By Werner Willis
Open Paper Lithograph size 18 3/4″ X 13″
Historical text by W. Hugh Harkey, Jr.
This unit of Loyalists acquired their reputation for ferocity after overtaking a small patriot force in the Waxhaws and virtually annihilating them. Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, the unit commander, became known as “Bloody Ban, the butcher of the Waxhaws.” The mere mention of the unit struck terror into the very souls of patriot militia.
The provincial unit was formed in 1778 by Lord Cathcart from loyalists recruited in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Initially assigned to patrolling and foraging expeditions in and around New York, the unit gained its notoriety in 1780 when it went south with Clinton’s expedition to the Carolinas.
The unit numbered about 550 men and was almost evenly divided between cavalry and infantry. Distinctively uniformed in green, members of the British Legion came to be known as Tarleton’s Green Horse. The cavalry wore short round jackets with black collar and cuffs, while the infantry wore short coats. Enlisted coats were distinguished by the addition of white lace. Tan breeches completed the uniform. Headgear, known as the Tarleton helmet after the unit commander who designed it, consisted of a leather helmet adorned by swan feathers or bearskin which continued in use until 1814 by British dragoon units. The distinctive green uniforms aided in distinguishing friend from foe in the heat of battle, helped in reforming the regiment after a charge, and aided in identifying deserters.
The broad savannahs and open fields of the South allowed the effective use of mounted troops. Although these units consisted mainly of dragoons or mounted infantry rather than cavalry in the classical sense, they proved themselves indispensable in the southern campaigns of the American Revolution.
The Loyalists of Tarleton’s British Legion proved to be the heart of the British striking forces during the southern campaigns. The British were seldom successful without Tarleton’s men. Able to strike as a mounted force or fight as dismounted infantry, the Legion was among the most flexible and effective combat units of the British forces during the American Revolution.