Alexander Scammell

Brig. Gen. Alexander Scammell, 1st. Regiment N.H. Continental Line

Alexander Scammell was born May 16, 1742 in the part of Mendon, Massachusetts which eventually became Milford, Massachusetts. His father, Doctor Samuel Leslie Scammell, died in 1753 and Alexander and his older brother, Samuel (b. 1739) were placed under the care and guidance of Reverend Amariah Frost. Alexander graduated from Harvard College in 1769, and then moved to Plymouth County, Massachusetts where he taught school in the towns of Kingston and Plymouth and became a member of the Old Colony Club where the first celebrations of the 1620 Plymouth landing were held.

In 1772 he moved to Portsmouth, NH where he worked surveying and exploring the lands of the Royal Navy for mast timbers. When not surveying, he kept a school at Berwick, and was one of the proprietors of the town of Shapleigh, Maine. He also assisted Captain Samuel Holland in making surveys for his Topographical Map of New Hampshire. Holland’s maps of the colonies were later published by Sayer and Bennett and were widely used by both sides during the American Revolution. Alexander Scammell himself submitted a map of Maine’s pine forests in 1772.

Subsequently, in 1773, Alexander Scammell began to read law with John Sullivan, later Major General Sullivan, of Durham, New Hampshire.” Alexander Scammell had a high opinion of Sullivan whom he styled, “an excellent instructor and worthy patron.” John Sullivan was a member of the Congress of 1774 and 1775, and the following year he was appointed a Brigadier General by that Congress. Alexander Scammell was with John Sullivan during the raid on Fort William and Mary on December 14, 1774.

With the start of the American Revolution, Scammell was appointed as a Major in the New Hampshire Militia in April 1775. On September 21, 1775, he was appointed as the Brigade Major for the New Hampshire Brigade. He became the Aide de Camp to Major General Sullivan on August 14, 1776, but in September was ordered to assist Colonel George Reid in New York City and fought at the Battle of Long Island. He then became the Brigade Major to Major General Charles Lee’s Division on October 29, 1776. On November 8, 1776, Major Scammell was promoted to Colonel, and was given command of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment, Continental Line. However, as that regiment had not yet been recruited (the company officers spent the early months of 1777 recruiting), Colonel Scammell accompanied the 1st and 2nd New Hampshire Regiments south to join General Washington with the Main Army. In this capacity Colonel Scammell crossed the Delaware with Washington and took part in the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton. In the latter, Colonel Scammell is recalled to have preceded Washington in rallying the troops who were being beaten badly. Both officers came through unscathed with earned reputations as extraordinary battlefield leaders.

The recruiting of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment was completed in June 1777, and within two weeks of men mustering for the first time at Fort Ticonderoga, Major General Arthur St. Clair order its evacuation. Colonel Scammell commanded the regiment at Saratoga, and distinguished himself by his bravery in the battles of Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights, and was possibly wounded in the latter battle (In letters to his brother he did not indicate being wounded and that bullets had passed through his clothing and hit the breech of his weapon). At this time Major Henry Dearborn, (who later became secretary of War under President Thomas Jefferson), and his light infantry were under his command. Just two days after Burgoyne’s surrender the regiment moved to winter quarters at Valley Forge where Scammell was appointed Adjutant General of the Continental Army by Gen. George Washington on January 5, 1778. In October 1780, Adjutant General Scammell was appointed as executioner to Major John André, a duty that weighed heavily on him. The result was a letter of Nov 16, 1780 to General Washington requesting permission to resign his post and take command of a regiment of the Continental Line.

Adjutant General Scammell was ultimately replaced in by Brigadier General Edward Hand on January 1, 1781. On that same day, Colonel Scammell was reassigned as commander of the 1st New Hampshire Regiment, Continental Line; however, on May 17, 1781 he was assigned command of a light infantry detachment that became known as Scammell’s Light Infantry. This unit was composed of men selected from the Continental Lines of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. This unit fought at the Battle of King’s Bridge, and was the vanguard for the Main Army’s march South from New York to Yorktown acting as flankers and skirmishers. Once at Yorktown the regiment was organized as part of the 2nd brigade of The Light Infantry Division commanded by the Marquis de Lafayette at Yorktown.

On September 30, 1781, while serving as Field Officer-of-the-Day, Colonel Scammell was wounded while reconnoitering recently abandoned British fortifications. He had become separated from his scouting party, encountered a party of British light dragoons, and was shot in the side (accounts differ as to whether this occurred before or after he surrendered). He was taken into Yorktown, but because of the gravity of his wound he was paroled to Williamsburg, only to die on October 6, 1781.

A commemorative engraving, entitled “Death of Col. Scammell at the Siege of Yorktown”, by Alonzo Chappel, was published by Johnson Fry & Company, NY, in 1859.

Both Alexander Scammell Wadsworth and Henry Alexander Scammell Dearborn were named by his friends Peleg Wadsworth and Henry Dearborn in memory of him. Alexander Scammell Brooks, the son of John Brooks a Massachusetts Colonel, who would later become the 11th governor of that state was also named for him and was born Oct 19, 1781. Fort Scammell in Casco Bay, Maine, the Alexander Scammell Bridge over the Bellamy River near Durham, New Hampshire, and a street in Marietta, Ohio, the first establishment in the Northwest Territory were all named in his honor.

It is reported that Colonel Alexander Scammell was a tall man for the times. Accounts differ, with him described as being 6’2″ to 6’5″ tall with blue eyes and a fair complexion. As a member of General Washington’s inner circle for three years, he was known for having an easy manner and being one of the few people who could lighten the moods of and make George Washington laugh with his humorous stories and jokes. In fact, it is said that General Washington considered Colonel Scammell to be one of the funniest men in the army. Scammell had the rare ability to lead and inspire loyalty as evinced by one of his captains, who at the Siege of Yorktown shortly after the taking of Redoubt #10, sacrificed his own honor by threatening the life of the captured Major Campbell to avenge his favorite (Colonel Scammell); Alexander Hamilton, who commanded the American assault, interceded saved Major Campbell.

Sources: Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army, (Baltimore, 1914) p. 357; Frederic Kidder, History of the First New Hampshire Regiment in the War of the Revolution (Albany, 1868), 102-104; C.E. Potter, The Military History of The state of New Hampshire, From its Settlement, in 1623, to the Rebellion, in 1861: Comprising and account of the Stirring Events Connected Therewith; Biographical Notices of Many of the Officers Distinguished Therein: and Notes Explanatory of the Text (Concord, 1866); “From George Washington to Colonels Henry Sherburne, Samuel Blachley Webb, David Henley, Ezekiel Cornell, and Alexander Scammell, 12 January 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 8, 6 January 1777 – 27 March 1777, ed. Frank E. Grizzard, Jr. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998), 42–43]; “To George Washington from Alexander Scammell, 16 November 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives; Washington, George (1781). “George Washington, May 17, 1781, General Orders”. Library of Congress; Selected Wartime Service Records of Colonel Alexander Scammell.