American Revolution: General Thomas Gage

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

Early Career

The second son of the 1st Viscount Gage and Benedicta Maria Teresa Hall, 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. While at Westminster, he developed a fierce attachment to the Anglican Church while also developing a deep distaste for Roman Catholicism. Departing school, Gage joined the British Army as an ensign and commenced recruiting duties in Yorkshire.

Flanders & Scotland

On January 30, 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 (62nd Regiment of Foot) 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. Taking the field, Gage served in Scotland during the Culloden campaign.

Peacetime

After campaigning with Albemarle in the Low Countries in 1747-1748, Gage 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 and Lord Barrington who later served as Secretary at War.

While 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 & Indian War.

Service in America

Moving north and west from Alexandria, VA, Braddock's army moved slowly as it sought to cut a road through the wilderness. On July 9, 1755, the British column neared their target from the southeast with Gage leading vanguard. Spotting a mixed force of French and Native Americans, his men opened 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 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.

Montreal

That July, 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 as well as that the strength of Fort La Galette's garrison was unknown, 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.

Commander-in-Chief

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.

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.

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.