Horatio Gates led the American army that defeated the British in what many consider one of history’s most important battles, yet the Revolutionary War figure lies forgotten somewhere in the graveyard at Manhattan’s historic Trinity Church.
That will change this weekend, when the Daughters of the American Revolution dedicate a memorial marker to Gates at the cemetery located in the heart of New York City’s Wall Street district.
The marker recognizes Gates as “Victor At Saratoga” for commanding the American forces that defeated a British army and forced its surrender on Oct. 17, 1777, following two battles fought just outside Saratoga along the upper Hudson River in what is now Stillwater. The outcome at Saratoga convinced the French to join the war against England, and it was French troops, supplies and money that would help lead to the eventual American victory at Yorktown in 1781.
Officials with the Daughters of the American Revolution said Sunday’s dedication ceremony will honor a forgotten American military hero for his role in the Battles of Saratoga, considered by many historians as the turning point of the Revolutionary War.
“He’s been mostly forgotten for 200 years, and we’re pleased to be able to rectify that with this memorial,” Denise Doring VanBuren, the New York DAR’s state regent, said during a wreath-laying ceremony held last Friday in Gates’ honor at Saratoga National Historical Park, site of the history-changing battles.
Although the British-born Gates was the overall American commander at Saratoga, the field commanders serving under him tend to get most of the credit for directing the battles fought on Sept. 19 and Oct. 7, 1777. Among them was a combat-tested, 36-year-old from Connecticut: Benedict Arnold.
“I think that’s bunk,” said James Kaplan, a 63-year-old Manhattan lawyer and longtime tour guide in the financial district. His annual Fourth of July nighttime walking tour of Revolutionary War sites includes a stop at Trinity’s graveyard, where he tells Gates’ story.
“Gates was the commanding officer, he designed the whole battle,” said Kaplan, who led the effort to get a DAR memorial placed at the graveyard.
The brash Arnold, still three years away from turning traitor, came out of the Saratoga battles a wounded hero, suffering a severe leg injury during a charge. Meanwhile, the more cautious Gates, then 50, saw his military career decline despite his victory at Saratoga, according to Joe Craig, a National Park Service ranger at the Saratoga battlefield.
“He’s the pitcher of record,” Craig said. “If things had gone wrong, it would have been right in Gen. Gates’ lap.”
Gates’ post-Saratoga years were tainted when supporters suggested he should replace George Washington as commander of the Army. That was followed by a disastrous defeat of American forces under Gates’ command at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina. Afterward, detractors said Gates fled the battlefield on horseback and kept on riding until he reached North Carolina.
His reputation never fully recovered.
After the Revolutionary War, he settled in Manhattan and entered New York politics for a brief period in the early 1800s. Archivists at Trinity Church say records show he was buried in the graveyard on April 11, 1806. An old plaque at the churchyard entrance lists him among the 16 Revolutionary War officers buried there, but his gravestone, like many others in the 300-year-old cemetery, has disappeared and the exact location of his grave is unknown.