George Washington Papers

XI. To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, 22 November 1780

From Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton

Novr 22d 1780

Dear Sir,

Sometime last fall when I spoke to your Excellency about going to the Southward, I explained to you candidly my feelings with respect to military reputation, and how much it was my object to act a conspicuous part in some enterprise that might perhaps raise my character as a soldier above mediocrity. You were so good as to say you would be glad to furnish me with an occasion. Wh⟨en⟩ the expedition to Staten Island was on foot a favourable one seemed to offer.1 There was a batalion without a field officer, the command of which I thought, as it was accidental, might be giv⟨en⟩ to me without inconvenience. I made an application for it through the Marquis, who infor⟨med⟩ me of your refusal on two principles—one that giving me a whole batalion might be a subject of dissatisfaction, the other that if an acciden⟨t⟩ should happen to me, in the present state of y⟨our⟩ family, you would be embarrassed for the necess⟨ary⟩ assistance.2

The project you now have in contemplation affords another opportunity. I have a variety of reasons that press me to desire arden⟨tly⟩ to have it in my power to improve it. I take the liberty to observe that the command may ⟨now⟩ be proportioned to my rank, and that the second objection ceases to operate, as during the perio⟨d⟩ of establishing our winter quarters there will be a suspension of material business; besides which, my peculiar situation will in any case call me away from the army in a few days3 and Mr Harrison may be expected bac⟨k⟩ early next month.4

⟨My command may consist of⟩ an hundred and fifty or two hundred men composed of fifty men of Major Gibbes’ corps, fifty from Col. Meig’s regiment, and fifty or an hundred more from the light infantry: Major Gibbes to be my Major. The hundred men from here may move on friday morning towards [ ] which will strengthen the appearances for Staten Island, to form a junction on the other side of the Passaick.

I suggest this mode to avoid the complaints that might arise from composing my party wholly of the light infantry, which might give umbrage to the officers of that corps, who on this plan can have no just subject for it.

The primary idea may be, if circumstances permit to attempt with my detachment Byards Hill. Should we arrive early enough to undertake it, I should prefer it to any thing else, both for the brilliancy of the attempt in itself and the decisive consequences of which its success would be productive. If we arrive too late to make this eligible (as there is reason to apprehend) my corps may form the van of one of the other attacks; and Byards Hill will be a pretext for my being employed in the affair, on a supposition of my knowing the ground, which is partly true.5

I flatter myself also that my military character stands so well in the army as to reconcile the officers in general to the measure.6 All circumstances considered, I venture to say any exception which might be taken would be unreasonable.

I take this method of making the request to avoid the embarrassment of a personal explanation—I shall only add that however much I have the matter at heart, I wish your Excellency entirely to consult your own inclination; and not from a disposition to oblige me, to do any thing that may be disagreeable to you. It will neverth⟨eless⟩ make me singularly happy if your wishe⟨s⟩ correspond with mine. I have the honor to be very sincerely and respectfully Yr Excellencys Most Obedt servant

A. Hamilton

ALS, DLC:GW; transcript, DLC: Francis Baylies Papers. Mutilated portions of the ALS are supplied in angle brackets from the transcript.

1This attack failed to launch (see Timothy Pickering to GW, 28 Oct.; see also Lafayette’s two letters to GW on 27 Oct. [letter 1; letter 2]).

2GW was then without his usual numbers of aides-de-camp and secretaries (see General Orders, 28 Oct., source note).

3Hamilton alludes to his wedding in Albany (see his letter to GW, 19 Dec., n.5).

4Robert Hanson Harrison never returned to his duties as GW’s secretary (see n.2 above and Harrison to GW, 28 Nov.).

5Hamilton presumably argued his case with the primary intention of joining the main operations against the forts on northern Manhattan Island. A fortification had been built in 1776 on Bayard’s Mount on the northern edge of New York City. Hamilton had attended King’s College (now Columbia University) just southwest of Bayard’s Mount prior to the war. While so hazardous as to appear impossible, capturing the fortification on that elevation likely would have been very disruptive and embarrassing to the British. Bayard’s Mount was leveled in the early nineteenth century and no longer exists.

6Prior to becoming GW’s aide-de-camp, Hamilton had served admirably as an artillery officer at the battles around New York City in 1776 and at Trenton on 26 Dec. of that year.

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