Horatio Lloyd Gates (1727–1806) was an American general during the Revolutionary War. He is usually credited with the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga (though he never appeared on the battlefield and it was in fact Benedict Arnold who headed the attack and retreated only when he was shot in the leg) and blamed for the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Camden.
Gates was born in England, probably in Kent, Essex or Surrey. He received a lieutenant's commission in the British Army in 1745. He served with the 20th Foot in Germany during the War of the Austrian Succession, and later was promoted to captain in the 45th Foot in 1750. He sold his commission in 1754 and purchased a captaincy in the New York provincial troops.
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 included other future Revolutionary War leaders such as Thomas Gage, Charles Lee, Daniel Morgan, and George Washington. In 1762 he returned to the 45th Foot as a Major. Gates later served in the West Indies and participated in the capture of Martinique.
In October of 1754, Gates married Elizabeth Phillips and had a son, Robert, in 1758 . Gates' military career stalled, as advancement in the British army required money or influence. He sold his commission major in 1769 and emigrated to America, settling on a modest plantation in Virginia.
When the word of the revolution reached Gates in late May 1775, he rushed to Mount Vernon and offered 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. On June 17, 1775, Congress commissioned Horatio as a Brigadier General and Adjutant General of the Continental Army.
Gates' previous wartime service as adjutant was invaluable to the fledgling army, as he and Charles Lee were the only men with significant experience in the British regular army. As adjutant Horatio Gates created the army's system of records and orders, and helped with the standardization of regiments from the various colonies.
While his administrative skills were valuable, Gates longed for a field command. By June 1776, he had been promoted to Major General and given command of the Canadian Department to replace John Sullivan.
Gates' results in command were 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.
Though his troops were with Washington at the Battle of Trenton, Gates was not. Always an advocate of defensive action, Gates argued to Washington that, rather than attack, Washington should retreat farther. When Washington dismissed this advice, Gates used a purported illness as an excuse not to join the nighttime attack. Gates had always been of the opinion that he, not Washington, should command the Continental army, an opinion supported by several rich and prominent New England delegates to the Continental Congress. By December, Gates was actively lobbying Congress for the appointment. Washington's stunning successes at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton left no doubt who should be commander-in-chief. Gates 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, though Gates had exercised a lengthy command in the region, and finally gave Gates command of the Northern Department on August 4th.
Gates assumed command on August 19, just in time for the defeat of British General Burgoyne's invasion at the Battle of Saratoga. While Gates and his supporters sought to place the credit for the victory and Burgoyne's surrender with Gates, the actual military actions were directed by field commanders such as Benedict Arnold, Enoch Poor, Benjamin Lincoln, and Daniel Morgan. John Stark's defeat of a sizable British raiding force at the Battle of Bennington (Stark's forces killed or captured over 900 British soldiers) was also a substantial factor in the victory.
Gates attempted to maximize the political return on the victory, particularly since George Washington was having no present successes with the main army. In fact, Gates insulted Washington by sending reports direct to Congress instead of to Washington, his superior officer. At the behest of Gates' friends and delegates from New England, Congress named Gates to head the Board of War, a post he took while keeping his field command - an unprecedented conflict of interest. Again, through the efforts of Gates and his friends in Congress, Congress at this time briefly considered replacing Washington as commander-in-chief with Gates. The failure of the Conway Cabal ended the political maneuvering. 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. They voted to place Gates in command of the Southern Department. He learned of his new command at his home near modern Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and headed south to assume command of remaining Continental forces near the Deep River in North Carolina of July 25, 1780.
Gates led his Continental forces and militia south, to their stand-up fight with British general Charles Cornwallis at the Battle of Camden on August 16, where he was overwhelmingly defeated. Gates' only notable accomplishment in the unsuccessful campaign was to cover 170 miles in three days on horseback, headed north. His bitter disappointment was compounded by the news of his son Robert's death in combat in October. Nathanael Greene replaced Gates as commander on December 3, and he returned home to Virginia. Because of the debacle at Camden, Congress passed a resolution requiring a board of inquiry (prelude to a court martial) to look into Gates' conduct in that affair.
Always one to support a court martial of other officers (particularly those with whom he was in competition for advancement - Arnold, for one), Gates vehemently opposed the court of inquiry into his conduct of the Battle of Camden. While he was never placed in field command again, Gates' New England supporters in Congress again came to his aid in 1782, when Congress repealed its resolution requiring a board of inquiry into the Camden disaster. Gates then rejoined Washington's staff at Newburgh, New York. Rumors implicated some of his aides in the Newburgh conspiracy of 1783 . Gates may have agreed to involve himself, though this remains unclear.
Gates' wife Elizabeth died in the summer of 1783. Gates retired in 1784 and again 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 Montgomery, the widow of General Richard Montgomery, but she 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. Gates 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, though the current location of his grave is unknown.