Major General Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton is well known for his success as a statesman and his accomplishments as the first Secretary of the Treasury, but the title that Hamilton was most proud of was that of major general. Alexander Hamilton was born around 1755 (the exact year is disputed due to a lack of a birth certificate) on the island of Nevis in the West Indies, the illegitimate son of James Hamilton, a Scottish merchant, and Rachel Fawcette Levine, a divorcee.
Orphaned at the age of 13, Hamilton’s fortunes soon changed for the better. His remarkable writing skills, which became evident at an early age, attracted the interest of wealthy benefactors who arranged for him to move to New York and enroll at King’s College (now Columbia University) in 1772. Hamilton excelled academically, but following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, he felt called to join the fight as a patriot in the Revolutionary War.
On 17 March 1776, Hamilton was commissioned as captain of the Provisional Company of the New York Artillery. Throughout the following months, Hamilton and his men saw action, but without adequate pay or provisions. Hamilton continually tried to recruit more troops and to improve the lot of those under him. He worked tirelessly to persuade the New York Congress to provide his men with more supplies, but to little avail. His lack of success in this regard mirrored the failure of Commander-in-Chief GEN George Washington to obtain sufficient support for the overall war effort from the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
In April 1776, Hamilton and his company, following orders from GEN Washington, built Fort Bunker Hill near New York City as one of some fourteen emplacements set up to help the Continental Army defend Manhattan. This initial effort earned praise from Washington for both Hamilton and his troops.
While the Continentals were prepared for a British attack at Manhattan, they were not expecting to have to defend Long Island, where the British did in fact come ashore. The limited American troops at that location were routed by the superior British forces. Hamilton’s company at Fort Bunker Hill was cut off by the British, but with the help of CPT Aaron Burr, who was sent to their aid by Washington, Hamilton and his men managed to extricate some of their weaponry, including two cannons, but were forced to abandon other equipment.
On 28 October, Hamilton’s company helped the American forces to narrowly defeat the British in the Battle of White Plains. During the Christmas Day victory against the Redcoats at Trenton, Washington was impressed by the young captain’s leadership and courage under fire. Little more than a week later, Hamilton led his troops in the Battle of Princeton on 2 January 1777, where the British were again soundly defeated.
GEN Washington soon decided to tap Hamilton to serve as his aide-de-camp, despite the captain’s youth and inexperience. In March, Hamilton was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel at the tender age of 20.
As aide-de-camp, Hamilton was expected to anticipate, comprehend, and relay Washington’s orders to the rebel forces. Despite getting high marks from the general for his performance in this role, Hamilton was disappointed that he was never promoted to any rank higher than lieutenant colonel and that his requests for a regiment to command had been ignored. Hamilton felt that given his role and level of responsibility as aide-de-camp to the commander-in-chief, he deserved greater respect and recognition. Hamilton eventually resigned from Washington’s staff in early 1781, following a seemingly inconsequential argument with Washington, and later commanded a battalion under MG Marquis de Lafayette. Hamilton’s last actions in the Revolutionary War occurred in October 1781 at the Battle of Yorktown, where he led a successful night attack against Redoubt No. 10, a key position in the British defenses. His courage and bravery was praised by Washington himself and he was later promoted to colonel.
Following his military career, Hamilton served as the first Secretary of the Treasury under President Washington. He was instrumental in the creation of the U.S. Mint, stock and bond markets, and the Federal Reserve. As tensions rose against France, Hamilton returned to the Army in July 1798 as a major general and served as the Army’s inspector general and second in command to Washington. He later served as the Army’s senior officer upon the death of GEN Washington on 14 December 1799 and remained in that capacity until 15 June 1800. Hamilton’s life ended abruptly when he was mortally wounded in a duel with Aaron Burr in Weehawken, New Jersey, on 11 July 1804.
Hamilton’s legacy continues in the Army to this day. Battery D, 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), traces its lineage to Hamilton’s Revolutionary War artillery company and is the oldest serving unit in the Regular Army.