The British Legion was the name of a British provincial regiment established during the American Revolutionary War, composed of British Loyalist American infantry and dragoons. It was colloquially known as Tarleton's Raiders, the Green Horse, and the Green Dragoons, after the British officer who led most of its day-to-day activities, Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, and the green uniform coats of its officers. "Legion" was an 18th-century term for a military unit the size of a regiment, but consisting of infantry and cavalry, or infantry, cavalry, and artillery, all under one command, to make it more flexible for scouting or irregular operations than a regiment, which consisted of infantry or cavalry alone.
|Branch||British provincial unit later, regulars on the American Establishment (1779), then British establishment (1782)|
|Type||dragoons (mounted infantry), infantry, artillery, (auxiliary troops)|
|Role||cavalry, maneuver warfare, light infantry|
|Garrison/HQ||Fort Edward, Province of New York|
|Nickname(s)||Tarleton's Legion, Green Horse, Green Dragoons|
|Engagements||American Revolutionary War
|General Lord William Cathcart
Lieutenant General Sir Henry ClintonLieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton
This unit was raised in New York in July 1778 by Sir Henry Clinton in order to merge several small Loyalist units into a single force, a "legion" that combined infantry and cavalry forces and a battery of "flying" (light and fast moving) artillery. The infantry consisted of the Caledonian Volunteers, a partially mounted and partially foot unit raised in Philadelphia in late 1777 and early 1778, Ritzema's Royal American Reformers, the West Jersey Volunteers, and some members of the Roman Catholic Volunteers. The cavalry combined, in whole or in part, elements of Captain Kinloch's independent troop of New York Dragoons, the Philadelphia Light Dragoons, Emmerich's Chasseurs, the Prince of Wales' American Volunteers, and the 16th Light Dragoons. The regiment was commanded by William, Lord Cathcart, as colonel; Banastre Tarleton was commissioned as lieutenant colonel. Once the unit left New York, Tarleton took full operational command. The Legion's peak operational strength was approximately 250 cavalry and 200 infantry.
Elements of the Legion fought at the Siege of Savannah in 1779. The Legion as a whole was part of the British force that besieged and captured Charleston in 1780. The regiment participated in many battles in Clinton's South Carolina campaign, defeating General Isaac Huger and Lieutenant William Washington at Monck's Corner, dispersing another American force at Lenud's Ferry, and routing a column under the hapless Colonel Abraham Buford at the controversial Waxhaw massacre.
During 1780, the Legion received reinforcements in the form of more drafts from Emmerich's Chasseurs and the Prince of Wales' American Volunteers and the permanent attachment of the Bucks County Dragoons.
After Lord Cornwallis took command of the southern Crown forces, the Legion participated in his defeat of General Horatio Gates at the Battle of Camden, nearly caught Thomas Sumter at Fishing Creek, were hit by a surprise attack at Wahab's Plantation, and was pinned by a rebel force at Charlotte, until the remainder of the British force could come up.
Throughout the autumn of 1780, the British Legion took part in anti-guerrilla operations, attempting to hunt down Francis Marion and Thomas Sumter and engaging in combat at Fishdam Ford and Blackstock's. The Legion seized and destroyed property in punitive attempts to suppress support for the guerrillas.
In January 1781, the Legion was part of the force under Tarleton defeated by Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens. The regiment suffered heavily in this action, particularly its infantry arm. After Cowpens, the remaining Legion infantry either transferred to the cavalry or joined the garrison of Charleston. From this point forward, the active British Legion was a cavalry force only.
On 15 March, the regiment fought at the Battle of Guilford Court House.
As Cornwallis shifted his communications to the Chesapeake and abandoned the Carolinas for Virginia, the British Legion cavalry under Tarleton raided ahead of the British army, nearly capturing Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia General Assembly at Charlottesville. The Legion again engaged in widespread destruction to punish rebel sympathizers and deny material support to the Continental Army and government. In July 1781 a skirmish, Francisco's Fight, took place between Peter Francisco and several of Tarleton's Raiders.
When Cornwallis occupied Yorktown, the Legion was posted across the York River at Gloucester. It later fought a skirmish with French troops there and surrendered to the French at the conclusion of the siege. Lord Cornwallis sought terms of surrender that would have ensured no reprisals against the Loyalists in his army, but Washington refused to agree to them. Some of the men of the Legion were evacuated, sent with Cornwallis' dispatches to New York after the surrender. Some officers were paroled. Some enlisted men, and at least four officers who volunteered to stay with their troopers, were sent to a prison camp in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
On December 25, 1782, the regiment was taken onto the British Establishment, suggesting that there may have been some thought to maintain the regiment as part of the postwar Army. The infantry of the Legion still in Charleston, and such of the regiment as had escaped to New York, were eventually evacuated to Nova Scotia in 1783. Some officers transferred to other regiments of the British Army. The British Legion was disbanded on October 10, 1783. Most of those discharged settled in Nova Scotia.
British Legion could refer to:
The British Legion (or Royal British Legion), a British charity that provides support to armed forces' veterans
The British Legion (1860), a voluntary corps composed of Englishmen and Scots who fought for the unification of Italy, 1860–1861
British Legion (American Revolution), a British provincial regiment that served in the American Revolutionary War, 1777–1782
British Legions, foreign volunteer units, established in 1819, who fought against Spain in South America's independence warsList of military legions
This list of military legions is in chronological order where possible. In modern times, most units using the name "legion" were composed of soldiers from a specific ethnic, national, religious or ideological background, and that background is often specified in the legion's name.