General Thomas Gage


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General Thomas GageGage, THOMAS, military officer; born in England about 1721; was second son of Viscount Gage; entered the army in his youth; was with Braddock at his defeat on the Monongahela, when he was lieutenant-colonel; and led the advance. In that hot encounter he was wounded. Late in 1758 he married a daughter of Peter Kemble, president of the council of New Jersey. Gage served under Amherst in northern New York and Canada, and on the capture of Montreal by the English in 1760 he was made military governor of that city. He was promoted to major-general, and in 1763 succeeded Amherst as commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America. In 1774 he succeeded Hutchinson as governor of Massachusetts, and occupied Boston with troops, much to the annoyance and irritation of the inhabitants. Acting under instructions from his government rather than in accordance with his conscience and judgment, he took measures which brought on armed resistance to British rule in the colonies. When his demand for 20,000 armed men at Boston was received by the ministry they laughed in derision, believing that a few soldiers could accomplish all that was necessary to make the patriots cower.

Lord Dartmouth wrote to Gage, in the King's name, that the disturbers of the peace in Boston appeared to him like a rude rabble " without a plan, without concert, and without conduct," and thought a small force would be able to encounter them. He instructed him that the first step to be taken towards the re-establishment of government would be to arrest and imprison the principal actors and abettors in the Provincial Congress, whose proceedings appeared like rebellion and treason. He suggested that the measure must be kept a secret until the moment of execution. "If it cannot be accomplished," said Dartmouth, " without bloodshed, and should be a signal for hostilities, I must again repeat, that any efforts of the people, unprepared to encounter with a regular force, cannot be very formidable." This was written only a few weeks before the affairs at Lexington and Concord. Dartmouth continued, " The charter of Massachusetts empowers the governor to use and exercise the law martial in time of rebellion." It appears, from statements in official dispatches, he believed there was an " actual and open rebellion " in that province, and therefore the exercise of his powers named were justifiable. The movements of ministers were keenly watched. " Your chief dependence," wrote Franklin to Massachusetts, "must be on your own virtue and unanimity, which, under God, will bring you through all difficulties." Garnier, the French ambassador at London, wrote to Vergennes, " The minister must recede or lose America forever."


Minutemen Confronting British Redcoats

In his report of the battle of Bunker Hill, General Gage said to Lord Dartmouth, "The trials we have had show the rebels are not the despicable rabble too many have supposed them to be; and I find it owing to a military spirit encouraged among them for a few years past, Joined with uncommon zeal and enthusiasm. They intrench and raise batteries —they have engineers. They have fortified all the heights and passes around this town (Boston), which it is not impossible for them to annoy. The conquest of this country is not easy; you have to cope with vast numbers. In all their wars against the French they never showed so much conduct, attention, and perseverance as they do now. I think it is my duty to let your lordship know the true situation of affairs." Franklin wrote to his English friends, " Americans will fight; England has lost her colonies forever."

Gage, performing no act of courage during the summer of 1775, while Washington was besieging Boston, endeavored to terrify the Americans and to keep up the spirits of his own soldiers by warning the former that thousands of veteran warriors were coming from Russia and the German principalities to crush the "unnatural rebellion." He vented his ill humor upon American prisoners in his hands, casting into prison officers of high rank, thinking thus to terrify the common soldiery, whose intelligence and courage he entirely under-rated in reality, though praising them when it suited his purpose. Against this treatment Washington remonstrated; but Gage insolently scorned to promise " reciprocity with rebels," and replied: "Britons, ever pre-eminent in mercy, have overlooked the criminal in the captive; your prisoners, whose lives, by the laws of the land, are destined to the cord, have hitherto been treated with care and kindness—indiscriminately, it is true, for I acknowledge no rank that is not derived from the King."

Washington remembered that Gage's want of presence of mind had lost the battle of the Monongahela and replied, in a dignified manner: "I shall not stoop to retort and invective. You affect sir, to despise all rank not derived from the same source as your own. I cannot conceive one more honorable than that which flows from the uncorrupted choice of a brave and free people, the purest source and original fountain of all power. Far from making it plea for cruelty, a mind of true magnanimity would comprehend and respect it."

After the affairs at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, Gage was ungenerously held responsible for the blunders of the ministry, and resigned his command in October, 1775, when he was succeeded by General William Howe as chief of the forces in America. He died in England, April 2, 1787.



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