Scammell, Alexander

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Scammell, Alexander

SCAMMELL, ALEXANDER. (1747–1781). Continental officer. Massachusetts. Having come from Portsmouth, England, his parents settled in Mendon (later Milford), Massachusetts, about 1737. Alexander's father was a prominent and well-to-do doctor who died when the boy was six years old. Graduating from Harvard in 1769, Alexander taught school, worked as a surveyor, and then studied law in the office of John Sullivan in Durham, New Hampshire. In December 1774 he joined with Sullivan in the raid on Fort William and Mary to obtain powder for the local militia. He was appointed a major in the New Hampshire militia in April 1775 and brigadier major of Sullivan's brigade on 21 September 1775, serving at Bunker Hill, in the Boston Siege, and in Canada. He returned to New York City with Sullivan, was appointed his aide-de-camp on 14 August 1776, and as acting aide-de-camp to Washington made a mistake that might have lost the War of Independence for the Americans. At 2 a.m. on the morning of 30 August Scammell relayed to General Thomas Mifflin what he understood to be Washington's order to immediately move to the boats waiting to ferry Mifflin's force from Brooklyn Heights on Long Island to New York City on Manhattan. This caused Mifflin's force to be ahead of its scheduled evacuation, upsetting Washington, but, more importantly, also leaving dangerously exposed the outposts that Mifflin's men had been guarding. This did not slow his military advancement; on 29 October he was made a brigadier major in Charles Lee's division, and on 8 November 1776 he took over as colonel of the Third New Hampshire Regiment and was with Washington at the Delaware crossings in December 1776 and January 1777. Returning to the Northern Department following the battles at Trenton and Princeton, he was present when St. Clair evacuated Ticonderoga on 5 July 1777 and led his regiment in the two Battles of Saratoga; in one of the latter actions he was slightly wounded.

On 5 January 1778 he succeeded Timothy Pickering as Washington's adjutant general, in which capacity it was his duty to arrest Charles Lee and, curiously, to execute his British counterpart, John André. It was during this period that Scammell worked with Steuben to standardize the army's paperwork and general administration. On 16 November 1780 Scammell submitted his resignation as adjutant general to take command of the First New Hampshire, but it was not until 1 January 1781 that he actually left Washington's staff. He commanded 400 light infantry in the preliminary operations against Manhattan in July 1781. At the siege of Yorktown, Scammell was inspecting his line when he was surprised by a detail of the enemy. Despite his surrender, he suffered a gunshot wound. Released and taken to Williamsburg in hopes of recovery, he died there on 6 October 1781. There can be no doubt as to his popularity; many late-eighteenth-century diarists and letter writers commented on the sad event. New Hampshire named a significant bridge near Portsmouth in his honor.

SEE ALSO Long Island, New York, Evacuation of.


Kelley, Gail. "Alexander Scammell." In New Hampshire: Years of Revolution, 1774–1783. Edited by Peter E. Randall. Portsmouth: Profiles Publishing, 1976.

Kidder, Frederic. History of the First New Hampshire Regiment in the War of the Revolution. 1868. Reprint, Portsmouth, N.H.: Peter E. Randall, 1973.

Potter, Chandler E. The Military History of the State of New-Hampshire, 1623–1861. 1868. Reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1972.

Wright, Robert K., Jr. The Continental Army. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 1983.

                              revised by Frank C. Mevers