- Historic Sites
Revolutionary War Hero
May/June 1998 | Volume 49, Issue 3
George Washington’s generals were the only Revolutionary War soldiers well enough known to achieve long-term hero status. Of those men, my candidate for most overrated is Horatio Gates, whose fame derived from the American victory at Saratoga. As Nathaniel Greene remarked, “The foundation of all the Northern success was laid long before [Gates’s] arrival there,” and Gates came “just in time to reap the laurels and rewards.” In other words, by the time Gates appeared to take charge of the Army, it was in shape to withstand and overcome the British, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Gen. Philip Schuyler and to mistakes made by Gen.John Burgoyne.
The two rebel victories near Saratoga (at what is now Schuylerville) owed more to the heroics of Benedict Arnold, Daniel Morgan, and other Gates lieutenants than to the general, who was so far from the fighting he could only imagine what was happening. Then, of course, Gates’s disgraceful performance in 1780 at Camden, where his army was nearly annihilated while he fled from the field, plus his petty sniping at Washington, added nothing to his reputation.
The most underrated, I submit, is the Continental soldier—the likes of Alexander Scammell, a New Hampshire schoolteacher and surveyor who stuck it out through the entire war, from beginning to end. For six and a half years, such men endured hunger, unbelievable hardships, and the neglect of their countrymen, in pursuit of that most precious goal—liberty.