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The reincarnation of Horatio Gates

By Steve Farrell
web posted November 1, 2004

During and after the Revolutionary War, General George Washington had a thorn in his side, a man that a fair amount of evidence pointed to as a "traitor" who, traitor or not, served the enemy and nearly cost us the peace -- because he had one God he worshipped and served, and one only -- himself.

The man's name was General Horatio Gates, or just plain Horatio Gates, if you please, for rarely if ever had the rank of general in the American armies fallen upon a more undeserving soul than he.

Horatio GatesGates was of foreign birth, described by historians as "a disappointed man." Of his very early life little is known. He served in America under Braddock, in the West Indies under Monckton; but as he did not receive from his native England the ‘honors which he thought his due,' he sold his commission in the British army and retired to Virginia, where he renewed his acquaintance with Washington and sought a commission in the U.S. armed forces against the British whom he had just abandoned.

Ambitious, yes -- and a flip-flopper.

It was said that he learned to "flatter and accommodate himself to the humors of others." He could be "the boon companion of gentlemen, and 'hail fellow well met' with the vulgar."

And so, during the Revolutionary War Gates obtained the rank of major general, not by merit, but by ingratiating himself with the New Englanders, and joining them in leveling charges against a man, General Schuyler, who had fallen from grace due to a recent military loss in Canada.

Yes, Gates was an opportunist.

Rank, however, was not enough for Horatio Gates. His grand plans for himself required ‘war hero' status.

His next ‘opportunity' came at Saratoga. Our victory there was the turning point of the war. Gates saw something else. What needs to be remembered about how Gates won his ‘war hero' status at Saratoga is what really happened at Saratoga. That is, the Americans won the battle, not because of Gates, but in spite of him. It was the great troop recruiting and rallying efforts of General Washington before the battle, and the skillful management and courage of General's Arnold and Morgan on the battlefield that won the day.

According to the battle plan, Gates and his men were supposed to engage the enemy, like everyone else. He didn't. Under the guise of a lame excuse, he ‘held back.' Then, as the battle became hot, and repeated pleas for reinforcements came from General Arnold, Gates ignored them.

Can anyone spell ‘coward'?

Thanks to Gates, more blood was shed, and more men went on to meet their Maker that day, then was necessary. He might have cost us the war. Yet Gates became ‘the war hero' of Saratoga. How so?

He wrote the battle report, and never mentioned the names of Generals Arnold and Morgan! You see, he lied, and campaigned, and insisted that he was a hero, sending the report, not to his superior officer Washington, as per protocol, but to his ‘friends' in Congress.

He wasn't through.

Next, with the victory secured, he failed to send reinforcements to General Washington.

This was all part of an established pattern.

Earlier at Trenton, in 1776, Gates turned his back and his troops from Washington, when in desperate need of reinforcements, preferring to ride off to Congress to call for the replacement of that ‘incompetent, bumbling idiot of a general,' George Washington, with himself as the new Commander-in-Chief, even as Washington's men were barefoot and bleeding and dieing.

The man was a marplot, a veritable burrowing rodent. Men died who shouldn't have, the enemy gained advantages they shouldn't have, all to make Washington and others look bad, and he, Gates, good. He deserved the firing squad.

The cabal to replace Washington even involved a foreign mercenary, Thomas Conway, who Gates promised to promote to Major General.

Gates cowardice in the field, however, finally had a coming out party.

At Camden, in 1780, in what should have been a sure and easy victory for the Americans, an overconfident and reckless Horatio Gates, unexpectedly confronted by some of Cornwallis's men, literally dropped his musket and ran like "a torrent" through the woods, disappearing from the scene, taking no thought for the continental troops that he left at their posts in the field, flying as fast as possible to Charlotte.

The ‘war hero' resigned in disgrace while the war still raged.

Incredibly, Gates wasn't through. After America dramatically, some believe, miraculously, won the war, Horatio Gates next maneuver came into play.

You see, Washington had ‘won the war,' but hadn't yet ‘won the peace.' Congress, bereft of executive power, was unsuccessful in raising funds to pay the troops. Gates, saw an opportunity, re-emerged from his shameful retirement, and reinvented himself as ‘The War Hero of Saratoga,' this time not in collusion with a French mercenary, but in collusion with a British officer, and some of his former staff.

He appointed himself at the head of an organization of disgruntled soldiers, with the intent of inspiring them, believe it or not, to march on Congress, and their respective state governments, to collect back pay.

An inflammatory speech was circulated among the men. It read in part:

"My friends!" … after seven long years your suffering courage has conducted the United States of America through a doubtful and bloody war; and peace returns to bless -- whom? A country willing to redress your wrongs, cherish your worth, and reward your services? Or is it rather a country that tramples upon your rights, disdains your cries, and insults your distresses? . . . If such be your treatment while the swords you wear are necessary for the defense of America, what have you to expect when those very swords, the instruments and companions of your glory, shall be taken from your sides, and no mark of military distinction left but your wants, infirmities and scars? If you have sense enough to discover and spirit to oppose tyranny, whatever garb it may assume, awake to your situation. If the present moment be lost, your threats hereafter will be as empty as your entreaties now. Appeal from the justice to the fears of government, and suspect the man (George Washington) who would advise to longer forbearance."

It has a familiar ring to it.

George Washington intervened, spoke to the men, won their loyalty back to the dream of establishing a refuge for the persecuted of the world under a free and solid government.

They listened to the man who had led them, fought beside them, inspired them, and did so without pay, giving much of his own substance to the cause. They remembered, they learned, they shed tears, they rededicated themselves to God, Family, Country, and became Washington's strongest advocates for a new, better, permanent union.

George Washington saved the day. But what of Horatio Gates?

More than once, he almost cost us our country, our liberties, our future. Yes, thanks be to God, he failed and died a disappointed man.

But sad to say, every generation has its Horatio Gates. He reincarnates wherever power is found, self proclaiming himself once again as "war hero," "patriot," "one of the gang," when he never really is -- and truth be told, never really is anything more than a man who engages in every form of deceit, and every form of betrayal to obtain an office, no matter the cost to his country and countrymen.

Such men as these, whose false brilliance shines forth for a day, will one day, like their beau ideal, be exposed and remembered for what they truly are: opportunists, cowards, marplots, and blackguards. But in the mean time, it behooves us all to open our eyes, look around, and voter beware; -- for the reincarnation of Horatio Gates may be staring us right in the face.

ESR Senior Writer, Steve Farrell is an associate professor of political economy at George Wythe College, press agent for Defend Marriage (a project of United Families International), and the author of the highly praised, inspirational novel, "Dark Rose" (available at Amazon.com). Contact Steve.

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