Horatio Gates: Biography, Revolutionary War & Quotes

Instructor: Matthew Hill
Horatio Gates was an English-born American general in the American Revolution. He won a stunning victory at Saratoga but damaged his reputation with a crushing defeat at Camden.

English Roots

Horatio Gates was a Jekyll and Hyde of sorts. In some ways, he was both a hero and a misfit in the American Revolution. Horatio Gates was born in July 1727 in Malden, England. His father was a customs official, and his mother worked as a housekeeper for the Duke of Bolton. Gates used his connections with Bolton to secure himself a commission in the army in 1745. Horatio fought in Germany with the 20th Regiment of Foot in the Austria War of Succession. He earned a solid reputation, but his unit disbanded after the war. In 1749, he took an assignment as aide-de-camp to Edward Cornwallis and left for Nova Scotia, Canada. In November 1755, he married Elizabeth Phillips with whom he had one son.

General Horatio Gates
General Horatio Gates

Gates in the French-Indian War

In 1754, he joined a New York regiment when the French-Indian War broke out. He joined the Braddock Expedition which included several future generals in the American Revolution who became valuable contacts for Gates later on. General Edward Braddock led a failed expedition to seize the French fortress at Fort Duquesne in Pittsburgh. Braddock himself was killed, and Gates was wounded in the Battle of Monongahela in July 1755. After he had healed, he served in the Mohawk Valley in New York and then as chief of staff to General John Stanwix. He then accompanied General Robert Monckton in the British assault on the French colony of Martinique in 1762. He returned to England, but then he moved to Virginia in August 1772 and sought new opportunities.

The Battle of Monongahela
Battle of Monongahela

Gates in the American Revolution

When the American Revolution broke out, Gates personally asked George Washington for a commission. In turn, Congress appointed Gates an Adjutant General, which was an administrative position. He had impeccable organization skills, and though he served with Washington at the Siege of Boston, he wanted a field command. He was assigned to the Canadian theater to reorganize a battered army wheeling from its defeat in Quebec. Gates was rather quarrelsome, and he constantly argued with Major General Philip Schuyler over jurisdiction. To guard against a British naval assault, he put Benedict Arnold in charge of building a naval fleet for Lake Champlain.

Gates soon joined Washington in Pennsylvania, and Gates showed his quarrelsome side again. When Gates failed to talk Washington out of his infamous crossing of the Delaware to attack the German Hessians, Gates feigned sickness and missed the battles of Trenton and Princeton. While Washington was engaged in battle, Gates left for Baltimore to petition Congress to make him commander-in-chief over Washington. This was a tough point to sell given Washington just won two victories. To placate him, Gates was assigned as second-in-command under Schuyler with the Northern Army at Fort Ticonderoga in New York. Gates felt he deserved full command, and when Schuyler was sacked after the fall of Ticonderoga in July 1777, a gleeful Gates assumed full command.

General Horatio Gates
Horatio Gates

Victory at Saratoga

Gates won his largest and most important victory at the Battle of Saratoga against General John Burgoyne in October 1777. This was preceded by a win at Freeman's Farm under Benedict Arnold and Daniel Morgan. Burgoyne, hampered by inadequate supplies lines, and without reinforcements, was boxed in and forced to surrender his entire regiment to Gates. Up to this time, this was the largest victory of the war for the Americans. Its most important legacy though was its impact on foreign policy. Benjamin Franklin had petitioned the French for years to assist in the American Revolution. Following Saratoga, France felt more assured of U.S. victory and entered the war on the side of the Americans.

L-R John Burgoyne Surrenders to Horatio Gates at Saratoga
Burgoyne and Gates at Saratoga

There were two poor side-effects of his victory at Saratoga. The first was that Gates was appointed the head of the Board of War, which was a conflict of interest given that Washington was his military superior. In this role, Gates became Washington's political superior. The second was the 'Conway Cabal.' Thomas Conway, a disgruntled army officer, launched a campaign to persuade members of Congress to replace Gates over Washington as commander-in-chief. Several individuals sided with Conway, and the whole affair reflected poorly on Gates.

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