Autobiography and Biography, Battles, Politics During the War (1775-1783), The War Years (1775-1783)
From the Journal of the American Revolution
Hero to Zero? Remembering Horatio Gates
by Mike Matheny
Between heroes like George Washington and villains like Benedict Arnold, the Revolutionary War was full of historical actors of all stripes. But one man in particular defies an easy sorting between hero and villain. Washington’s first adjutant general, Horatio Gates, does not have a secure place in historical memory as either hero or villain. In the beginning of the war, Gates was Washington’s right-hand man and a successful army administrator. Subsequently Gates achieved the war’s most decisive early victory at Saratoga on October 17, 1777, considered to be the war’s turning point for securing the French alliance. Unfortunately, Gates’ life did not finish on such a high note. Despite these early achievements, Gates is often remembered as a lackluster officer, a potential betrayer of Washington, and an ultimate failure after the Battle of Camden. Such a detrimental assessment may be surprising given his victory at Saratoga that did so much to save the American cause. Truthfully, Gates was a highly ambitious man. In his lifetime, his aspirations for fame and success led him to become both a success and a failure. Therefore, Gates presents a conundrum for historians. Who was this man, and where should he land in the war’s historical memory?