History From America's Most Famous Valleys
A MILITARY JOURNAL
During the American Revolutionary War,
From 1775 to 1783.
Describing Interesting Events and Transactions of this period;
with numerous Historical Facts and Anecdotes
From the Original Manuscript
By James Thacher, M. D.
Second Edition, Revised and Corrected.
Boston, Published by Cottons & Barnard, 1827.
MAJOR GENERAL HORATIO GATES.
General Gates was a native of England, and was educated to the military profession. He was an officer under the unfortunate Braddock, in the expedition against Fort du Quesne, in the year 1755, and who after receiving a dangerous wound, was, with the illustrious Washington, among the few officers who escaped with life on that memorable occasion. When the American colonies were forced to assume a hostile attitude, Gates had been for some time a resident in Virginia, and having evinced his zeal and attachment to the violated rights of his adopted country, and sustaining a high military reputation, he was by Congress appointed adjutant general, with the rank of brigadier, and he accompanied General Washington to our camp at Cambridge, in July, 1775. On the retreat of our forces from Canada, the chief command in that department was conferred on him in June, 1776. He continued the retreat of our army from Crown Point to Ticonderoga, which did not fully accord with the views of Congress and the Commander in Chief. The British forces having retired to winter quarters in Canada, Gates marched with a detachment of his command and joined the main army in Jersey, in the autumn of that year. His sphere of action was not brilliant or splendid, till his mighty achievement in the capture at Saratoga ; nor is he justly and exclusively entitled to the full measure of applause acquired by that most glorious victory ; the magnanimous General Schuyler,* whom he superseded in command, had, by his indefatigable industry, and almost unprecedented labors, raised the most formidable impediments to the march of Burgoyne, which tended more than is generally imagined to facilitate the conquest made by the northern army.
When General Gates succeeded to the command of the northern army, August, 1777, General Schuyler and St. Clair, were suffering, though most unjustly, the public odium by the evacuation of Ticonderoga, and their successor in command was in high repute and confidence with his officers and soldiers. Burgoyne's right wing, under St. Leger, had been cut off at Fort Stanwix, and his left at Bennington, by General Stark. Our army was daily increasing in numbers, and considerably exceeded the strength of the enemy, and our troops were greatly invigorated with courage and determined on victory. Every circumstance in fact was auspicious to a successful issue. Burgoyne still perceived that in proportion as he advanced, obstacles multiplied on every side. Having at length surmounted almost insuperable difficulties, he passed the Hudson and advanced to Saratoga. Gates also advanced to Stillwater, and boldly faced his formidable foe ; and on the 19th of September, a sanguinary conflict ensued. Both parties firm and unyielding, both attained the high honors of the brave, but neither bore the palm of a complete victory from the field. While Burgoyne's loss was irretrievable, the force and the ardor of his antagonist were continually augmenting. Every day's delay now increased the heavy embarrassments of Burgoyne, while time threw additional advantages into the hands of his spirited opponent; antagonist were till at length, it became obvious that retreat or victory was his unavoidable alternative ; but on trial, it was proved to his utter dismay; that neither resource was at his command. On the 7th of October, the two opposing armies rushed again to the field of slaughter, and both were satiated with blood
* Major General Philip Schuyler. It has been observed that neither history nor biography has rendered justice to this highly meritorious character. He possessed a clear understanding, a strong mind, a humane and generous disposition. No individual could have contributed more largely by his vigilance and efficiency to augment the obstacles to the march of the British army to Fort Edward. His name should be enrolled with the renowned band of military patriots and heroes that posterity may know the eminent service which his splendid talents conferred on his country.
and carnage. The British army were repulsed in every direction, and its commander was led to the painful conviction that a more disastrous late awaited him. Burgoyne now driven to the brink of despair, his forces disabled, his provisions exhausted, and a victorious adversary opposing him in front, resolved on a rapid retreat, but on exploring the route, behold, his adversary was there.
The dreaded crisis had now arrived, when a capitulation was alone practicable. Articles not very dishonorable to the vanquished enemy were acceded to, and General Gates enjoyed the ineffable satisfaction of receiving in submission, the once victorious chief. To the honor of General Gates it is mentioned, that the captured troops were directed to a sequestered spot to ground their arms, that their feelings might not be wounded in the presence of our army, though it deprived the latter of a satisfaction in which they were justly entitled to participate.
General Gates was remarkable for his humanity to prisoners, and a desire to mitigate the sufferings of the unfortunate. Among the objects in distress who claimed his attention, was Lady Ackland, whose husband was wounded and captured during the battle of the 7th of October. General Gates bestowed on her the care and tenderness of a parent. In reply to a letter from General Burgoyne in her behalf, he says, " the respect due to her ladyship's rank, the tenderness due to her person and sex, were sufficient recommendations to entitle her to my protection. I am surprised that your Excellency should think that I could consider the greatest attention to Lady Ackland in the light of an obligation."
General Gates received the thanks of Congress, and a gold medal, as a memorial of their gratitude. Great was the credit which he acquired by this momentous event, universal joy pervaded the country, and all ranks were ready to vie with each other in their homage to the fortunate conqueror. It was not long after, that the wonderful discovery was supposed to be made, that the illustrious Washington was incompetent to the task of conducting the operations of the American army, and that General Gates, if elevated to the important station of commander in chief, would speedily meliorate the condition of our affairs. A discontented party in Congress, with a few interested individuals in our army, constituted the faction hostile to the savior of his country. General Gates himself was strongly suspected of more than a passive acquiescence, and there were those who imputed to him a principal agency in the affair, which however, he promptly disavowed. Had the project succeeded, it would in all probability have sealed the ruin of our army and sacrificed the glorious cause of our country. But all the eclat which General Gates had acquired, and all the splendor of his name were insufficient to proselyte a single officer to his interest. He was not endowed with that dignity, and with those illustrious qualities which were requisite to command the confidence and reverence of the army as the successor of the much beloved Washington. I am assured by Governor Brooks, that being in company with a number of respectable officers at Valley Forge when the subject was canvassed, General Weedon, of Virginia, with great vehemence declared, that should General Gates be preferred to the chief command, he never would serve under him, but would absolutely resign his commission, and quit the service, and till present were in unison with him in opinion.
A private correspondence was maintained between the intriguing General Conway and General Gates, criticizing and reprobating the measures pursued by General Washington, and in one of Conway's letters he ascribes our want of success to a weak general and bad counsellors. General Gates, on finding that General Washington had been apprized of this correspondence, addressed his Excellency, requesting that he would disclose the name of his informant, and extraordinary as it may appear, in violation of the, rules of decorum, he addressed the Commander in Chief on a subject of extreme delicacy in an open letter, transmitted to the President of Congress. His pretence was, that some of the members of that body might aid in detecting the person who made the communication. General Washington, however, made no hesitancy in disclosing the name and the circumstances which brought the affair to light.* General Gates then, with inexcusable disingenuousness, attempted to vindicate the conduct of Conway, and to deny that his letter contained the reprehensible expressions in question, but utterly refused to produce the original letter. This subject however, was so ably and candidly discussed by General Washington, as to cover his adversary with shame and humiliation, and he was
* This disclosure occasioned a duel between General Gates and Colonel Wilkinson, his adjutant general. Two shots were exchanged with bloodshed, and a reconciliation was effected.
glad to discontinue the investigation. It was thought to be inexcusable in General Gates, that he neglected to communicate to the Commander in Chief an account of so important an event as the capture of the British army at Saratoga, but left his Excellency to obtain information by common report. Colonel Morgan, at the head of his brave rifle corps, during the campaign under General Gates, rendered the most important services in the several battles and skirmishes. General Gates attempted to enlist him in his party against the Commander in Chief, but received a prompt refusal, and assurance that he would serve under no other commander than Washington. From this moment Gates manifested his resentment, and in his official communications to Congress he neglected to mention the name of the heroic Morgan, who was so justly entitled to applause. In November, 1777, Congress having new modelled the board of war, appointed General Gates the president, and he entered on the duties of the office, but retained his rank in the army. The subject of this sketch was destined to experience in a remarkable manner, the humiliating vicissitudes of fortune. He had the conducting of the most prosperous, and the most disastrous of the military enterprize, in the war. In June, 1T80, General Gates was by Congress vested with the chief command of our army in the southern states. In a general battle at Camden,* August 15th, being the first and only encounter which he had with Lord Cornwallis, he suffered a total defeat, and was obliged to fly from the enemy for personal safety, and thus was the prediction of General Lee, when Gates was vested with the command, that his northern laurels would be exchanged for southern willows, verified. It would, however, be great injustice, to attribute the misfortune altogether to the commander under his peculiar circumstances ; a large proportion of his force consisted of raw militia, who were panic struck, and fled at the first fire, their rout, was absolute and irretrievable. It may be observed nevertheless, that his conduct in some respects on this occasion did not meet the approbation of those who must be admitted as competent judges of the military operations of that fatal day. Proudly calculating on the weight of his name, and too confident
* In the disastrous battle at Camden, the Baron de Kalb, a brave and experienced Prussian officer, and major genera] in our service, was unfortunately slain. It was said that this heroic officer cautioned General Gates against a general action, under present circumstances. His exit was marked with unfading glory, and his distinguished merit was gratefully acknowledged by Congress, in erecting a monument to his memory.
in his own superiority, he slighted the counsel which he ought to have respected, and hurrying impetuously into the field of battle, his tide of prosperity ebbed as fast at Camden as it had flowed at Saratoga.
The plot to supplant General Washington, is established beyond question, and it will be only sufficient to quote the following extracts from the letters of the two purest patriots and men that have ever lived, to satisfy of its truth those who are not familiar with the events of that period. Patrick Henry, writing on the subject to General Washington, says:-
" While you face the armed enemies of our liberty in the field, and, by the favor of God, have been kept unhurt, I trust your country will never harbor in her bosom the miscreant who would ruin her best supporter. I wish not to flatter; but when arts unworthy honest men are used to defame and traduce you, I think it not amiss, but a duty, to assure you of that estimation in which the public hold you. Not that I think any testimony I can bear, is necessary for your support, or private satisfaction, for a bare recollection of what is past must give you sufficient pleasure in every circumstance of life. But I cannot help assuring you, on this occasion, of the high sense of gratitude which all ranks of men, in this your native country, bear to you. It will give me sincere pleasure to manifest my regards, and render my best services to you or yours. I do not like to make a parade of these things, and I know you are not fond of it; how ever, I hope the occasion will plead my excuse."
To which General Washington replies-
" The anonymous letter with which you were pleased to favor me was written by ************, so far as I can judge from a similitude of hands.*******.
" My caution to avoid any thing that could injure the service, prevented me from communicating, except to a very few of my friends, the intrigues of a faction which I know was formed against me, since it might serve to publish our internal dissensions, but their own restless zeal to advance their views has too clearly betrayed them, and made concealment on ray part fruitless. I cannot precisely mark the extent of their views, but it appeared in general, that General Gates was to be exalted on the ruin of my reputation and influence. This I am authorized to say from undeniable facts in my possession, from publications, the evident scope of which could not be mistaken, and from private detractions industriously circulated. ********** it is generally supposed, bore the second part in the cabal; and General Conway, I know, was a very active and malignant partizan; but I have good reason to believe that their machinations have recoiled most sensibly on themselves."
Yet in the face of all this evidence of the fact, General Armstrong recently avows that " the slander propagated and believed for half a century, that two distinguished officers of the army of the revolution had conspired to put down the Commander in Chief, is an impudent and vile falsehood, from beginning to end."
General Gates, after his defeat at Camden, was displaced from his command by order of Congress, and his conduct subjected to the inquiry of a special court, which resulted in his acquittal, but his Saratoga laurels had faded, and he was unable to retrieve his suffering fame.
" It was the genera] opinion that General Gates was not treated by Congress with that delicacy, or indeed gratitude, that was due to an officer of his acknowledged merit. He, however, received the order of his supersedure and suspension, and resigned the command to General Greene with becoming dignity." General Greene asserted that if there was any mistake in the conduct of Gates, it was in hazarding an action at all against such superior force.
He was reinstated in his military command in the main army in 1782, but the great scenes of war were now passed, and he could only participate in the painful scene of a final separation.
In the midst of his misfortune, General Gates was called to mourn the afflictive dispensation of Providence in the death of his only son. Major Garden in his excellent publication has recorded the following affecting anecdote, which he received from Dr. William Reed.
" Having occasion to call on General Gates, relative to the business of the department under my immediate charge, I found him traversing the apartment which he occupied, under the influence of high excitement; his agitation was excessive-every feature of his countenance, every gesture betrayed it. Official despatches, informing him that he was superseded, and that the command of the southern army had been transferred to General Greene, had just been received and perused by him. His countenance, however, betrayed no expression of irritation or resentment; it was sensibility alone that caused his emotion. An open letter which he held in his hand, was often raised to his lips, and kissed with devotion, while the exclamation repeatedly escaped them- ' Great man ! Noble, generous procedure !' When the tumult of his mind had subsided, and his thoughts found utterance, he, with strong expression of feeling, exclaimed-' I have received this day a communication from the Commander in Chief, which has conveyed more consolation to my bosom, more ineffable delight to my heart, than I had believed it possible for it ever to have felt again. With affectionate tenderness he sympathizes with me in my domestic misfortunes, and condoles with me on the loss I have sustained by the recent death of an only son ; and then with peculiar delicacy, lamenting my misfortune in battle, assures me, that his confidence in my zeal and capacity is so little impaired, that the command of the right wing of the army will be bestowed on me so soon as I can make it convenient to join him-' "
When the revolution was completed General Gates retired to his plantation in Virginia, where he continued about seven years, when he with his wife took up his final residence in the neighborhood of New York. In civil life General Gates was a zealous partizan, but he was always disappointed in his ambitious views. In 1800, he was elected to the New York legislature to answer the purpose of a party, and withdrew again to private life as soon as that purpose was answered. During the federal administration of the general government, he was found in the ranks of the opposite or minor party, which excluded him altogether from a share of the honors and emoluments which it was in the power of his former illustrious military leader to bestow. "A few years before his death he generously gave freedom to his slaves, making provision for the old and infirm, while several testified their attachment to him by remaining in his family. In the characteristic virtue of planters' hospitality, Gates had no competitor, and his reputation may well be supposed to put this virtue to a hard test." " He had a handsome person, and was gentlemanly in his manners, remarkably courteous to all, and carrying good humor sometimes beyond the nice limit of dignity. To science, literature or erudition however, he made no pretensions, but gave indisputable marks of a social, amiable, benevolent disposition. He died without posterity at his abode near New York, on the 10th day of April, 1806, aged seventy-eight years."
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