He is today probably best remembered for his military service during the American War of Independence. He became the focal point of a propaganda campaign claiming that he had fired upon surrendering Continental Army troops at the Battle of Waxhaws. In a publication The Green Dragoon: The Lives of Banastre Tarleton and Mary Robinson by Robert D. Bass (published in 1952) he was given the nickname "Bloody Ban" and The Butcher, which has carried over into popular culture as being his nickname of the day.
He was hailed by the Loyalists and British as an outstanding leader of light cavalry and was praised for his tactical prowess and resolve, even against superior numbers. His green uniform was the standard of the British Legion, a provincial unit organised in New York in 1778.
One of Tarleton's nemeses in South Carolina was Francis Marion, an American militia commander and early practitioner of guerrilla warfare tactics, whom Tarleton was unable to capture or otherwise neutralize. Marion remained quite popular with South Carolina residents and continued his guerrilla campaign with their support. Tarleton, by contrast, alienated the citizenry by numerous acts of cruelty to the civilian population. For example, at one plantation of a deceased Patriot officer, he had the man's body dug up, then required the widow to serve him a meal. One of Marion's men later wrote of the incident:
On one expedition (Nelson's Ferry - November 1780), Tarleton burnt the house, out houses, corn and fodder and a great part of the cattle, hogs and poultry, of the estate of Gen. Richardson. The general had been active with the Americans, but was now dead; and the British leader, in civilised times, made his widow and children suffer for the deeds of the husband and parent, after the manner of the East and coast of Barbary. What added to the cruel nature of the act, was that he had first dined in the house and helped himself to the abundant good cheer it afforded. But we have seen before the manner in which he requited hospitality. It was generally observed of Tarleton and his corps, that they not only exercised more acts of cruelty than any one in the British army, but also carried further the spirit of depredation.
I did not suffer by him. On the contrary he behaved very genteely with me. ... He gave strict orders to Capt. Mcleod to suffer nothing to be injured.
Tarleton was later elected as a Member of Parliament for Liverpool and became a prominent Whig politician.