When General Washington received Colonel Hamilton into service as his private secretary, he said: "It will be a hard place to fill; I take no amusement for myself, and am busy from morning till night; I shall expect my secretary to be always at my side, ready to do his duty."
"I shall be prepared, your Excellency, to do your slightest bidding," answered Hamilton; and he kept his word. He wrote letters to the governors of the colonies for recruits, and to the commissaries for food and clothing; he wrote so much and so wisely that it was said, "The pen of the army is held by Hamilton."
He rode to Congress with secret despatches; he took orders to the different American generals, and, after a battle, he went to the camp of the British to treat for the exchange of prisoners. General Washington trusted him completely and fondly called him "my boy."
Hamilton was then twenty years old, and Washington was forty-five.
At the battle of Brandywine, the young aide-de-camp rode to the front in the greatest danger to watch the enemy; he carried despatches from one general to another. When his horse was shot under him, he hurried forward on foot.
After the terrible battle was over, the defeated American army retreated to Westchester. Hamilton rode all night by the side of the silent commander-in-chief. It was a sad night; the stars seemed to be mocking as they twinkled in the sky.
It was certain that, after their victory at Brandywine, the British would occupy Philadelphia; and so, before they might reach there, Hamilton was sent to the city to ask for blankets, clothing, and food for the American army. He wrote such a charming letter to the ladies of the "Quaker City" that they gladly gave what they could, and his wagons were loaded and driven away before the drum beats of the British were heard.
Then Washington's army went into winter quarters at Valley Forge.
Now, the people who stayed at home were getting very tired of the war. Their fields were overrun by both armies, and their towns were burned by the enemy.
The British general issued a proclamation offering pardon to all who would swear allegiance to the king. He said that the property of faithful subjects would be spared, but the homes of the "rebels" should be burned to the ground.
Very many Whigs were frightened into being Tories; and when they had once become tories, they wanted the king's troops to conquer. They knew very well that if the Americans won, they themselves would be forever disgraced. And so they plotted to defeat them.
Then some of the American generals became jealous of Washington. They tried to remove him from command. But Hamilton was always watchful, and found out their schemes in time to prevent any harm.
Hamilton was loved by the soldiers in camp. Those who lay wounded waited for his coming, because he knew so well how to bandage their shattered limbs, and could write such beautiful letters to their loved ones at home.
Hamilton was popular with the officers, too. He was so genial and frank that they did not envy him his high favor with the commander-in-chief.
Among the officers was the Marquis de Lafayette. He was a Frenchman of noble birth, who had given up all the pleasures of the French court at Paris to help the Americans fight for liberty. But he did not understand the English language very well. Now, Hamilton had never forgotten the French language he had learned from his mother. And so Lafayette and Hamilton became great friends, and talked much together as they sat before the camp fire at Valley Forge.
Another of Hamilton's friends was the Baron von Steuben, a German, who also talked French. The sturdy old general drilled the awkward squads of continental soldiers, and he saw with delight how eager young Hamilton was to master the rules of war.