American Revolution: General Thomas Gage

General Thomas Gage
Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Thomas Gage (March 10, 1718 or 1719–April 2, 1787) was a British Army general who commanded troops during the beginning of the American Revolution. Prior to this, he served as the colonial governor of Massachusetts Bay. In 1775, he was replaced as the British military commander-in-chief by General William Howe.

Fast Facts: Thomas Gage

  • Known For: Gage commanded British Army forces during the early stages of the American Revolution.
  • Born: March 10, 1718 or 1719 in Firle, England
  • Parents: Thomas Gage and Benedicta Maria Teresa Hall
  • Died: April 2, 1787 in London, England
  • Education: Westminster School
  • Spouse: Margaret Kemble Gage (m. 1758)
  • Children: Henry Gage, William Gage, Charlotte Gage, Louisa Gage, Marion Gage, Harriet Gage, John Gage, Emily Gage

Early Life

The second son of the 1st Viscount Gage and Benedicta Maria Teresa Hall, Thomas Gage was born in Firle, England, in 1718 or 1719. At the Westminster School, he became friends with John Burgoyne, Richard Howe, and the future Lord George Germain. Gage developed a fierce attachment to the Anglican Church and a deep distaste for Roman Catholicism. After leaving school, he joined the British Army as an ensign and commenced recruiting duties in Yorkshire.

Flanders and Scotland

In 1741, Gage purchased a commission as a lieutenant in the 1st Northampton Regiment. The following year, in May 1742, he transferred to Battereau's Foot Regiment with the rank of captain-lieutenant. In 1743, Gage was promoted to captain and joined the Earl of Albemarle's staff as an aide-de-camp in Flanders for service during the War of the Austrian Succession. With Albemarle, Gage saw action during the Duke of Cumberland's defeat at the Battle of Fontenoy. Shortly thereafter, he, along with the bulk of Cumberland's army, returned to Britain to deal with the Jacobite Rising of 1745. Gage served in Scotland during the Culloden campaign.

Peacetime

After campaigning with Albemarle in the Low Countries from 1747 to 1748, Gage was able to purchase a commission as a major. After moving to Colonel John Lee's 55th Regiment of Foot, Gage began a long friendship with future American general Charles Lee. A member of White's Club in London, he proved popular with his peers and cultivated important political connections.

With the 55th, Gage proved himself an able leader and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1751. Two years later, he mounted a campaign for Parliament but was defeated in the election of April 1754. After remaining in Britain another year, Gage and his regiment, re-designated the 44th, was sent to North America in to take part in General Edward Braddock's campaign against Fort Duquesne during the French and Indian War.

Service in America

Braddock's army moved slowly as it sought to cut a road through the wilderness. On July 9, 1755, the British column neared its target from the southeast with Gage leading vanguard. Spotting a mixed force of French and Native Americans, his men initiated the Battle of the Monongahela. The engagement quickly went against the British and in several hours of fighting, Braddock was killed and his army routed. In the course of the battle, the commander of the 44th, Colonel Peter Halkett, was killed and Gage was slightly wounded.

Following the battle, Captain Robert Orme accused Gage of poor field tactics. While the accusations were dismissed, it prevented Gage from receiving permanent command of the 44th. In the course of the campaign, he became acquainted with George Washington and the two men stayed in contact for several years after the battle. After a role in a failed expedition along the Mohawk River intended to resupply Fort Oswego, Gage was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to take part in an abortive attempt against the French fortress of Louisbourg. There, he received permission to raise a regiment of light infantry for service in North America.

New York Frontier

Promoted to colonel in December 1757, Gage spent the winter in New Jersey recruiting for his new unit. On July 7, 1758, Gage led his new command against Fort Ticonderoga as part of Major General James Abercrombie's failed attempt to capture the fortress. Slightly wounded in the attack, Gage, with some assistance from his brother Lord Gage, was able to secure promotion to brigadier general. In New York City, Gage met with Jeffery Amherst, the new British commander-in-chief in America. While in the city, he married Margaret Kemble on December 8, 1758. The following month, Gage was appointed to command Albany and its surrounding posts.

Montreal

Amherst gave Gage command of British forces on Lake Ontario with orders to capture Fort La Galette and Montreal. Concerned that expected reinforcements from Fort Duquesne had not arrived, Gage suggested reinforcing Niagara and Oswego instead while Amherst and Major General James Wolfe moved into Canada. This lack of aggression was noted by Amherst and when the attack on Montreal was launched, Gage was placed in command of the rear guard. Following the city's capture in 1760, Gage was installed as military governor. Though he disliked Catholics and Native Americans, he proved an able administrator.

Commander-in-Chief

In 1761, Gage was promoted to major general and two years later returned to New York as acting commander-in-chief. The appointment was made official on November 16, 1764. As the new commander-in-chief in America, Gage inherited a Native American uprising known as Pontiac's Rebellion. Though he sent out expeditions to deal with the Native Americans, he also pursued diplomatic solutions to the conflict as well. After two years of sporadic fighting, a peace treaty was signed in July 1766. At the same time, however, tensions were rising in the colonies due to a variety of taxes imposed by London.

Revolution Approaches

In response to the outcry raised against the 1765 Stamp Act, Gage began recalling troops from the frontier and concentrating them in coastal cities, particularly New York. To accommodate his men, Parliament passed the Quartering Act (1765), which allowed troops to be housed in private residences. With the passage of the 1767 Townshend Acts, the focus of resistance shifted north to Boston, and Gage responded by sending troops to that city. On March 5, 1770, the situation came to a head with the Boston Massacre. After being taunted, British troops fired into a crowd, killing five civilians. Gage's understanding of the underlying issues evolved during this time. Initially thinking the unrest to be the work of a small number of elites, he later came to believe that the problem was the result of democracy in colonial governments.

In 1772, Gage requested a leave of absence and returned to England the following year. He missed the Boston Tea Party (December 16, 1773) and the outcry in response to the Intolerable Acts. Having proven himself an able administrator, Gage was appointed to replace Thomas Hutchinson as governor of Massachusetts on April 2, 1774. Gage was initially well received, as Bostonians were happy to be rid of Hutchinson. His popularity quickly began to decline, though, as he moved to implement the Intolerable Acts. With tensions increasing, Gage began a series of raids in September to seize colonial munitions.

While an early raid on Somerville, Massachusetts, was successful, it touched off the Powder Alarm, which saw thousands of colonial militiamen mobilize and move toward Boston. Though later dispersed, the event had an impact on Gage. Concerned about not escalating the situation, Gage did not attempt to quash groups such as the Sons of Liberty and was criticized by his own men for being too lenient as a result. In April 1775, Gage ordered 700 men to march to Concord to capture colonial powder and guns. On the way, active fighting began at Lexington and was continued at Concord. Though British troops were able to clear each town, they sustained heavy casualties during their march back to Boston.

Following the fighting at Lexington and Concord, Gage found himself besieged in Boston by a growing colonial army. Concerned that his wife, a colonial by birth, was aiding the enemy, Gage sent her away to England. Reinforced in May by 4,500 men under Major General William Howe, Gage began planning a breakout. This was thwarted in June when colonial forces fortified Breeds Hill north of the city. In the resulting Battle of Bunker Hill, Gage's men were able to capture the heights but sustained over 1,000 casualties in the process. That October, Gage was recalled to England and Howe was given temporary command of the British forces in America.

Death

In England, Gage reported to Lord George Germain, now the Secretary of State of the American Colonies, that a large army would be necessary to defeat the Americans and that foreign troops would need to be hired. In April 1776, a command was permanently given to Howe and Gage was placed on the inactive list. He remained in semi-retirement until April 1781, when Amherst called upon him to raise troops to resist a possible French invasion. Promoted to general on November 20, 1782, Gage saw little active service and died at the Isle of Portland on April 2, 1787.

Legacy

Gage was survived by his wife and five children. His son Henry went on to become a British Army officer and member of Parliament, while his son William became a commander in the British Navy. The Canadian village of Gagetown was named after him.