Thomas Gage

From Academic Kids

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Engraving of Thomas Gage

Sir Thomas Gage (1719April 2, 1787) was a British general and commander in chief of the North American forces from 1763 to 1778 during the early days of the American Revolution.


Early life

Gage was born in Firle Sussex, the second son of the first Viscount Gage. In 1728, Gage began attending the prestigious Westminster School where he met such figures as John Burgoyne, Richard Howe, Francis Bernard, and George Sackville. Upon graduation, Gage joined the British Army, first as an ensign before purchasing the rank of lieutenant in the 1st Northampton Regiment on January 30 1741. In 1742 he transferred to Battereau's Foot Regiment and became a captain-lieutenant. Gage received promotion to captain in 1743 and served as aide-de-camp to the Earl of Albemarle in the Battle of Fontenoy and in the campaign of Culloden. From 1747-48 Gage saw action in the Low Countries, purchasing the rank of Major in 1748. He transferred to the 55th Foot Regiment (later re-numbered the 44th) and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in March 1751.

French and Indian War

In 1754 Gage was sent to America as part of in General Braddock's expeditionary force. Future military foe George Washington served with Gage in the same expedition. In July 1755 the 44th Regiment's commander, Colonel Sir Peter Halkett, was shot and killed during the Battle of the Monongahela. Gage took command of the regiment and was slightly wounded during the fighting. The regiment was decimated, and Captain Robert Orme (General Braddock's aide-de-camp at the time) leveled charges that poor field tactics on the part of Gage had led to the defeat. Orme resigned his army commission the next year, but his accusations led to Gage being denied permanent command of the 44th Regiment.

Gage spent 1756 as second-in-command of a failed expedition of the Mohawk River. The following year, he was assigned to Captain-General John Campbell Loudoun in Halifax, Nova Scotia where Gage commanded the 80th Regiment and finally received promotion to full colonel. Gage was wounded again during a failed attempt to capture Fort Ticonderoga. Despite this loss, Gage was promoted to brigadier general (largely through the political manuvering of his brother, Viscount William Hall Gage). While recruiting locals for his new regiment, Gage met and later married Margaret Kemble of Brunswick, New Jersey - the daughter of a friend from Westminster School who now served on the New Jersey council. The two were wed in December 1758. Their first son, the future 3rd Viscount Gage, was born in 1761.

The new general was placed in command of the Albany post, serving under Major General Jeffrey Amherst. In 1759 Amherst ordered Gage to march against the French and seize Fort la Présentation (sometimes known as Fort La Galette) and then capture Montreal. Gage disagreed with Amherst, suggesting instead that his own forces be used to reinforce Niagara and Oswego while Amherst, himself, lead forces against Montreal. Gage wound up earning the displeasure of his commanding officer and being placed in charge of Fort Albany until Amherst himself was ready to attack Montreal in 1760 (at which time Gage led Amherst's rear guard).


After the French surrendered, Gage was named military governor of Montreal. In 1761 he was promoted major general and placed in command of the 22nd Regiment. When Amherst returned to England in August 1763 Gage assumed command of the British forces in America. Though the British were now at peace with France, Gage's new command inhereited a Native American uprising already in progress on the western frontier. In May 1763 Ottawa leader Chief Pontiac's forces attacked Fort Detroit, in the first action of what would come to be known as Pontiac's War.

Hoping to end the conflict diplomatically, Gage ordered Colonel John Bradstreet and Colonel Henry Bouquet out on military expeditions and then ordered Sir William Johnson to establish peace negotiations. In August 1764 Colonel Bradstreet established his own treaty with the Native Americans which Gage rejected. Colonel Bouquet negotiated a cease-fire of sorts October 1764. Even then, Gage was left with just two remaining forts from the original nine the tribes had taken. In 1765 Gage finally got the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment through to retake Fort Cavendish. Gage established a new three-district command across the western, southern, and northern areas of the frontier. That same summer, Gage ordered Johnson's office to send a representative through to Pontiac. The conflict would not be fully resolved until Pontiac himself travelled to Fort Ontario and signed a formal treaty with Johnson in July 1766.

Gage's administration now saw a time of rising political tension throughout the American colonies. Gage began withdrawing troops from the frontier to fortify urban centers like New York City and Boston. As the number of soldiers stationed in cities grew, the need to provide adequate food and housing for these troops became urgent. Parliament passed the Quartering Act of 1765, permitting British troops to be quartered in private residences. Gage personally traveled to Boston and spent six weeks there making quartering arrangements for the new soldiers in 1768. The military occupation of Boston eventually led to the Boston Massacre of 1770. That same year, Gage was promoted to lieutenant general.

Gage and his family returned to England in June 1773 and missed the Boston Tea Party in December of that year. The resulting controversy saw British forces shut down Boston Harbor until the colonists had made reparations in full for the lost tea. Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson was 62 years old at the time and the lieutenant governor (Andrew Oliver) was 67. Still in his early 50s and with plenty of military experience in America, Gage was deemed the best man to handle the brewing crisis. In May of 1774 he was appointed martial law governor of Massachusetts, replacing the civilian governor. In that capacity he was entrusted with carrying into effect the Boston Port Act. General Gage strictly enforced the confiscation of war-making materials.

In September 1774 he carried out a mission to seize the gun powder of Somerville, Massachusetts. Gage sucessfully accomplished this mission but was not sucessful in other raids. This was in large part due to Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty. The Sons of Liberty kept careful watch over Gage's activities after this point and sucessfully warned future victims before Gage could mobilize his troops against them.

Gage found himself criticized by his own men for allowing groups like the Sons of Liberty to exist. One of his officers, Hugh Percy remarked, "The general's great lenity and moderation serve only to make them (the Americans) more daring and insolent." Gage himself wrote, "If force is to be used at length, it must be a considerable one, and foreign troops must be hired, for to begin with small numbers will encourage resistance, and not terrify; and will in the end cost more blood and treasure." Edmund Burke described Gage's conflicted relationship by saying in Parliament, "An Englishman is the unfittest person on Earth to argue another Englishman into slavery.

American Revolution

As military governor, Gage ordered that colonial politicians Samuel Adams and John Hancock be arrested for treason. Hancock and Adams had escaped the governor’s agents in Boston and were staying at Lexington. Furthermore, the majority of the colony's militia supported the growing rebel cause and had been gathering a stock of weapons, powder and supplies at Concord. On the night of April 18 1775,Gage ordered 700 British regulars from elite flank and grenadier companies to march from Boston to Lexington and Concord.

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Margaret Kemble Gage, circa 1771

The Battle of Lexington and Concord resulted in 273 total casualties for the British and 95 for the American rebels. The British drove most of the Minutemen from their towns but were ambushed by a gathering force of irregulars during their return march. Both Adams and Hancock escaped, and following the battle Gage issued a proclamation granting a general pardon to all who would demonstrate loyalty to the crown-with the notable exceptions of Hancock and Adams.

Gage began to suspect his wife Margaret, a native colonist, may have sympathies with the rebels. Believing she had betrayed his trust to Major General Joseph Warren of the revolutionaries, Gage ordered Margaret shipped back to Britain.

Following Lexington, the American rebels followed the British back to Boston, and occupied the neck of land extending to the peninsula the city stood on. This began the Siege of Boston. Initially, the 6,000 to 8,000 rebels (led mainly by General Artemas Ward) faced some 4,000 of General Gage’s British regulars, bottled up in the city. British Admiral Samuel Graves commanded the fleet that continued to control the harbor. On May 25, Gage received about 4,500 reinforcements and three new Generals - Major General William Howe and Brigadiers John Burgoyne and Henry Clinton.

Gage started work with his new generals on a plan to break the grip of the besieging forces. They would use an amphibious assault to remove the Americans from the Dorchester Heights or take their headquarters at Cambridge. To thwart these plans, General Ward gave orders to General Israel Putnam to fortify Bunker Hill. On June 17 1775, British forces under General Howe seized the Charlestown peninsula at the Battle of Bunker Hill. They did take their objective, but didn't break out because the Americans held the ground at the base of the peninsula. Gage called it, "A dear bought victory, another such would have ruined us." British losses were so heavy that from this point, the siege essentially became a stalemate.

Return to England

On October 10, 1775 Gage was recalled to England, and Major General Howe replaced him as acting Commander-in-Chief of the British Army occupying America. Gage's report to the cabinet repeated his earlier warnings that "a large army must at length be employed to reduce these people" and would require "the hiring of foreign troops." In April of 1776 George Sackville Germain, British Secretary of State for America, formally transferred permanent command from Gage to Howe.

Gage was reactivated to duty in April 1781 when Amherst appointed him to mobilize troops for a possible French invasion. The next year, Gage assumed command (as a colonel) of the 17th light dragoons. He was finally promoted to full general on November 20 1782, and later transferred to command the 11th dragoons. Gage died on the Isle of Portland on April 2 1787, his wife surviving him by almost 37 years. He was also survived by another Thomas Gage, a young relative who would go on to achieve small fame in the field of botany.

Some British feel Thomas Gage, an important man in North American history, has been unfairly judged by American historians because Gage fought on the side of the British.

External links


Fischer, David Hackett (1995), Paul Revere's Ride, Oxford University Press ISBN 0195098315de:Thomas Gage it:Thomas Gage


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