THE LIFE OF RUFUS PUTNAM
PART I, CHAPTER III -
INDIAN WAR CONTINUED— JOURNAL OF RUFUS PUTNAM.
March 15, 1757. The war between England and France, which commenced in 1754, still continuing, I engaged in the provincial service to serve to the second day of February following. I was attached to Captain Ebenezer Learned's company of one hundred men.
April 30, he marched from Brookfield and reached Kinderhook, about eighteen miles below Albany, on the sixth of May. During our
stay in Kinderhook, Captain Learned prayed with his company morning and evening,
and on the Sabbath read a sermon (Oh, how the times have changed!).
May 10, the company left Kinderhook and arrived the same day at Greenbush, opposite the city of Albany.
May 21, our company reached Seacook, a Dutch settlement on the Hoosac river, three miles from the Hudson, deserted by the inhabitants on
account of the war.
June 9, the company joined Colonel Fry at Stillwater, on
the eleventh, marched to Saratoga, a place since famous in history for the
capture of a British army under the command of General Burgoyne, in 1777.
June 14, Colonel Fry's regiment, consisting of
seventeen companies, left Saratoga, and on the fifteenth arrived at Fort
July 10. Being a volunteer in the ranging service,
I was detached as a scout for six days under Lieutenant Collins with twenty-two
men. We marched on the route toward South bay about ten miles and
July 9. After marching about ten miles further, he sent
three of us forward to go to the bay and bring him an account of the distance to
it. That we might go the lighter, we left our blankets and provisions with the
scout, but the distance was much greater than was expected, and we were unable
to return before sunset to the place where we left the party. They were gone and
had carried off our blankets and provisions; the officer had taken fright and
run away, supposing we were killed or taken prisoners. We attempted to track
them but to no purpose. Believing that they could not be far off, we fired a gun
but received no answer. Our situation was by no means agreeable, having nothing
to cover us from the gnats and mosquitoes (with which that country abounds
beyond description) but a shirt and breechclout.
July 10. We fired guns, but to no purpose, and spent the forenoon in search for their trail, but in vain.
July 12. We returned to Fort Edward, having been forty-eight hours without anything to eat, and spent two nights in company with gnats and mosquitoes.
July 12. Collins came with the rest of the party; they confessed they had heard our evening gun, but supposed that the Indians had gotten us and were after them, in consequence of which they took their way to Fort William Henry, and there reported that we were either killed or taken. Mr. Collins' reputation undoubtedly suffered, but he easily pacified us and we did not complain. However, when an officer is brought to solicit his soldiers not to complain of him, he must feel small in his own eyes as well as contemptible in the eyes of others. It was undoubtedly extremely unsoldierlike to leave us in the woods in the manner he did. If our long absence gave cause of alarm, he ought to have withdrawn but a short distance and placed himself in ambush and to have posted two men under cover to watch our return or the approach of the enemy, had any appeared.
July 23. About eight o'clock in the morning, a large party of Indians fired on the guard of the carpenters within one mile of the fort; we had thirteen killed and one missing. This was the first sight I had of the Indian butcherings and it was not very agreeable to the feelings of a young soldier, and I think there are few, if any, who can view such scenes with indifference.
The enemy left none of their dead or wounded behind. In the afternoon, about two hundred and fifty men, under the command of Captain Israel Putnam, marched in pursuit; we marched on the Indian trail until sunset; Captain Putnam then ordered three of us to follow the trail a mile or more further and there lie close till it was quite dark, and to observe if any came back, “for," said he, “if they do not embark in their boats tonight, they will send a party back to see if they are pursued." We went according to orders, but made no discovery. And here I would remark that Captain Putnam's precaution struck my mind very forcibly as a maxim always to be observed, whether you are pursuing or pursued by an enemy, especially in the woods. It was the first idea of generalship that I remember to have treasured up.
August 3. This morning a French army, said to be about fifteen thousand, besides a large body of Indians from Canada, laid siege to Fort William Henry. The siege continued till the ninth, when the garrison capitulated.
Fort William Henry stood on the margin of Lake George, near the southwest corner, thirteen and three-fourth miles from Fort Edward and about seventy miles from Albany. It was a regular square with four bastions. The walls consisted of timber and earth, with ditch, etc., capable for a time of resisting a cannonade or bombardment. The garrison consisted of between three and four hundred British regulars. Most half a mile east of the fort, separated from it by a swamp and creek, were about fifteen hundred provincials encamped within a low breastwork of logs. On these the French made no attack, and they might at any time have forced their way through the enemy posted in the quarter. But the next morning, Provincials were paraded to march to Fort Edward, agreeably to terms of capitulation, the Indians fell on them and a most horrid butchery ensued; those who escaped with their lives were stripped almost naked, many in making their escape were lost in the woods, where they wandered several days without food; one man in particular was out ten days, and there is reason to believe that some perished, in particular the wounded. But the number murdered and missing were never known to me.
General Webb lay all the time of the siege at Fort Edwards, with not less than four thousand men, according to my judgment, and for a considerable part of the time with a larger number by the coming up of the militia of New York. General Webb was informed every day, by an express from Colonel Munroe, of the progress of the siege and of the affairs at the lake. He knew that the French had attempted nothing on the Provincial camp. It was the opinion of many of the officers that he might have relieved the fort, and that he was much to blame for not attempting it. The general idea among us soldiers was that he was a coward; nor did he show more humanity than courage, for he took no care to bury the men butchered in the manner above mentioned, or to seek after the wounded should there be any lying among the dead. I was on the ground a short time after, and saw the dead bodies lying as neglected as if they were wild beasts.
The Provincials lost all confidence in General Webb, and many of them deserted. I was at one time on the point of deserting, but was providentially prevented.
October 8. The Provincial ranging companies were discharged, and I did camp duty until the twenty-first, when I joined a company of carpenters until November 10, when the fort being finished the carpenters were all discharged from the public works.
Fort Edward stood on the easterly bank of the Hudson or North river, about sixty-six miles above Albany. The river washed one side of its wall; its form was somewhat irregular, having two bastions and two half bastions. The walls were high and thick, composed of hewn timber and earth, a broad rampart with casement, a deep ditch with a drawbridge and a covered way.
I have been particular in this description, because in 1777 there was by no means so great an appearance of there having been a fortification there as we find in the ancient works at Marietta and other parts of the Ohio country.
November 10. The remnant of Colonel Fry's regiment (himself and most of his regiment having been made prisoners at Fort William Henry) marched down to the Half Moon, twelve miles above Albany.
November 18. Three hundred and sixty of us were drafted into four companies and ordered to different posts for winter quarters. This was a great and unexpected disappointment, for, although our enlistments ran to the second of February, we expected to be discharged at the close of the campaign. Captain Learned's company was ordered up to Stillwater, but I with several others engaged in the king's works at the Half Moon, and did not join my company until the twenty-ninth of December.
January 1, 1758. We kept the day with joy and wished for candlemas, being suspicious that there was a design to hold us in the service longer than our engagement; and being determined to get away if possible, and, knowing that if we attempted it by the common road through Albany, we should be stopped by the regular troops in that quarter, our plan was to march by the way of Hoosac, and the snow being now deep and daily increasing, the month of January was employed in preparing snow-shoes for the journey. We lay in huts a short distance from a stockade fort, garrisoned by our company of regulars, commanded by Captain Skean, afterwards Major Skean, proprietor of Skeanborough, South Bay.
Captain Learned, who had been home on a furlough, joined his company January 5. He approved of our plan of going off on the third of February, and pledged himself to lead us in the retreat, unless he could obtain our discharge. I then thought much of him, but I have since learned to despise him. For an officer to desert is unpardonable.
February - We were all ordered into the fort, and Captain Skean read us a part of a letter he had received from General Abercrombie, the purport of which was, “you are hereby required to persuade the Massachusetts men under your command to tarry a few days longer until I shall hear from their government and know what their government intends to do with them." To this it was answered he is a good soldier that serves his time out, and that the province had nothing to do with us, neither would we tarry any longer. We were then threatened with death if we went off without a regular discharge, and then ordered to our huts.
If Captain Skean had been in earnest with respect to detaining, it is hard to account for his taking no forcible measures when we were paraded in the fort, nor was there any search made for our snow shoes. It is true our huts were under a high bank out of sight of the fort, and we kept our snow-shoes concealed under the snow, and possibly he knew nothing of them and concluded our route would be by Albany.
February 3. About three o'clock in the morning, we marched off as silently as possible under the conduct of Captain Learned and Lieutenant Walker, being seventy in number, leaving Dr. Brown who did not choose to be of our party, and a few invalids behind. We had an interval to cross for about half a mile to the Hudson, exposed to the cannon of the first, had our retreat been discovered and they disposed to fire on us. This made it necessary to retreat in the night; as to any trouble from the garrison in any other respect, there was no danger, because their number was not equal to ours. We had no provisions but what we had pinched out of our daily allowance, which was very short. We had, perhaps, on an average, between two and three days' allowance. It was called thirty miles to Hoosac fort, a stockade fort on Hoosac river, belonging to Massachusetts; our calculation was to reach this place in two days.
On the first day's march we met with nothing extraordinary except that the snow was deeper than we expected, the foremost man sank half leg deep in the snow, but the tenth man had a good path.
February 4. Second day's march.—This was a very snowy, stormy day, and in passing some deserted settlement we left the river some considerable distance on the right. After passing these settlements we bore away for the Hoosac river. The river was the only guide we depended on to find Fort Hoosac, and not suspecting that we had missed our way, we pushed forward in hopes of arriving at the fort that night. But we were disappointed. Captain Learned killed two turkeys in the course of the day.
February 5. Third day's march.—Started very early; confident of being at the fort before noon. However, noon and night came but no fort; we killed one turkey and pitched camp with heavy hearts, fearing that we had missed our way. Our provisions were nearly exhausted; the weather, exceedingly cold and stormy—several men froze their feet—one man fell in the river and lost one of his snow-shoes, from which he suffered much.
February 6. Fourth day's march.—Continuing up this stream until noon, we came to a considerable fork, which left little doubt that we had missed our way; however, for further satisfaction, we went up one of the branches some distance, until it became so small as to remove all doubt, and then returned to the fork mentioned above. Captain Learned then addressed the company in substance as follows:
It evidently appears that we are on a wrong stream, and we must be, at least, thirty miles north of Hoosac fort; but do not be discouraged, for my life on it, if the men hold out to travel four or five days, if I don't bring you to see the inhabitants of New England; however, if any man has a mind to turn back to Stillwater, he may go and welcome, for my part I would die in the woods.
We all agreed to follow him, and leaving the river (on which is now the town of Bennington, in the state of Vermont) we steeled a southwest course, climbing several steep hills, and about sunset we arrived on the top of a mountain, which appeared to be the highest point of land. The weather was extremely cold and the snow five feet deep.
February 7. Fifth day's march—Thirty of us made a breakfast this morning on a poor, little turkey, without salt or bread. Traveling southwest about five miles, we came to a very small stream issuing from the mountain and running southwest, following down the stream, which, increased by several others, by night had become a considerable river. We had had nothing to eat since morning but beechnuts and a few high cranberries. Night found us very faint and much fatigued; but for all that our courage held out and our hopes from the course and increase of the stream we had fallen on.
February 8. Sixth day's march.The river wound through a broken, hilly, country and the general course was not favorable according to our opinion. The weather was very cold and stormy; the traveling, in general, very bad all day; the men were so feeble and lame with frozen feet, that but few of them were able to break track, so that we began to be fearful that we should not be able to reach any settlement for some days, and had we not have had some relief by traveling a part of the way on the river, it is highly probably some of them would have perished.We had one – and but one – dog along with us; he was large and very fat, and this evening he fell a sacrifice to our necessities. Our custom on this march was to encamp ten men at a fire. The dog was carefully butchered and divided into seven parts, except the entrails which the butcher had for his fees. These he brought to our fire, and ten of us made a very good supper of their fat, without bread or salt.
February 9. Seventh day's march—In the morning ten of us breakfasted on one of the dog's hind feet and leg cut off at the gumbrel, which, being roasted in the ashes, and pounded so as to separate the bones of the foot, was very palatable. We had very good traveling that day, chiefly on the river. The snow was not deep, and about noon we saw some trees that had been cut for shingles, the sight of which revived our drooping spirits, as we judged from this circumstance there must be some settlement not very far distant. About sunset we came to the mouth of a small stream on our left, which one of the corporals said he knew to be Pelham brook, and that we were not more than three miles from Hank's fort, on Deerfield river, which empties into the Connecticut river at Deerfield.
On this information the captain with great prudence—for not more than a dozen or fifteen of us were yet come up, and although we might have gone in with safety yet it must probably have been at the loss of some that had fallen in the snow, on account of their feebleness and frosted feet, - the captain, therefore, ordered the corporal and two others to go on to the fort and make provisions for our arrival in the morning, and the rest to build fires for the night. Fortunately all the men came up by daylight. This night the ten men at our fire made a little soup for supper of the thigh bone of the dog and a portion of the back bone of pork, seasoned with ginger, which relished exceedingly well. With respect to the meat of a dog, I have, ever since I had this experience, believed it to be very good eating and that I could at any time eat it without disgust.
February 10 - The eighth day's march—Some people from the fort met us on our march, with bread and meat sliced up, and gave to each man a piece of each. This was well timed, not only as a friendly act in giving us relief as early as possible; it also served to check the rage of appetite, by which many have injured themselves by a full meal after long starvation. We arrived at Hawk's fort about ten o'clock, where we were kindly entertained. As before observed, many of the men had their feet badly frosted early on the march, and some before we set out; one in particular, Ichabod Dexter, who was one of my messmates, and whose pack I carried with my own through the whole march, and yet I was among the foremost in the march, and, although I was hungry, I never failed in vigor and activity, and this, I have always thought, was owing, in a measure, to the following circumstance: We had in my mess perhaps a pound of honey, in a wooden bottle, and after our provisions failed we dipped the end of a rod, not into a honey-comb, like Jonathan, but into the bottle, and put it to our mouths.
February 15. I arrived at my old master's in Brookfield. I had enjoyed my health in a remarkable manner, and in some instances been wonderfully preserved; but I do not recollect that I made any acknowledgments to my Benefactor and Preserver.
Disaster followed disaster to the English during 1757. At the close of the campaign they had nothing, neither fortress or hamlet, in the valley of St. Lawrence. Every English-speaking inhabitant had been swept from the Ohio valley. France was in possession of twenty times as much territory as England, and five times as much as England and Spain together. There was great discouragement in England, and George II finally yielded to the clamor of the people and called William Pitt, the "great commoner" to form a new cabinet, much against his inclination, and after the country had been for some weeks without a government. Pitt's influence was soon felt. New life was put into all the machinery of government. The inefficient Lord Loudon was removed, and General Abercrombie was put in command of the army. Lord Howe, brave and accomplished, was next in command. General Wolfe was at the head of a brigade, and General Amherst had a division. General Forbes commanded an important detachment and Colonel Richard Montgomery a regiment.
Fresh zeal and effort were shown also in America. They were enthusiastic in their admiration for Pitt, and their confidence was unbounded. Twenty-five thousand troops were raised and added to the twenty-five thousand brought from England, so that Abercrombie found himself in command of an army of fifty thousand. The entire force of the enemy did not exceed twenty thousand.
The New Englanders were not afraid of taxes when they assessed them themselves. Massachusetts did not like a funded debt. They therefore raised the needed supply of money by taxation. For the expenses of the war, in one year, on personal property thirteen shillings and four pence was assessed on a pound of income; on two hundred pounds income from real estate, seventy-two pounds, besides excises and poll-tax. Connecticut was taxed equally heavily. Later, in 1759, a stamp act was passed in Massachusetts.