REVOLUTIONARY WAR — CAUSES-SIEGE OF BOSTON—EVACUATION
Mr. James Russell says: “It was the drums of Nateby and Dunbar that gathered the minute men on Lexington common; it was the red dint of the age on Charles’ block that marked one in our era.” Again he says: “What made our Revolution a foregone conclusion was the act of the general court passed in May, 1647, which established the system of common schools.The first row of trammels and pot-hooks which the little Shearjashubs and Elkanabs blotted and blubbered across their copybooks was the preamble to the Declaration of Independence.”
When the storm at length burst, Massachusetts was the central point of the onset, and Boston was especially singled out as the chiefest offender. The Boston port bill was passed; the commerce of the city was crippled to an extreme.Sympathy was universally shown by the other colonies, and help came from all quarters. Israel Putnam came from Connecticut, driving before him a flock of one hundred and fifty sheep – a gift from the parish of Brooklyn, where he lived. The “old hero” was the guest of Wausen while he remained in the city, and we can easily imagine what was the theme of conversation as they sat by the light of the lamp that August evening in 1774. They stirred one another up to more heroic thought and braver deeds for the contest that was then so near at hand.
April 19, 1775,the shedding of blood began in the battle of Lexington. That of Bunker Hill soon followed. The story has often been told how Israel Putnam left his oxen standing in the furrow and hastened to the point when news of the first skirmish reached him. He was on hand to take a part in the battle of Bunker Hill. Rufus Putnam did not tarry long behind him. He could not sit quietly by his fireside when other men were exposing their lives for home and country and all they held dear. He buckled on his sword when the strife began, and did not lay it down till liberty was secure and peace again smiled upon the land. He entered the army as lieutenant-colonel of a regiment commanded by Colonel David Brewer. The regiment was stationed at Roxbury, in the division commanded by General Thomas. In the memoir, to which reference already been made, Colonel Putnam states the particulars in regard to what he did. He shall again have the privilege of telling his own story.
June 17. The general and field officers met in council to advise what was to be done in our exposed situation. It was the unanimous advice of the officers that some line of defense should immediately be commenced for the security of the troops from surprise, and for the protection of the town. The general informed us that he had applied for Colonel Gridley to come from Cambridge, but could not obtain him as he was the only engineer on that side, and the only one he knew of. Some of my acquaintances mentioned me as having been employed in that way in the late war in Canada. I informed the general that I had never read a word on the subject of fortification; it was true that I had been en some work of that sort under British engineers, but I pretended to no knowledge in regard to laying out works. But no excuse would avail. Undertake I must. Oh! what a situation we were in! No lines to cover us better than a board fence in case the enemy advanced upon us, and that was what we had every reason to expert. The necessity was, therefore, upon me. Undertake I must. I immediately began tracing out lines in front of Roxbury, towards Boston, and various other places on the side, particularly at Sewells Point. It was my good fortune to be at this place when General Washington and General Lee first came over to examine the situation of the troops and works on the Roxbury side of the river. I was much gratified and encouraged by their approbation of the plan of the works I had laid out. General Lee said much in favor of the works at Sewell’s Point, compared with had been constructed on the Cambridge side.
The works laid out at Roxbury, Dorchester and Brookline were all of my constructing, and late in the fall I laid out the Norton Cobble Hill, near Charleston mill pond.
In the course of this campaign, by the general’s order, I surveyed and delineated the courses and relative situation of the enemy’s works in Boston and Charlestown, with our own in Cambridge, Roxbury, etc.
In December I accompanied General Lee to Providence and Newport; at this last place some works, particularly a battery from whence to command the harbor, and some works near Howland’s Ferry to secure the command.
In February of 1776,Washington found himself in circumstances that would have appalled a less courageous man. His military chest contained only money enough to pay his soldiers to the last of the previous December. There was a great scarcity of powder, only one hundred pounds remaining. His men were ill-clad, poorly armed and not over-well fed.
The British army in Boston, meanwhile, had not only all their needs supplied, but had time and opportunity for amusements and enjoyment. The old South church was turned into a riding school light dragoons. Fanueil hall was desecrated by being converted into a play-house; British officers became amateur actors and intermingled their plays, balls and masquerades. There were enough Tories and Bostonians to furnish fair ladies for partners and assistants in these diversions. The army consisted of about eight thousand troops, rank besides the ships of war gaily flying their flags in the harbor. They waited for the coming of spring and reinforcement, preparatory to their removal to New York. Meanwhile all went “merry as a marriage bell” as they waited. Washington could not attack them, for, besides the scarcity of powder, he had no artillery except what had been captured by privateers and dragged overland from Lake George.
To the perturbed mind of the commander-in-chief there seemed to be but one resource: Dorchester Heights would give him the command of Boston and a considerable part of the harbor. it within the bounds of possibility to gain possession of that vantage ground? It seemed worth while to make the effort. Mr. Bancroft thus refers to the event in the eighth volume of his ‘History of the United States:’ “The engineer employed to devise and superintend the works was Rufus Putnam, and the time chosen for their erection was the eve of the anniversary of the ‘Boston massacre.’
The importance of this event can hardly be over-estimated. There was not only relief but great encouragement in it. Having an outside view of the storming of Dorchester Heights, as given by the historian, it may be pleasant also to see the inside. At the risk, therefore, of some repetition, Colonel Putnam’s own account of the affair will be given:
1776. During the months of January and February, General Washington was deeply engaged on a plan of crossing on the ice and attacking the British in Boston, or endeavoring to draw them out by taking possession of Dorchester Neck. Now, with respect to taking possession of Dorchester Neck, there were circumstances which fell within my knowledge and sphere of duty, which were so evidently marked by the hand of an over-ruling Providence that I think proper to relate them. As soon as the ice was thought sufficiently strong for the army to pass over, a council of general officers was convened on the subject. What their particular opinion was I never knew, but the brigadiers were directed to consult the field officers of their several regiments, and these again to feel the temper of the captains and subalterns. While this was doing, I was invited to dine at headquarters. General Washington desired me to tarry after dinner, and when we were alone he entered into a free conversation on the subject of storming the town of Boston. That it was much better to draw the enemy to Dorchester than to attack him. In Boston, no one doubted, for if we could maintain ourselves on that point or neck of land, our command of the town and harbor of Boston would be such as would probably compel them to leave the place. But cold weather, which had made a bridge of ice for our passage into Boston, had also frozen the earth to a great depth, especially in the open country, such as was the hills on Dorchester Neck, so that it was impossible to make a lodgement there in the usual way. However, the general directed me to consider the subject, and, if I could think of any way in which it could be done, to make report to him immediately. And now mark those singular circumstances which I call Providence: I left headquarters in company with another gentleman, and on our way came by General Heath’s. I had no thoughts of calling until I came against his door, and then I said, “Let us call on General Heath,” to which he agreed. I had no other motive but to pay my respects to the general. While there I cast my eye on a book which lay on the table, lettered on the back “Muller’s Field Engineer.” I immediately requested the general to lend it to me; he denied me; I repeated my request; he again refused, and told me he never lent his books. I then told him that he must recollect that he was the one who, at Roxbury, in a measure, compelled me to undertake a business which, at the time, I confessed I never had read a word about, and that he must let me have the book. After some more excuses on his part and close pressing on mine, I obtained the loan of it. I arrived at my quarters about dark. It was the custom for the overseers of the workmen to report to me every evening what progress had been made during the day. When I arrived, there were some of them already there. I put my book in the chest and, if I had time, I did not think of looking in it that night The next morning, as soon as opportunity offered, I took my book from the chest and, looking over the contents, I found the word “chandelier.” What is that, I thought; it is something I never heard of before. But no sooner did I turn to the page where It was described, with its use, but I was ready to report a plan for making a lodgement on Dorchester Neck.In a few minutes,after I had myself come to a determination in regard to the matter, Colonel Gridley (the engineer who had conducted the work at Cambridge), with Colonel Ruox of the artillery, who had been directed to consult with me on the subject, came in, They fell in with my plans. Our report was approved by the general, and preparations immediately set on foot to carry it into effect. Everything being ready for the enterprise, the plan was put in execution and a lodgement made on Dorchester Heights in the night of the fourth of March. Such were the Circumstances that led to the discovery of a plan which obliged the enemy to leave Boston.
General Howe saw at once that, with Dorchester Heights in possession of the Americans, his position was no longer tenable. He must go out and fight or withdraw altogether. At first he was inclined to the former, but obstacles intervened and he chose the latter. He sent a messenger to General Washington to say that he would withdraw if he would be allowed to do so unmolested. The American commander was poorly prepared for a battle, and was only too glad to get the enemy out of Boston on terms so favorabIe. And so the British army, consisting of about eight thousand men, together with more than eleven hundred loyalists, who did not dare to be left behind, marched out of Boston and began their embarkation at four o’clock in the morning. The troops from Roxbury immediately marched in and took possession. Marks of the haste with which the British had taken their departure were everywhere to be seen. They had left behind two hundred and fifty pieces of cannon, twenty-five thousand caldrons of coal, twenty-five thousand bushels of wheat, three thousand bushels of barley and oats, and one hundred and fifty horses, bedding and clothing for soldiers. Most welcome supplies these were to the patriot army. But these were not all. Not knowing of the retreat of the British army, vessels came in with arms and tools for artillery, and seven times as much powder as Washington had for his army when he began the movement.
The defense of Boston had cost England more than a million pounds sterling. During the siege but twenty lives had been lost in the patriot army, and it had cost less than two hundred lives to drive the enemy from New England. Henceforth, during the war, in four of these states there was no bloodshed or disturbance. The forced evacuation of Boston was the first substantial gain on the part of the patriots; and then and there, by the aid and largely through the influence of an untaught engineer, the cornerstone of American independence was laid. And here also was laid the foundation for that confidence and respect which the commander-in-chief always manifested for Mr. Putnam. He saw that he possessed, in abundant measure, both integrity and ability, and the union of these two qualities made a man greatly to be desired and trusted and invaluable in the exigencies of the occasion. The colonies had no schools for training civil engineers. In all previous wars with which they had anything to do, the headwork and commanding had been done by those with whom the contest was now waged; the English had commanded, the Americans obeyed. Although the training they had had was in many ways useful to them, it had not supplied them with men instructed in the art of war as applied to works of offense or defense. The French engineers who came to their relief did not seem to have learned from their books the wisdom necessary to make applications not contemplated by their instructors.
In Mr. Putnam, therefore, General Washington found what he sorely needed and could not find elsewhere—a man endowed, in plentiful measure, with sound common sense, good judgment, great industry, unbending integrity, and an intuitive knowledge of the skillful adaptation of means to ends, so as almost always to accomplish the thing he sought to do. We shall see that he was always in demand. He had little chance to be idle. When the army was in winter quarters, he was laying out roads, superintending the erection of fortifications, or in other ways advancing the interests of the cause in which he was so zealously engaged.
Boston being rescued from the enemy, New York next became the centre of interest. In the condition of affairs then, there was great cause for discouragement to the patriots. When the year 1776 began, the royalists were everywhere in the ascendant. The British men-of-war were masters of the bay, the East river and the Hudson to the highlands. The common people in the city were on the side of liberty and independence, but a large proportion of the rich merchants were opposed to separation from England. Two-thirds of the men of influence kept aloof from the struggle or sided with the enemy. During the summer the English made large additions to their fighting force. Twenty-five thousand English troops were added to their army. George III also made arrangements with the small German princess for troops, and seventeen thousand Hessians came to swell the numbers in the army. Nothing had so excited the indignation of the colonists as this measure. Until now there had been hope of reconciliation. There were only a few bold spirits who had hitherto advocated separation from the mother country and setting up an independent government. But now all thought of submission or reconciliation was thrown to the winds. The most strenuous effort was made to replenish the army. During the summer Washington’s forces were nominally increased to twenty-seven thousand men, but his effective force was not more than half that number. Enlistments were for but a brief period, and therefore frequently expiring. There were many also on the sick list. The following entry appears in Colonel Putnam’s journal:
March 31, 1776. I received General Washington’s orders to march to New York, by the way of Providence, to afford Governor Cook my best advice and assistance in the construction of the work there. I went to visit Newport again, where I laid out some additional works. On my return from Newport to Providence I met General Washington there, I believe, the sixth of April, and obtained leave to go by Brookfield to New York. I believe I tarried with my family a part of two days, and then pushed for New York, where I arrived about the twentieth. On my arrival in New York I was charged (as chief engineer) with laying out and overseeing the works which were erected during the campaign, at New York, Long Island, and their dependencies, with Fort Washington, Fort Lee, King’s Bridge, etc. This was a service of much fatigue, for my whole time was taken up, from daylight in the morning till night, in the business.
During the summer the following note was received from General Washington:AUGUST 11,
SIR: I have the pleasure to inform you that congress have appointed you an engineer, with the rank of colonel, and pay of sixty dollars per month. I am, sir,
“Your assured friend and servant,G. WASHINGTON.
In regard to this appointment, Colonel Putnam, with characteristic modesty, remarks in his journal:
My being appointed engineer by congress was wholly unexpected. I had begun to act in that capacity through pure necessity, and had continued the business more from necessity and from respect for the general than from any opinion of my own abilities. True it is that, after my arrival in New York, I had read from books on fortification, and knew more than when I began at Roxbury; but I had not the vanity to suppose that my knowledge was such as to give me a claim to the first rank in a corps of engineers, yet my experience convinced me that such a corps was necessary to be established.
In the latter part of the month of August occurred the disastrous battle of Long Island. General Israel Putnam was in command, but General Washington reached the scene of combat before the battle was over. The loss of the patriot army was nearly four thousand in killed, wounded and missing. Washington gathered the shattered forces together in the trenches back of Brooklyn. The delay of General Howe in following up his victory gave Washington a breathing spell. During the night of the second day after the battle, skillful arrangements were made, and the army safely ferried across the river and landed in New York. The British were not aware of the movement until the last boat was on its way across the water. General Greene said “that this retreat of Washington was the most masterly he had ever heard of read of. ”Henceforth, for seven years, the British held New York.
The results of this defeat were altogether evil. Discouragement, like a pall, rested upon the country. There was gloom in the army and almost among patriots generally. It was not until the year was almost gone that any advantage was gained over the enemy. The battle of Trenton cleared a way a share of the despondency and revived hope. At the request of General Washington, Colonel Putnam drew up a plan for establishing a corps of engineers. It was transmitted to congress with the following recommendation from the commander-in-chief:
I have taken the liberty to transmit a plan for establishing a corps of engineers, artificers, etc., out by Colonel Putnam, and which is proposed for the consideration of congress. How far they may be inclined to adopt it, or whether they will be inclined to proceed on so extensive a scale, they will be pleased to determine. However, I conceive it a matter well worthy of their consideration, being convinced from experience and from the reasons suggested by Colonel Putnam, who has acted with great and reputation in the business, that some establishment of the sort is highly necessary and will be productive of the most beneficial consequences.
Colonel Putnam says: “In my letter to General Washington on the subject, I disclaimed all pretension of being placed at the head of the proposed corps, and signified that it would be my choice to serve in the line army.” The journal continues:
October 19, 1776. The British landed on Pell’s Point and some skirmishing took place in the afternoon between part of Glover’s brigade and some advance parties of the enemy near East Chester. The next morning, by order of the general, I set out, in company with Colonel Reed, the adjutant-general and a foot guard of about twenty men. When we arrived at the heights of East Chester we saw a body of British near the church, but could obtain no intelligence—the houses were deserted. Colonel Reed now told me that he must return to attend to issuing general orders. I observed that we had made no discovery yet of consequence; that if he went back I wished him to take the guard back, for I chose to go alone. I then disguised my appearance as an officer as far as I could, and set out on to White Plains, though I did not then know where White Plains was, nor where the road I had would lead me. I had gone about two and a half miles when a road turned off to the right. I followed it and, in perhaps a half mile, I came to a house, where I learned from the woman that this road led to New Rochelle, that the British were there and that they had a guard at a house in sight. On this information I turned and pursued my route toward White Plains (the houses on the way were all deserted until I came within three or four miles of the place. Here I discovered a house a little ahead, with men about it. With my glass I found they were not British soldiers. However, I approached them with caution. I called for some oats for my horse, then sat down and heard them chat some little time, when I found they were friends to the cause of America; then I began to make the necessary inquiries. On the whole, I found that the main body of the British lay near New Rochelle; from thence to White Plains it was about nine miles, with good roads and, in general, a level, open country; that at White Plains was a large quantity of stores, with only about three hundred militia to guard them; that the British had a detachment at a place only six miles from White Plains. only five miles to the North river, where lay five or six of the enemy’s ships, sloops, tenders, etc.
Having made these discoveries, I set out on my return. The road from Ward’s, across the Brunx, was my intended route, unless I should find the British there; but I saw Americans on the heights west of the Brunx, who had arrived there after I passed up. I found it to be Lord Sterling’s division. It was now after sunset.I gave my lord a short account of my discoveries, took some refreshments and set off for headquarters by the way of Philips, at the mouth of Sawmill river. It was a road I never traveled. Among Tory inhabitants and in the night, I dare not inquire the way, but Providence directed me. I arrived at headquarters, near King’s Bridge (a distance of about ten miles), about nine o’clock at night. I found the general alone. I reported to him the discoveries I had made and gave him a sketch of the country. He complained very feelingly of the gentlemen from New York from whom he had never been able to obtain a plan of the country, and said that, from their information he had ordered the stores to White Plains as being a place of security. The general sent for General Greene and General Clinton, since vice president of the United States. As soon as General Clinton came in, my sketch and statement were shown to him, and he was asked if the situation of those places was as I had reported. General Clinton said it was.
I had had but a short time to refresh myself and horse when I received a letter from the general, with orders to proceed immediately to Lord Sterling. I arrived at his quarter about two o’clock in the morning.
October 21. Lord Sterling’s division marched before daylight, and we arrived at White Plains about nine o’clock in the morning. Thus was the American army saved (by interposition of Providence) a probable total destruction. I may be asked wherein this particular interposition appears. I answer, first, in the stupidity of the British general, in that he did not, early in the morning of the twentieth, send a detachment and take possession of the post and stores at White Plains, for had he done this, we must then have fought him on his own terms and such disadvantageous terms on our part as, humanly speaking, must have caused our overthrow. Again, when I parted with Colonel Reed on the twentieth, as before mentioned. I have always thought that I was moved to so hazardous an undertaking by divine influence. On my route I was liable to meet with British or Tory parties, who probably would have made me a prisoner. Hence I was induced to disguise myself by cockade, loping my hat and secreting my sword and pistols under my loose coat. The probability is that I should have been hanged as a spy if I had been taken under this disguise.
October 29. The British advanced in front of our lines at White Plains about ten o’clock a.m. I had just arrived on Chatterton hill in order to throw up some works, when they hove in sight.As soon as they discovered us, they commenced a severe cannonade, but without any effect of consequence. General McDougal arrived about this time, with his brigade, from Burtis’, and observing the British to be crossing the Brunx below in large bodies, in order to attack us, our troops were posted in a very advantageous position to receive them. The British were twice repulsed in their advance. At length, however, their numbers were increased, so that they were able to turn our right flank. We lost many men, but from information afterward received, there was reason to believe that they lost more than we did. The wall and stone fence behind which our troops were posted proved as fatal to the British as the rail fence and grass hung on it did at Charlestown. June 11, 1775. After the affair of October 29, my time was employed in examining the nature of the country, in a military point of view, in our rear, towards North Castle, Croton river, etc., until about November 5, when I received the from the general, which I shall take the liberty to transcribe:
HEADQUARTERS, WHITE PLAINS, November
You are directed to repair to Wright’s Mills and lay out any work there you conceive to be necessary, in case it is not already done; from thence you are to proceed to Croton bridge, and post the two regiments of militia in the most advantageous manner, so as to obstruct the enemy’s passage to that quarter. You are also to give what directions you think are proper to those regiments, respecting the breaking up the roads leading from the North river eastward. After this you are to go up to Peekskill and direct Lasher’s detachment to break up the roads there; you are likewise to lay out be advisable there and order them to be set about.
Given under my hand.
To Colonel Putnam, Engineer
November 11, 1776. General Washington came to Peekskill and I went with him to visit Fort Montgomery. On the same day, or the next, he crossed the North river, leaving instructions with me ascertain the geography of the country, with the roads and passes through and about the highlands, a report of which I afterwards made, with a sketch of a plan.
December 8. I wrote to General Washington informing him that I had accepted a regiment in the Massachusetts lines of the Continental army, with my reasons for so doing, assuring him at the same time of my attachment to him and readiness to execute any service I should be ordered on. An extract of his answer I shall subjoin:
Buck County, Near Coryell’s Ferry, December 1776
DEAR SIR: Your letter of the eighth instant, from Peekskill, came duly to hand. Your acceptance of a regiment to be raised on continental establishment by the state of Massachusetts is quite agreeable to me, and I sincerely wish you success in recruiting and much honor in commanding it.
Your professions of attachment are extremely pleasing to, dear sir,Your most obedient servant, GEO. WASHINGTON.
Again, on the twentieth of December, the general has the following in a letter to congress:
I have also to mention that, for want of some establishment in the department of engineers agreeable to the plan laid before congress in October last, Colonel Putnam, who was at the head of it, has quitted and taken a regiment in the state of Massachusetts. I know of no other man even tolerably well qualified for the conducting of that business. None of the French gentlemen whom I have seen with appointments in that way appear to know anything of the matter. There is one in Philadelphia who, I am told, is clever; but him I have not seen.
After this I repaired to headquarters to settle my accounts; then, in January, 1777, I returned to Massachusetts to recruit my regiment, in which I was pretty successful. But as I was not engaged in much extra service this year, my memoir will be very short. Three companies of regiment marched from Worcester about the first of May for Peekskill, and from thence in June were ordered up the North river, and finally to Fort Ann. I marched with the remainder from Worcester the third of July. At Springfield I received information that those three companies were gone up the North river, and also had orders to join the brigade in that quarter. I joined the northern troops about four miles above Fort Edward. The next day the army fell down the river about four miles, except my regiment, which remained three or four days. This gave me an opportunity to examine Fort Edward and compare its present state with what it was in 1760. The last time I saw it, when standing, it appeared as it really was—a very strong fortification, but now, alas I its remaining walls and ditch would afford no cover in case of an attack.
With respect to the events which took place in this campaign on the North river, between the army under the immediate command of General Burgoyne and ours under General Gates, I should say nothing of myself were it not for some omissions and misstatements by the historian with respect to storming the works of the German reserve of the seventh of October. (See ‘Life of Washington,’ p. 257—8, vol. iii.)
The facts are as follows: In front of those works was a clear, open field, bounded by a wood at the distance of about one hundred and twenty yards. In the skirt of this wood I was posted with the fifth and sixth Massachusetts regiments. The right and left of those works were partly covered by a thin wood, and the rear by a thick wood. The moment orders were given to storm, I moved rapidly across the open field and entered the works in front, I believe, at the same moment, the troops of Learned’s brigade, in which Jackson’s regiment was, entered on the left rear. I immediately formed the two regiments under my command and moved out of the works, which were not enclosed in the rear, into the wood towards the enemy’s enclosed redout on the right flank of their main encampment. General Learned, as soon as he had secured and sent off all the plunder taken in this camp, withdrew all the other troops without bidding me a good night. However, some time before morning, General Glover joined me with three regiments from the right wing of the army.
Marshall’s account of the affair is very different from mine. He says: ‘Jackson’s regiment of Massachusetts, led by Lieutenant-colonel Brooks, turned the right of the encampment and stormed the works.” No mention is made of Brigadier-general Learned, who stormed at the same time with other corps of his brigade as well as Jackson’s; nor of the two regiments under my command, who stormed in front again. Brooks maintained the ground he had gained. Nothing can be further from being correct than this, for, except the two regiments which I commanded, I never saw troops in greater disorder, nor did I see any of them formed into order for action before I moved out with the fifth and sixth regiments, as before mentioned. Page 61, in a note from Mr. Gordon, it is said that “Nixon’s brigade crossed Saratoga creek.” The fact was that the brigade was put in motion and marched in column closer to the creek just as the fog broke away, when the whole park of the British artillery opened upon us at not more than five hundred yards distant. Finding we were halted, I rode forward to the head of the brigade to inquire why we stood there in that exposed situation, but Nixon was not to be found, and Colonel Grafton, who commanded the leading regiment, said he had no orders. I then advised crossing the creek and covering the troops under the bank, which was done. I then, at the request of Colonel Stevens, advanced with my regiment across the plain and posted them under cover of the bank of an old stockade, while Stevens advanced with two field pieces to annoy the British, who were attempting to take away some covered wagons standing about half way between us and the British battery. We remained in this situation almost an hour, when I had orders to retreat. I found Nixon near the church and, after some debate, I obtained leave to send a party and cut away the British boats which lay above the mouth of the creek. Captains Morse, Goodale and Gates, with about seventy or eighty, volunteered to go on this service, which they effected without loss.The worthy Kosciuskoa,the famous Polander, was at the head of the engineer department in Gates army. We advised together with respect to the works necessary to be thrown up for the defense of the camp, but he had the oversight in erecting them.
The surrender of Burgoyne greatly changed the aspect of affairs There was hope now, where before discouragement had prevailed. An alliance with France was secured, money obtained and men promised. Robert Morris took the management of the finances and brought order out of confusion. It is difficult to see how the success that came could have been secured without his help. When the names are called over of those who laid the foundation of the grand republic, that of Robert Morris ought never to be left out Alas! that he was no better rewarded for his invaluable services.
After the surrender of Burgoyne, Nixon’s brigade, to which Colonel Putnam was attached, went into winter quarters at Albany. But for him there was always something to do. In January, 1778, he received a message from Governor Clinton and General Israel Putnam requesting him to come to West Point to superintend the erection of fortifications there. After some parleying and delay he went thither in March. As soon as he reached West Point, he went to work, first tearing down and then building up. A French engineer had been employed and had laid out the main fort on an extended point near the river. Colonel Putnam abandoned it and simply placed a battery there to annoy the enemy’s shipping. The principal fort was built by his own regiment and by General McDougal, named Fort Putnam, It was on a rocky eminence that commanded both the plain and the point. The plans that he made and the fortifications he erected have since been strengthened and expanded, but he laid the foundations, and there has been no essential departure from his plans. He was thus occupied until June. In July he marched his regiment to White Plains, and united with the main army under the commander-in-chief. There was but little active service performed during the campaign, and in September the army was broken up into divisions. That of General Gates, to which Colonel Putnam belonged, was sent to Danville, Connecticut.
But Colonel Putnam possessed abilities that very effectually prevented his being laid on the shelf with idlers. When there was no fighting to be done, there were roads to be laid out or plans made for fortifications. After spending some time in laying out roads in the region of Danbury, he made a reconnaissance with General Gates in the vicinity of the Hudson river. When that was done, he obtained a furlough to visit his home, where he had not been for more than a year.
Mrs. Putnam with her family of small children, the oldest not more than twelve, lived on a small farm of fifty acres, and those were not of the best or most productive. Colonel Putnam’s salary was meagre and not promptly paid. When it was paid, the currency in which it was done, was so greatly depreciated in value that it did not go far toward supplying the wants of the family. Mrs. Putnam eked out their scanty income by the diligent use of the distaff and the needle. Rigid economy prevailed in the household, and industry that would be a marvel to some of the matron’s descendants. If the fathers of the Revolution were patriotic, the mothers were no less so. Much they did and more they endured; and inasmuch as patient waiting is more difficult and harder to bear than active serving, they are worthy to be held in grateful remembrance as having had a large share in securing for us a free country, in which the inhabitants are blessed with civil and religious liberty. In 1780 Colonel Putnam left his small farm and took possession of a larger one, on which there was a fine, spacious mansion. This property was in Rutland, Massachusetts, and its owner being a Tory it was confiscated, and Colonel Putnam bought it on easy and favorable terms.
The following record appears in the journal:
June 1779. Fort Fayette, on Verplank’s Point, was taken by the British. I returned to camp some time in June, and in a few days received the following order from General Heath:
HIGHLANDS, Danforth House, June 29, 1779.
I am very desirous, if possible, to obtain the exact situation of the enemy on Verplank’s Point, and of the vessels on both sides of the river. I would request that you would tomorrow reconnoiter the enemy with due precaution and make such remarks as you may think proper. You will take part or the whole of your light company as a guard. Your knowledge of the country and abilities render particular instructions unnecessary.
Yours, etc., Wm. HEATH.
To execute this order I had to march through the mountains nearly twenty miles in an unfrequented route to avoid discovery, and lie concealed in the woods until I had effected the object which was expected.
Col. Putnam has permission to take as many men as he chooses, or any other for special service, and to pass all guards.
July 9, 1779The service here intended was to examine the enemy’s works on Verplank’s Point. I set out from Constitution island, opposite West Point, in the afternoon of the tenth with fifty men, and reached Continental village about sunset. After dark I proceeded by a back road to a point where I concealed my party in the woods, intending the next morning to examine the works. But soon after we halted a very heavy rain set in, which continued all night and the next day.The next morning, July 12, was fair, but our arms and ammunition were so wet that they were entirely useless.I retired to a deserted house, where we built fires, broke up our catridges, dried what powder was not wholly destroyed and cleaned our arms, many of which we were obliged to unbritch. We were in this disarmed and defenseless state from early in the morning until the middle of the afternoon.
Apprehensive that the enemy might have got knowledge from some of the inhabitants, who had probably seen us, I marched the party directly along the great road (in sight of the enemy’s block house) towards Peekskill, where at a convenient distance I turned into the woods again, where I concealed the party until towards morning, when I took them out on to the ground near to where I posted myself for observations, having accomplished which I returned to camp July 13. The next day I went to New Windsor and made my report to General Washington. He then informed me that he had relinquished the idea of a real attack on Verplank’s Point at the same time it was to be made on stony Point, but intended the attack on that point should be only a feint, and for that purpose he had ordered Nixon’s brigade to march that day to Continental village. He then instructed me to take as many men from the brigade as I thought proper and be on the ground ready to fire on the enemy at Verplank’s Point the moment I found that Wayne had attacked Stony Point. At the same time the General informed me that no one knew of the intended attack but those who had the charge of the execution; that but one of his own family was let into the secret. I had not the least doubt but that the brigade had marched that afternoon, but when I returned to the camp after sunset I found them still there. On inquiring the reason why they had not marched, Nixon told me that he had obtained leave from General McDougal to delay his march. In inquiring what time he would march in the morning, he informed me that he should send on a guard of fifty men according to his engagement with General McDougal.I was exceedingly perplexed to know how to act, on the whole. I told him I was charged with executing a special service, and requested him to increase the detachment to one hundred men under the command of a field officer, and that they should march very early in the morning to Continental village.
July 15. General Washington came down early to West Point, and Colonel Tillman came to the stand to inquire why Nixon’s brigade had not marched the day before. I gave him an account of what I had done and soon after set out after the detachment, which had marched under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Smith. I remained at the village until night, and then made such arrangements as I thought proper to fulfill the intentions of the general. As soon as I saw that Wayne had commenced his attack on Strong Point, we fired on their out block-house and guard at the creek, and thus alarmed the garrison on Verplank’s Point, which was the only object contemplated for that night.
July 16. I remained this morning in full view of the enemy until eight o’clock, when I marched up to Continental village, where in the course of the day Nixon’s and Patterson’s brigade arrived, but without their field pieces, artillery men, or so much as an axe, a spade, or any orders as to what they were to do.About ten o’clock at night General Howe arrived to take the command. He called on me for information. I told him the troops had brought no artillery with them, which, in my opinion, was necessary, on account of a block-house that stood in the way of our approach to the main work on the point, nor had they brought any axes or intrenching tools, and that it was impossible to cross the creek without rebuilding the bridge, which had been destroyed.
July 17. Sometime about the middle of the day two twelve-pounders arrived, and a few axes were collected, I believe, from the inhabitants, and a bridge was begun as proposed to be begun.I cannot say how far the preparations had advanced before we were alarmed by the advanced of a British party by the way of Croton, on which we retreated.
These are the facts which fell within my own knowledge, respecting the movements made against Verplank’s Point. Marshall’s representations of the delay implies a heavy censure of General McDougal, for, according to him, General McDougal was personally with two brigades “ordered to approach the enemy on the east side of the river, so as to be in readiness to attempt the work on Verplank’s Point, and that in this situation Wayne’s messenger was to find him.” And, again, that General Howe was ordered to take the command afterwards, according to Marshall. It follows, if this statement be correct, that General McDougal must be highly censurable. But I believe this to be very incorrect. I believe General McDougal never was ordered to march with those two brigades. My reasons are these, I know him so well that had he been ordered to march, he certainly would have obeyed. Again, had he disobeyed such an order, he would undoubtedly have been arrested, and we should have heard of it. But what is much more, it must be remembered that General McDougal was at that very time commander-in-chief of West Point and its dependencies, and can any man, having any knowledge of that, and of the high importance with which it was considered by the commander-in chief, believe that he would have ordered General McDougal to leave that important post and want to attack Verplank’s Point? I think not. General Washington could not commit such an error. I suppose the fact to be this, that on the morning of the fifteenth, when General Washington came down to West Point, as before noted, he ordered General McDougal to detach Nixon’s and Paterson’s brigades to the Continental village, and that General Washington expected they would reach it that same evening, which I believe they did not do. However, they must have left the Point on the fifteenth, or they could not have arrived at the village as soon as they did on the sixteenth. But why they came without any artillery, axes, or intrenching tools, or any commanding general, or orders to employ themselves, are questions that I am not able to solve.
In a few days after this business was over, I was appointed to the command of a regiment of light infantry. The whole corps consisted of four regiments, of two battalions each, the whole commanded by General Wayne. In this corps I continued until the army went into winter quarters the December following indeed, our corps did not break up camp until January, 1780. I was ordered on but two pieces of extra service during my continuance in the light infantry corps. One was in August, to erect a battery at the place of old Fort Gommery, for the annoyance of ships coming up the river.
December -I made a tour by order of General Wayne to South Amboy, having an officer and eight dragoons to attend me, for the purpose of reconnoitering a British fleet that lay there and to ascertain if possible the time of their sailing. This was a tedious, cold journey and somewhat arduous. We were obliged to return by the way of New Brunswick.
Some time about the last of the month I had leave to visit my family, and returned to camp about the middle of April; and I find by my correspondence with General Howe that I was in command about Croton river, etc., as early as the sixth of May and continued out till the twenty-seventh of July. This kind of service in one sense is not properly extra, because every officer is liable to be detailed to perform it as a matter of duty; however, in another sense it may properly be called extra, because it is far more fatiguing, slavish and hazardous. It requires much more vigilance than the common routine duty performed with the army. Besides, the commanding officer of such a detachment is usually, if not always, specially appointed to his command by the general, and hence it is always esteemed very honorable. How far I discharged my duty while on this service, with how much honor to myself and satisfaction to my general, the letters between General Howe and myself will show.
About the time I was relieved, the grand army crossed the North river and encamped at Orangetown, then an English neighborhood, etc., etc.,
About the first of August, I had leave of absence and did not join the army again until the end of the campaign, viz., about the first of December.
July 6, 1781. The French army under Count Rochambeau formed a junction with the American army near Dobb’s ferry.
August 19. The French army and that part of the American army destined for Virginia, commenced crossing the North river, and on the twenty-first, General Heath issued orders from which the following are extracts:
HEADQUARTERS, Near Young’s, August 21, 1781
Three hundred rank and file, infantry, properly officered. Colonel Sheldon’s legionary corps, Captain Sackett’s and Captain Rittium’s companies are to form a detachment to cover this part of the country in front of the army.Colonel Putnam will take the command of this detachment until further orders.
The following will show something of the nature of the service I was performing and how far my conduct was approved by General Heath. While I was on this command, I was honored with a letter from General Waterbury, from which the following are extracts:
HORSENECK, September 13, 1781.
SIR: After my compliments, I would inform you that I have received orders from his excellency, Governor Trumbull, to build some places of security for my troops to winter in, and at the same time he recommends to me to ask the favor of you to lend your assistance in counseling with me where it is best to build it.I made the tour agreeable to request. A few days after I joined my regiment at West Point, I received the following order from General McDougal:
WEST POINT, November 14, 1781.
SIR: General McDougal requests you to repair to Stony and Verplank’s points and examine minutely into their state in every respect. The sentry boxes at those advanced works ought to be destroyed. Every building within cannon range of either of those posts and any cover that could afford a lodgement for the enemy must be taken down and removed before you leave the ground.
You will please to have the garrison paraded and note every person, and the regiments they belong to, unfit for this service, etc.
This was the last extra military service which I was ordered on that I shall mention. But there were some other services which I was called to, which tend to show in what estimation my character was with my brother officers, in general, in respects not military, which I shall now take notice of.
At a meeting of the field and other officers in General Nixon’s brigade, Colonel Rufus Putnam was unanimously chosen representative to meet in a general convention of the army, to state our grievances to the honorable Continental congress and endeavor to obtain redress of the same.Recorder of the meeting,
THOMAS NIXON, Moderator.
My letter on file to Deacon Davis of Boston, dated March as, will show what exertion I made to prevent a mutiny from breakingout in the Massachusetts line, and claim on the state in behalf of the soldiers for relief. In that letter is enclosed the mutiny articles. The time fixed for the brigade to march off in a body was the tenth of February. Besides the measures taken with them, as detailed in my letter to Deacon Davis, I took the further precaution to make a confidential communication of the affair to General McDougal, and made a request that he would order the several regiments each to occupy a separate post toward New York. This request he complied with, and thus it was put out of their power to execute the plan they bad formed, or at least not so easily as they might have done had they remained together in their huts.
I have previously mentioned that in January, 1780. I had leave of absence and returned in April to camp. In this period a large portion of my time was spent in Boston soliciting the general court to grant some relief the Massachusetts line of the army, and especially for the officers, prisoners on Long Island. For them a little relief was obtained, for which I had their thanks for the assistance I had given them. But for the troops in general nothing was done to any purpose, or that gave the committee of the army satisfaction. Therefore near the close of the year the line of officers united in appointing a committee to repair to Boston and lay their complaint before the general assembly; they also appointed a committee to instruct them. These instructions show so fully the claims of the army at that time that I shall word them, that posterity may judge. They ran as follows:
GENTLEMEN: Having chosen you to appear in our behalf at the general assembly of Massachusetts Bay, with them to settle our accounts of pay, clothing, etc., we think it equally our duty, as it is our right, to give you instructions respecting the transactions then to be had. This we do, not because we doubt your understanding, ability or integrity. Our choice of you fully convinces the contrary of that, but for your own satisfaction and justification.
The settlement made with us last year we apprehend to be merely a partial one, not only as to the settlement itself, but the mode in which it was done, as it was not consented to by our then committee. You will therefore have that to revise. But there are certain preliminaries to be settled before you proceed even to that, which we recommend and enjoin on you, as conditions without which you proceed not on the business committed to you.
First—The town bounties given to the soldiers are not to be deducted from their pay, and where this is or has been done, said bounty must he refunded. This is just if we only consider that they were promised their pay, and this bounty was given them as encouragement to enlist, not as a part of their pay advanced.
Second—The time of receiving our pay, not the time when it became due (monthly), must be the period at which the rate of depreciation must be determined, and your calculations made accordingly. This is just and reasonable, otherwise we lose by those delays of payments, which our perseverance in the cause of our country forbade us to complain of and resent.
Third—The extra pay allowed to officers in the line doing duty on the staff must be made good to them upon the same principles and for the same reasons, as their pay of officers of the line. Where it may be disputed whether the quantum of extra pay repeatedly allow such officers was meant to be good money, you may have recourse to the late resolves of congress respecting said extra pay, which wilt be to you an indisputable guide. These preliminaries thus settled, you will proceed to adjusting an equal of depreciation for time present year. You will pointedly represent to the assembly the great inconveniences and losses accrued and accruing to a great part, nay almost the whole, of both officers and soldiers, from the notes we received last year not being negotiable in any manner, for any kind of property, on which account many were in want of almost every kind of clothing, and obliged to sell their notes at a great discount from their nominal value when given: and by this representation you will endeavor to procure an act that will make the notes already and those that shall be given a tender for the confiscated estates where sold, or that will in some way be equally beneficial to the army and the state—make them of such value that those who wish it can convert them into current money without loss. You will not on any account agree to our being charged with any articles of clothing, or indeed anything else received from the Continent, except our monthly pay, unless we are credited for all deficiencies of subsistence, rations and parts of rations. Nor will you agree to average the charge of clothing delivered by the state for the several regiments, but each officer must be charged for the clothing himself received, and in case any officer has drawn clothing he has not delivered according to the design for which he drew it, he alone must be accountable, except in cases where such officer makes it appear that the loss of any in his hands was inevitable, then and then only we agree to have such loss averaged. You will also endeavor to fall upon such plan or mode of delivering clothing to the officers as will prevent an unequal and partial delivery to particular regiments or individuals, who may by their social situation have it in their power to make the earliest application. A like equal and just plan respecting both the delivery and charge of the small stores, you will do well to agree on.
These general principles we think sufficient to direct you in the whole of the business you have been pleased to undertake in our behalf—a business, we know, attended with much difficulty and trouble; but of this you may be assured, that the greater the sacrifice you make of your private ease and pleasure to serve us, the greater will he our obligations to you.
Confiding thoroughly in your good will and abilities to discharge the duties required of you, we leave to you to deduce from these general principles rules for your more particular conduct, not doubting but the whole you shall agree to will give us ample satisfaction,Signed by order of the officers of the Massachusetts line. (Noted in the original manuscript as the "Committee.")
J. GRAFTON, Colonel
SAMUEL DARBY, Major,
To the Honorable Brigadier-general Glover, Colonel Putnam, Lieutenant-colonel Brooks, Colonel H. Jackson
West Point, January, 1, 1781.
In the prosecution of the business, I left West Point some time in January, 1781. I spent the winter and most of the spring in Boston on the objects of our mission. On our arrival in Boston the alarm was given by the grand mutiny in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey lines, and had such a powerful effect on the minds of the general assembly, that they soon agreed and, in a short time, actually sent on specie to the amount of one or two month’s pay for their line of the army. This was a great relief to officers and soldiers. What further success we had I do not recollect, nor is it material to my purpose, my object being to leave an evidence of my standing with my brother officers in general.
1785. The state of New York, having applied to congress for pay for the forage consumed by the allied army, in West Chester county, while encamped near Dobbs Ferry, in 1781. I was appointed one of the commissioners on that business. I find by the papers on file that we were appointed February 14, 1782, and our report is dated July 2. This was not military service, but it was business of great difficulty to investigate, and shows in what light my character then stood with General Heath and Governor Clinton, who made the appointment.
Some time after the business of the West Chester forage was settled, I had leave of absence, and while at home, in September or October, I learned that congress had it in contemplation to reduce the army. I had grown tired of the service, for, besides my feelings in common with my brother officers, the Massachusetts line had been ill-treated, with respect to the brigadier-generals of the line not being appointed as vacancies took place. General Learned resigned soon after the capture of Burgoyne, and Nixon in 1780. Neither of which vacancies had been filled. Grafton and Shepherd ranked before me, therefore I had no right to complain for myself. But I concluded to quit the service if I could with some honor, and, in pursuance of this resolution, I made an agreement with Lieutenant-colonel Brooks, one of the youngest officers in the line who commanded a regiment, that he should remain and I would retire, which mode of exchange had hitherto been allowed. Under these circumstances I did not return to the army until after I received the following letters:
Extract from Brigadier General Patterson’s letter.
CAMP NEW WINDSOR, December 5.
DEAR SIR: Your favor of the 35th ultimo by Colonel Brooks duly received, and although I can conceive the situation and disagreeable circumstances of your family, occasioned by your continuance in the army, yet I cannot but regret your resolution to retire and hope on the receipt of this, with the enclosure, you will alter your determination.
Your letters on the subject of retiring have been handed to the commander-in-chief, but they were not addressed to him, and prior to the receipt of them the resolve of congress enclosed, arrived. It is impossible that you can be deranked but by taking the steps pointed out in the resolution. etc., particularly when you are informed that on the 29th ultimo, our friend, Colonel Shepherd, resigned, and in a few days purposes to leave camp. This procedure of his was in consequence of his being disappointed in his expectation of preferment.
You will be considered as an officer in the line until we receive further directions from the commander-in-chief. The sooner you signify your wishes, etc., the better, for it is supposed that if you persist in your first resolution, Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, who has gone home, will be called for again to resume his former command.
Colonel Shepherd’s retiring by permission of his excellency, you perceive, gives Colonel Brooks his regiment again and leaves no vacancy, unless you return, which can be filled at the least, not until January next, vide the resolve of congress dated November 20, 1782.
Letter from General Washington.
I am informed that you have thoughts of retiring from service, upon the arrangement that is to take place on the first of January. But, as there will be no opening for it unless your reasons are very urgent indeed, and as there are some prospect which may, perhaps, make your continuance more eligible than was expected, I have thought proper to mention the circumstances in expectation that they might have some influence in inducing you to remain in the army.
Colonel Shepherd having retired, and Brigadier-General Patterson being appointed to the command of the first brigade, you will of consequence be the second colonel in line, and have the command of a brigade, while the troops continue brigaded as at present. Besides, I consider it expedient you should be acquainted that the question is yet before congress, whether there shall be two brigadiers appointed in the Massachusetts line. Should you continue, you will be a candidate for this promotion. The secretary of war is of opinion that the promotion will soon take place; whether it will or not, I am not able to determine, and therefore, I would not flatter you too much with expectations—but if upon a view of these circumstances and prospects the state of your affairs will permit you to continue in the present arrangement (which must be completed immediately), it will be very agreeable to, sir,GEORGE WASHINGTON
On the receipt of these letters I repaired immediately to camp, but being determined not to live in a sort of disgrace like Grafton and Shepherd, by congress neglecting to promote them when the vacancies took place, I wrote the following letter to General Washington:
CAMP NEAR NEW WINDSOR, December 17, 1782.
SIR: Your favor of the second instant came to hand on the fourth. I beg leave to assure your excellency that it was with great reluctance I brought myself to the resolution of retiring from the service before the close of the war, but the peculiar circumstances of my family justified the measure to my mind, especially while in connection with my private reasons, my retiring would be the means of an opening for so worthy a character as Colonel Brook to remain in service.
But the resolves of congress of November 13 put the senior officers who retire, in such circumstances as by no means correspond with the ideas upon which I agreed to retire, therefore, as your excellency observes, there is no opening, unless my reasons are very urgent indeed, I shall choose to remain at present, rather than to accept the pecuniary rewards proposed by congress, while I am deprived of every honorary advantage that I am entitled to. Besides, Colonel Shepherd’s leaving unfortunately, put me in a situation in which my friends might censure me should I resign at present
I am much obliged to your excellency for the information respecting the question of promotion in Massachusetts line being yet before congress. Should it be decided according to the opinion of secretary of war, it will undoubtedly be agreeable to me; it however, a subject of too much delicacy for me personally to address congress upon; if my services are considered in such a point shall induce my general to mention them in a favorable light to that honorable body. I esteem it one of the most happy circumstances of my life. But I beg leave to suggest that if by the Massachusetts line should not obtain that justice which they have long expected, within a reasonable time, or any arrangement of command should take place, which I cannot reconcile to my own feelings as a military man, I trust I shall stand acquitted by every one possessed of those fine feelings which military service naturally begets in the human breast, should I then request leave to resign.
I am, with the utmost sentiments of respect, your excellency’s obedient, humble servant,Rufus PUTNAM