Hamilton the Tom Cat: Or Love Run Amok in Winter Quarters

1780 Alexander Hamilton miniature on ivory by Charles Wilson Peale

Alexander Hamilton, 1780, miniature on ivory by Charles Wilson Peale

 

There is a persistent story–the original of which can apparently only be found in the journal of a Loyalist captain named Smythe from 1780–that during 1778-1779 winter quarters at Middlebrook Encampment in New Jersey Martha Washington named a pet, and very randy, tomcat “Hamilton.” Evidently Washington’s boys, as he called his young aides, had a “reputation.”

 
During the winter when fighting was scarce, officers’ families frequently joined them in winter quarters. The camp was replete with bored wives, pretty daughters and nieces, and young officers with way too much time on their hands. Alexander Hamilton, twenty four (or three or two–no one is sure), wickedly handsome, single and oversupplied with testosterone, served as one of Washington’s aides with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Oh my. The uniform was gorgeous. The girls were breathless.

 
The aides lived together in Washington’s quarters for his convenience, but evidently Alexander was AWOL most nights–as were several of the other aides to be entirely fair–hence Martha Washington’s witty use of his name for her cat.

 

1801 Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull after a painting by Giuseppi Ceracchi

Alexander Hamilton, 1801, by John Trumbull after a painting by Giuseppi Cerucchi

It’s amazing where reading Loyalist journals can take you if you have a flair for the romantic. I will never look at a ten dollar bill in quite the same way again.

 

 
The first picture is a miniature on ivory of Hamilton painted in 1780 by Charles Wilson Peale who came to Washington’s camp and did miniatures of many of his officers. The second is by John Trumbull after a painting by Giuseppi Ceracchi from 1801. It appears Peale minimized the nose, but if the portraits are exact Hamilton got even better looking as he got older.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Battle of the Cowpens: Or what you don’t know will kill your troops.

Fighting Cavalry
1781: American soldier Colonel Wiliam Washington fighting in hand to hand combat with British dragoon Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton along the Green River Road during the Battle of Cowpens. Colonel Washington’s Bugler (left) is shooting one of Tarleton’s officers. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

Today, January 17, is the two hundred and thirty fourth anniversary of the Battle of the Cowpens. Don’t worry, ladies, I have no intention of describing the battle. To the gentlemen, I hope to make up for that with analytics. It’s not the battle which is a pivot point in my novel, currently a work in process, but why one of the most handsome and daring officers in the British Army got creamed. The result was a predictable downhill slide for General Cornwallis’ army from there to Yorktown. He only had slightly less than 3,000 fighting men to start with and lost over a third of them at the Cowpens. It narrowed his options considerably. Very briefly this is why it happened.

 
HUBRIS: (A dandy endowment for any main character.) If something works repeatedly, as Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton’s method of fast and vicious attack had in the past, you tend to overuse it. To a carpenter all solutions look like a hammer. To Tarleton all solutions looked like “catch them unaware and obliterate them.” He got very, very good at it. With instruction to leave the women and baggage at the camp, he set off to chase General Morgan. Winning constantly also leads to overconfidence and an inflated ego, and he had both in spades. After all he was General Cornwallis’ golden boy.

 
LACK OF COMMUNICATION: Contrary to popular belief Tarleton knew Morgan had over 2,200 men to his own 1,050 because he sent a letter to Cornwallis on January 4, 1781 outlining his proposed strategy for catching the American General. Cornwallis requested he be constantly informed about Tarleton’s whereabouts. The “why Cornwallis was so uninformed” is also the entire raison d’etre for my book. Of course Tarleton sent out couriers. Most of them never made it. Per one cryptic paragraph in the Greene papers, Morgan, Greene and General Sumter, a South Carolina partisan commander, had spies busily intercepting those couriers. Green’s notes don’t say how they knew when those couriers left or the route they took, so I just ran with it as my main story goal.

 
Cornwallis, having not heard from Tarleton, deviated from the battle plan and slowed his march toward Kings Mountain. Tarleton thought his General was close enough to cut the Cherokee Road and keep Morgan from retreating.

 
ACTS OF GOD: The weather in South Carolina was wretched that January. It rained constantly and every waterway was at spate. Streams became rivers and rivers torrents. It took twice as long as intended to get to the Pacolet River, and Tarleton’s forces ran out of food on the 15th. His requests to Cornwallis went into the ether, and absent knowledge of his exact whereabouts the Lord General couldn’t have resupplied him anyway.

 
By the time the British made it to the Cowpens they were bone tired from forced marches, sopping wet, desperately hungry and cold. They were in absolutely no condition to fight a battle. The troops had only four hours of rest when they began their final march at 3:00 AM. (See “hubris” above.)

 
Then the fog came down. Tarleton’s scouts missed the entire militia Morgan had parked at the base of a low rise with instructions to fire just two shots and retreat. Soldiers tend to fire high which is why most of the bullets go over the heads of an opposing force. The militia fired up at the British as they came over the rise, and the carnage was horrific. That was just the start of the battle. It got far worse.

 
Tarleton lost 110 killed, 229 wounded and 600 captured. Morgan had 24 killed and 104 wounded. That is pretty much my definition of “asymmetric.”

 
However, that beautiful man survived to surrender at Yorktown, bed the Prince’s former mistress (for fifteen years), be promoted to General, and find the love of his life (half his age) at forty four.

 
There have been many books written about the Cowpens, but my favorite is “A Devil of A Whipping”, by Lawrence E. Babbits (1998). For my statistics I relied on “Nothing but Blood and Slaughter, The Revolutionary War in the Carolinas”, Volume III, 1781, by Patrick O’Kelley. Nothing beats actually walking the battleground with an exceptionally knowledgeable park ranger who can point out where each and every bit of the fighting occurred.

 

We Act Monday, Wednesday and Friday: Howe’s Strolling Players

Young and well-connected British military officers haven’t changed a whole lot in the last 237 years. Should you doubt you have only to Google “Prince Harry.”

Three young and devastatingly handsome officers formed the nucleus of “Howe’s Strolling Players” first in New York and then in Philadelphia when the British held it from September 1777 to June of 1778. Based on their portraits, Lord William Schaw Cathcart (22),  John Andre (27), Col.  and Banastre Tarleton (23) could have pulled crowds of swooning girls on any red carpet in Hollywood.

Col. William Schaw Cathcart by Joshua Reynolds c 1780Capt. John Andre-artist unknown 1777-1778-Banastre-Tarleton-by-Joshua-Reynolds 1782

Andre led the troupe as director and set designer, and they took over the old Southwark playhouse on South street. Their motto was “We act Monday, Wednesday and Friday.” Going by letters and diaries of well-to-do loyalist girls, the rest of the week they devoted themselves to chasing the ladies who proved not at all hard to get.

Their success was amazing, and the proceeds of “No One’s Enemy but his Own” and “The Deuce is in Him” directed by John Andre and assisted by loyalist Captain Oliver De Lancey performed on January 14, 1778 were given to the widows and orphans of the army. For the backdrop Andre painted a waterfall in a forest glade. The women’s parts were taken by local loyalist ladies and at least one professional actress.

A fellow officer who attended a performance on Monday, March 16, evidently thought it was below the dignity of a member of the peerage.”…Play tonight “The Inconstant” and “The Letcher” pretty well done. Ld. Cathcart play’s in both with more propriety in speech than in some of the parts chosen—ridiculous in a man of his rank and fashion to play the part of a Valet & suffer the ceremony of being kick’d.”

Over the eight month period they put on fourteen plays including “Henry IV, part 1,” “The Constant Couple,” and “Duke or No Duke.” They closed in May with “Douglas” and “The Citizen.”

There were probably more copious tears for the absence of the officers than the fact the Americans reclaimed the city and again shut down the theaters. And, yes, that was the John Andre who was hanged as a spy by the Americans.

The portraits of are of Col. William Schaw Cathcart by Gainsborough (1780), an anonymous miniature of Maj. John Andre, and Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton by Reynolds (1782).