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A history of the Putnam family in England and America online

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months later. In the latter part of June, the British landed
in great numbers on Staten Island, and in August crossed
over to Long Island and advauced towards the American lines



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110 msTOBY or the putnam family.

that extended across the Brooklyn peninsula from Wallabont
Bay to Gowanus Creek. General Sullivan had been in com-
mand on that side of the East river, but was now superseded by
Putnam, to whom Washington thus again gave proof of his
trust and confidence. Putnam retained Sullivan at the cen-
tre to guard the passes and fight the Hessians. Both of them
accompanied Washington as, having come over from New
York for a brief visit, he rode towards evening on the 26th
of August down to the outposts and examined the situation
of affaire. The fierce engagement came on during the next
morning, and it was while the two armies were in deadly con-
flict, that General Clinton, who during the night had led a col-
umn of 10,000 British soldiers by a long, circuitous and lonely
road at the distant left, where he was guided by a few to-
nes, suddenly appeared at the rear of the Americans and
overwhelmed them with disaster, Stirling who was fighting
Grant far at the right sharing in the common misfortune.
The wonderful retreat to New York of Washington and his
shattered army amidst the darkness and fog of the succeed-
ing night, is too well known to call for details in this connec-
tion. Certain writers, without just warrant, have blamed
Putnam for the defeat because he did not anticipate and pre-
vent Clinton's movement. The most exact, thorough and
impartial, and altogether the best account of the battle, is
that of Mr. Henry P. Johnston, as contained iu his " Cam-
paign of 1776," published in 1878, as Vol. m of the "Me-
moirs of the Long Island Historical Society ." That careful
and conscientious writer says that such an accusation against
Putnam is "both unjust and unhistoricaL" . . . "No facts
or inferences justify the charge. No one hinted it at the
time ; nor did Washington in the least withdraw confidence
from Putnam during the remainder of the campaign." He
adds that the responsibility cannot be fastened upon Putnam,
who had just taken the command, "any more than upon Wash-
ington, who, when he left the Brooklyn lines on the evening
of the 26th, must have known precisely what dispositions



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- ISRAEL (THOMAS) PUTNAM. Ill

had been made for the night at the hills and passes." He
then proceeds to show how the responsibility, if it falls on
any one, falls on Sullivan, and on Colonel Miles and his regi-
ment, whose duty it was to guard the left.

In occupying New York after the retreat, Washington as-
signed to Putnam the command of the city as far up as Fif-
teenth street, while Spencer and Heath were to guard the
island from that point to Harlem and King's Bridge. On the
15th of September, five British frigates appeared and took
position in Kip's Bay, on the east side, opening a tremendous
fire upon the breast- work and lines of Colonel Douglas with his
300 Connecticut militia and his battaliou of levies. The Col-
onel's panic-stricken forces fled in all directions, nor could
the desperate and almost superhuman exertions of Washing-
ton and Putnam, who were soon on the ground, avail to stay
their flight. Other New England troops quickly joiued
in the stampede, and from all points the Americans were
soon flying in wild disorder towards Harlem Heights, except
that General Putnam "was making his way towards New
York when all were going from it," his object being to rescue
Sullivan's Brigade and some artillery corps that were still in
the city and couduct them to the place of safety. This was
successfully accomplished, and Col. David Humphreys, who
was the earliest biographer of Putnam aud who was iu the
army and saw him frequently during that day, says : "With-
out his extraordinary exertions, the guards must have been
inevitably lost and it is probable the entire corps would have
been cut in pieces."

The battle of Harlem Heights took place on the next day,
the fugitives having been vigorously pursued by the British.
The advantage was with the Americans, and General Greene,
referring to the engagement, said that Putnam was "in the
action and behaved nobly." In the battle of White Plains,
Washington sent Putnam with a detachment to the support of
McDougall, but not in season to succor him before his safe
retreat. Subsequently he seut him to command 5,000 troops



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112 HISTORY OP THE PUTNAM FAMILY.

on the west side of the Hudson river, for the protection of
Gen. Greene who was there at Fort Lee, and who it was feared
might be attacked by the enemy. The speedy capture of
Fort Washington on the east side by the British, was the di-
rest calamity to the American cause in all the Revolutionary
• War. As the commander-in-chief led his wasted army across
the Jerseys, hotly pursued by the foe, he sent Putnam for-
ward to take command of Philadelphia which was supposed to
be in danger, and construct fortifications for its defence. Col-
onel Humphreys, who was still wilh Putnam, gives a glowing
account of his herculean labors and great success in this work,
attended as it was with manifold obstacles and discourage-
ments. While he was thus engaged, Washington crossed
the Delaware and soon won his brilliant victories at Trenton
and Princeton, which electrified the country and raised the
spirits of the tired and dejected army. As the loss of Phila-
delphia was now no longer feared, Putnam was stationed for the
winter at Princeton, whence he made various expeditions
against foraging parties of the enemy, taking nearly a thou-
sand prisoners, more than 120 baggage wagons and large
quantities of provisions and other booty.

It was now of prime importance to seize and hold the High-
lands on the Hudson. In May, 1777, a commission, consisting
of Generals Greene, Knox, McDougall, Wayne and George
Clinton, Governor of New York, were directed to proceed
thither, examine the defences, see what was needed, and re-
port accordingly. This they did, and among the various works
which they recommended was an enormous boom or chain
across the river at Fort Montgomery, with other obstructions
at that point, to bar the ascent of the enemy's ships. Wash-
ington gave the command of the region to General Putnam,
who fixed his headquarters at Peekskill, on the east side of
the Hudson, and whose troops were from New York and New
England. But on the 12th of June, just as he began to exe-
cute the plan of the commission, he was ordered to forward
most of his men to Philadelphia which was now again threat-



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ISRAEL (TBOMAS) PUTNAM. 113

ened by General Howe. At the same time he was obliged
to hold various regiments in readiness to march against Bur-
goyne, who was expected at any moment to come down from
the north. Again and again Washington called upon him for
detachments for the Delawaro, directing him to reinforce
himself by militia recruits from the neighborhood or from
Connecticut. What with these many changes, the presence
around him of watchful foes, incessant marches and counter-
marches, and the miserable condition of his soldiers, so many
of whom were new and raw, Putnam's situation was pain-
fully perplexing. Some of his men deayted and others he
deemed it advisable to dismiss from the service which thoy
wished to abandon and for which they were unfit. He wrote
to Washington, representing to him the danger he appre-
hended from his weakened condition and saying to him that
he could not be held responsible for whatever serious conse-
quences might ensue.

Sir Henry Clinton saw his opportunity. Sailing up the
river from New York with three or four thousand troops, he
appeared in Tarrytown Bay on the 5th of October, and after
much maneuvering landed his forces at Verplanck's Point,
just below Peekskill, transferred a large body of his men to
the west side, and filed them off amidst a dense fog behind
the high banks until they reached the rear of Forts Mont-
gomery and Clinton, whence they stormed these strongholds
which soon fell into their possession, though the commission
of generals in their report had declared them to be inaccessi-
ble from that quarter, owing to the very mountainous charac-
ter of the region. The river was now open to the enemy,
who at once proceeded to ravage the country. Putnam, with
the advice of a council of officers, removed his headquarters
to Fishkill, a few miles north of Peekskill, for the safety of
his little army. The immediate commander of Fort Mont-
gomery was Governor Clinton, who, as danger was imminent,
had beeu summoned from the legislature at Kingsbury by
Putnam and was urged to bring a body of militia with him.

9



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114 .. HISTORY OP THE PUTNAM FAMILY.

Here, also, Putnam was subsequently blamed for the defeat,
but Clinton nobly demanded that the censure should, fall on
himself and not ou others, and a later court of inquiry decided
that the disaster was due to a lack of men and not to the
neglect or incompetency of those who were in command. Says
Washington Irving : "The defences of the Highlands on which
the security of the Hudson depended, were at this time weakly
garrisoned, some of the troops having been sent off to rein-
force the armies on the Delaware and in the north."

Sir Henry returned to New York and Putnam reoccupied
Peekskill and the neighboring passes. The latter shortly
wrote to Washington, announcing to him the sad intelligence
of his wife's death, but with it, also, the glorious news of the
surrender of Burgoyne. Five thousand men now came to
Putnam from the northern army. Washington had previously
suggested to him a descent upon New York and he now rec-
ommended it again, but afterward, hearing that Sir Henry was
in New York and fearing he might join General Howe, he
despatched Alexander Hamilton to Putnam at Peekskill and to
General Gates at Albany, with orders to them to forward large
bodies of troops to the vicinity of Philadelphia, the British
being iu possession of that city.. Putnam delayed compli-
ance with Hamilton's instructions, being perhaps too intent
on the long-meditated attack upon New York. The youthful
martiuet, scarcely out of his teens, wrote a bitter letter to
Washington in consequence and also an iusolent one to the
old scarred veteran himself, who very properly sent the
missive he had received to the commander-in-chief, alleging
that it contained "unjust and ungenerous reflections," mention-
ing some of the reasons for the delay, and saying, "I am con-
scious of having done everything in my power to succor you
as soon as possible." But the order had been a peremptory
one, and Washington for the first and only time in his life
reprimanded his old, trusted companion-in-arms, even as
he once reprimanded Hamilton himself for an act of tardiness
by sayiug to him, "You must change your watch, or I must



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ISRAEL (THOMAS) PUTNAM. 115

change my aid.* Putnam was now unpopular in New York.
The people of the state were strongly prejudiced against New
Englanders, and the feeling had notably manifested itself at
the time of the "cowardly" and "disgraceful" flight of Con-
necticut and Massachusetts soldiers at Kip's Bay, while it
was but natural that this dislike should be warmly recipro-
cated. "Yorkers" and "Yankees" were epithets which were
freely bandied between the two parties. Hamilton and other
leading men of his state wanted their Governor to be placed in
command. Many of them held Putnam responsible for all the
misfortunes on the Hudson, accused him of being too lenient
with the tori es in the neighborhood, and were unwilling to
support the cause of their country so long as he retained his
position. Colonel Humphreys, whose testimony here is very
significant, avers that the chief cause of the animosity in ques-
tion is to be referred to Putnam's determined opposition to
the dishonesty and selfish greed of influential men who were
charged with the care of the sequestrated property of tory
families. But it seemed to Washington all-important to hold
the state of New York to the support of the army and the
government, and this was the only reason he presented for
the change, when, some months after Hamilton's mission to Al-
bany and Peekskill, he gave the command to General Mc-
Dougall. As we shall see, Washington still regarded Putnam
with unabated friendship and affection, and still honored him
with high trusts.

Meanwhile, in the latter part of the year 1777, Putnam had
set on foot several expeditions which were more or less suc-
cessful. During the winter he was at the Highlands, whence
he wrote to Washington, who was with his suffering army at
Valley Forge : — "Dubois' regiment is unfit to be ordered on
duty, there being not one blanket in the regiment ; very
few have either a shoe or a shirt, and most of them have
neither stockings, breeches nor overalls." In company with
Governor Clinton and others, he selected West Point as the
site of the chief fortress, and began vigorously to put the



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116



HISTORY OP THE PUTNAM FAMILY.



defences of the Hudson on a respectable footing. About this
time he made a visit to Pomfret to attend to his private af-
fairs. After his return and his removal from the command
of the Highlands, he again went to Connecticut, in obedience
to orders, to hasten on the new levies of militia from that
state for the coming campaign. Subsequent to the battle of
Monmouth, we find him in charge of the right wing of the
army, in place of General Lee who was under arrest. In the
early autumn of 1778, he was again in the neighborhood of
West Point for the defence of the North river. In the win-
ter he was posted at Danbury with three brigades, to protect
the country lying along the Sound, to cover the magazines
on the Connecticut river, and to reinforce the Highlands in
case of need. It was while he was} here, that he very suc-
cessfully quelled a serious mutiny that arose among some
of the troops who had endured much hardship and received
no pay, and who were preparing to march iu a body to Hart-
ford and demand redress from the General Assembly at the
point of the bayonet. It was in this region, also, that he
posted himself with 150 men on the brow of a high, steep
eminence at Greenwich, or Horse Neck, and, as General Tryon
advanced towards him with ten times the force, dashed on his
steed down the precipice to the amazement of his pursuers
and escaped unharmed, bidding his little company to secure
their own safety by retiring to a neighboring swamp which
was inaccessible to cavalry. He immediately collected a
party of militia, joined with them his original handful, and
hung on the rear of Tryon in his retreat, taking forty or fifty
of his men as prisoners. These he treated with so much
kindness that Tryon, as the biographers tell us, addressed to
him a handsome note in acknowledgment, accompanied with
a present of a complete suit of clothes, though it does not
appear that there was any attempt again to supersede the
General for such manifest and highly appreciated "aid and
comfort" to the enemy 1

General Putnam's military career was now hastening to its



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ISRAEL (THOMAS) PUTNAM. 117

close. In the spring of 1779, Sir Henry Clinton was prepar-
ing for a campaign np the North river. Late in May, Wash*
ington moved his army towards the Highlands from Middle-
brook. Putnam crossed the river and joined the main body
in the Clove, one of the deep defiles, where in the latter part
of June he was left in immediate command, while Washing-
ton took up his headquarters at New Wiudsor, and then,
about a month later or a few days after the brilliant capture
of Stony Point by Wayne, at West Point. Putnam's post
was at Buttermilk Falls, two miles below. As if it was de-
termined by his great chief, that he should not be sacrificed
to the enmity of his foes, he was here giveu the command of
the right wing of the army, having under him troops from
Pennsylvania, Marylaud and Virginia. It was from July to
December, of this year, that the most important works at
West Point and in its vicinity were chiefly constructed. One
of his biographers says ; "Experienced in this department, he
took an active and efficient part in completing the fortifica-
tions which had been laid out under his own eye and the site
for which had been selected through his agency. He had the
honor of giving his own name to the principal fort." Sir
Henry contented himself with depredatious in other quarters.
While the army was in wiuter quarters, Putuara again vis-
ited his family in Pomfret. On returning to the camp, he
was attacked with paralysis, which seriously affected the use
of his limbs ou one side and which obliged him to retrace his
steps and pass the remainder of his days at home! He had
strong hopes that he might yet be well enough to join once
more his comrades and engage in active service, but this was
not to be. Yet he lived for ten years more, was able to take a
moderate amount of exercise in walking and riding, retained
full possession of his mental faculties, was an object of great
interest and veneration on the part of his neighbors and the
people generally, was fond of relating stories of the wars in
which he had been engaged to groups of young and old who
were wont to gather around him, and was quick and eager to



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118



HISTORY OF THE PUTNAM FAMILY.



learn all he could about the campaigns in which he could not
now participate and the affairs of the country he could no
longer serve. When in 1783 the Treaty of Peace had been
concluded between England and America and the cause he
loved had gloriously triumphed, he sent his congratulations
to Washington, from whom he received in reply a beautiful
and touching letter, full of grateful recollections and of the
old undying friendship.

"In 1786," says the letter of Hon. Samuel Putnam from
which we have already twice quoted, "he rode on horseback
from Brooklyn to Danvers and paid his last visit to his friends
there. Ou his way home, he stopped at Cambridge at the
college, where the governor of the college paid him much
attention. It was in my junior year ; he came into my room.
His speech was much affected by palsy."

In the month of May, 1790, he was violeutly attacked with
an inflammatory disease, which from the first he was satisfied
would prove mortal. It was of short duration, continuing
but a few days. On the 29th 89 he passed to his rest, "calm, re-
signed, and full of cheerful hope." And the narrator adds :
"The grenadiers of the 11th Regiment, the Independent Corps
of Artillerists and the militia companies in the neighborhood,
assembled each at their appointed rendezvous early on the
morning of June 1st, and having repaired to the late dwell-
ing house of the deceased, a suitable escort was formed, at-
tended by a procession of Masonic brethren present and a
large concourse of respectable citizens, which moved to the
Congregational meeting-house in Brooklyn ; and, after divine
service performed by the Rev. Dr. Whitney, all that was
earthly of a patriot and hero was laid iu the silent tomb,
under the discharge of volleys from the infantry, and minute
guus from the artillery." Mr. Whitney's funeral sermon,
afterward published, dwelt touchingly upon the exalted vir-
tues and merit of his departed parishioner whom he had

»We correct here a long perpetuated error as to the dates of General Putnam's death
and burial. See account in SaUm /Vets Record, of May and June, 1802.



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• . ISRAEL (THOMAS) PUTNAM. 119

known intimately for mauy years, rendering the highest testi-
mony to his character as a Christian man, as an ardent lover
and noble defender of his country, and as a most faithful, excel-
lent and beloved citizen, husband, father and friend. In due
time a monument was erected over his grave, bearing an epi-
taph which was written by the celebrated Rev. Timothy
Dwight, D.D., President of Yale College, who also knew
him well, and whose marble inscription states that "he dared
to lead where auy dared to follow," that his "generosity was
singular and his honesty was proverbial," and that "he raised
himself to universal esteem, and offices of eminent distinction,
by personal worth and a useful life."

In 1818, long years after the old warrior had sunk to his
rest and a grateful country had recorded his name high on the
roll of her noblest defenders, the malignant feeling which has
been adverted to on a previous page and which had all the
while lain smothered and rankling in the breasts of a few sur-
viving officers of the Revolution, at length found vent in a
published "Account of the Battle of Bunker Hill," by Gen-
eral Henry Dearborn. It denied to Putnam, not ouly the com-
mand, but also any active participation in that engagement;
represented him as cowardly, unfaithful, and base in his con-
duct on the occasion ; and otherwise sought to blacken his
memory. The public was stung to indignation and rage.
The press denounced the calumny and its author. Notable men
came forward to voice the righteous anger of the people, and
confute the statements and allegations of the accuser. Col.
Daniel Putnam, the able and highly esteemed son of the de-
parted veteran, whom we have seen with his father at the
plow in Pomfret, on the arrival of the news from Lexington,
April 20. 1775, wrote and published an eloquent and trium-
phant answer, of which, with another letter from the same
source, John Adams said ; "Neither myself nor my family have
been able to read either with dry eyes ;" they "would do honor
to the pen of Pliny." Other dUtingui8hed sons of Connecti-
cut, like Thomas Grosvenor and John Trumbull, confirmed the



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ISRAEL (THOMAS) PUTNAM. 121

trial, atwhich a case of Putnam's interference with certain irreg-
ularities among the New Hampshire troops was brought for-
ward for .examination and decision. The enmity seems never
to have died out. It was shared not only by Dearborn, who
was a captain in Stark's regiment at Bunker Hill, but also by
. Major Caleb Stark, the colonel's or general's son. One of
these, at least, was at length busy in seeking supports for their
strange story of the battle and in privately disseminating it
abroad as he found opportunity. During the year follow-
ing the great event, Stark, the father, appears to have given
his version of it to the infamous General James "Wilkinson.
"When, in 1815, the latter was preparing for publication what
McMaster, in his new History of the people of the United States,
justly describes as his "three ponderous volumes of memoirs,
as false as any yet written by man," — he wrote to Major Starlc
for fuller information about the occurrences of June 17, 1775,
asking him for aid in procuring subscriptions for his work, and
informing him of his desire or purpose to correct certain-pre-
valent misconceptions concerning matters of Revolutionary
history ! He had already heard from Dearborn.

The bait took. The major was pleased, sent him some things
that he wanted, referred him to Dearborn f->r more, and wished
him abundant success in his literary entei A *ise. And then
it was, that Wilkinson embraced in his "false" and "ponderous"
volumes an account of the battle as written by himself, and
as based upon the testimony of this little coterie o * Putnam's
enemies. It is with reference to these memoirs, puh.ished in
1816, that Richard Frothingham himself says, in his Siege of
Boston; "This work contains the earliest reflections on Gene-
ral Putnam's conduct on this occasion, either printed or in
manuscript, that I have met." The historian had not seen
the New Hampshire paper of 1810. Its detraction had died



Online LibraryEben PutnamA history of the Putnam family in England and America → online text (page 15 of 39)