In what is now referred to as the “Conway Cabal,” Gates was championed by General Thomas Conway as a replacement for George Washington as commander in chief following Gates’ victory over British General John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga and Washington’s defeats at Brandywine and Germantown. Conway was initially passed over for promotion to major general by Congress due to Washington’s opposition to his selection. Conway, in association with other senior Continental Army officers, encouraged Gates’ ambitions to become commander in chief and denigrated Washington’s abilities in letters that were forwarded to Congress.
Washington received copies of these letters and questioned Gates and Conway about them, which led to an apology by Gates and a duplicitous apology by Conway. After the plot was exposed, congressional support for replacing Washington as commander in chief waned. As a result of his criticism against Washington, Conway became engaged in a duel with Brigadier General John Cadwalader on July 4, 1778, in which Conway was shot in the mouth, with the bullet exiting through his head. The severity of the wound led Conway to believe he would die, and, in contemplation of his death, he wrote a more contrite letter of apology to Washington that is copied below. Courtesy of a transcript from the National Archives, the letter reads,
Philadelphia the 23d July 1778
I find my self just able to hold the penn During a few Minutes, and take this opportunity of expressing my sincere grief for having Done, Written, or said any thing Disagreeable to your excellency. my carreer will soon be over, therefore justice and truth prompt me to Declare my Last sentiments. you are in my eyes the great and the good Man. May you Long enjoy the Love, Veneration and Esteem of these states whose Libertys you have asserted by your Virtues. I am With the greatest respect sir your Excellency’s Most obedt humble Servant
Conway survived, and later rejoined the French army, but due to his support for the royalists, he was forced to leave France and died in exile.