American Revolution: General Thomas Gage

Thomas Gage, British Army
General Thomas Gage. Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Thomas Gage - Early Career:

The second son of the 1st Viscount Gage, Thomas Gage was born at Firle, England in 1719. Sent to the Westminster School, Gage became friends with John Burgoyne, Richard Howe, and the future Lord George Germain. Departing school, Gage joined the British Army as an ensign and commenced recruiting duties in Yorkshire. On January 30, 1741, he purchased a commission as a lieutenant in the 1st Northampton Regiment.

  The following year he transferred to Battereau's Foot Regiment (62nd Regiment of Foot). In 1743, Gage was promoted to captain and joined the Earl of Albemarle's staff as an aide-de-camp.

With Albemarle, Gage saw action at the Battle of Fontenoy and served in Scotland during the Culloden campaign. After campaigning in the Low Countries in 1747-1748, he was able to purchase a commission as a major. 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 several important political connections including Jeffery Amherst. While with the 55th, Gage proved himself an able leader and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1751. Four years later, the regiment, re-designated the 44th, was sent to America to take part in General Edward Braddock's campaign against Fort Duquesne during the French & Indian War.

Thomas Gage - Service in America:

Moving north and west from Alexandria, VA, Braddock's column was ambushed and badly defeated at the Battle of the Monongahela on July 9, 1755. In the fighting, 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, Gage was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia. There he received permission to raise a regiment of light infantry for service in North America. 

Promoted to colonel in December 1757, Gage spent the winter in New Jersey recruiting for his new unit which had been designated the 80th Regiment of Light-Armed Foot. 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 a promotion to brigadier general. Traveling to New York City, Gage met with Amherst who was 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.

That July, Amherst gave Gage command of British forces on Lake Ontario with orders to capture Fort La Galette and Montreal.

Concerned that he lacked the strength to do so, he suggested reinforcing Niagara and Oswego instead while Amherst and Major General James Wolfe attacked 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 Indians, he proved an able administrator.

In 1761, Gage was promoted to major general and two years later returned to New York as acting commander-in-chief. This 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 concluded in July 1766. As peace was achieved on the frontier, tensions were rising in the colonies due to a variety of taxes imposed by London.

Thomas Gage - Revolution Approaches:

In response to the outcry raised against the 1765 Stamp Act, Gage began recalling troops from the frontier and concentrating them in the 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 passage of the 1767 Townshend Acts, the focus of resistance shifted north to Boston. 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 the prevalence of democracy in colonial governments.

Promoted to lieutenant general later in 1770, Gage requested a leave of absence two years later and returned to England. Departing on June 8, 1773, Gage 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. Arriving that May, Gage was initially well received as Bostonians were happy to be rid of Hutchinson. His popularity quickly began to decline as he moved to implement the Intolerable Acts. With tensions increasing, Gage began a series of raids in September to seize colonial supplies of munitions.

While an early raid to Somerville, MA was successful, it touched off the Powder Alarm which saw thousands of colonial militiamen mobilize and move towards Boston.  Though later dispersed, the event had a 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 as being too lenient as a result.

On April 18/19, 1775, Gage ordered 700 men to march to Concord to capture colonial powder and guns. En route, 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 given temporary command of British forces in America.

Thomas Gage - Later Life:

Arriving home, 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, command was permanently given to Howe and Gage 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.

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