William Alexander, best known to his colonial brethren as Lord Stirling, was a general in the Continental Army during the War for Independence. He initially claimed the heriditary title Earl of Stilring via birth, which was upheld by a Scottish Court, but overturned by Parliament’s House of Lords, changing his title to Lord, in the years prior to the Revolution.
A man of means and wealth, based on his inheritance, business acumen and marriage, Alexander hailed from New Jersey where he served as a colonel in the militia. As a man of means Alexander lived a life of a colonial gentleman of the upper class, always insisting he be called, “Lord.” When the war broke out he aligned himself with the mercantile interests who supported the Patriot cause. Not unlike other wealthy patriots, Alexander outfitted his own regiment at his own expense. In March 1776, the Continental Congress approved his promotion to Brigadier General.
At the Battle of Brooklyn, he distinguished himself as a capable field commander under whose command served the First Maryland Line. During the battle, the 1st Marylanders held off the British in a desperate rear-guard action which allowed George Washington to escape with the bulk of the Continental Army across the East River to Manhattan to continue the war. However, the British eventually overwhelmed Alexander’s men (the odds were 25 to 1) capturing Alexander in the process. Eventually he was exchanged, promoted to Major General, and returned to Washington’s command. Washington placed a great deal of trust in Alexander and at the Battle of Trenton, in December 1776, it was to Alexander whom the Hessians surrendered. Alexander’s reputation as a hard and judicious fighter was confirmed again at places like Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. He endured with his men the cruel winter at Valley Forge and saw them whipped into better training at the hands of Frederic von Steuben. But perhaps his greatest service during the War for Independence was the role he played in exposing the Conway Cabal, an effort by high ranking American officers threatening to undermine Washington’s command.
When Washington led the combined American-French Army out of New York to eventually defeat the British at Yorktown, it was Alexander who was given the task to hold the environs around New York City and keep the British, there, in place.
While he lived to see the American victory at Yorktown, his high living lifestyle, which included a heavy dose of alcohol, caught up with him and he died before the Treaty of Paris was signed.
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