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It has become standard, as in the History Channel's King's Mountain documentary, to depict Patrick Ferguson and Banastre Tarleton as adversaries, at odds over their military methods and outlook. Even otherwise reputable historians in the U.S. play "good cop, bad cop" with them. Ferguson is idealised, Tarleton demonised. It is sometimes even implied that Ban's late arrival at King's Mountain -- 3 days too late to save Pattie -- may have been deliberate negligence. But what is actually going on here? Is there any factual basis for this depiction of relations between these 2 officers? And what is the agenda of the historians who propagate it?
There is no mention of a feud in Pattie's personal correspondence: indeed, in a letter to his brother-in-law Alexander Scrymgeour-Wedderburn, written in late May 1780, he describes working effectively at Moncks Corner on 14 April with Colonel Tarleton, "a very active gallant young man". (National Register of Archives (Scotland)). Ban reciprocated the compliment after Pattie's death, referring to "the gallant Ferguson" in his Campaigns. "Nil nisi bonum de mortuis" was, of course, the order of the day in 18th century military memoirs: but Pattie's own letter was not written for posterity, nor for the eyes of the military authorities.
So if there is no positive evidence from Pattie and Ban themselves, and indeed, some indicators to the contrary, where does this notion of a feud come from?
The key to this "Banecdote" is an ugly incident which followed Ban and Pattie's defeat of Huger at Moncks Corner, 14 April 1780. The most full accounts are in Anthony Allaire's journal and in Carl P. Borick's A Gallant Defense: The Siege of Charleston, 1780 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003, pp 152-3, which draws on Sir Henry Clinton's papers.)
That night, two Legion troopers, presumably drunk from celebrating the victory at Moncks Corner, broke into the nearby Fair Lawn Plantation. One of them, Henry McDonagh, assaulted the lady of the house, Jane Giles (a young Englishwoman, widow of Sir John Colleton, Bt., and still referred to as 'Lady Colleton', although she was now married to a Charlestonian, Othniel Giles), He cut her hands with a sword and attempted indecent assault, before stealing some rum. He then either raped or indecently assaulted her friend Anna Smith Fayssoux, the 23-year-old wife of Dr Peter Fayssoux of Charlestown, a "surgeon-general" with the Rebel army. Two young unmarried women, Betsy Giles (probably one of Jane's in-laws) and Jean Russell, witnessed the incident and were intimidated but not harmed, and were able to identify McDonagh.
Mrs. and Miss Giles and Miss Russell managed to reach the camp at Moncks Corner and reported the incident, Mrs. Fayssoux remaining at the house in some distress. Pattie sent men to arrest McDonagh, intending to execute him. Ban also supported hanging him. Both officers signed the deposition against him on 15 April. Anthony Allaire records that McDonagh was then "sent to Head-quarters for trial", the correct official procedure for court-martial being implemented by Lieutenant-Colonel James Webster. Allaire (who had developed a crush on Jean Russell) and his friend Dr. Uzal Johnson took care of the ladies, escorted them to safety, and later dined with them after the capture of Charlestown.
It is a straightforward, if sordid tale -- but it shows complete co-operation between the two officers in bringing the criminal to justice -- no more or less than one would expect. However, that is not how generations of U.S. writers portrayed this incident. We have to look to early American historiography --Washington Irving, Lyman C. Draper, &c. -- to see how this incident was twisted and falsified to put Ban and Pattie in opposite corners. Draper, in King's Mountain and Its Heroes (1881), writes as follows, summarising his predecessor: "'We honor,' says Irving, 'the rough soldier, Ferguson, for the fiat of 'instant death', with which he would have requited the most infamous and dastardly outrage that brutalizes warfare.' Tarleton, possessing none of the finer feelings of human nature, failed to second Ferguson's efforts to bring the culprit to punishment; for 'afterwards, in England, he had the effrontery to boast, in the presence of a lady of respectability, that he had killed more men, and ravished more women, than any man in America.'" (p. 67)
Irving needed his head examined if he thought Pattie -- a cultured gentleman of Enlightenment Edinburgh -- a "rough soldier". The Walpole-Sheridan anecdote about Ban allegedly "killing more men and ravishing more women" is dealt with elsewhere. But it was Draper who tied it to the Fair Lawn episode, turning the contemporary documentary evidence on its head.
The problem is that Draper has become the main source for most later writers tackling King's Mountain and Pattie Ferguson. That passage from p. 67 has been recycled and rejigged to portray the 2 officers falling out over the incident. Even in the U.K., James Ferguson of Kinmundy used it in his essay on Pattie in Two Scottish Soldiers and A Jacobite Laird (1888), giving it wider currency. James Ferguson's essay on Pattie is largely a reworking of Prof. Adam Ferguson's short, not entirely reliable biography (publ. 1817), expanded with material from Draper. It was James Ferguson who compared Pattie and Ban respectively with Montrose and "Bluidy" Claverhouse. This is insulting to both, in the eyes of anyone not dazzled by the romantic "thud-and-blunder" Sir Walter Scott vision of Scottish history: Montrose, who makes Benny Arnold look like a pillar of consistency, changed sides in mid-Civil War, sacking Aberdeen twice with 2 different armies, and Claverhouse was a rabid Jacobite -- something the Whig Ban would have found anathematous, although the dandy side of his character might have approved sartorially of a mere five-footer who took his lead-slip hair curlers with him on his last campaign...
But it is from these sources that the lie got into circulation that Ban and Pattie fell out over the former's allegedly turning a blind eye to depredations against women. It fed into a growing stream of myth in which Pattie was idealised and Ban demonised -- partly because Ban had done what to U.S. historians was truly unforgivable: he had survived hard fighting, made it home, and lived to an advanced age. It was easier to be charitable towards Pattie: he had died in spectacularly gory fashion, giving the Rebels a much-publicised victory.
The ludicrous sentimentalisation of Scots culture in America, something rightly condemned by the otherwise decidedly hostile John Buchanan in The Road to Guilford Courthouse (1998), has also played its part in glamorising Pattie. Never mind that the shrewd and witty acquaintance of Hume and Monboddo would have cast a wry glance at the tartan atrocities perpetrated across the Carolinas and (sadder still) along his native High Street in Edinburgh...Ban's Lancashire/Merseyside roots become a handicap in a dubious American species of "ethnic determinism" which offloads perceived negative aspects of the Colonial legacy on to England alone, while ascribing only positive traits to the other nations of Britain. This is particularly true among some ideological factions in the South: as Tony Horwitz writes in Confederates in the Attic, p. 68: "In the neo-Confederate view...White Southerners descended from freedom-loving Celts....Northerners...came from mercantile and expansionist English stock." These are people who undoubtedly need to read Scotland's Empire 1600-1815 (Penguin/Allen Lane, 2003), by the eminent Scottish historian T. M. Devine, which highlights not only the Loyalism of Scots in the 18C Colonies and vitriolic anti-Scots sentiments of the Rebels, but also dismantles American romanticisation of the so-called 'Scotch-Irish'. (Like Tom's previous work, The Scottish Nation 1700-2000, it is also large and heavy enough to be used as a weapon, if necessary.)
In fact, the officer with whom Pattie got on least well was a fellow-Scot: Col. Nisbet Balfour of Dunbog, a Fife laird, who tended to clype to Cornwallis about him until John Harris Cruger, a New Yorker, took over from him at Ninety-Six. Regarding the Fair Lawn incident, it may also be added that any Legion soldier called Henry McDonagh was either an Irishman or Irish-American.
As to the notion that Ban deliberately left a fellow-officer in the lurch -- it does not bear scrutiny. Ban had recently recovered from yellow fever or malaria. Cornwallis too had been ill. Messages had been intercepted. While conspiracy theories exert a peculiar attraction over U.S. writers, the cock-up theory is truer to human nature. What Ban learned when he reached the survivors of King's Mountain disgusted him. As he wrote in his Campaigns: "The action... was disputed with great bravery near an hour, when the death of the gallant Ferguson threw his whole corps into total confusion. No effort was made after this event to resist the enemy's barbarity, or revenge the fall of their leader. By American accounts, one hundred and fifty officers and men of the provincials and loyal militia were killed, one hundred and fifty were wounded, and eight hundred were made prisoners. The mountaineers, it is reported, used every insult and indignity, after the action, towards the dead body of Major Ferguson, and exercised horrid cruelties on the prisoners that fell into their possession." (p. 165)
But some U.S. commentators clearly prefer to conjure completely fictitious feuds between British officers than focus on the activities of the Rebels after the battle.
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