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Edward D. Reuss
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                       Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by artist John Trumbull  1806

In Part 1 of Alexander Hamilton, we saw how he was not only a gifted writer, but was also a valiant soldier.   His service as Aide to General George Washington after the Battles of Trenton and Princeton revealed how valuable a person he truly was.   However,  he was in fact an ambitious person as well.  He was well aware that the war record of those who served in the Continental Army would be remembered by those who gained their freedom from British rule.   As the war in the Northern Theatre of Operations grew to be more static, and the Southern Theatre grew in intensity, Hamilton grew uncomfortable as a staff officer under Washington and continuously asked for a combat command.  Washington was very reluctant to lose the service of so able a staff officer.

After the Battles of Cowpens and Kings Mountain in the Carolinas,  the defeated British General Charles “Lord” Cornwallis decided that it was time to end the pursuit of the American Army in the South. He made the fatal error of taking his army to the York River at a small town named Yorktown. He awaited ships from New York to ferry his troops away from Virginia.   It was shortly before the Battle of Yorktown that Colonel Alexander Hamilton was at last granted a combat command.   He was given command of a New York Light Infantry Battalion.  When Washington planned to move the Continental Army to Yorktown,  Hamilton’s New York Light Infantry Battalion was with that  Army. 

With the arrival of the Continental Army, “Lord” Cornwallis was trapped and surrounded by the American and French Army.  The French Fleet under the Command of Admiral Comte De Grasse prevented the British Fleet from rescuing Cornwallis.  As the British Fleet attempted to enter the mouth of the York River, the French Fleet defeated the British Navy at the Battle of Capes on September 5, 1781.   Washington commenced a siege operation and bombarded the British Army with artillery fire.   There were two strong salients that became known as Redoubts 9 and 10.    These two strong points blocked the Americans from gaining access the the York River to complete the encirclement of the British.  

On the night of October 14,  1781, Washington ordered a bayonet attack on Redoubts 9 and 10.  The French troops would attack Redoubt 9 on the left, while the Americans under the command of Colonel Alexander Hamilton would attack Redoubt 10 on the right. New Yorkers can be rightly proud that one of theirs had led his infantry of the State of New York in that attack.

 “ Washington decided to seize Redoubts 9 and 10 with bayonets instead of pounding them slowly into submission with cannon.  French soldiers were to overrun the redoubt on the left while Hamilton’s light infantry stormed the one on the right.......after nightfall on October 14, the allies fired several consecutive shells in the air that brilliantly illuminated the sky.  Hamilton and his men then rose from their trenches and raced with fixed bayonets toward redoubt ten, sprinting across a quarter-mile of landscape pocked and rutted with exploding shells. For the sake of silence, surprise, and soldierly pride, they had unloaded their guns to take the position with bayonets alone. Dodging heavy fire, they let out war whoops that startled their enemies.  “They made such a terrible yell and loud cheering”, said one Hession soldier, “that one believed the whole wild hunt had broken out”.  Hamilton and his men ran so fast that they almost overtook the sappers, who were snapping off the edges of the sharpened tree branches and opening up a breach through which the infantry rushed. Hamilton, hopping on the shoulder of a kneeling soldier, sprant onto the enemy parapet and summoned his men to follow. ......once inside the fallen redoubt,  Hamilton assembled his men quickly in formation.  The whole operation had consumed fewer than ten minutes. Hamilton had accomplished the capture handily, suffering relatively few casualties. “

 Alexander Hamilton,
by Ron Chernow, Chapter 8, pp 163-164 Penquin Press, NewYork 2004

This was the man who would someday be the co-author of the famous “Federalist Papers” which served to be the apology and argument for the adoption of the Constitution of the United States.  He also was to  become the first Secretary of the Treasury in the cabinet of the first President of the United States of America.   He was a man of action as well as man of words. A rare man indeed.

When the war ended,  Hamilton still had a special relationship with Washington.  As the United States of America entered into a confederation of States under Articles of Confederation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Articles_of_Confederation Both Hamilton and Washington were of the same mind regarding a strong central government.   The weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation became immediately apparent, and the States assembled to implement a Federal form of government that led to the adoption of the United States Constitution.    Washington was elected as the first President of the United States of America.  It is interesting to note that there was not universal agreement on a strong Federal form of government.  The South especially distrusted the formation of a strong central government.  Slavery and the idea of a Confederation of States would continue to be an issue that would lead to armed confict between the North and the South.  This distrust would fester and the great issue of slavery and States Rights would lead to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

But the Civil War was in the distant future. For the immediate period of time,  proponants of the Federalism such as Washington and Hamilton were to become members of a political party known as the Federalists.   Those who favored less Federalism were led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. They formed a party that would become known as the Democratic Republicans.   The Federalists vision for the future economic path of the new Republic would entail manufacturing and trade.   The Jefferson view was one of primarily an agricultural society.  The crucial issue of Slavery would come to bring a great rift between the Federalists and the Democratic Republicans.

Part 3 of Alexander Hamilton will visit his role in adoption of the United States Constitution and the Administration of President George Washington.   As the first Secretary of Treasury, he would create the groundwork for what has become known as the “American Economic System”.

Copyright © 2010 Edward D. Reuss



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