attended Oxford University Law school because of course the most hated man in America was a slave-trading lawyer. Physically smaller than many of the other men in his school, Banastre made up for it by having huge balls, and regularly beat the shit out of the other kids at cricket, boxing, horseback riding, polo, tennis, and all the other sports you'd expect a privileged Victorian-Era white British kid to be good at.
Tarleton's dad died shortly after Banastre graduated Oxford, and since Ban was only a fourth child all he got from dad's will was five thousand Pounds Sterling – a pretty sizeable chunk of change, but not exactly enough to retire on. In true badass fashion, he blew all of his money on gambling, booze, chicks, and other cool things, then spent his last 800 Pounds to buy an officer's commission in the British Army's First Dragoons Guards Regiment. He was immediately shipped out to the New World to deliver the King's merciful justice to some fucking traitorous colonists who dared defy the wishes of His Majesty George III.
Back in the old days it was totally cool for a British nobleman to buy himself rank in the Army, but Banastre bought himself the lowest rank in the Cavalry (Coronet), and all of his promotions were on sheer merit. He was insanely brave, an excellent horseman and tracker, and had a gigantic nutsack that put all other nutsacks to shame. In December of 1775 he was a 23 year-old Major when he was ordered to take a recon party and investigate the operations of Colonial General Charles Lee – Banastre Tarlton didn't just recon that shit, he captured General Lee, who was in his underwear at the time, then hauled him back to base to be interrogated personally. He fought in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, helped the Brits win the Battle of Brandywine, and was eventually made a Lieutenant-Colonel and given command of his own unit – it was officially known as the "British Legion," but soon came to be known simply as "Tarleton's Raiders." Which is a badass fucking unit name.
Formed in New York in 1778, Tarleton's Raiders was a group of around 500 Loyalist Americans who weren't down with all that freedom and independence bullshit and thought it was far better to be loyal to the British government than it was to be a bunch of seditious insurgent fighter terrorists. Tarleton put British officer in charge, drilled the Loyalists into a proper fighting force, then took them south to ruthlessly root out traitors in the Carolinas.
"I wish you would get three legions, and divide yourself into three parts:
We can do no good without you."
- Lord Cornwallis, Commander of British Forces
Tarleton did a cool thing and dressed his cavalrymen out in green jackets instead of redcoats, and before long the patriots in Carolina knew that when they saw motherfuckers in green coats they were in some serious shit. Operating a light cavalry, Tarleton's Raiders were known for daring attacks, even against greater numbers, and for being complete dicks who burned the homes and farms of anyone who dared talk shit about the King of England. In one particularly-awesome story, Tarleton went to the home of a guy who had been a general in the Continental Army but had been killed in action a year earlier. According to the legend, Tarleton met the dead general's wife, had dinner with his family and servants, then stood up, politely thanked the family for dinner, and ordered his men to burn the entire place into fucking traitorous cinders.
The Raiders were also on the front lines of some serious engagements in the Carolinas. In April 1780 their charged helped break American resistance at the Battle of Monck's Corner, smashing the last of the U.S. cavalry in South Carolina and opening the door for the British to capture Charleston in May. Only one group survived the battle – the Third Virginia Cavalry, under Abraham Buford (great-uncle of John Buford, hero of the Battle of Gettysburg). Buford had been ordered to fall back and had a ten day head start on Tarleton, but the British tracker hunted the rebels down, caught up to them, and personally led a charge where he took just 149 men head-on into 380 demoralized American cavalrymen.
Butcher Tarleton had strict orders to root out all sedition in the Carolinas, and this guy wasn't in the mood to go easy on a force that outnumbered him two-to-one. At the Battle of Waxhaws, he attacked Buford's cavalry, utterly decimated them in hand-to-hand combat, then ordered his men to continue firing even after the Americans surrendered. I guess some U.S. dude shot Tarleton's favorite horse out from under him, and he was pretty cheesed off about it. The Continentals lost 113 dead, 203 captured, and the British lost just 19 guys and 31 horses and I'm sure Tarleton just mentions the horses just because he was still sore about being thrown from his mount while leading a badass saber charge.
After this victory cemented Tarleton's reputation as an ultra-level dick who would rather stab a traitor in the crotch than accept his reasonable surrender, the Butcher continued fucking shit up in North and South Carolina. At the Battle of Camden he broke another American force with a well-timed sword charge, then personally led the operations to ride down fleeing U.S. forces and slash them to death from horseback. He performed similar operations at Fishing Creek and Blackstocks, and before long this guy became so terrifying in Carolina that men were actually volunteering for the Colonial Army just because they were so afraid of what he would do if he came to their town.
With all of these epic victories, it made sense that Tarleton would be a little overconfident going into the Battle of Cowpens in January 1781. The dude was 26 years old and had spent the last three years bludgeoning the fuck out of patriots from NYC to Charleston, and he was basically counting on his reputation to carry the day. He led the attack, which was a crushing failure, the first of his career. However, with his army disintegrating around him, Tarleton did perform one act of crushing badassitude – he and his 54-man bodyguard were personally attacked by William Washington, who engaged them with 300 of his best troops, but Tarleton fucked their shit up in hand-to-hand combat. Tarleton personally wounded Washington, who was so jacked up he had to call for infantry reinforcements just so he could disengage his men from the asskicking they were receiving. To keep up his spoiled rich punk cred, Tarleton would forever say that his defeat at Cowpens was the fault of his commander for not providing him adequate reinforcements. Which I love.
Tarleton had two fingers shot off during the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, but just a few weeks later he led a raid of Charlottesville, Virginia that captured several members of the Virginia legislature. They almost got Thomas Jefferson as well (some guy rode 40 miles in the middle of the night to save him) but he did capture Jefferson's house at Monticello. To his credit, he didn't torch this one.
Despite his bravery, Tarleton eventually found himself stuck in Yorktown with Cornwallis, and he was wounded again in a hand-to-hand swordfight with some French cavalry outside the city and didn't see action again until after the British surrender. Now, it was customary in the good old days of military gentlemanship for victorious generals to invite their defeated counterparts to dinner following the war, but as an awesome post-war side note Banastre Tarleton was the only British officer who didn't receive an invitation to dinner. He probably would have burned the house down anyways, so I guess this makes sense.
Well, unlike many big-time action movies (including The Patriot), this story awesomely doesn't end with the bad guy dying. Far from it. After the Revolution, Tarleton went home, was knighted, promoted, and elected to Parliament for Liverpool, where he became a vocal advocate of not ending the slave trade. Known as Sir Banastre Tarleton, First Baronet as of 1815, he wrote his memoirs, then spent 15 years hooking up with the most famous actress in England – a woman he only went out with because a friend bet him that he couldn't get her. He lived to be 78 .