On February 18, 1776, a young Alexander Hamilton sent a letter to the Royal Danish-American Gazette that he was joining the military. Big news? I’m not sure it was at the time and, in the subsequent 235 years, millions of men and women have made the same honorable decision.
Hamilton, having arrived in the Colonies less than four years before, was now a student, a writer, and a budding revolutionist. He was entrenched at King’s College and, as a young man of just 19 (or so, depending on his exact date of birth), had already studied enough to receive a bachelor’s degree and begin advanced law studies. He was also an avid writer, publishing a series of articles (anonymously) called “The Monitor” in the New-York Tribune from November of 1775 to early February 1776, as the Colonies were by now in a declared (by the Crown) state of rebellion, and full-out war loomed.
So his decision may have come as a surprise to some, but Hamilton was fascinated with the order of the military, its command structure, the drills, and the precision of it all…even though he saw much more of those things in the British Redcoat formations than in the Colonial militias. In fact, he was already serving in a volunteer militia company. And when New York’s Provincial Congress announced the formation of an artillery company to defend New York, Hamilton jumped at the chance to join.
In his letter, which he did not sign, he wrote, “It is uncertain whether it may ever be in my power to send you another line…I am going into the army and perhaps ere long may be destined to seal with my blood the sentiments defended by my pen. Be it so, if heaven decree it. I was born to die and my reason and conscience tell me it is impossible to die in a better or more important cause.”
And on March 14, 1776, Hamilton was assigned to lead the artillery company with the rank of Captain. The (good) fallout from this event is extensive. Alexander Hamilton trained his men well, he dressed them well (partly at his own expense), and he worked them into a cohesive unit that served with distinction as open conflict with the British heated up.
His conduct got him noticed by General George Washington, who eventually added the young Captain to his staff (with a new rank of Lieutenant Colonel). And of course, the rest is history, as the two would go on to form one of the strongest tandems in the Revolution and in the formation of a young America.
And it all began with Hamilton’s good work as the “Captain of a Company of Artillery.”
Recommended Reading: Alexander Hamilton