This gentleman is General Sir Banastre Tarleton, 1st Baronet, GCB. Considered an outstanding practitioner of light cavalry tactics, he rose to the rank of full general and was in contention to command British forces in the Peninsular Campaign, a position that went to one Sir Arthur Wellesley. He was also an adroit politician, representing Liverpool in Parliament from 1790 – 1812.
Like another outstanding cavalry commander, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Tarleton is more fondly remembered by his compatriots than by his opponents: Both were accused of massacring soldiers who had surrendered, and both were ardent supporters of slavery. In Tarleton’s case, his battlefield success worked against him on the grand strategic level as his alleged brutality became a rallying point for the revolutionary forces that ultimately defeated him.
This picture of Tarleton by Sir Joshua Reynolds shows him as a Lt Col in the uniform of the British Legion, which he commanded. It hangs in the National Gallery in London, and therein hangs another tale. I recognized the picture immediately upon entering the Gallery and took it with my iPhone on Monday, flash off. As I was reviewing the image on the phone, a polite voice informed me that photography was not allowed. Great, I’m going to end my visit to England under arrest. But after apologizing, I was was allowed to keep it and the guard and I entered into a discussion of Tarleton, who, I assured him, was well known to students of American military history. He was, however, dismayed to learn that Tarleton is reviled in the States as “Bloody Ban” and the phrase “Tarleton’s Quarter” means no quarter at all. You may remember him caricatured as “Col Tavington” in the Mel Gibson film, The Patriot. Students of US military history also remember that he got his butt kicked, to use the technical term, and his legion destroyed at The Cowpens. That defeat, coming soon after the British loss at nearby Kings Mountain, made the position of Tarleton’s boss, Lord Cornwallis, untenable and began the retreat to Yorktown.
A most civilized discourse in a country that we often dismiss as just a smaller version of America but with funny accents. But it is not, and more on that in another post.