Soldier in the Revolution

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First Meeting of Washington and Hamilton by Henry Alexander Ogden.

Their First Meeting

The artist has given us a likely look at the first time General Washington met Hamilton. His rescue of the cannons had been noticed, talked about, and resulted in this meeting. Hamilton joined the cause of freedom as a captain of a New York artillery unit. By March 1st, 1777, he had accepted the post of Aide-de-Camp to General Washington. The close relationship that began at this time lasted twenty-two years during which Washington praised Hamilton generously several times. In a letter to President John Adams of September 25, 1798, Washington describes Hamilton “as the principal & most confidential aid[e] of the Commander in Chief.”

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An Impressive General

Here is General Washington in a dress uniform, looking quite different from the images normally seen of the Continental Army regulars in whatever clothing they happened to have on. Washington, a prosperous Virginia landowner and surveyor, had married Martha Custis, one of the wealthiest women in the colonies, and thus became even wealthier with control of her assets. Some of his clothing was ordered from London, but perhaps not this uniform.

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A Contemporary Map of New York

As you can see, this map is very interesting and very well drawn, with the battle positions of the various forces clearly shown. Have a good look and see if you can find some places familiar to you.

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Alexander Hamilton in uniform of the New York Artillery by Alonzo Chappel.

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Artillery Captain Hamilton

As a New York Artillery Captain, Hamilton traveled with the Army to New Jersey and Pennsylvania and took part in the battles of Trenton and Princeton. Washington observed Hamilton during this time.

Impressed, Washington offered Hamilton a position as Aide-de-Camp, and Hamilton was appointed to this position with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel on the 1st of March 1777. Washington soon came to regard him as his most trusted assistant. In this capacity, Hamilton communicated with many military officers, governors, citizens and Congress. 

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Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834)

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Col. John Laurens (1754-1782).


As General Washington’s Aide-de-Camp, Hamilton corresponded and met with many people, among them Baron von Steuben and the Marquis de Lafayette, both of whom he got to know quite well. As a member of General Washington's military family, Hamilton became a close friend with John Laurens from South Carolina, who was appointed Aide-de-Camp just a few months after Hamilton. The friends shared bold hopes and ideas, bravery, endurance, and determination. Laurens did not live to see the end of the Revolutionary War. He was killed in a skirmish with a British detachment in South Carolina in August of 1782. 

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Baron von Steuben (1730-1794).

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Baron von Steuben promissory note, April 6, 1790. 

Baron von Steuben Comes to America

Europeans the Marquis de Lafayette, Tadeusz Kościuszko, Baron de Kalb, and Baron von Steuben were deeply enthusiastic about American liberty and brought their skills to the Continental Army. Steuben helped a great deal in training and increasing the effectiveness of the Army during the spring of 1778 at Valley Forge. Because Hamilton was fluent in French, he facilitated communication with Steuben, who spoke very little English. Hamilton also assisted him in creating his drill manual for the American troops, which remained in use for many years. Steuben’s influence on American troop performance was put on display during the battle of Monmouth in June of 1778. Hamilton demonstrated his lasting respect and friendship for Steuben by fighting to ensure proper compensation for his services by Congress.

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Loyalty Oath

Here is Hamilton’s Loyalty Oath of May 12, 1778. Amid the chaos of the Revolutionary War, civilian and military authorities required people to sign loyalty oaths so that it would be clear what side they supported.

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Portrait of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton by Ralph Earl, 1787.

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Dr. Jabez Campfield House, known today as the Schuyler-Hamilton House Museum in Morristown, owned and maintained by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Here Alexander first courted Betsey Schuyler in the winter of 1780.

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Front Parlor where Hamilton visited and courted Betsey.

Hamilton in Love

As Aide-de-Camp, Hamilton had numerous opportunities to socialize with military families and hosts during the lengthy winter months. During the harsh winter of 1780, when Washington’s army wintered near Morristown, Hamilton began courting Elizabeth (Betsey) Schuyler, the second daughter of General Philip Schuyler and Catherine van Rensselaer Schuyler. The Schuylers were among the most notable and wealthy families of upstate New York. Betsey had come down from Albany to visit her aunt and uncle, who were staying just a short distance from Washington’s Headquarters. By April Hamilton had received permission from Betsey’s parents to marry their daughter.

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Betsey Schuyler's wedding ring.

December Wedding in Albany

After a long-distance courtship, because Alexander was serving in the army, he and Elizabeth were married on December 14, 1780, at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany. The first home that Alexander and Elizabeth rented as a couple was on DePeyster’s Point on the Hudson River. It was right across from Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh, allowing Hamilton, who had terminated his service as aide-de-camp, to cross the river easily and continue helping General Washington when there was shortage of staff. He always wanted to be in a military command position, which he continued to request from Washington.

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Portrait miniature of Hamilton by Charles Willson Peale, ca. 1780.

Betsey's Handiwork

The embroidery surrounding this miniature portrait of Hamilton is said to have been created by Betsey herself.

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Redoubt 10 at Yorktown. 

Hero of Yorktown

By July of 1781, Hamilton was back in Washington's Camp, having received the promise of a military command. By September, the American and French forces had surrounded British General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia, and started besieging his position. On October 14th, Hamilton led a battalion in a daring midnight attack on Redoubt 10, surprising the British and overtaking the position in 10 minutes, while a French battalion simultaneously attacked and took Redoubt 9. These victories caused Cornwallis to surrender in the last major battle of the Revolution. 

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The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, October 19, 1781, by John Trumbull (1756-1843). Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery.

Passing the Sword

In this painting, British General Charles O'Hara surrenders Lord Cornwallis's sword to American General Benjamin Lincoln. Cornwallis pretended to be ill in order to avoid surrendering in person. Because the commander of the British forces was represented by an officer of lower rank, Washington had Lincoln receive the sword instead of him. The British band reportedly played the song “The World Turned Upside Down” as the newest nation won the final major land battle of the Revolution against the most impressive army of the period, with the help of the French fleet and army. Peace did not officially come until the Treaty of Paris was signed in September 1783. With his reputation secured by his battlefield heroics, Hamilton left military service.

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This Society of the Cincinnati medal belonged to Alexander Hamilton. Pierre-Charles L'Enfant designed the insignia for the Society in 1783 - a double-sided medal in the shape of the bald eagle.

The Army Experience

When the Revolutionary War was nearing its end, the officers realized they would not see one another so often in the future. The Society of the Cincinnati was formed, honoring Cincinnatus, the Roman general who relinquished power and returned to his plow after defending his country from invasion. Like Cincinnatus, General Washington also resigned his command and returned to his farm at Mt. Vernon.

This is Hamilton’s medal from the Society. Washington was the first President-General of the Society, and Hamilton was the second.

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Washington's Evacuation Day Entry into New York.

Evacuation Day

George Washington made a triumphant entry into New York on November 25th, 1783, riding to Bowling Green. The British had just left from the Battery. Greeted by jubilant crowds, he saw the American Stars and Stripes proudly raised in place of the British Union Jack. 

Evacuation Day was celebrated in America well into the 20th century. Its commemorations ended in 1916. In recent years, Evacuation Day has been celebrated again in lower Manhattan, and the area around Bowling Green has been renamed Evacuation Day Plaza.

On December 4th, 1783, Washington summoned his officers to Fraunces Tavern to tell them he would be resigning his commission and returning to civilian life at Mt. Vernon. It was a highly emotional farewell for all.