Horatio Lloyd Gates came to this world on July 26, 1727, in Maldon a small town in Essex, UK. His parents were not particularly wealthy, but nonetheless, he was born under a lucky star. With the intercession of his mother and the financial support of a generous Duke, Horatio joined the ranks of the British Army in 1745.
The pinnacle of his Military career was in 1777 when the American forces he commanded emerged victorious from the Battle of Saratoga, arguably the greatest victory of the American Army to date. His military fame, however, was short-lived and lasted only three years. In 1780, he tragically lost the Battle of Camden.
Horatio Gates Facts
1. From soldier to farmer
Horatio Gates’s career in the British army was marked by his participation in the French and Indian War. At first, he served under General Edward Braddock and was part of his failed attempt to capture Fort Duquesne in 1755. Then, he continued his service under General John Stanwix and General Robert Monckton, eventually reaching the rank of major, an interesting fact about Horatio Gates.
However, Gates was a deeply-practical man. He was quick to realize that he lacked the ties and the money necessary to push him beyond the rank of major in the British Army. Therefore, in 1769, he made the most out of his military status by selling his major’s commission.
Gates then used the money to emigrate to the New World with his wife, Elizabeth, and his son, Robert. He chose Virginia as the place to set a new beginning and purchased a small plantation where he settled with his family.
2. Back in service
When the American Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Horatio Gates was quick to feel the call of duty. Or maybe he saw some new opportunities and quickly rushed to seize them. For one thing, the newly-formed Revolutionary Army lacked experienced officers, and Gates was quickly promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, and later to an Adjutant General.
He was patronized by George Washington himself, whom he secretly despised. Washington highly valued Horatio Gates’ organizational skills, but the latter had been longing for some real action on the battlefield.
3. The Battle of Saratoga and Gates’ ascent to fame
Horatio Gates’ ascend to fame began in 1776, when he strategically maneuvered some of his troops southwards to join forces with Washington’s army in Pennsylvania. Then, suddenly, a wayward move followed.
Instead of staying in charge of his forces during a planned nighttime raid of Trenton, Gates fled to Baltimore to attend a sitting of the Continental Congress. The pretext was that he did not agree with Washington’s more aggressive tactics.
An interesting fact about Horatio Gates is that he tried to undermine Washington’s positions in the Congress, but the latter achieved sweeping victories at both Trenton and Princeton. As a result, Gates was sent northwards to serve under General Philip John Schuyler. Schuyler eventually fell into disfavor with the High Command after the defeat of his army at Fort Ticonderoga, and thus Gates assumed command of the Northern Department in August that year. So, thanks to this lucky turn of events, Gates happened to be at the helm of the Northern Army when it thrashed the invading forces of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga.
4. Conway Cabal and Gates’ attempt to supersede Washington
Horatio gates had many times before reiterated that he, but not Washington, should have been installed as the chief commander of the Continental Army. Immediately after his victory at Saratoga, he seized the chance to ask the Congress for promotion to a higher office. As a result, he became simultaneously President of the Board of War and a field commander, which was a textbook example of conflict of interests.
Even more embarrassing was the fact that this position put him above his commanding officer, Washington. Eventually, Horatio Gates managed to overcome his thirst for power. He apologized to Washington, stepped down as President of the Board of War, and kept his military rank.
5. Gates’ debacle at Camden
The great Napoleon had his Waterloo, and similarly, Horatio Gates’ most tragic defeat was at Camden. There, in 1780, he pulled the devil by the tail. Blinded by his recent military success, he rushed a motley crew of paramilitary factions, mercenaries, and fatigued troops, to face general Charles Cornwallis’ much better organized and, more importantly, well-rested army.
In the days preceding the attack, Gates had made his men ride over 270 miles on horseback, and when the two armies finally clashed, they were tired as hell. Even more shameful was Horatio’s disorganized retreat in the face of an inevitable defeat, an unfortunate fact about Horatio Gates.
6. He appears unshaken by the storms of life
It is said that Vikings were tough because of the northern winds that they had to constantly withstand. Similarly, the greatness of Horatio Gates represents itself most clearly in the context of two tragic events of his life that he managed to overcome and move on.
First, in October 1780, just five months after his hapless defeat at Camden, Gates learned that his only son, Robert, had died in combat. Then, just three years later, in 1783, Gates also lost his wife, Elizabeth. Yet, after his retirement the following year, he managed to overcome his grief and again engage in public service.
Having returned to his estate in Virginia, presently known as Traveler’s Rest historical site, Horatio Gates was elected president of the Virginia branch of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization of former Continental Army officers.
Then, three years after his wife’s death, Gates married Mary Valens, but unfortunately, the two were already too old to beget any offspring. Despite their advanced age, the couple remained socially and politically active until Gates’ death in 1806.
Horatio Gates should forever remain among America’s greatest military officers because of his courage that was well-balanced with cautiousness. He always advocated that success on the battlefield was largely based on a successful defense strategy. Ironically, his debacle came exactly when he abandoned his basic principles and rushed his men into a reckless, all-out attack!
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