Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Monarchist Profile: General Thomas Gage
th Foot after the regimental commander was killed. General Braddock himself was killed and in the effort to assign blame the aide-de-camp of the late general pointed the finger at Gage which robbed him of the post of permanent commander of the 44th. George Washington also later joined the chorus against Gage but simply because he resented British officers having greater authority than colonial leaders like himself.
Gage helped organize the first British light infantry while serving in America and was recommended for promotion to full colonel. In 1758, in Albany, New York, he married Margaret Kemble, a New Jersey-born young lady of famous beauty. Later Gage led the vanguard in the British army that attacked Fort Carillon, a disaster for the British and probably the most stunning French victory of the war in which less than 4,000 French troops defeated a British army of 16,000, inflicting heavy casualties. Gage was again wounded in the attack and despite the defeat was commended for his bravery and, partly thanks to his brother Viscount Gage, was promoted to brigadier general and placed in command of Albany under Lord Amherst. However, his decision not to move against a particular French fort as ordered angered his superiors and Gage was more or less sidelined for the rest of the conflict. Once the war was over and Canada was in British hands, Gage was made military governor of Montreal. His wife joined him and their first two of their seven children were born there. As an administrator he received mostly good marks though he found it hard to get along with the French lords and Catholic clergy who were at the top of the social hierarchy.
Once back in America, after an initial warm reception, Gage began to draw criticism from both sides. The colonial “Patriot” groups despised him as the enforcer of unpopular British laws while many in London felt he was not being tough enough and allowed too many groups (most famously the Sons of Liberty) to carry on in spite of being flagrantly treasonous. Gage paid little mind to such groups. He was convinced that democracy was the real problem and that it was the local elected assemblies which were the breeding ground for sedition. He was content to see these dissolved while letting the rebel mobs vent their anger but at the same time he took measures to confiscate weapons and war materials that could potentially be used against Crown forces. Gage desperately wanted to avoid an all-out conflict, his years of service in North America having taught him that if it were to come to that, it would take a massive British army, a great deal of blood and treasure, to subdue the whole continent and that was a price he doubted that his fellow countrymen back in Britain were willing to pay. In that regard, Gage was ultimately proven correct, but it would take some time before the government in London came to the same conclusion.
An elaborate plan was hatched but the rebels found out about it and moved in first, occupying, among other strategic points, Breed’s Hill. Gage launched an offensive against the position which became known in history as the battle of Bunker Hill. The British forces took heavy casualties and were repulsed more than once. But, their superior discipline and stoic courage won the day and finally, as they advanced again, the colonials broke into a panic and retreated. It had been a costly victory and did not change the overall strategic situation. London was not pleased and the battle was thrown onto the scales along with all the other complaints the national leadership had with Gage. He had won the battle but most, like General Clinton, recognized that Britain simply did not have the manpower to win such costly victories with frontal assaults. Gage was relieved of his command and replaced by General Sir William Howe, a great battlefield tactician but a man lacking in ‘killer instincts’.
General Gage, quite obviously, did not dislike the Americans and he correctly realized that they had been given far too much autonomy in their local assemblies for far too long. As a result, they resented any interference from London. Unfortunately, by the time Gage came along this situation had existed for too long to be overturned without provoking a full blown rebellion. Gage also realized, from his rather rough experience in the French and Indian War, that Britain would have to commit massive amounts of soldiers, hire foreign mercenaries and maintain a naval blockade of the entire continent to win an all-out war. In provoking him to action, London was effectively ordering him to start a war he did not have the tools to win. In the end, Boston had to be abandoned before the government realized that Gage had been correct and sent over the largest expeditionary force Britain had ever dispatched up to that time, complete with hired Hessians and a naval blockade. General Gage will certainly not be listed among the great captains of British military history but, he is nonetheless underrated.