The work of organizing a Continental army began in June, 1775, when congress assumed control of the troops about Boston, and, after appointing Washington to the chief command, appointed Ward, Lee, Schuyler, and Putnam as the four major-generals. In his new capacity Gen. Putnam commanded the centre of the army at Cambridge, while Ward commanded the right wing at Roxbury, and Lee the left wing stretching to the Mystic river. After the capture of Boston, Gen. Washington sent Putnam to New York, where he took command, 5 April, 1776. On 25 Aug., as Gen. Greene, who commanded the works on Brooklyn heights, had been seized with a fever, Gen. Putnam was placed in command there. For the disastrous defeat of the Americans, two days
afterward, he can in no wise be held responsible. He was blamed at the time for not posting on the Jamaica road a force sufficient to check Cornwallis's flanking march; but, as Chief-Justice Marshall long ago pointed out, this criticism was simply silly, since the flanking force on the Jamaica road outnumbered the whole American army. Indeed there is no need of blaming any one in order to account for the defeat of 5,000 half-trained soldiers by 20,000 veterans. The wonder is, not that the Americans were defeated on Long Island, but that they should have given Gen. Howe a good day's work in defeating them, thus leading the British general to pause, and giving Washington time to plan the withdrawal of the army from its exposed situation. As Putnam deserves no blame for the defeat, so he deserves no special credit for this obstinate resistance, which was chiefly the work of Stirling and Smallwood, and the Maryland “macaronis,” in their heroic defence of the Gowanus road. After the army had crossed to New York, Putnam commanded the rear division, which held the city until the landing of the British at Kip's bay obliged it to fall back upon Bloomingdale. In the action at Harlem heights, part of Putnam's force, under Col. Knowlton, was especially distinguished. The futile device of barring the ascent of the Hudson river, between Ports Washington and Lee, by chevaux de frise
, is generally ascribed to Putnam. In the affair at Chatterton hill, Putnam marched to the assistance of Gen. McDougall, but arrived too late. In the disastrous period that followed the capture of Fort Washington and the treachery of Charles Lee, Putnam was put in command of Philadelphia. After the retreat of the enemy upon New Brunswick, 4 Jan., 1777, he brought forward the American right wing to Princeton, where he remained in command till the middle of May. He was then intrusted with the defence of the highlands of the Hudson river, with headquarters at Peekskill. His command there was marked by a characteristic incident. Edmund Palmer, lieutenant in a loyalist regiment, was caught lurking in the American camp, and was condemned to death as a spy. There seemed to be a tacit assumption, on the part of the British, that, while American spies were punishable with death, this did not hold true of British spies; that American commanders, as not representing any acknowledged sovereignty, could not possess any legal authority for inflicting the death-penalty. This assumption pervades some British opinions upon the case of André. In reliance upon some such assumption, Sir Henry Clinton sent up from New York a flag of truce, and threatened Putnam with signal vengeance, should he dare to injure the person of the king's liege subject, Edmund Palmer. The old general's reply was brief and to the point: “Headquarters, 7 Aug., 1777. — Edmund Palmer, an officer in the enemy's service, was taken as a spy lurking within our lines; he has been tried as a spy, condemned as a spy, and shall be executed as a spy, and the flag is ordered to depart immediately. — Israel Putnam. — P. S. He has accordingly been executed.” In October, Clinton came up the river, to the relief of hard-pressed Burgoyne, and, landing at Tarry town, captured the forts in the highlands. They were immediately recovered, however, after the surrender of Burgoyne. At the end of the year, Putnam was superseded at Peekskill by McDougal, and went to Connecticut to hasten the work of recruiting the army for the next campaign. During the years 1778-'9, he was engaged in the western part of Connecticut, with headquarters usually at Danbury, co-operating with the force in the highlands. At this time he made his famous escape from Gen. Tryon's troops by riding down the stone steps at Horseneck, in the township of Greenwich. There is some disagreement between the different accounts as to the date of this incident, and the story is perhaps to be taken with some allowances. When the army went into winter-quarters at Morristown, in December, 1779, Putnam made a short visit to his family at Pomfret. He set out on his return to camp, but, before reaching Hartford, had a stroke of paralysis. His remaining years were spent at home. His birthplace is shown in the accompanying engraving.
Gen. Putnam's biography has been written by Col. David Humphreys (Boston, 1818); by Oliver Peabody, in Sparks's “American Biography”; by William Cutter (New York, 1846); and by Increase N. Tarbox (Boston, 1876). The most complete bibliography of the question as to the command at Bunker Hill is to be found in Winsor's “Narrative and Critical History of America” (Boston, 1888), vol. vi., p. 190. An equestrian statue of Gen. Putnam was unveiled in Brooklyn, Conn., 14 June, 1888. — His cousin, Rufus, soldier, b. in Sutton, Mass., 9 April, 1738; d. in Marietta, O., 4 May, 1824, after completing his apprenticeship as a millwright served through the campaigns of 1757-'60 against the French. He then married and settled in New Braintree, pursuing his original vocation and that of farming. At the same time he studied mathematics, in which he attained proficiency, particularly in its application to navigation and surveying. In January, 1773, he sailed to east Florida with a committee to explore lands that were supposed to have been granted there by parliament to the provincial officers and soldiers that had fought in the French war. On arriving at Pensacola, he discovered that no such grant had been made, and was appointed by the governor deputy surveyor of the province. On his return to Massachusetts he was made lieutenant-colonel in David Brewer's regiment, one of the first that was raised after the battle of Lexington. The ability that he displayed as an engineer in throwing up defences in Roxbury, Mass., secured for him the favorable consid-