Horatio Gates’s Brief Revolutionary Command

A portrait of Gates from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

On July 25, 1780, Major General Horatio Gates assumed direct command of the American forces in the Southern Military Department at their campsite on the Deep River in Randolph County.

Born in 1727 or 1728 in England, Gates served in the British army before settling in the colonies. In 1775, he volunteered for the Continental Army and served as a staff officer before receiving field command.

In September and October 1777, Gates commanded an army that defeated a British invasion from Canada at Saratoga, New York. The victory led to a military alliance with France and propelled Gates to the forefront of American military heroes. His ascendance was accompanied by controversy, due to his ambitions and his reputation as an overly cautious commander.   

Influenced by faulty intelligence indicating an opportunity for a quick victory, Gates embarked on a campaign in South Carolina along a route lacking in food to support his army. On August 16, his exhausted and underfed army was routed by the British at Camden, South Carolina.

Nathaniel Greene was soon selected to replace Gates. He never received another field command. He retired from the army in 1784 and died in New York City in 1806.

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