Why wasn't Banastre Tarleton executed?


Tarleton, a dashing British cavalry officer during the American Revolution, was also a brutal, cruel, vicious cutthroat, according to his critics. He was notorious for killing prisoners after they’d surrendered, or not letting them surrender at all. (He even appeared as the lightly-fictionalized and eminently hissable villain “Col. Tavington” in the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot).

Tarleton surrendered with the rest of Lord Cornwallis’s army at Yorktown in October 1781. Although, according to Wiki, “All of Cornwallis’ men were declared prisoners of war, promised good treatment in American camps, and officers were permitted to return home after taking their parole,” surely the Americans could’ve insisted on exempting such a widely-hated man from the terms of the Articles of Capitulation, then arresting, prosecuting and (a foregone conclusion) executing him. As it was, Tarleton returned safely home, was later elected to Parliament and further proved himself a scumbag by strenuously opposing the abolition of slavery.

What gives?

Do you really think that Cornwallis’s army, or the British government would have tolerated the Americans arresting and executing one of their officers?

It would have started both sides down a slippery slope of accusation and counter-accusation, and pretty soon the entire Treaty of Paris would have slid down the Banastre.

What’s more important - Tarleton or independence? Because you get to pick one.

I’ll note that Cornwallis’s army and the British government had done their best not to tolerate the colonial revolt. And you know how that turned out.

I don’t want to risk sounding antagonistic, but portraying him as a complete monster seems a little unfair. I’m not going to argue that he was necessarily misjudged, but remember he was on the losing side, so maybe he wasn’t as bad as you think.

Of the things that could be counted as “atrocities” in that wikipedia article;

[li]The capture of Charles Lee: While forcing someone to surrender while in their pajamas might seem “dishonorable”, it was a war. We’ll never know if he actually intended to set the house on fire, but the fact remains if you don’t want to be caught with your pants down (or in this case in your dressing gown) don’t let your guard down.[/li][li]The Waxhaw Massacre/Battle: I don’t know how much of an advantage mounted soldiers would have had, but they were initially outnumbered 2-2.5:1, and Buford didn’t surrender until they had been defeated. The surrender was interrupted by a perceived attack on Tarleton himself (always a bad sign in a surrender, regardless of whether it was genuine or not) and it was his soldiers (who thought their commander was dead) who carried it out the attack (it’s hardly pleasant, but stabbing prone enemies is hardly an unexpected reaction to someone you think has already attempted a fake surrender once).[/li][li]His attempts to defeat Marion are hard to justify, but he wasn’t the first (or the last for that matter) soldier to have such reactions (not that I’m saying its right, just that it doesn’t necessarily say anything about his character).[/li][li]As for supporting slavery; unfortunately many people did in his time (Not to mention it was a significant part of the economy of Liverpool, which he was elected MP of). Given that the slave trade was banned in Britain in 1807 he can’t have made a very good case for it. ;)[/li][/ul]

Again, I’m not saying that he was a paragon of virtue, but plenty of people have been cast in a negative light by history.

Being the “dashing” cavalry officer that he was, I’m sure that getting his ass whipped by a bunch of unwashed provincial barbarians at the Battle of Cowpens provided enough humiliation to last a lifetime. In terms of military tactics, it was the most perfect smackdown of the entire war.

What exactly would they have done? Started another war?

That was still two years off.

Well, the “unwashed provincial barbarians” were under the command of one of the Revolution’s most gifted tacticians, Daniel Morgan.

Well, yeah, but my point is it would have been hard to negotiate the treaty after hanging Tarleton.

I’m not so sure. He had his critics back in Britain, as well. After Yorktown and the fall of Lord North’s ministry, the British wanted a treaty badly enough (in part to get peace with France and Spain) that I don’t think it would’ve been much of a hindrance at all.

Failed to conclude that one? Even after the surrender of Cornwallis, the British army in America still wasn’t in a hopeless position. The reason that not much happened after 1781 was that popular opinion had turned against the war and Lord North’s government fell. What do you think would have happened to British popular opinion if the news came that the Americans had murdered a British officer?

And his father and brothers were slave traders.

Which leads to another great “What If??”

The disastrous defeat at Cowpens put into motion Cornwallis retreat out of South Carolina to North Carolina and then into Virginia to be bottled up at Yorktown, nine months later.

Probably no more reaction than when the Americans executed Major Andre for complicity in Benedict Arnold’s traitorous activities.

Or, reminiscent of Grace Kelly in “Rear Window”. :slight_smile:

Su-u-u-ure it was.

I suspect that your point was really that “slid down the Banastre” was too good a pun to pass up. :smiley:

Just read a history of the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. The book included a chapter on the long-secret bomb shelter for Congress, which was completed in 1962. There’s a closeup photo of the Speaker’s podium in this room, http://www.wvgazette.com/mediafiles/thumbs/595/468.35/Bunker4_I110318212141.jpg, which was intended to be where the House of Representatives met. The print to the Speaker’s right and behind the podium is clearly a reproduction of this famous image of Tarleton!: http://www.his.jrshelby.com/kimocowp/tarleton.jpg.

Whoever decorated the room obviously didn’t know much about early American history…

Do we know for sure that the guy was ever individually identified by the Americans at the time as being among the who knows how many thousands of individual prisoners? I seems far more likely to me that he was herded in a barracks for a time and later onto a ship because he was wearing a uniform of a particular rank.

‘lightly fictionalised’ is scarcely accurate. The film bears very little relation to reality (and the ‘Bloody Ban’ nickname appears to have been invented out of wholecloth in the 1950s).