Description

    Hamilton sends warnings of the dangers to Fort Mifflin on behalf of General Washington

    [Revolutionary War]. Alexander Hamilton Autograph Letter Twice Signed "Alex Hamilton" as aide-de-camp to General Washington. Three integral pages, 7.5" x 9.25", "Head Quarters [probably Towamensing, Pennsylvania]," October 15, 1777, to Colonel Christopher Greene regarding the danger to Fort Mifflin one week before the Battle of Red Bank. Following the capture of Philadelphia in 1777, Greene (1737-1781) was placed in charge of the defense of the newly constructed Fort Mercer and its twin, Fort Mifflin. The forts were constructed on either side of the Delaware River in an effort to prevent the British from supplying the city. The letter warns of a possible attack and reads, in full:

    "I am persuaded by intelligence from different quarters, that the enemy are determined to endeavour by a speedy and vigorous effort to carry Fort Mifflin, and for this purpose are preparing a considerable force. Their attempt will probably be sudden and violent, as they are hardly in a situation to delay a matter so essential to them as that of removing the River obstructions. It is of infinite importance to disappoint their intentions in this instance, as their keeping or evacuating Philadelphia materially depends upon their having the communication with their shipping immediately opened, and it is not unlikely they may despair of effecting it, if they should fail in the push, which I imagine they are now about to make. Col. Smith's present force is not as great as could be wished and requires to be augmented, to put him in a condition to make an effectual opposition. I would therefore have you detach immediately as large a part of your force as you possibly can in aid of his garrison. I cannot well determine what proportion. This must be regulated by circumstances and appearances, but my present idea is that the principal part should go to his assistance. To enable you the better to spare a respectable reinforcement, I have directed General Newcomb to send his brigade of militia to Red bank, or as many of them as he can prevail upon to go. Colonel Angell will also march early tomorrow morning to join you, with his regiment. The Garrisons and fleets may be informed of these succours by way of keeping up their spirits.

    "I would not have you trust to the houses in the neighbourhood of your post, as these in case of an investiture will fail you; which makes it prudent to have a sufficient number of huts beforehand prepared within the fort.

    "I hope, and doubt not, you will keep fully in mind the prodigious importance of not suffering the enemy to get intire [sic] possession of the Delaware, and will spare no pains, nor activity to frustrate their efforts for that purpose. Be watchful on every quarter, and industrious in stopping every avenue by which you are assailable. Be cautious not to pay too much attention to any one part of your works and neglect the others; but take every precaution to strengthen the whole; for otherwise the greatest danger may be where you least expect it."

    The main body of the letter is unsigned, but in a postscript appearing at the end, it is indicated that the letter is indeed from Washington: "The above letter was written by His Excellency's order; but as he went to bed before it was finished it will be handed you without his signature. Alex Hamilton ADC." Hamilton has also addressed the letter with a second signature on page four.

    The folds of the letter have weakened to a point where separation is occurring, but it does not affect the text and there is very little loss of paper. Uneven, light toning with scattered spots of foxing. There is some damage to the edge of page three from opening at the wax seal, a remnant of which is still seen on the address leaf.

    The Battle of Red Bank, as the assault on Fort Mercer was known, commenced one week later. Defended by some 400 colonials, the fort was attacked by a force of Hessians under the command of Colonel Carl von Donop that outnumbered the colonials three to one, supported by six British men-of-war in the river. Overly confident in his advantage, von Donop ordered the attack on the fort, but his men were cut down and were forced to retreat with von Donop sustaining a mortal wound. Though the fort was taken in November, 1777, the victory was successful in alleviating the pressure felt by Washington's army posted just north of the city and served more as a morale booster than strategic victory.

    This letter is found on pages 375-376 in "The Writings of Washington, Vol. 9, August 1777-November 1777." "Writings" asserts that the letter is in the hand of fellow Washington aide, Richard Kidder Meade, though a comparison of Meade's handwriting shows that this is not the case with the present letter. A second footnote reads: "The draft, in the Washington Papers, is composed as though written and signed by Alexander Hamilton at Washington's direction. It omits the postscript."


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    Auction Dates
    October, 2012
    4th-5th Thursday-Friday
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