Saturday, March 2, 2013

Old Put

Old Put

Israel Putnam
The topic for this blog is People - the subject is Israel Putnam.  Full disclosure:  I was born in Putnam County, New York and my other Nom d' Plume is Kent Putnam (I was born in the Town of Kent). However the reason I picked Old Put as the subject this week is a Yankee Doodle Spies Face Book friend suggested it. Simple as that!  Israel Putnam is not a name that jumps at you when asked about the military leaders of the American Revolution. Besides His Excellency, Lieutenant General George Washington, folks think more readily of Nathaniel Greene, Henry Knox, Horatio Gates and even Benedict Arnold.  This is somewhat understandable since Putnam's achievements were early in the war and age and health conspired to slow him down and suddenly stop him in his tracks when a stroke paralyzed him.

A French and Indian War Hero

Put saved by a French officer
near Glen Falls, NY 1758
Born in Massachusetts, Putnam moved to Connecticut as a young man where he became a landholder. When the French and Indian War erupted he joined the famed Roger's Rangers where he rose to the rank of Major.  Putnam fought ferociously and took part in combat on Lake Champlain and then ranged as far as Montreal in the north, Cuba in the south (he is said to have brought the first Cuban tobacco seeds to
Connecticut and stoked an industry), and as far west as Detroit. In an era when a 100 mile journey could mean your life, this was no small feat. His exploits during the French and Indian War were legendary in colonial America. His capture and brutal torture by the Indians particularly resonated at a time when such an eventuality was every frontier American's worst nightmare. Ironically, a French officer saved him from the worst depredations and death. Later on, he was released but soon joined the British attack on  Cuba, where he helped capture the famed Spanish fortress, El Moro.

The Siege of Boston

By the time of the American Revolution, Putnam was a very prosperous landholder and businessman.  However, when the action heated up around Boston in 1775, he gave up his comfortable farm and rushed east to offer his services and became second in command of the rebel army outside Boston.  His greatest distinction was at Bunker (Breed's Hill) where he was considered largely responsible for the gallant efforts that cost the British Army more than it could give.

Bunker Hill:  Old Put is on the far left

The Battle of New York

Major General Israel Putnam
The following year found him in New York, where he worked tirelessly to establish the city's defenses. When George Washington arrived with the main army, Old Put was given command of a division and the unenviable mission of defending western Long Island (today's Brooklyn). By a stroke of misfortune, he came down with a virus just as the British commander, Lord Howe, threw over 20,000 men against his small force. It is here that we meet him in The Patriot Spy. In a short passage, Old Put has recovered from his illness and is giving guidance to my fictional character, Jeremiah Creed.

Fighting on despite Ill Health

After the New York campaign, age and illness slowed him down, precluding another major field command.  But later in the war, Putnam had a lead role commanding Continental and militia  forces "in observation" from the North (now Hudson) River to western Connecticut. A large British contingent under New York Royal Governor Tryon  invaded Connecticut in February 1779.The Loyalist and British forces savaged the eastern Connecticut in a blitzkrieg like fashion, burning farms and towns while trying to root out rebels.

The famed Horseneck Escape 

While trying to block the British advance near Greenwich, Connecticut, Put's small force of observation was surprised by an enemy column with cavalry in the van.  Caught in the act of shaving that cold morning, Putnam saw the oncoming British column before his scouts did. Dropping his straight razor and brandishing his sword, he leaped to his horse and rallied his men, avoiding their capture by a whisker (so to speak). British dragoons and the notorious Delancey Tories galloped after the general while his men escaped.  After a long and desperate chase, he escaped in a dramatic fashion by riding his horse over a  precipice and down a very steep and icy defile. The astonished enemy reined in at the edge and vainly emptied their pistols  at Old Put.  Putnam waved back his sword with taunting words to the frustrated British, whose balls whizzed past him. One of the bullets is said to have pierced his military cap.

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