Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Battle flags captured by British officer to be auctioned

I seem to have missed the story of Lt. Col. Banastre "Bloody Ban" Tarleton before, but it seems that during the American Revolution, some of his troops killed about a hundred Virginian troops who had already surrendered. According to American accounts, Tarleton ordered the slaughter. According to Tarleton, somebody shot his horse after a truce was declared and when his horse fell and pinned him to the ground some of the loyalists ran amok. (All this according to this article in the Washington Times written by Will Bennett.)

Whatever really happened, rightly or wrongly Col. Tarleton was dubbed "Bloody Ban" and the phrase "Tarleton's quarter" was used to mean 'take no prisoners,' Bennett says.

Sometime next year, four battle flags Tarleton took back to England with him will be auctioned at Sotheby's in New York, his "great-great-great-great nephew" finding them too expensive to keep insured. (I hope to shout. They are expected to bring between $4 million and $10 million...).

For a picture of Tarleton painted by Joshua Reynolds, see here or here.

I first ran across this story today in the above-linked Washington Times article. In that article, by the way, it says that the captured flags are what are at the feet of Tarleton in the Reynolds painting.

Upon looking, I find that the story has been all over.

For instance, Stripes, Stars and Dollar Signs by Glenn Collins (New York Times, November 11) has pictures and the interesting news that the auction might be held on Flag Day, June 14. Catchy, that would be. (Collins reports that the flags at Tarleton's feet in the Reynolds painting are generic Continental flags, not specifically these that have come up for sale.)

The Collins article also states that in the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot, evil British commander Col. William Tavington was based in part on Tarleton. The real fellow's descendants, quite understandably, think the characterization is not fair. (Noted.)

Collins also reports:

"This is an incredible find," said Walter H. Bradford, acting chief of collections at the United States Army Center of Military History in Washington, D.C., which under federal law maintains the Army's flag collection. "They are extremely rare. The Army would be very interested in acquiring them. We don't have those kinds of funds, but we could accept the gift of a private individual."

(Just in case you know any philanthropists who have a soft spot for the military...)

Oh, rats. On closer look, I see that in the New York Times piece, the story is that Tarleton's heir says that:

In the telephone interview, Captain Tarleton Fagan said his ancestor "has been given a much worse name than he should have" for the Waxsaws bloodshed. "His horse was shot from under him, and his troops thought he'd been killed," his descendant said. Angered, they "went to town and butchered people - which was monstrous - and Tarleton got the blame for it."

Don't you just love it when you run across something for the first time, and the first two references you check have different accounts altogether? I don't have time to follow this up today. Maybe someday...

The London Daily Telegraph has the same Will Bennett story that ran in the Washington Times today (but with pictures). The headline there is "Americans to pay millions to recapture battle flags." That's not a bad way of looking at it, I'm sure, if you're on the British side of all this.

The Washington Times story (which clearly lists Will Bennett as being from the London Daily Telegraph - no one's trying to be sneaky here), runs the story under the headline, "Battle flags captured by Bloody Ban return."

It's all a matter of perspective, I guess. :-)

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