Horatio Lloyd Gates (26 July 1727 – 10 April 1806) was a retired British soldier who served as an American general during the Revolutionary War. He took credit for the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga – Benedict Arnold, who led the attack, was finally forced from the field when he was shot in the leg – and was blamed for the defeat at the Battle of Camden. Historian George Bilias describes Gates as one of "the Revolution's most controversial military figures" due to his role in the Conway Cabal which attempted to discredit and replace George Washington through a whispering campaign, the ongoing historical debate over who should receive credit for the victory at Saratoga, and Gates' actions after the defeat at Camden.
When the word reached Gates of the outbreak of war in late May 1775, he rushed to Mount Vernon and offered his services to Washington. In June, the Continental 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 Gates as a Brigadier General and Adjutant General of the Continental Army. He is considered to be the first Adjutant General of the United States Army.
Gates' previous wartime service in administrative posts was invaluable to the fledgling army, since 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. During the siege of Boston he was a voice of caution, speaking in war councils against what he saw as overly risky actions.
Although 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. This unit of the army was then in a disorganized retreat from Quebec following the arrival of British reinforcements at Quebec City. Furthermore, disease, especially smallpox, had taken a significant toll on the ranks, which also suffered from poor morale and dissension over pay and conditions. The retreat from Quebec to Fort Ticonderoga also brought him into a power struggle with Major General Philip Schuyler, commander of the army's Northern Department, which had jurisdiction over Ticonderoga. During the summer of 1776 this struggle was resolved with Schuyler being given command of the department as a whole, while Gates had command of Ticonderoga and the defense of Lake Champlain.
Gates spent the summer of 1776 overseeing the enlargement of the American fleet that would be needed to prevent the British from taking control of Lake Champlain. Much of this work eventually fell to Benedict Arnold, who had been with the army during its retreat, and was also an experienced seaman. Gates rewarded the alacrity with which Arnold attacked the problem by giving him command of the fleet when it sailed to meet the British. The American fleet was defeated in the October 1776 Battle of Valcour Island, although the defense of the lake was sufficient to delay a British advance against Ticonderoga until 1777.
When it was clear that the British were not going to make an attempt on Ticonderoga in 1776, Gates marched some of the army south to join Washington's army in Pennsylvania, where it had retreated after the fall of New York City. 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 further. When Washington dismissed this advice, Gates claimed illness as an excuse not to join the nighttime attack, instead traveling on to Baltimore where the Continental Congress was meeting. 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. Gates actively lobbied Congress for the appointment, but Washington's stunning successes at Trenton and Princeton left no doubt who should be commander-in-chief. Gates was sent back north with orders to assist Schuyler in the Northern Department.
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. Congress finally gave Gates command of the Northern Department on August 4.
Surrender of General Burgoyne by John Trumbull
Gates is in the center, with arms outstretched
Gates assumed command of the Northern Department on August 19, and led the army during 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. Because of his reluctance to attack the British army directly, Gates was known derisively by Arnold as "Granny Gates." 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 is prominently depicted in the center of the painting of the Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga by John Trumbull, which hangs in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. By Congressional resolution a gold medal was presented to Gates to commemorate his victories over the British in the Battles of Bennington, Fort Stanwix and Saratoga. Gold and bronze replicas of that medal are still awarded by the Adjutant General's Corps Regimental Association in recognition of outstanding service.
Gates proposed following up Saratoga with an invasion of Canada but the proposal was rejected by Washington