Horatio Gates (1726-1806) was an American general during the Revolutionary War. He is usually credited with the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga and the later disastrous defeat at the Battle of Camden.
Horatio Gates was born to a couple in the service of Peregrine Osborne, 2nd Duke of Leeds, at Maldon, England in 1727.
Gates received a lieutenant's commission in the British Army in 1745. He served in Germany during the War of the Austrian Succession, and later was promoted to captain in the Nova Scotia provincial ranks in 1753.
During the French and Indian War Gates served under General Edward Braddock in America. In 1755 he accompanied the ill-fated Braddock Expedition in its attempt to control access to the Ohio Valley. This force also included other future Revolutionary War leaders such as Thomas Gage, Charles Lee, Daniel Morgan, and George Washington. Gates later served in the West Indies and participated in the capture of Martinique.
In October of 1754, Horatio had married Elizabeth Phillips. The couple had a son, Robert, in 1758. Since advancement in the British army of this period required money or influence, Gates' career stalled. He therefore retired at the rank of major in 1769 and emigrated to America. The family settled on a modest plantation in Virginia.
When the word of the revolution reached Gates in late May, 1775 he hurried to Mount Vernon to offer his services to George Washington. In June, the Congress began organizing the Continental Army. In accepting command, Washington urged the appointment of Gates as adjutant of the army. So, on June 17, 1775 the Congress commissioned him a Brigadier General and Adjutant General of the army.
His wartime service as adjutant was invaluable to the fledgling army. Gates and Charles Lee were the only men available with significant experience in the British regular army. As adjutant he created the army's system of records and orders, and he helped with the standardization of regiments from the various colonies.
While his administrative skills were valuable, Gates longed for a field command. By June of 1776, he had been promoted to Major General, and his aspirations were addressed by giving him command of the Canadian Department to replace John Sullivan.
Gates' results in command was much less satisfactory than his term as adjutant. He never got to command the Canadian Department, since the American Invasion of Canada had been abandoned before his arrival. He wound up as an assistant to General Schuyler in the Northern Department.
By December he was lobbying Congress for a new appointment, while his troops were with Washington at the Battle of Trenton. He was sent back north with orders to assist Schuyler in New York. But in 1777, Congress blamed Schuyler and St. Clair for the loss of Fort Ticonderoga and gave Gates his position as Commander of the Northern Department on August 4th.
He took command on August 19th, just in time for the defeat of British General Burgoyne's invasion at the Battle of Saratoga. While Gates reputation was greatly enhanced by this victory and Burgoyne's surrender of a British army, most actions were directed by field commanders like Benedict Arnold, Enoch Poor, and Daniel Morgan. Credit is also due to other events, such as the actions of John Stark at Bennington.
Gates attempted to maximize the political return on his victory, since Washington was having very little success with the main army. Congress named Gates to head the Board of War, and he took this post while keeping his field command. There was some thought given to having him replace Washington as commander-in-chief. The political maneuvering ended with the failure of the Conway Cabal. Gates resigned from the board of war, and took an assignment as commander of the Eastern Department in November of 1778.
In May of 1780 news of the fall of Charleston, South Carolina and the capture of General Benjamin Lincoln's southern army reached Congress. On May 7 they voted to place Gates in command of the Southern Department. When he learned of his new command while at his home, near modern Shepherdstown, West Virginia, he headed south to assume command of remaining Continental forces near the Deep River in North Carolina of July 25, 1780.
He led his forces and militia south, to their stand-up fight with British general Charles Cornwallis at the Battle of Camden on August 16. The result was an overwhelming defeat. Gates' only notable accomplishment was to cover 170 miles in three days on horseback, headed north. His bitter disappointment was further aggravated when he learned that his son Robert had been killed in combat in October. When Nathanael Greene replaced him as commander on December 3, he returned home.
While never placed in command again, Gates did later return to serve with the Continental Army. When Congress repealed its resolution requiring a board of inquiry into the Camden disaster in 1782, he rejoined Washington's staff at Newburgh, New York. Rumors connected some of his aides in the Newburgh Conspiracy of 1783, but Gates himself had no obvious connection.
Gates' wife Elizabeth died in the summer of 1783. Gates retired in 1784 and returned to Virginia. He served as the president of the Virginia Society of the Cincinnati, and worked to rebuild his life. He proposed marriage to Janet, the widow of General Richard Montgomery, but was refused. In 1786 he married Mary Vallance, a wealthy widow.
Gates sold his Virginia estate and freed his slaves at the urging of his friend John Adams. The aging couple retired to an estate on northern Manhattan Island. His later support for Jefferson's presidential candidacy ended his friendship with Adams. He and his wife remained active in New York City's society, and he was elected to a single term in the New York state legislature in 1800. He died on April 10, 1806, and was buried in Trinity Church's graveyard on Wall Street.