Horatio Gates - American Hero or Sneaky Administrator?

Horatio Gates - American Hero or Sneaky Administrator?

Horatio Gates is a controversial figure in the American Founding.  Though known as a hero in his day for the Battles of Saratoga, many of his decisions later in the war seem lead historians to view him in a less favorable light.

Adjutant General

By 1775, England born Horatio Gates had fought with the British Army in Germany and Canada.  After serving with honor in the French and Indian War he realized he did not have the wealth to advance any farther in the military. 

Gates decided to operate a small plantation in Virginia.

When George Washington was named Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, he recommended Gates as Adjutant General.  The two had become friends during their time in the British Army and Gates was someone Washington thought he could trust.

As Adjutant General, Gates was responsible for the administration of the entire army.


Horatio Gates eventually requested to command troops in the field.  He was named a Major General and was sent to lead the Canadian Department.

Because this Department had retreated to New York (where the Northern Department was stationed), there was a lot of conflict between the generals.  

When the Americans triumphed in the Battles of Saratoga, one of the most important victories in the war, Gates claimed the credit.  This made him, to many, a hero to the Patriot cause.  

Conversely, it made him a villain his fellow generals.  These men, who had just as big a role in the victory, criticized Gates for being a glory hound.  Many of them (most notably Benedict Arnold) disagreed with his tactics in the field and believed the Patriots won despite him.

Replacing Washington

Because of the victory at Saratoga, Gates made moves to take control of the Continental Army. 

He began sending his correspondence directly to Congress instead of to Washington, as was customary at the time.  Additionally, Gates was appointed as head of the Board of War.

The Board of War was commissioned by Congress to oversee military affairs.  This set up a strange situation where, though a subordinate in the military, Gates was essentially Washington’s boss.

Eventually, Washington was made aware of a group of people trying to have him replaced with Gates. 

To be fair, at this time Washington had lost a string of battles so there were many people chattering about whether or not he should be replaced.  As the hero of Saratoga, Gates would have been a logical choice.

This event, known as the Conway Cabal, ended when Washington confronted Gates.  Horatio apologized.


Embarrassed, Gates resigned from the Board of War.  

Almost two years later, Congress assigned Horatio Gates to lead the Southern Department.  He led his troops in the Battle of Camden.

Camden turned into one of the worst disasters of the war.  Gates’ troops were slaughtered, and it nearly resulted in America’s defeat.

Gates’ military career was over.  Though he would maintain a certain level of respect among his peers throughout his life, his contribution to the Founding of America ended before the war itself.

What do you think, was General Gates a back-stabbing snake or and American hero doing what he thought best for his country?  Let me know in the comments.

James Smith

James Smith

Henry Wisner - Milling Powder

Henry Wisner - Milling Powder