Part Two Last time, we met the Marquis de Lafayette and Johann DeKalb, two French military officers come to the United States to help with the Revolution. After some initial hesitancy, the Continental Congress found them both positions as Washington’s aide-de-camp and a major general respectively; soon, each was about to meet our other two soldiers with Brooklyn street namesakes.
Horatio Gates was a former British military man – he’d served during the French and Indian War in the 1750’s. Gates immediately offered his support when revolution broke out; Congress at first appointed him to oversee the administration of the troops, as he had the most experience in the British military and could best coordinate the new Colonial army. Gates complied reluctantly – he was more interested in a combat position. He was later given command of a proposed invasion of British Canada – but the invasion was cancelled before it began, and Gates was stuck assisting with the Northern campaign.
Part of what frustrated Gates was serving under George Washington. Gates and Washington were in the same regiment during the French and Indian War, and the two frequently disagreed on strategy. Gates had hoped to lead the Continental Army himself, so serving under his rival Washington was a particular insult. After only a few months, Gates was openly trash-talking Washington – he reported to Congress instead of Washington, and was openly asking Congress to demote Washington and give him command of the army. He even played hooky from one battle – he and Washington had disagreed about whether to attack on one particular front, and when Gates was overruled, he actually played sick to sit things out.
Congress finally promoted Gates to lead the Northern campaign in August of 1777, where he almost immediately had a stunning success with the Battle of Saratoga, capturing an entire British division and successfully defending the northern states from a northern attack. Congress briefly considered giving in to Gates’ long-standing wish to take over control of the army, but ultimately kept Gates where he was.
Then in 1780, Gates was re-assigned to the southern front. That August, he lead an attack on Camden, a North Carolina supply center for the British army. Among the troops supporting Gates was a team of militia from Maryland lead by Johann DeKalb. Gates’ men outnumbered the British troops, but the British were better trained – and more importantly, had seen more battle. At the first round of shots, half of Gates’ men panicked and fled. Gates desperately urged the remaining troops to attack, and DeKalb led the charge; he was shot eleven times. The remaining Colonial troops fled themselves -- Gates personally rode over 60 miles in a panic before finally stopping. DeKalb, meanwhile, was brought to a British POW camp, where he was recognized by the British General Cornwallis and treated by Cornwallis’ own doctors. DeKalb died in the POW camp three days later. Gates was immediately court-martialed – a move which he, of course, protested loudly – and was replaced in command by another general, Nathanael Greene.
Greene, unlike Gates, DeKalb, or Lafayette, had actually been born in the colonies; he was the son of a Quaker family in Rhode Island. He had absolutely no military background, but was so passionate about the Revolutionary cause that he had organized his own militia in Rhode Island in 1773 – an act which put him at odds with his religion, and lead to his excommunication. Greene threw himself into the cause, and within only four years was serving under Washington, alongside Lafayette. After Gates’ downfall, Washington personally recommended Greene to replace Gates.
Greene was a brilliant tactician, and under his command the Continental Army confined the British to the Carolinas and weakened them to the point of surrender. All the while, a wildly bitter Gates often spoke out against him – but Greene urged others to forgive him, and even defended Gates for his prior service.
He continued to defend Gates’ reputation after the war. Greene had since retired to an estate in Georgia, where he died six years later. Gates, whose court-martial was ultimately waived, ended up in New York City, serving in the New York State legislature in 1800. He died six years later and is buried in an unmarked grave in Trinity Churchyard on Wall Street.
Lafayette, the youngest of these four soldiers, did the most after the Revolutionary War. During the early days of the French Revolution, Lafayette was part of a team of soldiers impartially seeking to preserve the peace, but was later accused of firing on civilians during one uprising. He tried fleeing to the Netherlands, then to the new United States, but was captured and kept in prison for much of the 1790’s before finally being released by Napoleon. Thomas Jefferson offered Lafayette a governorship of the Louisiana territory, but Lafayette declined, preferring to stay in France and keep his eye on Napoleon.
Then in 1825, President Monroe invited Lafayette to visit the United States to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. During Lafayette’s grand tour, he visited every state, paid his respects at Mount Vernon, visited Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, and was awarded honorary citizenship. He also laid the cornerstone for a new monument in Maryland, paying tribute to his mentor Baron DeKalb.