A Founder who was a Vet
edited: Tuesday, November 11, 2008
By Juliet Waldron
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Tuesday, November 11, 2008
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Alexander Hamilton--the guy on the $10 that nobody knows anymore.
Just a few paragraphs on this Veterans' Day, about Alexander Hamilton the Vet. When the Revolution began, he formed a company of artillery men. He used money that had been given to him for his college education (he was a charity kid from the West Indies) to outfit and arm a company of men from his new "home" town, New York City. This is what today might be called "putting your money where your mouth is."
There was a test for Captains in the Revolutionary Artillery--they had to be able to do sufficient trigonometry to aim and hit--and as math was always Hamilton's thing, that part was not difficult. Back then, artillery stood on the front line with the infantry, which means the enemy was shooting straight at you, just as they were the foot soldiers.
Hamilton and his company survived Washington's retreat from New York City. Earlier on that fateful day, he had been ordered to stand and die by his immediate superior. As he was preparing to do so, a certain Colonel Burr came riding up, and persuaded him that he and his men could serve The Cause better if they were all still breathing. (If you know the rest of the story, you'll know that this is one of History's little ironies.)
The Colonel, who knew the ground well, guided them out of the pincers movement that was closing on them. Hamilton and his men marched off in good order, and dug trenches that night at Washington's new line. Tradition says that this is the moment where the General may have first noticed him.
Hamilton crossed the Delaware that famous Christmas Eve with Washington, his men and those tired, French & Indian War cannon. He marched beside through the ice and snow to Trenton, and participated in the surprise attack there and later at Princeton.
Later, after he became an aide de camp to Washington, he was ordered to burn two barges on the enemy side of the Schuykill. Taking a mounted force with him, they made an attempt, but, unfortunately, they were surprised by a larger British force before fulfilling their objective. Most of the American riders fled, but Hamilton and others who were already trying to fire the barges had to escape by swimming.
At Yorktown, Hamilton and his infantry men, on foot at night, with bayonets fixed and no shots fired, captured Redoute Ten during the battle which would lead to Cornwallis' surrender.
There are other Hamilton war stories, but I'll get to my point, which is that this particular Founding Founder was a soldier in the most "boots on the ground" sense. He knew what it was to be cold, hungry, exhausted, outnumbered and shot at. He nearly died of pneumonia during the Valley Forge Winter, like so many nameless others.
While most kneel at the statue of Jefferson, I think it took all kinds of ideas and all kinds of talents and all kinds of points of view to create our America, so I'll give the man who is better known as a financier his due as a soldier. And, just to give the Great Virginian the needle, I'll end by saying that Thomas Jefferson spent the Revolution ensconced comfortably at one of his many plantations.