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Old February 4th, 2012, 10:35 AM   #1

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Atrocities and War-Crimes in the American Revolution


The movie The Patriot depicts an officer of British dragoons, 'Tavington', who uses ruthless methods against the American rebels - executing American wounded, murdering a slave and attempting to murder children, and burning down a church full of people. While this movie is certainly not to be watched as some kind of historical documentary, I have read that 'Tavington' is loosely based on the British Lieutenant-Colonel Benastre Tarleton.

Tarleton was commanding the British Legion, a force of Loyalist Americans, in 1780 when he defeated elements of the Continental Army at Waxhaws. The aftermath of this battle is controversial, but may have included the execution of American wounded and prisoners, and/or the murder of men who were trying to surrender.

The desperate situation of the American soldiers combined with the usage of Continental mercenaries by the British both must have caused occasional acts of brutality during the Revolutionary War, but there seem to be few accounts of 'hard-core' atrocities and war-crimes (like the fictional church-burning incident referenced above) being committed by either side.

Does anyone have any thoughts, or additional information on the subject?
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Old February 4th, 2012, 10:54 AM   #2

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Since the American Revolution was in a large part a war for the hearts and minds of the American people, both sides officially frowned on acts of brutality. But there were incidents anyway, on both sides, though probably not nearly as prevalent as in other wars of that era.

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Both armies indeed punished marauders, in or out of uniform, severely. James Thacher, a medical officer who kept a thorough journal, reported that soldiers near Albany in 1778 who had robbed and murdered inhabitants were hanged. Thacher called these creatures "villains", and his hatred of them seems to have been widely shared in both armies. Still, soldiers robbed and killed civilians throughout the war.

Source: Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause, pp. 538-539
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Old February 4th, 2012, 11:00 AM   #3
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Interesting thought.
No war crimes in those days. And what did the Hessians care about the colonists?
Who was in control?
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Old February 4th, 2012, 11:10 AM   #4

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British prison ships were specially notorious for a lack of care for colonial prisoners. I think something like 75% of prison ship inmates died. There's a monument to the victims of prison ships in NYC.
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Old February 4th, 2012, 01:16 PM   #5

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Here's an informative passage from a very good book that mentions POWS
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Congressional representatives from Virginia made an audacious proposal. They suggested that Virginia would build a sprawling prisoner-of-war camp near Charlottesville, home of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson and others believed that housing thousands of enemy soldiers would result in a bonanza of federal money into the area. In addition, the soldiers would buy local goods, and craftsmen among the prisoners could be put to work on local plantations. Jefferson, a fine violinist who was ever restless about the lack of cultural peers in Virginia, also voiced the hope that some fine musicians among the Hessian officers might be willing to play with him.
Mr. Jefferson’s POW Camp « Frances Hunter's American Heroes Blog
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Old February 4th, 2012, 01:41 PM   #6

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Jefferson, a fine violinist who was ever restless about the lack of cultural peers in Virginia, also voiced the hope that some fine musicians among the Hessian officers might be willing to play with him.
I'm going to go on record right here and now and say that that's got to be the first time and last time in human history that anyone advocated building a POW camp for that reason.
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Old February 4th, 2012, 01:47 PM   #7

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There are three primary accounts of the Waxhaws massacre from the patriot side and two primary accounts from the British. All three of the patriot accounts say the Legion did not honor requests to surrender but, instead, continued hacking away at the rebel force. The result being about 113 dead patriots and another 50 too wounded to move. Later pension accounts from survivors indicate a number and type of wounds consistent with the description from the rebels. One more Patriot account worthy of mention comes from John Marshall's history. He indicates having spoken with a number of surviving officers including Buford.

The British accounts come from Banastre Tarleton. First was his official report of the victory where there was no mention of any massacre but he proudly touted the casualty reports which were incredibly one-sided. Seems there were only about 5 British dead and another dozen wounded. The second British account also comes from Ban Tarleton. Found in his history of the campaigns, the second account doesn't deny the massacre but, instead, makes a single statement acknowledging the event. It seems that, according to Ban, the Legionaires were overcome when they believed their beloved commander (Ban) was wounded and attacked the rebels with 'a vindictive asperity not easily restrained'. Some historians have read into this statement an attempt on Ban's part to stop the killing. There is no evidence to support that interpretation of his statement.
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Old February 4th, 2012, 01:55 PM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by HammockHank View Post
British prison ships were specially notorious for a lack of care for colonial prisoners. I think something like 75% of prison ship inmates died. There's a monument to the victims of prison ships in NYC.

Pretty good book on the market about the plight of the prisoners. Its called Forgotten Patriots by Edward Burrows. He has lots of detail about the plight of the prisoners in New York. The story of the Jersey is the worst of it. There were also prison ships in Charlestown where the prisoners did just as poorly.
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Old February 4th, 2012, 03:00 PM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Baltis View Post
Pretty good book on the market about the plight of the prisoners. Its called Forgotten Patriots by Edward Burrows. He has lots of detail about the plight of the prisoners in New York. The story of the Jersey is the worst of it. There were also prison ships in Charlestown where the prisoners did just as poorly.
Thanks for the book recommendation. I had recalled some things about the prison ships but never went into the details so I did some on line research and things were worse than I had imagined. I checked out an article on the Lew Rockwell site which was pretty good if you can dismiss the propaganda part and checked out another one which I found very good and recommends the book you mentioned.

In Our Midst: The Prison Ship Martyrs | Mindful Walker
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Old September 29th, 2012, 12:42 AM   #10
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One of the worst atrocities has to be...


...what the British did to the soldiers of the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue after capturing many of them following the seige of Savannah, GA, in 1779. The Chasseurs were a regiment of 10 companies of free colored men recruited on Saint Domingue (today Haiti and Santo Domingo). I emphasize FREE colored men. After the fall of Savannah to the British, the Chasseurs on land and those aboard three transport ships in the harbor were not treated as POWs, but as properties of war and were all sold into slavery by the British. Now that is a war crime if I ever read about one.

I quote (http://www.w3r-us.org/history/rosters/rosterfr.htm): "
The Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue Regiment was an infantry regiment comprised of over 700 free men of color from the French island colony of Saint Domingue. [NOTE: This island of Saint Domingue is now two independent nations -- Haiti and the Dominican Republic.] The men were recruited to join French Adm. d'Estaing's European regiments and fought as the The Chasseurs-Volontaires was the largest unit of men of African descent to fight in the American Revolution. Their losses were heavy.
  • Twenty-five men were reported as wounded or killed (and buried) at Savannah. In the List of French Dead in U.S. Operations those killed are listed with LIEU DE MORT as SAVANNAH and REGIMENT as Port-au-Prince, Cap, or Guadeloupe. See the 1779 battle of Savannah GA.
  • Over sixty men were captured in the fall of Charleston eight months later. The British Navy captured three transports carrying Chasseurs and sold them all into slavery. See the 1780 battle of Charleston SC.
  • A similar unit of Haitians was a part of the allied French / Spanish campaign against Pensacola where they faced some of the same regiments of British troops that their comrades had fought in Savannah. See the 1781 allied battle of Pensacola FL.
The SAR Library in Louisville KY has microfilm copies of the enlistment records for the 5,500 soldiers in the five regiments that were part of Rochambeau's Expeditionary Force during 1780-83. .
  • Auxonne (artillery)
  • Bourbonnais
  • Royal Deux Ponts*
  • Saintonge
  • Soissonnais
  • Volontaires-čtrangers de Lauzun (Lauzun’s Legion)**"
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