- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2005

LONDON — Four rare battle flags captured during the American War of Independence by a British officer have been returned after more than two centuries to be auctioned.

The regimental colors seized in 1779 and 1780 by Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, who remains one of the conflict’s most controversial figures, have already aroused huge interest among American military historians. They are expected to fetch between $4 million and $10 million at Sotheby’s in New York next year.

Until recently the flags had hung in the Hampshire, England, home of Capt. Christopher Tarleton Fagan, the great-great-great-great nephew of Col. Tarleton.

Capt. Fagan, a former Grenadier Guards officer, said: “I am very sad to sell them. They are an important part of our family history and we have had them for 225 years. However, there comes a time when their value is such that one can no longer afford to insure them.”

Only about 30 American revolutionary battle flags have survived, all of which, apart from the ones to be sold at Sotheby’s, are in museums and in most instances only fragments remain.

The ones captured by Col. Tarleton are in excellent condition and their history is well documented. One is the flag of the 2nd Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons, raised in Connecticut by Col. Elisha Sheldon and defeated by Col. Tarleton in Westchester County, New York, in July 1779.

The other three flags were seized the following year in a still-controversial battle in the southern United States. Col. Tarleton crushed a Virginia regiment under Col. Abraham Buford at Waxsaws near the North and South Carolina line. Accounts of what happened next differ. According to Americans, Col. Tarleton ordered his men to slaughter more than 100 soldiers who had already surrendered. But the British officer maintained that his horse was shot after a truce was declared and pinned him to the ground.

“His troops thought he had been killed and the loyalists among them ran amok,” said Capt. Fagan.

The killing of the Virginia troops led to Col. Tarleton being called “Bloody Ban.” The Americans also coined the phrase “Tarleton’s quarter,” which meant that no prisoners were taken.

After the war ended Col. Tarleton took the four battle flags back to England. Col. Buford’s main flag, made of gold silk, has a painted image of a beaver gnawing a palmetto tree. Two smaller, plainer ones would have been battalion standards known as ground colors.

While Col. Tarleton was reviled by his enemies, the British public proclaimed him a hero. He was immortalized in a portrait by Joshua Reynolds, which depicts the captured American flags lying at his feet.

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