Hamilton – An American Musical: The Facts Behind the Music Part 7: “Stay Alive,” “Ten Duel Commandments,” “Meet Me Inside,” and “That Would Be Enough”

This part will cover the fourteenth through seventeenth songs of the musical – “Stay Alive,” “Ten Duel Commandments,” “Meet Me Inside,” and “That Would Be Enough.”  These songs span the time period from about the 1777-1778 winter at Valley Forge until before the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, and include Hamilton involved in the Battle of Monmouth and acting as a second in a subsequent duel, before quitting the army (temporarily).

“Stay Alive” and the following few songs take things out of order on the historical timeline.  This song covers the events of 1777-1778 – the winter at Valley Forge and the Battle of Monmouth.  The Hamiltons were married in a previous song (“Helpless”), fitting the musical’s narrative, though in reality they married in 1780.

 

In the first verse of “Stay Alive” Hamilton sings, “I have never seen the General so despondent / I have taken over writing all his correspondence / Congress writes, ‘George, attack the British forces.’ / I shoot back, we have resorted to eating our horses. Local merchants deny us equipment, assistance….”  There’s much to unpackage here.

First, Washington was despondent in a number of his letters during this time, some of which are in Hamilton’s handwriting.  In one letter he complains of the lack of supplies and money, and the dissipation of the army.  The following day he wrote, “this Army must inevitably be reduced to one or other of these three things. Starve—dissolve—or disperse, in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can.”  These types of complaints continued throughout much of the winter, but Washington had been down since early in the war.[1]

As for the second line, Hamilton did not take over writing all of Washington’s correspondence.  Washington had a number of aides, and letters can be found in the handwriting of most of them.[2]

As for the next two lines, regarding letters to and from Congress, the complaints flowed from all directions.  A letter dated January 17, 1778 titled “The Thoughts of a Freeman” was forwarded to Congress and featured complaints regarding the failed leadership of Washington.  A number of times, Congress felt enough wasn’t being done, and that Washington’s negative reports were exaggerated.  The recent victory at Saratoga (October 1777) by the Americans under General Horatio Gates, and backdoor moves attempting to remove Washington as THE General were being passed around Congress and the army.  Yet despite Washington’s repeated calls to Congress for food, supplies, longer enlistments, and money, Congress failed to provide much, and seemed truly unaware of the poor conditions faced by the army at Valley Forge.  Congress chose a committee to go to the encampment at Valley Forge to investigate on January 10, 1778.  And while Hamilton did not write those exact words, he and Washington composed a letter to that committee (in Hamilton’s handwriting) detailing the situation of the army.  The letter ran about 16,000 words.[3]

And the final part of the quoted verse is true.  Washington wrote about dealing with local merchants more than once, including once when he wrote about “the difficulty of procuring necessaries and the exorbitant prices they are obliged to pay for ’em.”

Further on in the song, Hamilton’s buddies explain what they’ll be doing to contribute.  Hercules Mulligan sings, “I go back to New York and my apprenticeship,” but as mentioned earlier, he was not an apprentice; he owned his own business in New York City.  Also, he was not at Valley Forge, as he stayed in the City for almost the entire war.  Lafayette sings, “I ask for French aid, I pray that France has sent a ship.”  Lafayette did go back to France.  Although he was seen as a hero by many, he also disobeyed orders when he left to fight in America, and so upon his arrival in France he was placed under house arrest.  Still, he constantly spread his belief that French assistance to the Americans would ensure their victory over the British. Lafayette sent a proposal to the French prime minister which included sending the following to the Americans: “six ships of 64 and 50 guns, 8,000 tons of transport ships…four full-strength battalions [about 4,000 men] to which their grenadiers would be attached.” The prime minister and other cabinet ministers approved Lafayette’s proposal, pledging 6,000 troops, and agreeing to send clothing and 15,000 muskets to the Americans. They also opened discussions with Benjamin Franklin for new loans to the United States. Lafayette sailed back to America in March aboard the Hermoine, this time with permission, and arrived in Massachusetts on April 27th. [4]

Next, Hamilton claims he asks “ev’ry day ‘Sir, entrust me with a command,’” but Washington always says no.  In reality, Hamilton began writing to Washington in the spring of 1781, after he had already left the army.  On April 27, 1781, Hamilton wrote, “Unconnected as I am with any regiment, I can have no other command than in a light corps, and I flatter myself my pretensions to this are good.”  He tried again in another letter dated May 2nd, but it wasn’t until the end of July 1781 that Hamilton was given his commission.  The General Orders of the 31st read, “The Light Companies of the first and second regiments of New York…with the two companies of York Levies…will form a Battalion under command of Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton and Major Fish.”

In the meantime, Hamilton was present for the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778. In the song, Hamilton sings, “Instead of me he promotes Charles Lee, makes him second-in-command….” (“I’m a general, weeeee!”) Since the beginning of the war, Lee expected command of the army (over Washington). He was an experienced officer who had fought for many years in Europe. [5]  It would have been natural to offer him the command. However, at a council of war on June 24, 1778, Lee strongly dismissed Washington’s idea to take advantage of the retreating British by attacking them if the opportunity presented itself. When Washington decided to issue those orders anyway, Lee refused to serve as second in command; he thought the British would trounce the Americans and wanted no part of it. Washington placed Lafayette in Lee’s place, but Lee soon decided he wanted to be second in command after all, and rode out to take command.

So when Hamilton sings Lee “shits the bed at the Battle of Monmouth,” he’s not kidding. Washington had ordered Lee to attack the British rear. Lee initially moved into that position, but then gave confusing and contradictory orders to his men, who initially outnumbered the retreating British. As Lee tried to move his men around the field of battle, the confusion only grew. John Laurens wrote that Lee’s orders “had been so contradictory, that he was utterly at a loss what part to take.” From his view, Laurens said, “A new position was ordered, but not generally communicated, for part of the troops were forming on the right of the ground, while others were marching away, and all the artillery driving off…. All this disgraceful retreating, passed without the firing of a musket, over ground which might have been disputed by the inch.” Washington did ride up, as shown in the musical when he sings, “What are you doing, Lee? Get back on your feet!” Laurens wrote, “The Genl expressed his astonishment at this unaccountable retreat. Mr Lee indecently replied that the attack was contrary to his advice and opinion in council.” General Charles Scott described a scene in which the normally level-headed General Washington furiously lost his temper. Scott said Washington “swore that day till the leaves shook on the trees….Never have I enjoyed such swearing before or since. Sir, on that memorable day he swore like an angel from heaven.” Others said Washington called Lee a “damned poltroon.” [6]

After dismissing Lee, Washington tells Hamilton, “Have Lafayette take the lead.” Lafayette was supposed to have the lead to begin with, so that’s no surprise. Hamilton, who may have been disappointed that Washington didn’t offer the command to him, fought in the battle, and had a horse shot from under him and was injured. [7]

Lafayette sings, “we snatch a stalemate from the jaws of defeat.” The Americans may have won the battle without Lee’s bungling. However, once Washington rode up and put things in order, the Americans pushed the British back close to the original positions when the fighting began. Once it got dark, the fighting stopped, and the British escaped overnight. They had four times more men killed and wounded than the Americans, who had possession of the battlefield. Both sides claimed victory.

After the battle, Lee must have felt embarrassed. Hamilton sings, “Charles Lee was left behind without a pot to piss in….” and Lee goes on in the song to say some not-nice things about Washington. In reality, Washington and Lee exchanged a number of letters in the days following the battle, and Lee requested a court-martial to clear his name. Three charges were brought against him, and he was found guilty of all three, and as a result was “suspended from any Command in the Armies of the united States of North America for the Term of Twelve Months.” Congress approved the sentence on December 5th. Lee never served in the American army again. He didn’t go away quietly, however. He published a “Vindication to the Public” in the Pennsylvania Packet newspaper on December 3, 1778, which was a defense of his behavior. Then seven months later, he published another defense in the Maryland Journal of July 6, 1779. It was the “Vindication” publication that caused Laurens to say, “Strong words from Lee, someone oughta hold him to it.” In reality, Laurens wrote to Hamilton on December 5, 1778 stating that he did not trust his written response, and so he asked Hamilton to take up his pen and reply. Laurens wrote, “An affair of this kind ought to be passed over in total silence, or answered in a masterly manner.” Laurens did end up in a duel with Lee though, and that is what we have in the next song – “Ten Duel Commandments.”

“Ten Duel Commandments” is loosely based on the Code Duello – The Rules of Dueling. There are actually twenty-five rules. [8] One of Miranda’s other artistic licenses in this song was making Aaron Burr Lee’s second. In reality, Major Evan Edwards was Lee’s second. But what fun would that be?

The men met on the outskirts of Philadelphia on December 23, 1778. When Burr contends that Lee should have to answer for his words, but not with his life, Hamilton replies, “Hang on, how many men died because Lee was inexperienced and ruinous?” Historically speaking, we already know Lee was experienced – probably the most experienced man in the American army. As for the second part – How many men died? Washington reported to Henry Laurens the following numbers: 8 officers, 1 sergeant, and 60 men killed; 18 officers, 10 noncommissioned officers, 1 adjutant, and 132 men wounded. That does not include men who died from the heat. [9]

Burr sees no other way to reconcile the situation, and says, “Okay, so we’re doin’ this.” As the call comes to Fire! the musical moves to the next song, “Meet Me Inside.” The beginning of this song and the real history are pretty close. Hamilton asks Lee if he yields, and Burr, responding for Lee, says “You shot him in the side! Yes, he yields!” The seconds – Hamilton and Edwards – wrote an account of the duel. (Hamilton wrote it; they both signed it.)

“They approached each other within about five or six paces and exchanged a shot almost at the same moment. As Col Laurens was preparing for a second discharge, General Lee declared himself wounded….General Lee then said the wound was inconsiderable…and proposed to fire a second time. This was warmly opposed both by Col Hamilton and Major Edwards… But General Lee repeated his desire…and Col Laurens agreed to the proposal. The combat was then going to be renewed; but Major Edwards again declaring his opinion, that the affair ought to end where it was, General Lee then expressed…he should be willing to comply with whatever they should cooly and deliberately determine. Col. Laurens consented to the same.”

General Lee walked away, slightly wounded in the right side.

The “Meet me inside” part kind of actually happened as well, just not following this duel. But it didn’t happen the way Miranda wrote it. Washington did not say “Go home Alexander;” instead Alexander chose to leave on his own. As Hamilton explained in a letter to his father-in-law in February 1781, Washington and Hamilton passed on the stairs (presumably at headquarters), and Washington told Hamilton he wanted to see him. Hamilton said he’d be right there. He first went to give a letter to Lieutenant Colonel Tench Tilghman, who was downstairs. Then on the way back up, he met Lafayette, and they talked for “about half a minute.” Hamilton wrote,

“Instead of finding the General as usual in his room, I met him at the head of the stairs, where accosting me in a very angry tone, ‘Col Hamilton (said he), you have kept me waiting at the head of the stairs these ten minutes. I must tell you Sir you treat me with disrespect.’ I replied without petulancy, but with decision ‘I am not conscious of it Sir, but since you have thought it necessary to tell me so we must part’ ‘Very well Sir (answered said he) if it be your choice’ or something to this effect and we separated.  I sincerely believe my absence which gave so much umbrage did not last two minutes.”

Though Hamilton wrote much more, and there were other reasons for him wishing to break from Washington’s staff, this, and not his participation as a second in the duel between Laurens and Lee, was the reason he chose to go home.

Another historical piece of this song comes from the mention of Thomas Conway.  Hamilton sings of him and others, “These men take your name and they rake it through the mud.” Washington says, “My name’s been through a lot, I can take it.” Well, all of that happened.  Conway was a general who disliked Washington, and wanted him replaced.  There were a number of other officers in the army who had similar feelings.  What is now known as the Conway Cabal was exposed to Washington in a letter from General Lord Stirling on November 3, 1777.  Enclosed was a note that Stirling said showed “wicked duplicity of Conduct.”  The note read, “In a letter from General Conway to General Gates he says, ‘Heaven has been determined to Save your Country; Or a Weak General and bad Counsellors would have ruined it.’”  Washington quickly dashed off a letter to Conway with that quote, prefaced only with, “a Letter which I receivd last Night, containd the following, paragraph.” (How savage is that?)  Conway feebly denied referring to Washington as a “weak general” in a letter to him, but just over a week later he told Washington he had sent his resignation to Congress.  Washington coolly responded, “I cannot permit you to leave the Army, till you have obtained their consent. When that is done, I shall not object to your departure, since it is your inclination.”

One last interesting historical connection in “Meet Me Inside” is when Hamilton said of Lee, “John should have shot him in the mouth, that would’ve shut him up.”  It was Conway who was actually shot through the mouth.  Conway had continued to speak ill of Washington, so Pennsylvania militia General John Cadwalader challenged Conway to a duel.  On July 4, 1778, Conway the men met and Cadwalader shot Conway through the mouth.[10]

The final song I’m covering today is “That Would Be Enough.”  Hamilton arrives home (in the musical, because Washington sent him there), and Eliza asks him to stay.  There are two lines of this song to discuss.  First, Eliza sings, “I wrote to the General a month ago.” That’s highly unlikely, especially knowing Hamilton left on his own accord in February 1781.  Hamilton later sings, “Will you relish being a poor man’s wife?”  In a letter to Eliza, written in August 1780, Hamilton wrote, “Do you soberly relish the pleasure of being a poor mans wife?”  One final note: When Eliza mentions “this child,” she is speaking of Philip, who was born on January 22, 1782.  Eliza got pregnant almost immediately upon Hamilton’s return home.

 

On that note, we end until next week, when Hamilton gets back into the war.  Part eight will cover songs eighteen through twenty-one: “Guns and Ships,” “History Has Its Eyes On You,” “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” and “What Comes Next,” where King George comes back out to sing to us.

[1] One example of Washington’s earlier dejectedness can be found in a letter to his brother Samuel, written about a week before the Battle of Trenton, when the General pretty much admitted that without a decisive move, the war would be over.  “If every nerve is not straind to recruit the New Army with all possible Expedition I think the game is pretty near up—owing in great Measure to the insiduous Arts of the Enemy and disaffection of the Colonies beforementioned, but principally to the accursed policy of Short Inlistments and depending too much on Militia.”
[2] These aides include Richard Kidder Meade, Tench Tilghman, and Robert Hanson Harrison, among others, who wrote some of his correspondence. John Laurens also served as an aide to Washington during this winter.
[3] That’s like almost 20 typed pages, single-spaced.  Or almost five of these articles. The committee arrived in the camp on January 28, 1776 and realized that Washington was being truthful.  He may have even under-exaggerated the conditions.
[4] Unger, 108-109.
[5] Lee served with the British in North American as a lieutenant (and later a captain) during the French & Indian War; he served as a lieutenant colonel in the Portuguese army fighting against Spanish invasion; and he fought in Poland, first as an aide to the king and then in the Russo-Turkish War. He moved to the American colonies in 1773, and as the man with the most military experience, he expected to be the commander of the army. Dragging his feet when ordered by Washington to join the army on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River in 1776, Lee was captured by the British. Because he was considered the best general the Americans had, the British rejoiced. While Lee was on parole in New York, he spent time with the British high command, and some claim he was a little too close with them.
[6] Quoted from Lengel, Edward G. General George Washington: A Military Life.” New York: Random House, 2005, p. 300.  It’s worthwhile to note that in all that Lee said and wrote in the aftermath of this, he never accused Washington of swearing.  For Washington’s account of the battle, see his letter to Henry Laurens dated July 1, 1778.
[7] Burr and Laurens also had horses shot out from under them during the Battle of Monmouth (Chernow, 115).  Burr also suffered heatstroke, but unlike others, he didn’t die like “a thousand soldiers die in the hundred degree heat,” as Laurens sang.
[8] PBS had a link (which no longer works) to the Code Duello which referenced the book Noted American Duels and Hostile Encounters by Hamilton Cochran.  The link above is to the appendix of another book.
[9] For comparison’s sake, General Henry Clinton reported the British casualties as 65 killed, 59 dead of fatigue, and 170 wounded.
[10] John Thaxter, who had served as clerk in the office of the Secretary of Congress in 1778, wrote to his cousin, Abigail Adams (yes that Abigail Adams) on July 6, 1778: “a duel was fought between Major Genl. Conway and Brigr. Cadwallader of Pennsylvania, the former of whom recieved a wound—the ball entered his Cheek and coming out under his Ear lodged in his hair. He is like to recover.”
Image credit: Alexander Hamilton, painted by John Trumbull. National Portrait Gallery

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