[REVOLUTIONARY WAR]. GATES, Horatio. Autograph letter signed ("Horatio Gates"), TO DR. BENJAMIN RUSH, 26 July 1781. 3 pages, 4to, matted and framed.
A "RED HOT EPISTLE UPON DICTATORSHIP," GEORGE WASHINGTON'S ENMITY, AND GATE'S CONVICTION THAT "THE U.S....CAN NEVER BE BETTER SERVED THAN I HAVE SERVED THEM"
A most remarkable letter from one of the war's most controversial figures. Gates writes of his strained relations with George Washington, his bitterness towards his Congressional enemies, and the chance for an ultimate victory at Yorktown. "I received your red hot epistle upon Dictatorship," Gates begins sarcastically. Rush had evidently written about the jockeying for power among Thomas Mifflin, Thomas McKean and others for the presidency of Congress. "Why you quite mistake the matter, what, not suffer one poor Dictator? For a minute suppose there was to be three; one for the Eastern, one for the Middle, & one for the Southern States: do not you physicians sometimes cure the patient by increasing the Dose; and if three such antidotes are not Sufficient for our Body Politic, I think Congress may shut up Shop, & Resolve no more."
He then turns to George Washington, an enemy of both Gates and Rush (Washington fired Rush as Army surgeon). In the aftermath of his disastrous performance at the Battle of Camden, Gates sees Washington and Congress conspiring against him. "Neither Congress nor G. W. have given me any Answer to my last letters, wrote upon my leaving Philadelphia....I see there has been a premeditated Design to shuffle me out of Service, but would to Heaven that were alone the Cause I have for being unhappy" (alluding to the death of Gates's son in 1780). The "U.S.," he continues, "may be well served without me, but Thank Fortune, They can never be better served than I have served them..."
Gates offers scathing judgments of Britain's Lord Cornwallis, who "has retired Over James River to Portsmouth, having Detach'd all his Cavalry to Carolina. Most Disgracefully has he finish'd a most scandalous, plundering excursion into the Heart of Virginia; & it is clear to me that all Idea of making a Conquest is ended with his Lordship. I conjecture you will soon hear of his embarquing with all his Infantry to reinforce N. York, some may be sent South. Should the Fleet of Our Allies be superior upon the Coast this Fall, this Campaign may close very Triumphantly for America, & then I think peace must be the Blessed Fruit of this Long & Cruel War. To the Immortal Honor of Virginia, not a man scarce of the State Join'd the Enemy, plundered, Robbed, Ravish'd. They Abandon'd all sooner than suffer their Avarice, or their Fear, to prevail upon them to take refuge under the standards of The Foe..."
Gates tried to parlay his Saratoga success into a bid to supplant Washington as commander in chief in 1778. And in spite of Washington's preference for Nathanael Greene, Congress made Gates commander of the Southern theatre in July 1780. Just a month later at Camden, Gates's poor generalship led to one of the worst thrashings of American forces during the war. Capping the humiliation, Gates galloped away from the battlefield and scarcely stopped for three days, until he reached Hillsboro, North Carolina. Alexander Hamilton spoke for many in Washington's inner circle when he credited Gates for horsemanship but asked "Was there ever an instance of a general running away as Gates has done?...It disgraces the general and the soldier." Gates's excuse was that he needed to meet reinforcements from Virginia. But he lost his command and spent 1780 and 1781 licking his wounds and pestering Congress for an inquiry to clear his name. He still had enough friends in Congress to accomplish this in 1782, and he rejoined Washington's army at Newburgh later that year. A rich, fascinating letter.