The Invisible Army of Horatio Gates

The Invisible Army of Horatio Gates

Horatio Gates was a well respected military man who served with the British Army before moving to Virginia where he took up the Patriot Cause.

After serving as an aide to General Washington during the Siege of Boston, Gates was given command of an army.

The only problem was…that army did not exist.

The Setting

The Continental Army’s attack on Quebec City had failed.

Richard Montgomery was shot in the face and killed.

Benedict Arnold was shot in the leg and removed from the field.

Daniel Morgan and Ethan Allen had been taken prisoner.

John Thomas had arrived to clean up the mess but his life was quickly taken by the smallpox which were rampaging through camp.

John Sullivan had shown up but with the arrival of approximately 10,000 British forces things began to look bleak. A hasty retreat was ordered.

The plan to invade Canada and make it the 14th colony in rebellion had ended.

Begging for an Army

Horatio Gates wanted a command.

After assisting General Washington with the Siege of Boston, Gates traveled to Philadelphia to fulfill his desires.

Horatio was able to gain an audience with the Continental Congress.

Gates stomped his feet and cried big boy tears until the Delegates were soaking wet. (OK, that’s an exaggeration, but his speech as not in the ‘gentlemanly’ fashion the Delegates were accustomed to.)

Congress gave in. Operating with the limited intelligence they had, which indicated the Siege of Quebec was still ongoing, Gates was placed in charge of all Continental Soldiers in Canada.

You and What Army?

So, off Gates went to receive command of his army.

When he arrived in Albany he was dismayed to find that this army did not exist. The entirety of the Continental Forces had evacuated Canada completely.

Now, of course, an argument erupted regarding who was actually in charge. Though Gates was authorized to handle the soldiers in Canada, Major General Philip Schuyler was still overseeing the Northern Department (AKA New York).

Benedict Arnold, leader in the eyes of most of the rough-and-tumble militiamen fighting for freedom, got along swimmingly with Schuyler. Famously, his relationship with Gates that began at this time would be a tumultuous one.

After some childish bickering it was decided that Schuyler would retain overall command while Gates would take care of preparing Fort Ticonderoga for the upcoming British attack.


Horatio Gates, long thought of as the Hero of Saratoga, was really someone who knew how to promote himself by taking credit from the work of others.

In the weeks and months (and year) that followed, he would boost his own reputation while tainting Schuyler’s and destroying Arnold’s to the point that is was a major reason for the latter’s defection to the British side.

Gates would later be sent to the Southern Department where, without others to do the work for him, his reputation as one of the great generals of American history would be tarnished in the disastrous Battle of Camden.

Here are some other Founders who mastered the art of self-promotion:

James Wilkinson - America’s Favorite Double Agent

The Real Treason of Aaron Burr

George Washington and the Rules of Civility

Want to read more about Horatio Gates’ time in the Continental Army.

‘Cabal!’ is about the Conway Cabal which attempted to oust General Washington in favor of Horatio Gates. I’ll be honest, I’ve not read this book but only because when I met author Mark Edward Lender at the Mohawk Valley American Revolution Conference it had already sold out! Based on his writings that I have read I’m sure its worth your time.

Pick up a copy through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).

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