It is inevitable that the men and events of wars won endure in the public memory far longer than those that are lost. The history of America in the 18th century is confusing to many, because in the space of a few years those who were once allies and friends in shared adversity became bitter enemies. The British were seen by the emergent nation as ruthless and incompetent blackguards who were summarily rejected in the name of enlightenment and liberty. Predictably the truth is somewhat different. Upon reflection it is implausible that the same army that had fought so brilliantly during the Seven Years War in Europe and the New World and would demonstrate its superiority again against Napoleon’s French should fall so appallingly. The British Army always had its share of brilliant and capable soldiers who served across all ranks and this excellent book recounts the careers of some of them in a most compelling way. Here are soldiers fighting a war in a huge landscape—outnumbered, under resourced and poorly supported by the home government in every way; here also are the men who lost America but saved Canada. Several would resign rather than fight a war they knew to be unwinnable; some were notable battlefield commanders who would fight against the odds only to fall, ‘when glory was in view.’ This book, originally published under the title Some British Soldiers in America, encourages a reconsideration of the role and performance of serving British soldiers who, irrespective of the cause, endeavoured to do their duty during the American War of Independence.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
On May 27 Cornwallis directed Tarleton to push on after Buford. To use his own words:<br>
Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton on this occasion was desired to consult his own judgement, as to the distance of the pursuit or the mode of attack. To defeat Colonel Buford and to take his cannon would, undoubtedly in the present state of the Carolinas, have considerable effect; but the practicability of the design appeared so doubtful, and the distance of the enemy so great, that the attempt could only be guided by discretional powers, and not by any antecedent commands.<br>
Tarleton’s force consisted of 40 of the 17th Light Dragoons, 130 dragoons of the Legion, 100 mounted infantry of the Legion, and a three-pounder.<br>
Many of the horses were knocked up by the heat, but Tarleton requisitioned others, and reached Camden on the 28th.<br>
There he learnt that Colonel Buford had left Rugeley’s Mills two days before, on the way to Charlotte in North Carolina. Tarleton left Camden at 2 a.m. on the 29th, reached Rugeley’s Mills at dawn, and learnt that the enemy were still twenty miles ahead. In spite of fatigue, and the exhaustion of the horses, Tarleton pushed on. He sent forward an officer to magnify his numbers and demand the surrender of the enemy; but Colonel Buford was not to be delayed in that manner. Many of Tarleton’s men dropped behind, and the three-pounder could not keep up, but at 3 p.m. he overtook the enemy on the borders of North and South Carolina, after a march of 105 miles in fifty-four hours.<br>
Colonel Buford had 380 Continental infantry, a detachment of cavalry, and two six-pounders. He posted his infantry in line in an open wood, keeping a small reserve in hand, and he ordered his guns and waggons to continue the march escorted by his cavalry. Tarleton describes his own dispositions as follows:<br>
Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton made his arrangement for the attack with all possible expedition. He confided his right wing, which was composed of sixty dragoons, and nearly as many mounted infantry, to Major Cochrane, desiring him to dismount the latter, to gall the enemy’s flank before he moved against their front with his cavalry. Captains Corbet and Kinlock were directed, with the 17th Dragoons and part of the Legion, to charge the centre of the Americans; whilst Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton, with thirty chosen horse and some infantry, assaulted their right flank and reserve. This particular situation the commanding-officer selected for himself that he might observe the effect of the other attacks.<br>
He also arranged that as the stragglers arrived they should form up on an eminence near the road as a rallying-point.<br>
The action now commenced. The Americans who held their fire till the British were within ten paces, were completely broken by the charge. Tarleton’s horse was shot under him. A report went round that their leader was killed, and the men of the Legion determined to avenge his fall.<br>
The Americans had 14 officers and 99 men killed, and 8 officers and 142 men wounded and left on parole; while 3 officers and 50 men were captured together with two six-pounders. The losses of the British in this remarkable action of the Waxhaven were only 2 officers, 3 men, and 11 horses killed 1 officer, 11 men, and 19 horses wounded.<br>
Tarleton points out that this crushing defeat was due to the mistakes made by the America commander. If Buford had formed his waggons into a laager, the British could have accomplished nothing. It was also a serious mistake to hold their fire till the dragoons were within ten paces for it was impossible to stop the rush of the horses.<br>
On the evening of May 30 Tarleton moved off again, and he rejoined Cornwallis at Camden a few days later.