The week before their fateful/fatal interview in Weehawken, Hamilton and Burr both attended a 4th of July dinner meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati at Fraunces Tavern. The Society was a group of Revolutionary War officers and Hamilton was president general, succeeding George Washington after his death. During the dinner, Burr and Hamilton reportedly sat at the very same table! While Burr seemed silent and serious, Hamilton was in seemingly high spirits and accepted a request to entertain his fellow former officers with a military song.
John Trumbull (who painted some of my favorite portraits of Hamilton and was also a member of the Society) wrote in his memoirs:
“On the 4th of July, I dined with the Society of the Cincinnati, my old military comrades, and then met, among others Gen. Hamilton and Col. Burr. The singularity of their manner was observed by all, but few had any suspicion of the cause. Burr, contrary to his wont, was silent, gloomy, sour ; while Hamilton entered with glee into all the gaiety of a convivial party, and even sang an old military song. A few days only passed, when the wonder was solved by that unhappy event which deprived the United States of two of their most distinguished citizens.”
Historians have disputed what song Hamilton actually sang, with some suggesting he sang “The Drum,” and others “How Stands the Glass Around.”
Ron Chernow writes:
“At first, Hamilton could not be induced to sign, then submitted. ‘Well, you shall have it,’ he said, doubltess to cheers from the veterans. Some have said his valedictory song was a haunting old military ballad called ‘How Stands the Glass Around,’ a song reputedly sung by General Wolfe on the eve of his battlefield death outside Quebec in 1759. Others said that it was a soldiers’ drinking song called ‘The Drum.’ Both tunes expressed a common sentiment: a soldier’s proud resignation in the face of war and death.”
In his lecture on Hamilton’s military career, James Edward Graybill published a letter from Hamilton’s grandson Schuyler Hamilton regarding the song Hamilton sang prior to the duel which stated:
“I have always been of the opinion, from what I have heard from my father and uncles, that the song sung by my grandfather at the dinner of the Cincinnati where Colonel Burr was present, was General Wolff’s famous camp song, which begins with the words ‘How stands the glass around?'”
The first two stanzas of How Stands the Glass Around are reprinted below and express the brotherhood and solidarity of soldiers facing the threat of imminent danger and possible death. Listen to a rendition of the song in the embedded video from YouTube!
How stands the glass around?
For shame you take no care, my boys,
How stands the glass around?
Let wine and mirth abound;
The trumpet sound,
The colors they do fly my boys;
To fight, kill or wound;
As you would be found,
Contented with hard fare, my boys
On the cold groundO why, soldiers why?
O why should we be melancholy boys,
O why soldiers why?
Whose bus’ness is to die;
What? sighing? Fye!
Drink on, drown fear, be jolly boys;
‘Tis he, you or I, wet, hot, cold or dry;
We’re always bound to follow boys,
And scorn to fly.