Banastre Tarleton was born in Liverpool, England in 1754 to upper middle class parents. He studied at the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford. Instead of studying law as he had been groomed, he purchased a commission in the British Army as a cavalry officer in 1775. A few months later, he volunteered for duty in America and arrived in May 1776 in the same fleet that brought Lt. General Charles Cornwallis. Though he was present at the Battle of Fort Sullivan in February, 1776, the cavalry saw no action. He then served in the middle colonies and began to gain notoriety when he was part of a patrol that captured Maj. General Charles Lee on December 13, 1776, at Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
Tarleton served well enough to be promoted to Captain, skipping past Lieutenant by January 1778. During that same month, he nearly captured Captain Henry Lee at the Spread Eagle Tavern outside Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. In August 1778, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and given command of the British Legion, which was actually made up American Loyalists, who had received regular British military training. Once he took command, he gave them additional drilling and over the next year, his legion acquitted themselves well in the New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania colonies.
In December 1779, Tarleton was chosen as one of the officers to participate in the Southern Campaign. A company of British Dragoons was added to his command and there would be tension between the British regulars and the Loyalists. On the voyage south, all horses had to be thrown overboard because of serious injuries, so when his legion was put ashore at Savannah, Georgia, they had to find new mounts. In the march north to South Carolina, Tarleton skirmished with Lt. Colonel William Washington several times.
Tarleton was detached to General Cornwallis' command when General Clinton sailed north in June 1780. At the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780, Tarleton's Legion completed the rout. He quickly followed up by scattering Thomas Sumter's militia at Fishing Creek on the following day. After recovering from illness, Tarleton spent a month trying to capture Francis Marion with no success. In December 1780, he was sent after Brig. General Daniel Morgan and the result was his absolute defeat at the Battle of Cowpens on January 17, 1781, which was only surpassed by Saratoga as a greater defeat for the British. He went north to Virginia with Cornwallis and was captured at Gloucester, Virginia on October 3, 1781 during the Seige of Yorktown. He still returned home in 1782 as a hero.
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