Page:Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography (1900, volume 5).djvu/166

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

yet entirely freed from the assaults of wild beasts. By 1735 all the wolves of the neighborhood seem to have been slain save one old female that for some seasons more went on ravaging the farm-yards. Her lair was not far from Putnam's farm, and one night she slew sixty or seventy of his fine sheep. Perhaps no incident in Putnam's career is so often quoted as his share in the wolf-hunt, ending in his descending into the dark, narrow cave, shooting his enemy at short range, and dragging her forth in triumph. It was the one picturesque event in his life previous to 1755, when Connecticut was called upon for 1,000 men to defend the northern approaches to New York against the anticipated French invasion. This force was commanded by Maj.-Gen. Phineas Lyman, and one of its companies was assigned to Putnam, with the rank of captain. Putnam was present at the battle of Lake George, in which William Johnson won his baronetcy by defeating Dieskau. He became one of the leading members of the famous band of Rangers that did so much to annoy and embarrass the enemy during the next two years. In 1757 he was promoted major. Among the incidents illustrating his personal bravery, those most often quoted are — first, his rescue of a party of soldiers from the Indians by steering them in a bateau down the dangerous rapids of the Hudson near Fort Miller; and, secondly, his saving Fort Edward from destruction by fire, at the imminent risk of losing his life in the flames. In a still more terrible way he was brought into peril from fire. In August, 1758, he was taken prisoner in a sharp skirmish near Wood creek, and after some preliminary tortures, his savage captors decided to burn him alive. He had been stripped and bound to the tree, and the flames were searing his flesh, when a French officer, Capt. Molang, came rushing through the crowd, scattered the firebrands, cuffed and upbraided the Indians, and released their victim. Putnam was carried to Montreal, and presently freed by exchange. In 1759 he as promoted lieutenant-colonel, and put in command of a regiment. In 1760 he accompanied Gen. Amherst in his march from Oswego to Montreal. In descending the St. Lawrence it became desirable to dislodge the French garrison from Fort Oswegatehie; but the approach to this place was guarded by two schooners, the larger of which mounted twelve guns, and was capable of making serious havoc among the English boats. “I wish there were some way of taking that infernal schooner,” said Amherst. “All right,” said Putnam; “just give me some wedges and a mallet, and half-a-dozen men of my own choosing, and I'll soon take her for you.” The British general smiled incredulously, but presently authorized the adventurous Yankee to proceed. In the night Putnam's little party, in a light boat with muffled oars, rowed under the schooner's stern and drove the wedges between the rudder and the stern-post so firmly as to render the helm unmanageable. Then going around under the bow, they cut the vessel's cable, and then rowed softly away. Before morning the helpless schooner had drifted ashore, where she struck her colors; the other French vessel then surrendered, thus uncovering the fort, which Amherst soon captured. In 1762 Col. Putnam accompanied Gen. Lyman in the expedition to the West Indies, which, after frightful sufferings, ended in the capture of Havana. In 1764 he commanded the Connecticut regiment in Bradstreet's little army, sent to relieve Detroit, which Pontiac was besieging. At the end of the year he returned home, after nearly ten years of rough campaigning, with the full rank of colonel. In 1765 his wife died, leaving the youngest of their ten children an infant about a year old. In 1767 Col. Putnam married Deborah, widow of John Gardiner, with whom he lived happily until her death in 1777. There were no children by this second marriage. Col. Putnam united with the church in Brooklyn, 19 May, 1765. For the next ten years his life was uneventful. During this period he used his house as an inn, swinging before the door a sign-board on which were depicted the features of Gen. Wolfe. This sign is now in the possession of the Connecticut historical society at Hartford. In the winter of 1772-'3 he accompanied Gen. Lyman in a voyage to the mouth of the Mississippi, and up that river to Natchez, where the British government had granted some territory to the Connecticut troops who had survived the dreadful West India campaign. In the course of this voyage they visited Jamaica and Pensacola. After 1765 Col. Putnam was conspicuous among the “Sons of Liberty” in Connecticut. In August, 1774, before Gen. Gage had quite shut up the approaches to Boston, and while provisions from all the colonies were pouring into that town, Putnam rode over the Neck with 130 sheep as a gift from the parish of Brooklyn. During his stay in Boston he was the guest of Dr. Warren. On 20 April following, early in the afternoon, a despatch from the committee of safety at Watertown reached Pomfret with news of the fight at Concord. The news found Putnam ploughing a field. Leaving his plough in the furrow, and without waiting to don his uniform, he mounted a horse, and at sunrise of the 21st galloped into Cambridge. Later in the same day he was at Concord, whence he sent a despatch to Pomfret, with directions about the bringing up of the militia. He was soon summoned to Hartford, to consult with the legislature of Connecticut, and, after a week, returned to Cambridge, with the chief command of the forces of that colony, and the rank of brigadier.

There has been a great deal of controversy as to who commanded the American troops at Bunker Hill, and there is apparently no reason why the controversy should not be kept up, as long as the question is at bottom one of rivalry between Connecticut and Massachusetts. The difficulty in settling it points to the true conclusion, that the work of that battle was largely the work of distinct bodies of men hardly organized as yet into an army. It is even open to question how far the troops of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, then engaged in besieging Boston, are to be regarded as four armies or as one army. From the nature of the situation, rather than by any right of seniority, Gen. Ward, of Massachusetts, exercised practically the command over the whole. On the day of Bunker Hill, it would seem that the actual command was exercised by Prescott at the redoubt and by Stark at the rail-fence. Warren was the ranking officer on the field; but as he expressly declined the command, it left Putnam the ranking officer, and in that capacity he withdrew men with intrenching tools from Prescott's party, undertook to throw up earthworks on the crest of Bunker Hill in the rear, and toward the close of the day conducted the retreat and directed the fortifying of Prospect Hill. Putnam was, therefore, no doubt the ranking officer at Bunker Hill, though it does not appear that the work of Prescott and Stark was in any wise done under his direction. The question would be more important had the battle of Bunker Hill been characterized by any grand tactics. As no special generalship was involved, and the significance of the battle lay in its moral effects, the question has little interest except for local patriots.