HORATIO GATES was born in England, in 1728. He early embraced the career of arms, and rose to the rank of major by the force of merit alone. At the capture of Martinico, he was to aid general Monkton, and, after the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, was stationed at Halifax in Nova Scotia Seven years afterwards, he was again called into active life, by the breaking out of a new war, and was with Braddock when that unfortunate commander was defeated, in 1755. In consequence of a severe wound which he received in the battle, he was for some time debarred from active service and, at the conclusion of the peace, he repaired to his native country. He soon, however, returned, and purchased an estate in Virginia, on which he resided until the commencement of the revolutionary war in 1775, when he was appointed adjutant-general by congress, with the rank of brigadier. In July, 1775, he accompanied the commander-in-chief to Massachusetts, where he continued until June in the following year, when he received the chief command of the army which had just retreated from Canada. This gave great umbrage to general Schuyler, who had hitherto superintended the forts and garrisons of New York, and now expressed his determination to resign, unless the injury were redressed. Congress, in consequence, endeavored to reconcile the pretensions of the two generals, by assigning to them authorities in some measure independent of each other. Schuyler was directed to provide and equip a naval armament, in order to obtain and preserve the command of the lakes and rivers which maintained the communications between Canada and the maritime and Hudson country, and Gates was enjoined to cooperate in this service as far as laid in his power. But they were only able to equip about 15 vessels, half of which were little better than boats, which were placed under the command of Arnold, who was opposed by a much superior force under Carleton. The first step of Gates occasioned some surprise and much clamor. The American forces had retreated to Crown Point, where such ravages were made among them by the small-pox, that Gates abandoned that fortress, and concentrated his army at Ticonderoga. This movement, which opened to the enemy the whole navigation of lake Champlain, was greatly condemned by Washington and all the field-officers. The unexpected retreat of general Carleton relieved them from the necessity of defending Ticonderoga. After this retreat, Gates marched with a considerable detachment to the assistance of general Washington, and continued with him, during his operations in the middle colonies, until the spring of 1777, when he resumed his command on the northern frontier. Here he was shortly afterwards superseded by Schuyler. But in August following, when Burgoyne had obtained possession of Ticonderoga, defeated St. Clair, occupied fort Ann and Skeensborough, and had arrived at fort St. Edward, on the upper branches of the Hudson, Gates was reinstated in the command. At fort St. Edward, Burgoyne remained for some time, in order to collect necessaries, and then, passing the Hudson, encamped at Saratoga. Gates immediately put himself in motion with an equal force, and, Sep. 19, an almost general engagement took place without any decisive result. Oct. 8, another action occurred, in which the British were totally defeated, and, on the 16th, Bugoyne surrendered with his whole army. This was, perhaps, the most important achievement of the whole war, or the one which had the greatest effect in giving it a favorable result.
About this time, when the popularity of general Gates was at its highest point, intrigues were commenced for elevating him to the station occupied by Washington, which were as shameful as they were unsuccessful. How far he himself was engaged in them, or whether he was concerned in them at all, it is not in our power to state; nor should we wish to enter into any details respecting it.
In June, 1780, Gates received the chief command of the southern districts. In this quarter, the affairs of the colonies were in a very bad condition. Charleston had been taken, and general Lincoln captured. When Gates assumed the command of the southern army, it scarcely amounted to 1500 men, badly supplied in every respect. After collecting all the troops he could, and equipping them as well as he was able, he advanced against the enemy, whom he met, August 16, under Cornwallis, at Camden, where the Americans were totally defeated. About fifty days after this disaster, general Greene was sent to supersede Gates, whose conduct was subjected to the investigation of a special court. After a long and tedious inquiry, he was finally acquitted, and reinstated in his command in 1782; but, in the interim, the war had been brought to a glorious termination by the capture of Cornwallis. When peace was made, he retired to his Virginia estate, and, in 1790, removed to New York, having first emancipated all his slaves, and provided for such of them as could not provide for themselves. On his arrival at New York, he was presented with the freedom of the city, and, in the year 1800, was chosen a member of the state legislature, in consequence of the critical balance of parties at that time, but resigned the seat as soon as the purpose for which he accepted it was gained. He died April 10, 1806, in the 78th year of his age.
General Gates possessed a handsome person, rather inclined to corpulency in the middle of his life; was courteous in his manners, and kind and generous in his disposition. He was a classical scholar and a sincere Christian.